So you have your hens reserved and made your donation – what next?
- In the week before the rehoming (usually on the Monday), your local volunteer will email to give you their collection address and a pick up time. Please look out for their email (it may go to your junk folder) and reply as soon as possible confirming you can make the given time.
- On collection day please ensure you have suitable carriers to bring your hens home in. Cardboard boxes from the supermarket are fine and cat carriers or dog crates work well too. Ensure boxes have letterbox style slits along the sides to allow fresh air in – hens are very hot and can quickly overheat if there is not enough ventilation. Line the boxes with some straw to stop them sliding about on the way home.
- Try to arrive on time as you are part of a ‘big plan’ for the day, but be prepared for a short wait – it can be hectic and it’s quite easy for the volunteers to get caught out and run behind.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your FSFH volunteer questions – they are very knowledgeable and can advise on any concerns you may have. Beware though, most can talk your ears off when it comes to chickens.
- Ensure your hens are secure in their boxes- there is nothing worse than walking down the path and your hens drop out the bottom of the box, or hens getting out in the car on the way home!
So now you have your hens home – what next?
Your hens will have had a very long day – the volunteers start loading them into the crates at 6am and many will have a six hour journey ahead of them. At the collection point, all hens will have been taken from the crates and given the opportunity to have a wander around and something to eat and drink for an hour or so.
Please remember if you have caged or barn hens, everything you present to them is new and different, from the straw in the nest boxes to the big, scary sky above them. Even walking around is a new experience!
They will have underdeveloped leg muscles and are not used to jumping up and down, so please ensure you gently place them down and do not drop them expecting them to flutter gracefully to the floor – they probably won’t!
When you get them home, put them straight into the coop with the door/pop hole to the run left open so they can explore at their leisure. They may not choose to come out and being winter, there may not be that many hours of daylight left, so please don’t worry if they are not up to exploring on the first day.
They are used to eating dry layers mash at the farm and may not recognise layers pellets as food. If you don’t have any mash, you can put some pellets in a bag and bash them with a rolling pin to crush them, but a small bag of mash won’t cost too much and will help them feel at home. Place a couple of dishes of food and water out for them – this will help avoid too much bullying and fighting. Don’t offer any treats or extras to start as the familiar food will help them to settle quicker.
If they do leave the coop you may have to encourage them into bed when it is dark for at least the first few nights, possibly a week or more. It is essential you do not leave them outside, they will get chilled as they are used to being kept in a fairly constant temperature and not exposed to adverse weather, so switch the automatic pop hole off – you are going to have to do this one manually!
While we recommend your new hens are housed separately from your existing flock for at least a few weeks, if you are putting them in with other hens straight away, wait until it is dark and your existing hens have gone to roost before you place the new girls in the coop. This will help avoid the immediate scuffles and give them all a chance to get used to each other’s smell while they are at their most docile.
If you are housing your hens in a large area, such as a barn or stable, place some cardboard boxes lined with bedding on the floor so they have a smaller, cosy place to snuggle up in – they may feel lost in the large open space and will like to cuddle up for warmth.
Although these hens are used to having a perch in their cages, you may find they prefer to sleep in the nest boxes. Don’t worry about that for now, they may start to roost naturally but for a hen living in a barren cage, snuggling down into warm straw or bedding is a going to be a novelty and a real treat for them.
Your hens may look a little different to what you were expecting. They may have large, pale combs that are flopping over. Hens use their combs to dissipate heat so they will have grown in the barns. Over the coming weeks they will reduce again and with time the bright red colour will return.
Some hens are quite well feathered whilst others will be looking decidedly threadbare with very few feathers. PLEASE don’t put knitted jumpers on them. Lots of bedding in the coop will keep them snug at night. You can use dust free wood shavings (not sawdust) or a hemp based bedding like Aubiose. Straw can be used, but it is not very absorbent and compacts down, as does shredded paper. Please do not use hay as when it is damp, fungal spores can grow, which can cause respiratory illnesses.
The first few days.
Ideally you will have sectioned off part of your run or have a separate area so the new girls have their own space away from your existing flock. Don’t free range them for the first few days at least – they need to get used to where their new home and territory is to be. If you do let them out of their enclosure, please supervise closely in case of escapees!
It is highly unlikely your new hens will know each other before you get them home. They may be well behaved at first as they take in all the new and exciting sights and smells but will soon start establishing a pecking order with certain hens trying to assert their dominance. Whilst this is not pleasant to see, it is their natural behaviour and providing no one hen is getting particularly bullied or kept away from the food and water, they should settle down to their positions in the pecking order within a week.
Please keep your cockerels away from your new ladies for a month or so. Whilst your lad might be thrilled you have brought him home some new top totty, the hens will be weak and may have bare skin which can be easily damaged. This combined with their weak legs could mean they will be injured by your cockerel’s amorous attentions.
The cold weather does concern some people, particularly when the hens are lacking in their natural duvets. Please don’t be tempted to knit jumpers for the hens. The new feathers (pin feathers) have a blood supply and are sensitive – pressure against these can damage the feathers as they emerge. If the jumpers get wet, they will be cold against the hen’s skin and just like us, it will lower their body temperature and they will feel shivery and poorly. Hens will get their beaks and claws caught in the stitches as they try to preen or scratch, which will cause them stress and injuries.
What you can do to lessen the impact of the cold weather: 1. Hens hate the cold wind and driving rain as much as we do – ensure there is some shelter from the elements in your run. You can put a roof on one area (even if only temporary) and protect any open sides with board or sheets of tarpaulin, particularly if it is in an exposed position. Alternatively you can secure a tarpaulin over a garden table to make a walk in shelter. 2. Line the floor of the coop and nest boxes with cardboard and/newspaper in provide additional insulation. 3. Place an old duvet or piece of carpet over the top of the coop to insulate (ideal if it snows), but please make sure there is a good air flow into the coop, usually through vents at the top, so even in the coldest of weather, the vents must be left open. Condensation in your coop in the morning is an indicator of not enough airflow over night, and this can be made worse by putting the drinkers inside. 4. Be generous with the bedding inside the coop. 5. Ensure there is always a supply of fresh water – empty water containers at night and put out fresh warm water in the morning. Drinkers left out overnight can freeze and crack, especially if you try to break the ice or defrost them with hot water. In extreme weather keep an eye out in case the water freezes during the day. 6. Give the hens a late afternoon snack of cracked corn. The digestion process will keep them warm overnight 7. Smear Vaseline on their combs and wattles to protect against frost bite. 8. Make sure all hens go into the coop at night, even if you have to physically lift them in for the first few days or weeks – they will soon catch on to the routine. 9. In freezing weather there are a lot of other animals who will be looking to be fed – put the hen’s food away overnight to discourage rodents and ensure your run is predator proof. Foxes will be looking for food during the day as well, so please give consideration to this when free ranging your hens.