A few weeks ago, we got a call from the institute’s treasurer, Paula, who works at Historic Wagner Farm in a suburb of Chicago. Wagner Farm was originally outside of the metro area and then Chicagoland grew up around it and the Village of Glenview decided to turn this working farm into a city park. Kids and adults alike can come see cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and farm fields when they visit the community gardens and farmers markets.
Apparently, giving kids chicks on Easter is a thing, but it seems like a bad idea to me (others agree). The problem is that chicks quickly grow into ugly fledglings (teenagers), not to mention the little poos (oh the little poos everywhere!). So Paula had called us because someone had dropped off five pullets (young hens) in a grocery bag near the farm chicken coop. Luckily the “donor” didn’t put them in the chicken run, as the adult birds would have likely killed the young ones. She wanted to know if we’d adopt them. Good news for everyone: we were looking for four or five pullets!
When the “girls” arrived, it was clear that two of them were probably cockerels (young roosters) not pullets. You can learn to tell the difference in a video from Deep Green Garden Co-Op, linked here (yes that is Scott; please excuse the poor sound quality).
Introducing the New Coopmates
We couldn’t simply drop the five-week-old chicks into the coop with our fully grown hens. Chickens are fiercely hierarchical and the small ones would be mobbed. We set aside a small part of the coop, separated with chicken wire attached to a removable frame. This way the existing flock can see the new additions but can’t interact with them. Also, the young birds eat a different food, as they don’t need all the calcium in the grown, egg-layers’ feed.
Each morning, when I let the grown-ups out of the coop, I spend a little time hand feeding the new recruits to help foster a hand-tame flock. I spend extra time with one of the roosters, whom we may end up keeping for the long term.
Each night, the chickens perch on the roost, separated by a small bit of chicken-wire fence.
Integrating the Flock
After two weeks, the new chickens are noticeably bigger, especially the cockerel, who is heavier, with much thicker legs and a more developed comb. To help them begin to integrate, I opened up two corners of the fence; gaps small enough that the big girls can’t get through, but the little ones can. I put them in the corner, since when the pullets are being chased, they tend to run to corners, and this way they find their way back to their safe space.
After a week of this, I have started to push them outside every morning with the big girls. They seem to enjoy the great outdoors. We’re glad these chickens will get a better life than most of the chicks given on Easter.