Getting two eggs a day from one's backyard is nice, but three is even better. On a recent trip to my friend Leland's farm in Cambelford we made sure to stop in at their weekly livestock auction. This place was a real scene. Inside a large barn, off the side of the highway, an auctioneer was gathering bids as calves were pushed in and out of small doors. My three vegetarian accomplices didn't much care for this part of the livestock auction so we went outside where the smaller livestock were being sold. This is where chickens, turkeys, pigeons, and rabbits were sold. The man I wanted to see was Chicken Charlie, who is known around Cambelford for having the best selection of heritage breed birds. Chicken Charlie had more than just chickens, he had cats, dogs, bantams, and turkey's. He also had meat bunnies and pet bunnies, which Kayla quickly learned the difference between, meat bunnies are five dollars and pet bunnies are ten. While Kayla ran around trying to get enough money to buy all the meat bunnies and set them free, I started to look at all of Chicken Charlie's heritage breeds.
Chicken Charlie had Silkies, Barred Plymouth Rocks, crazy looking Polands, and your standard Rhode Island Reds. The one that I decided would be best suited for us was a beautifully feathered and docile Speckled Sussex. The standard manner of purchasing heritage breed birds is to get both a rooster and a hen in a package deal. This makes sense for anybody in the country as you'll want your eggs to be incubated so you can replenish your flock with chicks rather than buying new birds. But in the city roosters are not the greatest idea. Roosters make loud cocka-doodle-doo's all day long and, while I might find it charming, I am sure would eventually irritate the neighbors resulting in a call to Toronto's bylaw enforcement offices. In fact the neighbor who borders the west side of our backyard had his chickens taken away several years ago after he had bought and begun to house a boisterous rooster.
Chicken Charlie wasn't entirely on board with selling me just a hen, and couldn't quite comprehend why my neighbors would have a problem. He even pondered what this country is coming too if the government can tell you not to have chickens. After a little haggling and five dollars added on to the price of the hen he agreed to sell me Samantha for a wopping 25$. This is a fancy chicken when you consider Baylik and Hepzebah were only 7 bucks a pop. As Chicken Charlie handed Samantha over to me he didn't treat her as the fancy expensive chicken she is as he pulled her out of her cage by a wing and shoved her into my chest. With wings flapping and a few loud squawks I placed her into a box for the ride home, which always seems to instantly calm a hen.
I have always heard that introducing a new hen to a flock can be difficult. It can result in pecking, defeathering, and even death. All sources that I have read, and even Chicken Charlie, suggest that new hens should be introduced at night while the original hens are asleep. In the early hours of their first morning together this seemed to have worked. The three of them all peacefully pecked at the grass together, and so with a big smile on my face I went back to bed. When I returned to the yard a couple of hours later Franka, who had been watching from her backyard into ours, warned me that "they are going to kill that poor chicken". I suppose Baylik and Hepzebah hadn't realized that a new hen was pecking along side them until after I had gone back to bed. Once they did realize, they did not appreciate her presence.
We decided to wait it out for a few days and see if the pecking would subside. After three days of pecking, several warnings from Franka, and a growing pile of Samantha's removed feathers I decided to build a separate coop for Sam. I decided to go with a triangular coop design. The triangular design allows for a coop with a smaller foot print because the roost area is built above the run. This was important as I didn't want to clutter the backyard with another structure. I also wanted the coop to stay small and light so that it can be moved around the yard, and maybe to the front yard so that the hens can mow the lawn.
Now that Samantha has her own coop she is getting along much better with the other two ladies. They even peck along side each other with out much incident. Samantha has also put on a little weight and become a little more bold, and with her sharp beak and flying capabilities may even become top hen someday. From this experience I also realized that I am pretty good at building coops and so, If anyone is interested in raising their own backyard hens they may want to check out this craigslist ad http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/tor/grd/1766576663.html .