Saturday, April 30, 2016

Salmon Faverolles: Introducing new chickens to the flock

One of my hens sadly died.

“Sad? It was only a chicken.”

But it was a part of the flock, one of Barney the cockerel’s girls. And he and the other hens were unusually subdued when I took the ailing hen away.

She – Sylvie, a large Silver-laced Wyandotte – was lethargic, lost her balance, wouldn’t stand and wasn’t feeding or drinking. The condition had come on pretty quickly. I saw something similar a few years ago in a Light Sussex hen and thought then that she may have had a stroke.

However, this time I was concerned in case it may have been a transmissible disease and so, in order to protect the others, I duly took Sylvie to the vet’s.

£85 later and totally none the wiser, I embarked on five days of hand-feeding her soaked and mashed-up layers pellets three times a day plus the expensive antibiotic tablets (‘…just in case she has an infection’). Then she died while I was feeding her.

Apart from being subdued, the other four hens and the cockerel were all healthy. So I decided it was safe to replace the hen I’d lost.

But introducing new chickens to the flock – especially a young one at point-of-lay – can be tough on birds. Hens do bully each other or, more specifically, newcomers to the flock. They establish a pecking order – quite literally.

So I decided to get two new hens rather than one, to keep each other company and dilute the impact of bullying. I hoped.

I wanted large birds and chose Salmon Faverolles for several reasons. First, they are a different colour – light brown – from the mainly white Light Sussex and dark grey-brown Cuckoo Marans. And they are also good-natured, curious birds, In addition to this, however, they are said to lay well over winter, an activity my other hens could do with support in.

I had to go all the way down to the deepest, darkest New Forest to find the right birds - more than a 200 mile round-trip. By coincidence, I’d bought Sylvie and another Silver-laced Wyandotte from just up the road from here.

The Faverolles had each laid their first eggs in the last seven days and were not yet into full production but seemed healthy, tame and curious. I was pleased with the purchase.

The other hens, however, were suspicious of them, as was Barney. I had to lift them in to the hen house that night – and for a few nights afterwards too. They have stuck together and do get pecked and chased a little by the Light Sussex and Cuckoo Marans – even though they are slightly bigger.

But they’ve worked out their pecking order and a relative peace has settled on the hen pen. And in all of this, Barney – who totally rules the roost – wasn’t nearly as aggressive to the newcomers as his harem was.

The other aspect to report on, of course, is that they are laying nicely – six or seven-eggs-a-week each. However, let it be noted that I’d call the eggs small rather than medium sized as some of the books describe them.

I’m sure I’ll update you on this in the weeks and months ahead.