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The truth about Hens (from my experience)

  • #1
    Registered Users Posts: 51 ✭✭ The Wild Goose


    I'm new to smallholding, and have lots of plans to grow lots of things.
    Unfortunately due to other matters coming into play, most notably having to get my cottage into some form of civilized, liveable state, I've had to prioritise and consign most 'growing stuff' to the to-do list temporarily.

    However, I did get some hens.
    I've had them for around 9 months now.
    I've read about hens being 'the staple of the smallholding', how they have their own personalities and how they're a joy to own.
    So I bought a coop, some electric fencing, bedding, food, mite powder etc. etc., everything required to keep happy healthy hens.
    Then I took ownership of 8 rescue hens.

    My thoughts on keeping hens are subject to my own experiences, so maybe other people's may not be similar, but here's my thoughts after 9 months of hen-keeping....

    1. Hens are vicious and cruel.

    I had bought an 8 hen coop for 8 hens, however I soon discovered that one hen was being mercilessly subjected to bullying by some of the others, to the extent that I thought it might die.
    Why? They had shelter, ample food and water, and around 150 square metres to scratch and explore in, so it's not like they were confined in a small area.
    So I bought a 2nd coop and moved the bullied hen in there, separated by fencing from the others, and when the bullies turned their attention to a second hen I moved that one in there too.
    Everything went fine for a while, and eventually the separation fencing disintegrated so I removed it completely, and harmony ruled for a bit. Then the bullying turned to a completely different hen? Then the bullying turned to the hen I had identified as the main culprit involved in the previous bullying??
    When I say bullying I mean pulling and pecking out feathers, harassing her around the run, and not allowing the hen to eat or drink properly.

    Now I understand a hierarchy is prevalent in flock or pack animals, but not to the severity of this, and not subject to change of victim on a regular basis.
    Winter is fast approaching and with the loss of plumage on the bullied birds at this rate some may not make it through the winter.

    2. Hens are dirty.

    Yes all animals poop, but how many choose to poop where they sleep?
    The coops have perches, but they've taken to ignoring these and four or five hens will cram into the nesting boxes at night...and poop away where they're sleeping.
    Most other animals that I'm aware of will at least try to poop as far away from where they sleep as possible. These seem to do the opposite.

    3. Hens are cannibals.

    Well maybe not, but they will eat their (or possibly others) eggs?
    I've regularly opened up a coop in the morning to see a group of hens happily devouring a newly laid egg. And if you couple this with the fact that if a hen sees blood on another hen it will happily 'go for it', it doesn't really cast the species in a good light, does it?

    So, was I unlucky enough to take charge of a flock of psychotic hens, or is the romanticized view I'd read of hens being interesting, lovable and fun just a fantasy?


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Comments



  • I am not a hen expert, but I do have hens. Some were reared by a broody hen and some hand reared by me.
    The hand reared ones will follow me around the garden quite happily. If I am digging they will be on the end of the shovel waiting for grubs.
    You do need to keep them out of the vegetable patch as they will just as readily eat the cabbages etc. rather than the bugs.

    Your factory hens were kept in a small cages, one hen per cage, for their entire lives, no room to move about and no perch, no stimulation and no toys, no way of socialising.
    Yes you probably have a flock of dysfunctional, psychotic, agoraphobic hens that never had a friend, never learned to use a perch and may never adjust to life outside of a cage but give it time and they will settle down.




  • The term pecking order came from hens. The will establish the order starting with weakest first. All you can do is allow it to happen. Mixing batches if older hens isn't ideal for this situation.

    Younger hens will establish an order easier




  • I was looking at Escape to the Country. A couple had moved to a rural location, and among their wish list was having hens.
    When they were revisited they said they kept them for a while, but gave up because they attracted rats.
    I don't remember a rat problem at home when I was a young lad with hens.




  • I may get slaughtered for this, but it often seems to me that these problems nearly always seem to come with rescued, ex-battery hens. Is that what yours are op?
    Ex-batts never learn how to perch. From my own observations amongst our fairly large flock of mostly various heritage breed hens, many of whom hatched here and have never known life outside our place, they need to learn how to perch and roost from about 4ish weeks of age. If they're deprived of that opportunity, as battery hens are, they very often will never do it even when presented with the opportunity later in life. You could try placing them onto a perch after dusk for a few nights in a row. Once you "position" a hen after dusk, they usually stay put for the night. Our overwhelming experience here has been once you create a new way of doing things, it takes 2-3 days for this to be adopted as the new normal for the hens. If one or two hens start doing it, there's a better chance that the others will eventually follow suit.

    Hens poop where they sit or stand. Normally, this isn't a problem... During the day, they poop and can walk away from it. At night, they're on a roost, it just falls harmlessly to the floor. So, nature kinda takes care of their hygiene without them having to think about it! But the lack of tendency to roost in battery hens means that they still poop... But they're sitting right on it then.
    For the record, I'm not aware of any poultry that deliberately move away from where they poop. We have turkeys and geese too. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that if you give geese a certain night-time set-up, there is a possibility they'll poop away from where they sleep, to some degree at least.

    Bullying... Again, this seems to almost always plague ex-batt hens. We have a few dozen hens, and there's rarely any trouble, other than the usual handbags-at-dawn stuff that hens do. Never any injuries. None of them are ex-batts. Everyone I know who's coping with bad bullying, owns ex-batt hens. I *think* that this is related to them not having the opportunity to learn social skills as youngsters. It may also be related to some hens learning that bullying works really well when you live in crowded conditions, to get you more space/food/water etc.
    With ex-batts too, they're really thrown in at the deep end when they're rehomed... They've probably never met each other, they've never had freedom, they've never learned how to live effectively within a pecking order... So they've a lot of new concepts to get used to very quickly. No wonder they run into problems!
    The general advice, when there is bullying, is to remove the bully(s) from the flock for a few days... Allow the flock to consolidate and form allegiances, then re-introduce the bully(s). With ex-batts, this may very well be a movable feast, and something you've to do on a reasonably regular basis.
    I also can't emphasise the importance of having enough space. An 8-hen coop for 8 hens is never big enough. I'd be worried about putting 6 into an 8-hen coop, I'd be more likely to only have 4 hens in it. It may be that your provision of the 2nd coop came too late and the dye had been cast in terms of henny interpersonal relationships. But it's a useful philosophy for all group-dwelling animals... Give them more space and resources (feeding stations, water, perches, nest boxes) than you think they'll need.
    A good rooster is often a good anti-bullying device too! Our lad will intervene and scold any hens that start getting uppity with each other. But I realise it's not for everyone to keep a rooster.
    Breed of hen can also be a factor. Some breeds are tremendously easygoing, whilst others are more... Bitchy. Light Sussex for example are such popular backyard hens not just because they're good layers, but because they're too laid back to get into fights with anyone!
    I do understand your horror at the bullying... We have a few young turkeys being raised for Christmas, and they are utter assholes. Fine most of the time, but if they get an idea in their head, or if they spot a tiny weakness, they will relentlessly bully and attack each other, and the hens. So much so that they're kept separate from the hens now. They're like unsocialised teenage scumbags really.

    Egg-eating is perfectly normal. It's not cannabilism really... Hens hardly see eggs as potential baby chicks... They're just a tasty source of protein for them. It's a nuisance when they do it, but it's perfectly natural.

    So, as you may have gathered, keeping hens has been a very enjoyable experience for us! But whilst rescuing ex-batt hens is very laudable, it's not without its problems when it comes to behavioural issues. We have some rescue hens... But they're not ex-batt, and they're fab.




  • Rescue hens are a noble sentiment but I would guess your bad experience is directly related to the fact they are rescue hens.

    I bought a lash of turkeys mid August and the guy threw in 10 tiny chicks to sweeten the deal, nothing better than to see them grow and develop in front of your eyes. Had them separated from other hens, ducks and turkeys for about 8 weeks and then left them in together to fend for themselves. The only bullying they do is towards the turkeys at feeding time, all happy out in each others company from day one.

    Won't see an egg from them for another few months but they'll be well established by then.

    "Very soon we are going to Mars. You wouldn't have been going to Mars if my opponent won, that I can tell you. You wouldn't even be thinking about it."

    Donald Trump, March 13th 2018.



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  • +1 on the size of the Coop. We bought a 6 hen, Coop initially which was realistically suitable for 3 hens. Suffered a lot of bullying, (RIR), and ended up separating them up until we got a bigger Coop.



    TT




  • Thanks to all who've responded...

    To answer some questions, yes they are ex battery hens, and I think they're a Rhode Island red/ Light Sussex cross (but I'm no expert)

    See the thing is this.
    When I got them initially, I was amazed at how quickly the adopted to their new surroundings. By day two, although they'd never stood on grass before, they began doing their "scratch, scratch, look" walk, or as I called it 'the chicken two-step'.
    They followed me around the run and even became cheeky, trying to perch on my shoulder when cleaning the coops, and pecking at my boots. The majority slept on perches too, and mainly laid in the nesting box.
    As I said, when I removed the segregated fencing around May they were fine.
    They were behaving like well-adjusted, normal hens.

    But then it all seems to have changed. They began laying in grass, abandoning the perches and the bullying returned.
    Yet nothing has changed in their environment, and there's no evidence of predators in the area.
    They have two coops, and I let them choose where to sleep before closing up for the night.
    The sleeping arrangements vary, and can be 4/4, 5/3 or 6/2, but for the first time last week it was 7/1.
    Next day I kept an eye on the lone hen, and quickly noticed it was being bullied.
    I identified the main culprit, gave it a smack on the arse and chased it into a coop, where it remained for an hour or two.
    And now, that's the one who's being bullied?
    Could it be that they view me as some form of surrogate cockerel maybe?
    Because I chased the bully, they're copying me?

    The whole thing is very odd.
    It's like that from being battery hens, nature and hard-wiring kicked in and they became normal hens, but although their environment has remained constant they have switched again to becoming a little bit crazy.
    Maybe as people are saying ex battery hens have 'issues'.




  • A lot of people confuse "Hybrid" laying chickens with the Rohde Island Red.

    Nearly all if not all chickens used to produce eggs in battery cage farms in Ireland are "Hybrid" chickens, they are literally egg laying machines that have no other purpose and average an egg a day everyday all year round.

    The Rohde Island Red is a dual purpose bird in that it can be kept for laying eggs or to fatten for the table.

    It is very good for both but it will only average about 260 eggs a year which is no good to an egg producer and equally the "Hybrid" would be no good to raise to eat.

    Your thread title should be "The truth about battery hens" it would actually be very helpful to inexperienced, want to be, poultry keepers as I find a lot of newcomers tend to want to rescue old hens without knowing the possible downsides.

    Fair play to you for giving it a go, but don't let it put you off keeping poultry, it's a great pastime.

    "Very soon we are going to Mars. You wouldn't have been going to Mars if my opponent won, that I can tell you. You wouldn't even be thinking about it."

    Donald Trump, March 13th 2018.





  • You're probably right about the title, but because the hens seemed to 'normalise' pretty quickly after arrival, I presumed all hens must behave in this way and fluctuate between normal and crazy. Apparently not.

    Maybe I should enlist the services of a hen-whisperer.....




  • Don't despair. I have hens of all flavours (rescues included) and a cockerel. The pecking order is "fluid" it seems, although there is one little bantam who is always at the bottom. If you don't have a cockerel maybe consider introducing one?
    Mine have a huge coop, plenty of room to sort themselves out nightly. And the sleeping arrangements do change, weekly it seems.
    My rescues have never learned to perch either - they prefer to sleep in the nest boxes.
    Whatever - plenty of poop for the compost heap!


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  • We’ve had hens for a few years.

    Identifying the bully is often the best route.
    We also hang up leuttice and cabbage to give a bit of entertainment, it distracts them a bit.

    Pretty much all animals except pigs will soil the bedding where they lay. Pigs dedicate a corner to soil and sleep/eat as far from that as they can.

    Make sure they’re getting enough grit and calcium, if they are low in calcium they crave it and shells are a common source. Often one hen breaks the egg and the others will feed on them. Provide grit and calcium and get out early to collect eggs. It’s not cannibalism really.




  • Do all your husbands/male partners have beards?

    Mod note..... Hi KevinCavan, this post falls short of the standard we expect in Farming and Forestry. Unless there's a very good reason that I'm missing ( feel free to pm me details!) please don't post in this thread again.
    Thanking you.
    GC




  • KevinCavan wrote: »
    Do all your husbands/male partners have beards?

    All of mine do, yeah. It's a right ZZ Top look alike fest come roosting time.
    Can't speak for Brian.
    Any particular reason why you're interested in the hirsuteness or otherwise of posters' partners?
    Aah! Do you maybe have a problem with your own hairline that you think keeping poultry might help with?
    I'll collect and send you some feathers if you like.
    ;)




  • Sorry, it's Friday night.

    I thought OP was referring to the Hens on a mad Hen weekend!

    Sounds a bit easier than REAL hens TBH. But best of luck anyway.




  • Some bullying hens like to ruffle the feathers of their victims, some humans like to do likewise apparently?
    Meanwhile back on planet earth....

    @ Brian
    Yes I identified the bully but having admonished it, she herself became the bullied one?
    As I said, it was like some of the others took the lead from me?
    I think I can take a couple of things from this post...

    a) There's a strong possibility that ex-battery hens can behave 'a little strangely'
    b) I may have to reintroduce the 'solitary confinement' section.

    Oddly enough, for the first time since I introduced the 2nd coop, all eight hens nested in one coop tonight (like I said, I think my lot are a bit 'unorthodox'?

    Off the topic of hens but still in the smallholding arena...
    In the field today I noticed that the plum and pear trees had lost all their foliage, the Braeburn's are losing theirs, but....the Bramley cooker has some fresh green leaves and buds?? Is this unusual in November? Is this a climate change thingy?




  • Have kept hens for about 12 year.Never had rescue hens i always buy 3 or 4 point of lay Rhode island red and they usually get on fine. Problem with a lot of people they spend mad money on hen coops that dont last they come flat packed and look lovely for a while but usually don't survive the first winter and they give up. I am on my 3rd hen coop but this one is designed and built to last with a slate roof and a closed in run,its a nice feature in the garden you need a good feeder i bought a grandpa feeder on Amazon cost 170 delivered and water drinkers cost about 60 quid so i have probably spent about 800 quid on a set up for 4 hens but they will pay for themselves over time. It costs 1 euro a week to feed 4 hens and for that i get 28 eggs give or take 1 or 2 so money well spent in my opinion.




  • Didn't want to start another thread.

    We've just moved onto our small bit of land - around 13 acres. Getting hens soon. A friend of mine is going to make a hen house for us - he'd be fairly handy - just wondering if anyone has any photo's/links to the ideal hen house!? I'd imagine we'll never have anymore than a half dozen hens but would like to allow for a small increase in numbers just in case so a house big enough for a dozen should be fine.Thanks.




  • Didn't want to start another thread.

    We've just moved onto our small bit of land - around 13 acres. Getting hens soon. A friend of mine is going to make a hen house for us - he'd be fairly handy - just wondering if anyone has any photo's/links to the ideal hen house!? I'd imagine we'll never have anymore than a half dozen hens but would like to allow for a small increase in numbers just in case so a house big enough for a dozen should be fine.Thanks.

    I can only recommend a small garden shed. much easier to keep clean and you have several options. You can part off one side if its a bit big so you can store food and all that and if you decide to get more you have he space.

    OP:
    I had and still have some ex batts and this behavior is typical for them. They never learned how to be normal hens even that they are out Scratching and all. Its a shame that they are getting advertised for beginners. It might help if you get a cockreal to keep the peace.




  • Hi all,

    Just seen a picture online of an area for hens that had light green netting over the top of it.

    Has anyone used this and is it sufficient to keep predators out?




  • LouD2016 wrote: »
    Hi all,

    Just seen a picture online of an area for hens that had light green netting over the top of it.

    Has anyone used this and is it sufficient to keep predators out?


    Hi , is it the windbreak netting, that your looking at? something like this?https://tarpaulinfactory.ie/wind-shade-netting?product_id=368
    you might put up a link, so we can see it,

    I had it on the girls pen, over chicken wire, as I get a lot of driving rain and wind, (since changed the sides to shelterflex still with wire under it, and put proper roof on)

    if it is just a windbreaker, it would not keep a fox out, you would need to have chicken wire under it. it would stop crows and other birds getting in.
    let us know, :)


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  • Thank you for the reply :)

    https://www.google.ie/search?q=netting+over+a+chicken+run&safe=active&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjkjMnjuejgAhUaThUIHS1pDkcQ_AUIDigB&biw=1280&bih=855#imgrc=u-OgOu3ztA9DJM:&spf=1551701392676

    Hopefully this link works! I cant find the original page I was on but it looked similar to this only green.

    Just wondering would that kind of thing be too flimsy or is it enough to keep predators out?




  • LouD2016 wrote: »
    Thank you for the reply :)

    https://www.google.ie/search?q=netting+over+a+chicken+run&safe=active&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjkjMnjuejgAhUaThUIHS1pDkcQ_AUIDigB&biw=1280&bih=855#imgrc=u-OgOu3ztA9DJM:&spf=1551701392676

    Hopefully this link works! I cant find the original page I was on but it looked similar to this only green.

    Just wondering would that kind of thing be too flimsy or is it enough to keep predators out?

    I bought one similar from eBay. Run some wire down the sides and under it to stop anything getting in.




  • Got 3 hens a month ago. Had a 'secure' pen and house and was on the watch out for foxes and pine martens (plenty of them in the area). Didn't think I needed to be worried about the two dogs (both labs - one a bitch and one a pup) but they made mince meat of them after a few days - literally (one of them was able to forcefully push open the clasp on the hen house with it's nose).

    Got 3 more hens two weeks ago. More secure pen now and the dogs definitely can't get in. However they are sometimes sniffing around the pen and in the 2 weeks we've had the hens we've only had 2 eggs in total?

    Any ideas bar shooting the two dogs!!??




  • Got 3 hens a month ago. Had a 'secure' pen and house and was on the watch out for foxes and pine martens (plenty of them in the area). Didn't think I needed to be worried about the two dogs (both labs - one a bitch and one a pup) but they made mince meat of them after a few days - literally (one of them was able to forcefully push open the clasp on the hen house with it's nose).

    Got 3 more hens two weeks ago. More secure pen now and the dogs definitely can't get in. However they are sometimes sniffing around the pen and in the 2 weeks we've had the hens we've only had 2 eggs in total?

    Any ideas bar shooting the two dogs!!??
    You are hardly going to shoot the dogs, they were there first and with patience and training you can get them used to the hens under supervision. In the meantime a couple of strands of electric fence set away from the hen run will put manners on the dogs and they will quickly learn to keep away from the immediate area.




  • Base price wrote: »
    You are hardly going to shoot the dogs, they were there first and with patience and training you can get them used to the hens under supervision. In the meantime a couple of strands of electric fence set away from the hen run will put manners on the dogs and they will quickly learn to keep away from the immediate area.

    CAN I JUST MAKE IT CLEAR - I'M NOT CONTEMPLATING SHOOTING THE DOGS!!!!!




  • CAN I JUST MAKE IT CLEAR - I'M NOT CONTEMPLATING SHOOTING THE DOGS!!!!!
    OK, try the electric fence.




  • Got 3 hens a month ago. Had a 'secure' pen and house and was on the watch out for foxes and pine martens (plenty of them in the area). Didn't think I needed to be worried about the two dogs (both labs - one a bitch and one a pup) but they made mince meat of them after a few days - literally (one of them was able to forcefully push open the clasp on the hen house with it's nose).

    Got 3 more hens two weeks ago. More secure pen now and the dogs definitely can't get in. However they are sometimes sniffing around the pen and in the 2 weeks we've had the hens we've only had 2 eggs in total?

    Any ideas bar shooting the two dogs!!??


    Hi, sometimes hens take a bit longer to start laying, as they might just be that bit younger then 20 or so weeks, and some breeds take that bit longer to lay then others.

    check around pen,(as some will lay anywhere, till they work out nest boxes, you could put dummy eggs in)
    check one of them not eating eggs, or laying shell less eggs, young hens take a while to settle into laying.
    Rats can be another prob,( eating/ stealing eggs.


    they will settle down, and get into a routine in time.


    Ref your dogs, I trained my chap and each foster dogs not to chase hens, that they are part of the family, worth the time to do it, as I like to have the hens free range .


    Best of luck , and enjoy your hens, they are such funny and interesting creatures with huge personalities.:)




  • 2. Hens are dirty.

    Yes all animals poop, but how many choose to poop where they sleep?
    The coops have perches, but they've taken to ignoring these and four or five hens will cram into the nesting boxes at night...and poop away where they're sleeping.
    Most other animals that I'm aware of will at least try to poop as far away from where they sleep as possible. These seem to do the opposite.
    Seems to depend on the hens. The 1st batch my mum got shat where they slept, but the 2nd batch doesn't.

    =-=

    For anyone getting a house for their hens, having a side door on the hen-house to give easy access to where the hens lay their eggs is handy. The setup my mum has is that the hen-house is raised, and is next to the fence/wall of the coop. There is a window/door in the fence that opens which allows the eggs to be gathered without having to go into the coop. Having the hen-house raised, coupled with the side door, allows easy cleaning of the hen-house from outside the coop.




  • Got 3 hens a month ago. Had a 'secure' pen and house and was on the watch out for foxes and pine martens (plenty of them in the area). Didn't think I needed to be worried about the two dogs (both labs - one a bitch and one a pup) but they made mince meat of them after a few days - literally (one of them was able to forcefully push open the clasp on the hen house with it's nose).

    Got 3 more hens two weeks ago. More secure pen now and the dogs definitely can't get in. However they are sometimes sniffing around the pen and in the 2 weeks we've had the hens we've only had 2 eggs in total?

    Any ideas bar shooting the two dogs!!??

    I can only tell what works for me, I keep hunting terriers and I like to let them and the poultry free to roam around outside the house. Once I train a dog I have no qualms in leaving it unattended.

    Some people might tell you that you do not need to raise your voice when training a dog.

    I 100% disagree, catch the dog in the act of scaring poultry and scare the **** out of it like it never expected with shouting and other loud noises until it cowers or runs away in fear.

    If it kills a chicken when you are not there, be patient, let it see you are not happy without being angry towards it.

    The next time it thinks you are not looking and it goes near the poultry scare the **** out of it again.

    Sometimes you gotta be cruel to be kind in the right measure.

    "Very soon we are going to Mars. You wouldn't have been going to Mars if my opponent won, that I can tell you. You wouldn't even be thinking about it."

    Donald Trump, March 13th 2018.



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  • Things have got worse now as the dog has feckin attacked one of our cats and severely mangled it. We moved out to the country last year and the dog seems to have discovered some natural instinct that's been buried for years.


    Hens are laying now though.....


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