Greta moves into coop under stealth of night

There’s a new character joining the cast of “As the Coop Turns.”

Those of you who have been following my backyard chicken coop opera for years know this is no small change to the plot.

The addition of a new resident at the Poulet Chalet can really shake things up in the pecking order, and we’re still seeing how the drama will be resolved. It’s all very suspenseful in the chicken compound these days.

Over the years, we’ve seen chickens come and go. Some met an untimely demise, after unfortunate encounters with our jealous dog. Others fell ill and are now buried in the chicken graveyard, ready to rise again during the zombie apocalypse.

This newest character to the backyard chicken soap opera is one that needed sanctuary. I agreed to take her from my friend, Elizabeth, after there was a horrible massacre at her coop and this hen was the lone survivor. Some critter, probably a skunk or raccoon, broke into the coop in the wee hours and decapitated and eviscerated all her chickens, except this one, who managed to escape the carnage.

Many folks don’t know that chickens are highly social creatures and need others to thrive. One of the most depressing things you can have is a lone chicken without any friends. So I agreed to take the traumatized hen and slowly integrate her into the flock at my house.

I arrived at Elizabeth’s house at dusk, as it’s easier to transport chickens in the dark when they’re calm and their reptilian brains shut off for the night. This is the same reason I doctor my chickens in the dark with a headlamp, because they’re easier to manage, and I imagine they don’t remember much in the morning, like an alien abduction.

Armed with a large tomato box and my headlamp, we headed out to her coop, where the hen roosted alone in the dark. We hummed the “Mission Impossible” theme as we walked through the garden in the dark. Elizabeth grabbed the hen gently, lifting her from her roost and presenting her to me. I said hello and we put her in the box, where she didn’t make a peep.

We decided since she was entering witness protection, she needed a new name. She’s a delicate, grayish chicken with feathers on her feet, lace-patterned feathers and an elegant way of walking around. She was going to be my prettiest chicken, so we decided to name her Greta Garbo, after the international film star from the 1920s.

The drive home was a bit dodgy for poor Greta. I could hear her sliding around in the tomato box, and she let out a small squawk at one point. When we made it home, I gently put her on the roost in the smaller coop I use for introducing new birds or secluding those that are unwell, so she could get used to her new surroundings without being bullied by the flock.

In the morning, she pecked around her new habitat, nonplussed at the relocation. This new place seemed all right.

In a few weeks, after she and the others have had plenty of time to get used to each other, I’ll do the same thing we did before. I’ll sneak her into the main coop in the middle of the night, and they’ll all wake up together like it was never any different.

The quarantine period is also a good idea anytime you add to a flock, so you can observe the new animals for any parasites, disease or issues before introducing them to your existing chickens.

Sneaking the new chickens into the coop at night is a trick I learned the last time we added to the original flock we started at the beginning of our chicken-keeping adventure four years ago.

Two years ago, we added some chickens that needed a home after an aspiring backyard flock keeper discovered her homeowners association wouldn’t allow her to keep chickens. Estelle, Camilla and Miss Cleo came to live at our house after they had been raised in a garage at the former owner’s workplace, where they quickly outgrew their quarters.

Over time, they’ve found their places in the caste system of the coop, which is just how chickens behave.

Little Geri, the large-and-in-charge manly hen, will always rule supreme until she shows weakness and the others topple her from her throne.

And Greta, the newest, smallest chicken, will take the lowest rung of the ladder until the population changes again.

But I know her survival skills will come in handy. If she managed to escape being eviscerated by a critter in the night, then all the single ladies are no match for the newest member of the cast.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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