The new little chickens arrived today. Originally they were booked for last Wednesday, but at some point delivery slipped a week. We had to get more, because to have only two hens, one of which is Methuselah in hen years, not to mention foxes walking through the garden in broad daylight, is to be perilously close to only having one hen, and a solitary hen is a deeply lonely animal. So the new tiny hens came in an air conditioned van all the way from Happy Chicks in Lancashire.
Sourcing chickens from the other end of the country sounds daft, but buying from a commercial poultry supplier has turned out to be so much easier than hunting around north Essex and east Suffolk getting them from local hobbyists. One lot of locally sourced chickens introduced red mite, and it took me ages to rid the hen house of the infestation. Hens are difficult to transport: another small pullet that had been chased around the run by its previous owner and shoved into a cardboard box practically died of shock on her first day here. Last time we needed hens the Systems Administrator tried Happy Chicks, as they looked professional and claimed to deliver all over the country, and the Speckeldies we got from them were such a healthy, laid back lot that we thought we'd stick with them.
The first lot of Happy Chicks hens arrived after dark due to delays on the motorways, so were put straight into the hen house when the existing hen was already roosting. They all seemed to sort themselves out pretty harmoniously, or at least without violence being done to the small hens. The old lady didn't think much of them at first, but mellowed as they grew, and at least they were other chickens to flock with. By now she and the last of the original Speckeldies are the best of friends, when the Speckeldy isn't broody. A broody chum is no good at all, spending all day as a baleful presence hidden away in the egg box, and since the last fox visit the old lady isn't going to be let out of her run for a while.
This morning's delivery of small new chickens went straight into the hen house like their predecessors. That way they know where they are supposed to live, and can find their way into the run once they're feeling braver. The old lady was already in the run when they arrived, and had a rude shock when she discovered that her hen house was now full of rug rats. The Speckeldies found their food hopper almost at once, to judge from the ring of tiny beaks on galvanised iron, then decided it was all a bit much for one day, and took refuge in the egg box with the broody. We put an ice cream box of water in the hen house, in case they were thirsty and did not explore as far as the drinker in the run, and left them all to it.
The broody presently took umbrage at having to share her nesting box with a gaggle of teenagers, and erupted into the run, screaming furiously. If you have never lived with chickens you might imagine a broody hen to be a fluffy and nurturing sort of creature, but in reality they are fabulously bad tempered. The broody was very, very cross, and let us all know it. I refilled the tiny hens' water which had got kicked over in the stramash.
By evening the old lady was perching and fidgeting because she had not been out, the broody had regained sole possession of the nesting box, and the tinies were clustered on the floor of the house by the food, water kicked over again. I gave them some more water, shut the pop hole and left them to it. I felt rather sorry for them, but we couldn't see a better way of doing it, unless when the first of the old hens died we were to ritually slaughter her companion in a chicken version of suttee, and start again with the new hens in an empty house. They will probably all be fine in a day or two. The old lady has never been a bullying sort of chicken, and this is her second lot of small new hens.