Monday, May 26, 2008

Eunice Arrives!

After Cora left in August I wanted to get another hen to fill out our small family of four. By September both Althea and Beatrice were laying and the eggs were wonderful so I was anxious to contine this steady source of eggs. There was no way to know when Delores would begin laying and that meant only two hens and no more than two eggs a day. Getting another hen seemed a natural solution.

The Topsfield Fair holds a poultry auction the weekend after the fair closes and I'd decided to get a hen there. I had no idea what I was getting into... My daughter and her family wanted chicks so along with chicken sitter friend Martha we all headed to Topsfield. The Essex Aggie FFA sponsers this event and all manner of poultry are offered for sale. It's not like a furniture auction where you view the items before the sale - at the poultry auction each item is brought out and auctioned off so there's no way to know what's behind the barn door. Therefore, the first few single hens came and went before I realized I'd better start bidding if I wanted to be sure of getting one. I bid a couple of times but lost and then panic began to set in - what if there were no more single birds? There were plenty of pairs, dozens of chicks, ducks, and turkeys along with other assorted fowl. I decided to go after the next single hen and so I paid $15 for a Silver Campine - a breed I'd never heard of - but a pretty silver bird with a black tail. I later found out this is an ornamental breed from Belgium. Ornamental! What was I thinking? I needed a good sturdy hen with lots of feathers for the cold winter nights.

I now had a 'pullet' (young hen) to add to the family and I knew only the basics of integrating her with the others. We named our new girl 'Eunice' and in taking the advice of an old timer at the fair, placed her in the coop with the other hens after dark knowing that by morning they'd all be friends. Ha! It might have been quiet all night in the coop but when I opened the coop's sliding door in the morning all hell broke loose. It's like going to bed as a kid and waking up to find your parents have adopted another child! You're going to be mad!

Eunice was attacked by all the hens, especially Althea, who seemed most upset by her prescence. It was really very painful to watch the girls go after Eunice who had nowhere to escape. She flew to the top of the coop where she stayed for days. At least she was safe as the other hens wouldn't fly up there. I literally had to put Eunice inside the coop with the others every night just to have her fly out the next morning to her safe spot. Nights were quiet and the days were tense. I tried everything from letting them all out in the yard together (big mistake, Eunice ran off two houses away and had to be cornered in a soccer goal net where I grabbed her) to keeping them in the run for several days with no yard time (another mistake..they went stir crazy) to spraying them with lemon juice at night so they'd all smell the same. Nothing eased the fighting and the best I got was an uneasy truce. Meanwhile, I gave Eunice her own water and food in her perch and prayed a lot.

But this story does have a happy ending. About 3 weeks after Eunice arrived, just when I was considering giving her up, my son-in-law showed up one Sunday morning to start running electricity out to the coop (my birthday present). I came back from church to find Bill digging a trench and four happy hens playing in the yard. No fighting, no blood, just an occasional squawk from Eunice who now tagged along with the others. The fighting was over and Eunice was part of the group. She never went back to her perch above the coop and she went inside with the others every night. It was an amazing transformation. I won't pretend it was completely peaceful after that as Althea had to assert herself as boss and did so with the occasional nip but Eunice obliged by following her everywhere probably to Althea's annoyance.

Since this rather unpleasant period I have since learned there are better ways to introduce a new bird and many folks agree that new birds should be kept in separate cages for up to a month to prevent the introduction of disease to the existing flock - something I'd never even considered! That gives them time to adjust without getting too close so that when they're allowed to mix it isn't quite so scarey. I do know that mixing new and old can have serious consequences and sometimes the birds can be quite cruel with devestating affects. All in all, I was quite lucky in my ignorance....

We now have our full complement of four hens - everyone's laying, they're happy and healthy, and they've certainly enriched my life!


scifichick said...

I love reading your blog! I found it through Sharon's blog and now check here once in a while to see how you are doing. It's fun to find someone online that actually lives next to me! I am in Peabody, so we are practically neighbors :) Though I can't have chickens in a condo I live in, your experience makes it more realistic that one day I can have chickens of my own. Good luck with everything.

Barb said...

Hi Sue,

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P.L. Frederick said...

Learning from your experience is great. I just returned from the Topsfield fair, where I found out about the upcoming auction. We have two hens and were looking for 1-3 more to make a whole flock. Our 2 girls are lonely. Thanks again for the info!

P.L. Frederick (Small & Big)

Anonymous said...

Hi there! We're just over the water in Salem and we'd like to purchase 4 to 6 pullets (Australorps and Buff Orpingtons are our top choices) for eggs, but we'd also like to be able to find someone local who might have chicks for sale rather than buying from a larger hatchery. Do you know of anyone in our general area who has chicks for sale from time to time? Thanks for any help you're able to give. -- Kathy