May is an extraordinarily busy month on the farm. It’s the month where grass starts to green up, and when the ground is fully-thawed and ready for us to start moving animals around. Nearly every day over the past few weeks has been spent moving animals or otherwise situating them on pasture to enjoy the bountiful growing season.
In the winter our laying hens live in a high tunnel greenhouse, but in summer they strictly range from our mobile coop. The two settings are quite different, and the change in routine every May is quite a feat, on both the part of the hens and the part of the farmer.
It’s imperative that the hens build good habits during this transition, something that I learned the hard way. In years past I’ve had struggles with birds deciding to sleep under the mobile coop (rather than in it) or to try and nest and lay eggs under the mobile coop (rather than in their nest boxes). Both of these bad habits are quite hard to break once begun and so are best headed off before they take hold. Preventing the breakdown of order is something I’m getting better at each and every May.
And so the last twelve days have been what I’ve been calling my “Twelve Days of Chicken,” something that I’m very happy with, even if it sounds quite odd. Ever since I moved the hens from the high tunnel out to pasture I’ve got out to the pasture around 8:30p.m. and undertook the process of fostering their “good habits” and heading off their bad ones.
At dusk on the first evening I had to hand-carry about 200 of the hens into the mobile coop, which took well over and hour and wasn’t a great start to the season. But on the second night it was down to 150, 100 hens on the third night, and before a week had passed nearly all of the hens would willingly walk up the ramp and find their place on a perch inside, the last few dozen scurrying in after I gently showed them there was no place else to go.
By the twelfth night they all went inside on their own and I was able to close the door behind them (for predator protection) with great satisfaction. And virtually all of the girls are laying eggs nicely in their nest boxes (although one or two will always lay random eggs in random places), something I’ve learned to live with.
Over the years I’ve observed that every species of livestock has it’s own behavior patterns, and laying hens are right up there are the weirdest creatures on the farm. The are inquisitive and moody and can develop bad habits far worse than the orneriest bull or most mischievous hog. The psychology inside of one of their bird brains is quite odd, but I’m hopeful that I’m learning to outwit them.
It is quite pleasing to know that now I can just close the door behind them without any Tomfoolery at dusk.
Sometimes small successes are worth a lot, and if outwitting a chicken is what makes me smile at the day of the day, I’ll take it.
Thanks for reading,