How Much Do You Feed Chickens?

I think I was starving my chickens.  I am not proud of this.  Further reason that this blog serves as a place to educate folks on exactly how-to because I can never find the answers on these things until it hits me in the face!

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So, when we first got our chickens, we had eight.  Three or so scoops two or three times a day to spoil them, lots of scraps, running around the yard, they were all set.  We lost some, got some more, now at fifteen, upped the food ration some, everything seemed good.  Lost some, gained some, now we are at twenty-four as of last August.  Upped it a little (now at nine scoops a day, probably the equivalent to a cup and a half a scoop) and that is when I noticed as the girls (and rooster) got bigger over this autumn that they seemed more desperate.  We blamed it on our move, then their molting.  We noticed that the gate kept being opened to the chicken yard.  We asked the neighbors, no one had touched it.  We put a cinder block in front of the gate, they moved it.  They meaning twenty-four hysterical birds.  They did indeed descend from dinosaurs.  Velociraptors, I think!

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I began to ask around how much should we be giving the chickens.  They stopped laying eggs all together.  They didn’t look emaciated, but they certainly weren’t happy.  Sandy and Lisa both just fill up the feeders in their coops.  Doug said the chickens will go through it in one day!

“Then they were hungry!” was Sandy’s smart reply!

So, he filled up the two foot high feeder.  And it was half gone the first day.  But since then it has leveled off and we were indeed starving our chickies and we feel terrible about that.  Sandy also mentioned that throwing out a bowl full of scratch daily is added protein and food.

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We read several articles and books.  None of them ever mentioned just filling the feeders up.  In fact, I have read that you don’t free feed because they will just eat and eat and eat.  I also read that you don’t keep a heat lamp on or they get “weak” and that if the power went out on a cold night they wouldn’t be used to it and would die.  I have read all sorts of things, but here is the conclusion that this farmer has come up with.

Henry Higgin's replacement.  Meet Christopher Robin.  Let's hope he's nicer than Henry!

Free feed.  Particularly in the winter, without being able to run around and find bugs and such.  They need more food in the winter to keep warm.  They produce eggs for me which is food to me.  They deserve fresh water, treats, and plenty of food.  They deserve a red light in the coop.  It was negative twenty-two degrees last night.  We turned on the lamp!  They may not be pets in the sense that the cats are, but they are still in my care and on my farm and should receive the exact same care and treatment as the indoor animals.  I free feed the cats and dogs, why not the chickens.

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I hate learning farming lessons the hard way but then at least I can help out a new chicken person when they ask the internet, “How much do I feed my chickens?”

 

A Bathtub of Fluff (mid-summer chicks)

We saw the sign on the door of Big R (our local farm store) as we walked in, “Chicks arrive July 31st!”  We have never taken home chicks mid-summer but it made rather good sense.  Just a day or so earlier Doug was talking to someone who told him that if we get chicks in the summer they start laying in mid-winter when many of the girls have slowed production.  After losing three chickens last week and the others on strike, we figured we better get some more chickies.

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I think it is absolutely fabulous that places like Denver and Colorado Springs allow chickens.  The fact that they only allow eight and four birds respectively is baffling to me, however.  What would one do with four birds?  Should one die, or go broody, or the others stop laying for winter, or whatever the situation may be, it would be hard to keep enough eggs coming in!  Plus I seem to have a chicken addiction.  Not an addiction to eating them, but rather to watching their antics and having them around.  So Saturday our numbers jumped to twenty five and secured our permanent place in the country.

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We went in to the enclosure to pick out our new chicks and cooed and chased down the cutest and fluffiest ones then would give them a kiss before putting them in the travel box.  Both of us, completely smitten by the little birds.  The burly salesmen eyed us as if we might be from the city…or Mars.

The house has more charm with chirping in the air.  The little fluff balls running about the bathtub are adorable and in the middle of winter our teenagers and ducks, plus these ten layers will provide, not only priceless entertainment, but numerous meals with farm fresh eggs.

The Making of a Future Farmgirl

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Her smile widened as she shoved weeds through the holes in the chain link.  Little giggles filled the air as the goats took the greens from her and chomped appreciatively.

Our neighbor is getting married this weekend and some of her guests came over last night after arriving from southern California.  The smallest guest is probably seven years old, her long red hair perfectly in place with a headband, smartly dressed, with little freckles on her smiling face.  She stood mesmerized by the farm animals wandering our back yard.

We had just come home from a long farmers market and were lounging on the lawn chairs slightly hidden by the lilac bush.  Anti-social at the moment as we were so very exhausted.  After a bit though, my passion for sharing this lifestyle with others, especially children, got the better of me and I wandered over to her with a baby chicken.

“Would you like to see one of our chicks?” I asked her.  Her eyes lit up as she ran her petite hands over the soft plume of feathers.  I introduced her to the goats and called them by name.  She laughed at Isabelle standing off by herself yelling towards the back door.  She was summoning Doug to come milk her.

The little girl’s parents each took a turn coming over and talking to me, ever watchful of their young charge.  Doug came out with the milk bucket and the little girl got excited.  We invited her over to watch Doug milk.  We had the dad just lift her over the fence.  She followed me, practically dancing, petting chickens along the way.  As we approached the garage, the dad looked worried and in about twenty seconds appeared at the garage door.  We taught the little girl how to milk and we all laughed out loud each time the milk went flying in a different direction from her tiny fingers.  I then offered her a glass of chocolate milk from the kitchen.

“We’ll wait out here,” declared her dad.

“Suit yourself, but we have eight cats in here!”  I could tell the little girl wanted to come in but was content watching the ducklings until I returned.  She gulped down the chocolate milk, tried to pet the ducks, and decided she might become a farmer.

The two went back to their party.  When I went out to close up the chickens at dusk, she was still at the fence feeding the goats strands of weeds through the chain link, a million miles from home.

 

The Chick That Wanted To Be A Duck

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Can you see who is hiding from me here?  As if I will not notice that the chicks on the other side of the tub number one less?

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At any given time, one can peek in and see five ducks.  I mean four ducks and one wannabe.  Macchiato is pretty constantly damp as she likes to run through the water with the ducks and hides behind them if I try to remove her.  These are her buddies, and gosh darn it, she is a duck!

To Love (or shoot) a Rooster

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From the beginning, when the little bundles of fluff arrived home, they received kisses and hugs.  It makes them tame chickens.  When we figured out that Louisa was now Henry Higgins, he got doubled the kisses.  I have heard the horror stories of roosters.  I wanted a nice rooster.  He now runs from me yelling, “Noooo, mooommm!  No kisses!”  But, at least so far, he hasn’t shown a lick of aggression and doesn’t want to attack us.  Which, considering his size and the talons on that dude, I’m glad!  I am afraid though, that Henry has become quite the perv as of late.  He prefers the younger sect, as the older girls give him a good glare and tell him what he can do with himself.  The younger girls don’t stand a chance against his charms.  He is a good looking guy.  But, he is the abusive boyfriend none of them ever wanted.  There are no abuse hotlines for chickens.  They seem to be living with it.  (And perhaps we will have baby chicks running about next Spring!)

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Not all of us are so lucky.  My friend got a rooster that was a scary son of a gun.  He would charge them, talons blazing, ready to take them down just because they were outdoors.  She’d had enough.  With her gun on the counter at the ready, she stalked him waiting for him to shed the company of the others and come out alone.  He never saw it coming.  While cradling her cell phone on her shoulder while talking to her mother, she took aim and fired.  Her mother (who lives in a city in California and probably not used to gunfire by telephone) exclaimed, “What was that?!  Was that a gun shot??”  I can imagine my friend blowing off the end of the gun, one shot.  “I just killed my rooster,”  she replied calmly.

I can see how if Henry came running at us every time we tried to use the back yard ready to maim us, that I would be about ready for my first chicken dinner in 25 plus years.  But, luckily, so far, he is a sweet, (though with a one track mind) adolescent boy.

Meanwhile, Back In Chickville…

Ginger was getting increasingly bored in her new digs (the bathroom) and was not impressed with the  television anymore and was flying around so we thought it might be time to reintroduce her to the chickies outside.  I had attempted to do so a few days prior and stood out there worried and watching.  The chicks were not mean to her but they were curious, and when chicks are curious they peck.  They pecked at the tender new skin and scab on her neck.  In a minute she was blocked into a corner.  Back in the house she went.

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So this time we fastened a fashionable neck brace to her.  A cotton pad and sports tape would protect her from pecking and still allow her to be outdoors.  With her big hat of feathers and her new cuff she looked like one of my pilgrim ancestors.  We took her outside and set her down.  For a second she stood there then started dancing around.  She looked like she had been slain in the spirit!  She was flapping her wings, and bobbing her head, and bouncing around.  I thought she had come to Jesus.  We were laughing until we started worrying she might break her little neck with the violent do-si-do she was acting out.  I took the brace off and set her back down.  It was like we just placed her in a sea of warm water.  She buried herself in the pine shavings, flapping her wings, back stroking, doing the chicken bath, spraying her siblings with hay and shavings.  She was so happy.  This little incident has left her half the size of the other chicks.  She is a little bugger.  But the others seemed happy to have her back and I let her play with them.  I think they will be fine.  I kept checking on them throughout the day and early this morning to make sure one of the big, bossy chickens hadn’t rediscovered her neck.  All is peaceful in chickenville.

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The chicks have been afraid of the great outdoors beyond the dark coop.  Only a few have ventured out the small chicken door and only for a few inches.  I have propped the large door open the past few days and locked the big girls out to inspire the chickies to explore their new surroundings.  They would bask in the sun in the doorway but no real exploring outdoors.  Yesterday evening I passed by and there were all ten chicks playing and singing around the pen.  Happy as Christmas morning.  They were enjoying the dusk and the warm air.  When I went out later to close everyone up, the big chicks had already gone in and were on their roosts ready for bed.  Ginger and her new friend, Sophia, were up on their own perch cuddling and three other babies had made it back to the dog kennel that is their shelter from grown chicken tyrants.  The other five were in a cooing bundle, piled together in a warm ball outside, behind the propped open door.  Apparently we had gotten lost behind the giant door and could not find our way back into the coop!

The grown chickens are still a little hostile to the babies but the babies seem a little less petrified of them and it seems that we will have peace in the coop.  Amen.

Homestead Spring

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The first day of spring might have been in March but around here the first day of spring was yesterday.  The sun shone gloriously from its perch, the air was warm, the lilac and choke cherry leaves are stretching their arms out of their winter cocoons.  It even rained instead of snowed!  Of course I have four loads of wet laundry draped on the clothes line now, but just imagine how fresh they will be when they dry!  Nature’s fabric softener.

I could hardly get myself to stay inside.  I cleaned quickly and spent most of my day outdoors basking in vitamin d. I seem to be sun operated, it charged my batteries after a long, cold winter, and I got ever so much done!

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The big chickies enjoyed their romp around the yard.  I locked them out of their own pen to allow the chicken pen door to remain open and inspire the little ones to take in a little sun.  Nala and Sophia, our fabulous Araucanas in their fashionable leopard coats, remind me of those girls in school who were so much prettier than everyone else and so much bitchier.  They tell everyone what they may and may not do.  They chased any curious chick away from the doors.  A few times Gretel was able to spread out in the sun, her wings spread wide, in a lounging position until one of the Araucanas decided that she had enough.  A few snuck out for a few minutes but the guard girls shooed them back in.  Poor Henry Higgins.  He spends most of his time in the dog kennel out there hiding from the increasing estrogen levels of the female teens.  Brigitta is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  She runs and stands on our foot when we arrive.  And she felt safe to venture outside if I could stand with her.  She is the goof ball looking at the camera when I was taking a picture of Sophia.  Who’d a thought that chickens would have so much personality?

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Out in the garden, I transplanted the oregano and cilantro, planted six more rows of greens, and watered well (before the rain storm…).  It felt good to get my hands dirty.  The seeds are germinating and shoots of promising food are slowly popping up here and there.  The carrots are the last to come up.  I was hoping this would be my first year successfully growing carrots!  The herbs are taking off and look wonderful.  The bees came to visit and I enjoyed their gentle buzzing.  I will not have my own bees this year.  I recognized that I had taken on a bit more than I could handle.  Not knowing where we will be, not having any of the equipment to prevent stings, and a general nervousness about 10,000 bees coming over for dinner, I decided to see if someone else would take them when they arrived.  My young bee mentor was hoping for another group of bees but the company had sold out.  So, mine are living happily at his house.  Farmgirls have lofty goals, but sometimes they have to be spread out a bit.  There is always next year.

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Speaking of lofty goals, I sat there shaking my head at my garden plot.  I have six beds that are 10×3, three beds that 5×3, and two beds that are 3×3.  It may seem like a lot compared to what I could do in an apartment, but the square footage gets used up pretty quick once you plant three kinds of corn, squash, zucchini, watermelons, garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, grapevines, radishes, lettuce, collard greens, kale, potatoes, peas, carrots (come up already!), cauliflower, cabbage, soybeans, three kinds of cooking beans, medicinal herbs, and culinary herbs…..yikes.  My main goal is to grow enough to substantially help feed my family.  Add to that market growing and I need a bigger plot!  Even though Nancy will be doing the bulk of the market growing, I wouldn’t mind helping out a little and I am growing a lot of the herbs.

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Then I started to see it.  Look at that space just to the left of the peas….or in between lettuce plants….or in that pot over there…or…there are a lot of spaces that can be filled.  I placed the oregano in the potato bed.  I placed the greens where I will add tomatoes and peppers in a few weeks.  Everyone will like each other.  I can see what doesn’t make it, replant.  Or find a foot here and there.  It is doable.  No long rows of the same thing.  Lots of interplanting (making sure they all get a long of course) and space making!  If the water wasn’t so exorbitant in this town, I would have already plowed the front yard and made a giant corn field and pumpkin patch.  Our space is as limitless as our imagination.

I wanted to attack the crabgrass before it grew up to high and we got a notice from the town.  But in my quest for all things non-electric, I bought a push mower last year.  It is a nifty little thing, just doesn’t cut grass.  I took my kitchen knife sharpener out and worked on the blades.  Had the whole front yard mowed in no time!

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My indoor garden survived their indoor recesses, and like me, were anxious to get a smidge more sunshine.  They are enjoying their stay on the porches looking out for possible freezes, but I think they can spend the majority of their time out there now.  Just as I will.

The sure sign of spring for me yesterday was the familiar whistling moped sound from the sky.  And there she was.  Our beautiful hummingbird has returned.  Welcome, welcome Spring.

The Odd Chick Out

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Let’s play a game, “Which one doesn’t belong?”  I think I used to watch that game on Sesame Street.  This game involves small puppet like creatures as well.  The three Cuckoo Marans that I brought home were very tiny and adorable.  The smallest melted my heart from the get go.  She was smaller than the other chicks and kept getting her bottom mucked up.  I had to clean her backside so much her tail feathers didn’t grow in for a long time!  She waddles around with the other nine chickens, smaller and prettier.  After the first few weeks I noticed that Louisa was lighter colored than Liesel and Brigitta.  While Liesel and Brigitta have decidedly rich dark brown feathers with little white spots, their little sister has white and almost blue feathers.  I told Doug, “I don’t think she is a Marans.”  Yesterday I noticed the cute little comb forming….Wait a ticket, I think we are on to something here.  The other girls do not have their combs yet.  Nor their wattles.  And this darling little girl is already growing both before all of her feathers are even in.

Hello handsome.

So, my chicken folk out there, am I right?  Is Louisa really a Louis?

His daily kisses have been doubled as I want the most spoiled, friendly rooster out there.  I thought we could name him Capt. Von Trappe, since we have all the Von Trappe singers over here (except Louisa apparently), but it was nixed almost immediately.  “Mr. Higgins!” Shyanne loudly called out.  “His name must be Henry Higgins.”  Andrew and Emily quickly agreed.  Doug wanted the name to be Colonel.  He was outvoted in a loud teenaged manner.

My Fair Lady is Shyanne’s favorite play.  When pronouncing Mr. Higgins’ name, one must take care to keep the H silent and you must have a bit of an English accent when addressing him.  “Allo, Enry Iggins!”

Meanwhile inside the coop, when the big sisters are out to play, the babies have a hey day.  Should you peek into the coop mid-day you will find what looks like the inside of Santa’s workshop with toys flying lopsided in circles.  Little toy chickens flying here and there, crash landing, then stealing their big sisters’ food.  Adorable.

We are not afraid to admit it, we are officially Chicken People….and I think we have a rooster.

Chicken Roommates

The partying had been going on all night.  It was getting old.  The teenagers had spilled drinks everywhere, were screaming and laughing, and were destroying the place.  The human teenagers determined this had to stop.  It was time to put the chicks outside.

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Last year when we decided to get chicks, we had just moved and once settled decided upon getting wee babies to round out the mini-homestead. It was April.  By the time the girls had their full bloomers on, and were used to the world, they were eight weeks old and glorious warm weather awaited them from their front door.  This year, I jumped the gun and ordered eleven darling infants…a month earlier.  All the breeds of chickens that I wanted were arriving at the feed store on the same day  so it seemed like a very good idea to get them then.  In March…early March…before record cold and constant snow!  We were not even able to put them in the garage, it was so cold.  Next year’s girlies will be April babies again!

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The older girls are a little annoyed by the youth that has invaded their loft.  We were exceptionally worried about integrating them all because of last year’s fiasco.  We had nine beautiful, eight week old chicks.  Everyone in the family would take time each day to sneak out to the coop and fawn over them, holding their new feathered bodies, and cooing to them.  (Is it any wonder that they follow us everywhere now?)  My friend, Sandy, had a pair of Bantams that were being picked on at her place and would be instant eggs and charming crow for us.  I have always loved the pre-pubescent operatic crowing that goes on in barnyards everywhere thanks to the roosters.  They weren’t there for long, I fear.

Sandy and Bill came over for dinner bearing a hostess gift of a dog kennel with sleeping chickens in it.  We placed them gingerly into the coop and lights went out.  According to chicken sources, if we placed them in there at night, the next morning they would think they had always been together.  Not so.  Petunia was alright, not particularly fond of chicks and did chase them, but Colonel Sanders was a miniature monster to the helpless infants.  I recently saw him, and my is he small, but he looked big back then.  He cornered the girls and never let them near the food and water.  They led a secret brigade in single file along the coop walls, behind feed bags and crates to try and outsmart the old man, just to get a little food and a bit of drink (Please sir!), but would be banished in screaming fits back to a covered corner.  It was frustrating.  Nay, it got real irritating, real quick.  And then one morning one of the chicks was dead.  Daisy lay very close to a fallen board, so we do not know if it was murder or accident, but all the same, Doug yelled that late spring morning, “That’s it!  They are going back.”  He promptly loaded the couple back up and took them to Sandy and Bill’s house.  A few weeks ago I told Sandy I wondered which side he would take this year?  His beloved grown up girls or the darling new chickie girls?  Turns out they are all favored.

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We didn’t want to make the same errors as last year so a slower integration was necessary.  Crammed into a large dog kennel, the ten girls went out.  They stayed in their kennel for nearly a week with the red light shining on them.  The big girls scarcely flinched at their racket and presence.  A few days a go I set up crates around the perimeter of the dog kennel (Everyone can fly over them; it just felt like a playpen.) and opened the door.  The girls left them alone.  Should a curious newcomer (Man, they look cute next to the towering adults!) come up to them, they promptly chase them back into the play area.  After Daffodil had chased Aretha Franklin back into her area, and Daffodil turned around, Aretha followed her, unbeknownst to the big chicken.  Daffodil stopped in front of the feed and Aretha ran into her leg.  Daffodil jumped straight up in the air, a good foot and a half, wings flapping and setting off the alarms of the other girls too.  Aretha high tailed it back to the playpen.

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No one is being overly aggressive.  I locked them in the dog kennel at night for a few nights after their release but now just leave it open so that they have a safe place where they like to hang out, they can come out into the playpen for food and water and bask in the heat lamp, or when the big girls are out scratching and rolling in the dirt, the babies take over the coop until the big girls come back and put them back in their pen.  No pecking, no problems.  We are so relieved!

Pretty soon the girls will be allowed out of the play pen (I hope!), will be frolicking outside with the big girls and we will repeat this next year!

Chick Magnet

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The girls are looking fine.  We have only lost one of the infants (thus far and hopefully total!) and the girls are already showing vast personalities and trying to fly out of their plastic storage container.  They ended up back in Emily’s room because of the cold snap that we did not expect.  Two below zero is a smidge cold for little chickies.  Emily is not pleased but is being a good sport.  She is the only one with a cat proof room!  They were banished last night from her bedside, however, for being stinky, loud, and jumping out of the box.  When one of them escaped and pooped on her makeup box, that was the end of that.  They are now in the bathtub (in her bathroom).  New moms are no fun.

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The Polish girls, Aretha Franklin and Ginger Rogers are looking more and more like Billy Idol.  We all went through some funky stages as teenagers though.

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My angelic little Buff Orpingtons.  They are the smallest of the bunch and look like a quintessential Easter chick.

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This is one of three Cuckoo Marans.  They look like they have bald spots on their heads.  Like little old men running around!  The two Buff girls and the three Marans are named Gretel, Marta, Louisa, Brigitta, and Liesel.  Pop quiz!  Where are those names taken from?

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This is Nala, our little leopard Araucana.  The Araucanas are so cool looking!  (Yes, I know.  Nala was a lion, not a leopard.)

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I just kept calling this gorgeous Araucana, Falcon.  She looks just like a miniature wild bird.  Her new name though is Sophia.

We have one more yellow Araucana with a brown halo.  Emily advised me not to name her Angel as that is too predictable.  (Guess what I was going to name her?) We’ll see what her name becomes.  I asked Doug what he thought would be a good name.  He said it didn’t matter because he will never be able to tell them apart.  “You can’t tell them apart?!”  Maybe I have too much time on my hands.

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I am incredibly nervous about integrating them with the big chickies.  I don’t want any massacres or injuries.  I know that you sneak them in with means of a dog kennel and the chickens think that they were always there.  But, I think Daffodil will remember.  How do you integrate new chicks to the flock?