Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Backyard decisions: what to do with one urban chicken?

It's now been a month since our Sophia suddenly passed away, and we still have but a single chicken, ZsuZsu, in our Eglu.

My first instinct was to quickly go out and get another hen (a pullet) to provide ZsuZsu some company. But then I researched the proper way to add a chicken to your existing flock and realized it's a lot more sophisticated than simply choosing a breed, picking out a bird and tossing it into the coop with the other one. There's the three-week quarantine and then the socialization and the holding one's breath while the pecking order is sorted out and wow, that's a lot to do.

Meanwhile, I had an overseas business trip and my last triathlon of the season and a climb up Mt Whitney, and suddenly a month's gone by and ZsuZsu is still alone in the backyard.

So now it's time to do something about her lonesomeness. ZsuZsu still seems skittish around the corner of the coop where Sophia passed away. I think we're going to try to find ZsuZsu a new home with an established flock where she'll have other chickens around to chase bugs and munch weeds and split time in the nesting box. While it'll be tough to give her up, overall, I think she'd be happier with more than a single companion, and the change of scenery might do her good.

This wouldn't spell the end of our urban chicken farming. With an empty coop, we'd start anew with a couple new chickens (pullets, I think, but maybe chicks again) that my daughters could help pick out and name and care for.

I haven't yet made a final decision that this is the way to go, but in writing it down, I think I'm closer. There's still the negotiations with my seven year-old daughter to navigate, and the matter of trying to find a good home for ZsuZsu.

Rest assured, I'll share the experience here. And if you've got other insights to add to the mix, please do so in the comments below.

Photo by KayVee.INC on Flickr


The Barefaced Poet said...

if you have a lone chicken then intoducing 2 new ones would be easier and better for all the chickens concerned, with them being flock animals. If you don't have the room to keep them seperate, you could pop the 2 new ones into the eglu at night. Another tip I've read is to spray them all with water from a mister with a few drops of tea tree oil in it, that way they all smell the same. Have you tried looking on the omelt forum as there's loads of helpful advice on there?
There's also people on there that might be willing to lend you an eglu and a run while you introduce the new girls.
Good luck with whatever you decide, we have 7 chickens and they are delightful to have around :0)

Meg said...

Maybe I'm just dense, but I'm not sure I see what the problem is. Is it really about introducing new chicks or is it because ZsuZsu is still grieving? If it's the latter, maybe she just needs time and a new companion.

We've introduced new chickens several times without problems. We started with four chicks expecting two to hopefully be girls but when only one was a girl we sent the three boys to my MIL's place (where they still live happily -- don't worry). The girl, Cleo, spent a few weeks alone but then we introduced a young hen, Chloe II (one of the roosters was Chloe I). They figured out who was top hen quickly and then were fine.

Unfortunately, Chloe passed away suddenly earlier this year. Cleo spent a little time alone again but then we got a chick, Chloe III (we're not creative). When she was ready to go outside we took her out, after a little gentle pecking, she and Cleo became best buds.

We also chick-sat for my mom and MIL until they were ready to take the chicks. No problems except that Chloe did get a bit attached and held a small grudge against us where she wouldn't get too close to us for a month or so. She got over it, though.

In short, it really doesn't have to be that complicated. And sending ZsuZsu to another flock wouldn't be any less complicated.

Is there another reason y'all want to replace her with chicks? I don't see why you couldn't just add a single chick. Personally, I think it's nice to stagger the chicken's ages a bit so they don't all stop laying at once. Then it's easier justify keeping the non-layers around (which we plan to since our hens are our pets).

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Conor B. said...

I understand the concern. Even if you got a new pullet there would be weeks before ZsuZsu would have a companion. I think your plan to give her to a larger flock is a good one, especially if you're worried about her loneliness.

Because of your experience, I'm much more inclined to start my urban flock with 3 chicks instead of two, which was what I originally intended. Hope it all works out for you.

Laura said...

You can disregard this if you want, but I really don't think you need to worry about a 3 week quarantine.

I introduce and remove chicks and hens throughout the year, some straight from the hatchery and some from other people. I make sure the birds look healthy, checking for mites/lice and leg mites as well as weight, eye clarity, etc.

If they're healthy and the other birds they were living with look healthy, you can just add them to the coop at night. They'll figure out the pecking order in a day or so and then all will be well.

The worst that's ever happened at our place is a bloody comb and one hen that came with worms (easy to fix).

Of course, you should do what you're comfortable with. My guess is that she's less grieving than she is lonely.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Poet, Meg, Conor and Laura... I appreciate hearing your insights, and I'm back squarely on the fence about giving ZsuZsu up to get two new hens versus just adding another hen overnight.

My partner in crime, Left Coast Mom has put her foot down on anything more than two hens at a time, so that's why we can't move to three birds to guard against finding ourselves with a solo hen again.

Will try to find clarity this weekend and let you know what we decide!

Can't thank you enough for sharing with me. You make this blogging thing so worthwhile.

Unknown said...

I recently had to reintroduce a hen that had gotten sick and was separated from the flock for 3 weeks. The other 3 hens really ganged up on her. I let them free-range in an enclosed area of the yard and so that they had more room and added multiple feeding stations. A week later she is still lowest in the pecking order, but she is gaining back her weight and the other hens are slowly accepting her...I wish you the best. Rebecca

Grauhaus said...

We faced this exact same problem two months ago. One of our two laying hybrid hens was killed by a fox while I let them free-range unsupervised for 30 minutes. The remaining hen, Alice, was very clingy toward us but otherwise continued laying eggs. We worried about her feeling lonely (and having no one to huddle with at night). We decided to buy two Orpington pullets (13-wks) from a nearby chicken breeder, who assured us up and down that they were healthy and clean - and that we need not quarantine them.

We introduced all three outside of the coop. Alice showed no interest, while the other two clung to each other. Once we placed them in the Eglu run together, Alice pecked at the two pullets but seemed satisfied at having established the order pretty quickly. We continued to watch to make sure no one would get hurt, but the pullets just stayed out of Alice's way. All three slept in the coop even, although with Alice at one end and the other two at the opposite end.

Of course, it turns out that one of the two pullets is sick and dies right away. Meanwhile, Alice stopped laying because of the stress and catches a cold. The remaining pullet looked horribly dirty and sick for awhile, but after a moult, she became big and beautiful. We used antibiotics and dewormers on everyone just in case.

Now Alice is finally laying again, although less consistently. The pullet is now a hen and follows Alice diligently. The odd thing is, Alice never ventures far from the coop now. Before the fox attack, the hens used to roam all over our backyard. Meanwhile, the new hen, Sookie, has full waddles but hasn't started laying yet.

The lesson learned: we will only buy pullets from a hatchery.

eyecontact said...

Appreciate all the great advice here. We've always just ordered 4 or 5 one-day-old chicks, reared them separately for a while, then slowly introduced them to the big girl coop. I have to say, it is sweet that you worry about loneliness for your one hen.

One of our old hens died yesterday. And we had to give away a 'surprise rooster'. But overall, the coop is now integrating well.
Good luck to you!

Tarazod Films said...

Thomas, in regards to giving ZsuZsu up to a good home, here in Madison, Liz Perry (of Nutzy Mutz & Crazy Catz fame) started the Urban Chicken Network to connect people and poultry -- for those looking for birds and those with too many chicks to handle.

Liz has connected birds with people throughout the Midwest. There's never any trouble finding good homes for chickens. She may have connections across the country (and the Bay Area) that we don't know about.


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