Every time you feel in God's creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: "O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all!
- Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

You can’t get to joy by making everything perfect. You can only get there by seeing in every imperfection all that’s joy.
-Ann Voscamp

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chickens: Mixing Flocks is Not the Best Idea

This is a picture of one of our new hens. We got 8 new hens from my aunt and uncle when we went to visit my family. Yes, I did also say we'd gotten bunnies at the same time. Dan said all we needed to be traveling in true hillbilly style were some pots and pans hanging on the outside of the camper.

Picture this: We had our pickup pulling our 31 year old camper. In the back of the truck were 8 chickens in a dog kennel. Inside the camper were some bags of feed, and 4 bunnies also in a dog kennel. Piled around said chickens were lawn chairs, bicycles, and lots of other odd things I can't remember. It was rather laughable, really. Too bad I didn't have a camera at the time, but I'll leave the image up to your imaginations instead.

Any way, we brought the chickens (Road Island Reds) home and added them to our dwindling flock. We were down to 4 hens after the last stalk and snatch by the neighbors dog. Now, we have a major fence that should prevent any sneak attacks. We promptly went from getting 4 neatly laid eggs every day to 0 - 2. The chickens were busy sorting out their pecking order. They cared nothing for laying eggs for about 2 weeks after that. Soon the new hens began to lay in all the oddest places, so we are egg hunting all over the coop. Did you know a hen could squeeze into a 6 to 8 inch space, make a cozy little nest there, and lay eggs? We've found that they can. We've also had some egg eating or eggs being laid from perches and broken. Not sure yet which is going on. We haven't seen any actual eating of eggs yet. That would be a first for us, and I definitely would have to do some research to find a solution for it. I think it may have stopped, so we'll see.

If you're really squeamish, you may not want to read this paragraph. The oddest thing that's happened with this whole thing is the chicken (one of the new ones) who's middle toe on each foot seems to be "rotting" off. It was bleeding from those toes when we got it. By the time we were home with them it seemed to have stopped. After a few days, though, we found that the claws were gone and the toes were turning black. We started to "doctor" (very inadequate doctoring) her with a poultice made of tea tree oil and activated charcoal. This would harden over the toe, stay on, and protect it. It would also draw out any infection (or so I hoped). It seemed like it was working. None of this seemed to bother the hen at all, by the way. She was happy as a clam. Eating and moving about normally. The other chickens seemed to be leaving her feet alone and treating her completely normally. BUT, a few days later, her toes were bleeding again, and the other chickens were pecking at them. We decided to let her free range outside the pen and see what happened. It's been 2 days, and she's definitely on the mend! Provided nothing eats her, I think she'll be fine, though basically a 3 toed chicken. I think what happened was that the blackened ends actually fell off! It doesn't seem to trouble her at all. So, what was all that about? Was she injured somehow on the same toe of each foot? I sure don't know...

Here's the flock now fairly happily adjusted, after about 3 weeks of battling it out. So, I think I've learned something. It would be better to start over, and get all new chickens than to mix flocks. We've mixed flocks about 3 times in the last year, all meaning more work for us and more stress on the hens. Next time, we'll stew them all and do a good house cleaning before beginning again!

OK - I'm off to stake up the peas! :)


  1. Hi Patty! I've been reading for awhile, found you through Chicken Mama & Mama Pea's blogroll. You really had me laughing at the image of the chickens & bunnies and the camper - we have had times like that where we step back and look at what we're doing and get a good laugh out of the "redneck-ness" of it all! Hope your free ranging girl mends up quickly, and your eggs get back on schedule! Rhode Island Reds are one of the breeds I really like, are they pretty hardy in your climate? (We are moving up there in a few years so I like to keep a mental checklist of such things!)

  2. Hi Erin! Nice to meet you. I think they're pretty hardy, but this is my first personal experience with them. I've had quite a few other breeds up here, and they've all done fine as long as they had a cozy coop to go into. The Reds do have big combs, though, so they may be prone to frost bite if it gets really cold. I guess the rose combs are supposed to stand up to the cold better, but like I said we haven't had much trouble with winter cold since we started with the chickens about 7 years ago. Hope to meet you when you make that move!! :)