The first night with our layer chickens: April 26, 2013

By Scott | May 9, 2013 | Backyard Basics, Backyard Chickens, Chicken Coops, Chicken Feed, Health & Safety

first night with our layer chickens

April 26 was an exciting day! We we brought home twelve 19-week-old starter pullets (young hen) from a reputable pullet operation here in Ontario.  These beautiful pullets are ready to lay. By manipulating their feed (or ration) a bit and helping to increase their day length (I’ll explain in detail later), the hormones of these pullets will activate, encouraging them to start laying eggs. These pullets were raised on the floor and not in cages, and had access to daily feed and water. You’ll want to adhere to the standards for raising pullets, which I’ll explain in detail in a post coming soon.

Now our pullets are in their new home–pretty strange compared to the home they came from, but we’ve certainly tried to make it cozy and comfortable!  Now, put yourself in the mind of the chicken:

“This home is smaller than my home last night, but we do have more personal space.  My water is now in a free source, this bell-type drinker, and not the little red nipple it came from last night.  Wow, so much water!  My food is in a large pan–easy to access, and free for me to choose when to eat. This is similar to my food yesterday, but it’s so much easier to eat without the competition of everyone around me.

What’s this? As I look around, there are wooden bars stretching from one wall to the other–so these are what they call perches! I have never seen them before! They are a little high, but do look interesting since all chickens love to perch.  As I look up, there are four open boxes with a fluffy bedding called shavings.  Something seems so comfortable and private about those boxes, they are the perfect spot to lay eggs!  Everything seems so strange, but this seems like a wonderful new home!”

As a coop manager, my focus is on a healthy, comfortable, safe environment for my chickens that will encourage them to thrive and lay eggs. As I take in both my new coop and the new chickens within it, I find myself in wonder at how nature automatically starts such a wonderful process called egg laying.  However wonderful it is, you and I as coop managers must pay attention to details when we receive starter pullets and begin raising them to make sure we aren’t interfering or impeding nature.

As a new manager, you must observe these birds in their new home.  Are they comfortable?  Are they accessing their new water and feed source?  Do they seem happy? Where can they lay an egg and roost or perch?  These are essential for your new birds, as they apply to the principles of bird health and comfort. I’ll help you with the details in these posts, but you can also use your instincts. How do your birds seem to you?

I’ll let you know my first observation upon viewing my pullets in their new home on the first night: the perches I installed in the coop meant absolutely nothing to these new birds.  They will acclimate to them, but they are far too high right now.  After watching the pullets, I know I need to lower the perches and then gradually increase their height once the chickens become accustomed to them.

The first night, as you can see above, the little girls huddled in the corner. We had a bit of an unseasonably cool spring here in Ontario, and they needed a bit of extra warmth. They actually sat or perched on each other.  That is probably a tradition they had on the floor of their old home, but this observation taught me a lot!  First, they were huddling because the night was cool.

Their new home is more open, has more space, and does not provide the body heat of the hundreds around them as was the case in their old home.  based on my observation, I need to close the inlets built into their coop (more on that design feature later) and reduce any drafts they are subjected to.  As mentioned, I will need to lower the perches as chickens love to roost above the ground. Perches make it easier for them to defecate, allowing their droppings to fall to the floor below them.

So what should you do when you get your pullets home?

  1. Sit and observe your chicken’s behavior.  Are they happy? Roosting is innate (inborn, native), but is a learned behavior for a chicken at 19 weeks of age.  Go slowly, start low, and raise the perches for comfort when the birds are older.  They will catch on–they love it!
  2. No heat? Birds will huddle to keep warm and comfortable.  This is natural, but not good–the birds could pile and suffocate. What to do? Avoid drafts in the coop and provide heat if necessary.
  3. Observe their access to feed and water.  They must eat and drink!

So much more to come. I love hearing from you and getting your comments and questions. Let me know what you think about my new coop and my pullets!