And the answer is, “Heavens NO! Are you kidding?” The species would not have continued to exist if the answer had been yes. This somewhat fragile bird is one of the slyest animals on the planet and I don’t mean that in a deceitful way. So much so that I’m surprised the chicken didn’t get the coined phrase, “As sly as a chicken,” instead of the familiar saying, “As sly as a fox!”
Why have I said this, you may wonder? My observation of chickens began a little over two years ago, but I guess you could say I had an “Ah hah moment” this past Saturday. All my thinking culminated this morning as I responded to a post about chickens laying and I thought everything I have learned “the hard way” deserved to be in an article.
The thread I read this morning was regarding “chickens squatting, but not laying and why,” by @tweetzone86, and whether or not they free ranged. With my newfound information, I just had to respond.
When I said earlier about learning things “the hard way,” I’m absolutely certain I am not the only one. I mean, “Hello, we are talking about chickens aren’t we?”
When the question was asked if the pullets free ranged, a light bulb came on in my head. “Yep, I second the question,” was my reply. The reason for my quick response? I just assumed since all my pullets had been kept under lock and key in their coop and run for months before being allowed to free range, that they would just know where their home was. Nope! Really? Yep! Some did, but not all.
A bit of history with my chickens:
I didn’t let my original flock of four free range until they were about 15 months old. Yes, you heard right, 15 months old. The only grass they ever ate was hand cut and snipped into tiny slivers to avoid the dreaded crop impaction. Oh, the many things we must worry about. My four “Originals” had been laying eggs in the coop for about nine months prior to being let out. In addition, my first four never flew over the fence into the pasture either, probably because they were older and larger, you reckon? Eggs from them were easy pickin’s for me.
However, the story has been completely different with my “littles,” the chicks I received in mid April. I began letting them out of their run at about 8 weeks old. I felt they were nicely integrated with my originals, using the “see, no touch” method, AND I needed to take down their temporary run in order to build the permanent one. That was the easy part.
Jump to the present day:
Knowing that I should be getting more eggs than I was from my 6 month old pullets, this past weekend I hung out around the coop area and just watched my birds as they went about their morning of free ranging. Sunrise was at 6:20 and they had been confined in the run for about an hour before I let them out. None of them had layed in the nest boxes yet. Several of the breeds I have now can F-L-Y and they also like the goodies that are on the pasture side of the fence. Think horses, et al.
Well, it didn’t take long before I noticed my Australorp, Barbie, (... on the grill, , get it?) slowly approaching the overgrown base of a HUGE oak tree. Yeah, you’ve seen these; briars and honeysuckle and poison oak and broken branches and UGH, outside the chicken yard, over in the pasture. Have you ever watched a hen approaching the nest to lay? If you have, you know how slowly they creep up to the nest and then enter the nest even more slowly. Statues that actually move a tad, that’s a pullet/hen. They’ve got to make sure nothing sees them, right? Well, I noticed her approaching the tree like a hen approaches a nest box. “Noooooooo!” I hollered. “I know that approach. I know what you’re thinking.” I continued to watch and that darn bird disappeared into the area I didn’t want her to.
You [email protected]#% bird was all I could think so off I headed to retrieve her. In that deep, dark recess she called a safe place, she smugly sat on a little nest-looking bed of sticks and leaves. I took my little rake and moved several “things” out of my way in order to get her. I didn’t have my phone at the time or I’d have taken a picture. I picked up this gorgeous black bird with the reddest of red combs and was shocked to see six beautiful, but nasty looking, pullets’ eggs. Much to my dismay, it was evident that several birds had used this same nest. I reached in and got the eggs and carried her clucking, fuzzy butt back to the coop. Yes, clucking, no other word intended, here. She clucked the entire way. She was mad! I was mad! I placed her in a coop nest box where she stayed, oh, about 30 seconds, before she headed back to her empty nest at the base of the tree. I let her go.
(The dogs ate the nasty looking eggs.)
About an hour later I went back out to look for her egg. No egg was in the nest and what was worse was I couldn’t find Barbie. Had she already hunted for and made another nest, one I couldn’t find? I had given up and went back to the coop. That crazy bird was back in the coop, in a nest box. Later that morning, I searched high and low looking for more “illegal” nests. I didn’t find any, but I know they’re out there.
After this roller coaster of emotion came to a semi-slow down, I decided it would be best if these birds were locked in the coop/run until about 3:30ish, every day, for several weeks. I can be brutal if I’m sent round and round hunting eggs. No more early morning ranging until they know where to lay. I say that, but I’m sure some will go straight back to their rogue way of life, laying in the dark confines of “the other side!”
Then today, to-day, as I walked up to the coop, something caught my eye. That something looked like an egg. That something was an egg. Eight of them.
Underneath a 2x2 pallet I had set up as a temporary step to the back door, inside the run, was another nest! Of the eggs, five were gorgeous terra-cotta colored Welsummer and Marans eggs. Whhaaatttt? I wondered why they weren’t laying yet.
Where did I go wrong? These pullets have a brand new coop, with plenty of brand new nest boxes, made to the exact specifications that nest boxes should be. I have failed!
However, I don’t have to hide to make a nest, and be sly about entering it like my birds. Instinct has given them instructions that I cannot control, but I’m going to try, somewhat. I blocked the entrance to the “pallet nest” and added three additional nest boxes: one in the run (a very small dog house filled with pine shavings), and two inside the coop under the droppings board (old buckets), both weighted down and filled with pine shavings and Flock Fresh.
And you guessed it, they all partook of the fresh buffet I put out for them. Even the blurred Leghorn.
Now, I’m the impatient one who wants to know things before they happen and why they happen. But, I have realized some things may just take time and some things we just have to learn on our own. Why? Because chickens have soooo many idiosyncrasies there’s no way they can all be captured, discussed and understood.
Maybe it will just take time.