Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
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Coming Home to Roost

Chickens have a strong sense of home, and gain that sense of home by sleeping in the same place for a week or so.  Whenever we move our chickens to a new home (though we do try to avoid doing that), we keep them inside for a week or so to force them to sleep there consistently.  Then, when they are released and free to wander about, they’ll always come home to roost where we want them to. 

Why they do this is similar to why they take care of each other outside the coop in our infirmary.

We just adopted 7 new Rhode Island Reds, 1 rooster and 6 hens.  One of the hens has a broken leg and was to be fed to the cats when we spoke for her.  She'll lay lots of good eggs and serve the flock as well as any rooster by being an ideal companion in our infirmary.

The infirmary is a special coop we build that allows sick birds to both be physically isolated so they don't infect other birds and can't be harassed by them while allowing them the necessary social visitation to keep their stress level low.  We usually put at least two birds in the infirimary, even if only one requires it.  Our broken-legged hen (whose name is Tammy) will be a permanent resident.

But even when a bird spends even weeks in the infirmary, they don't forget where home is.  Tammy's home is one intended for visitors.  Sometimes even geese!

Geese are very attached to their homes, as well.  We all are. 

Geese dislike going home and must be taught from an early age how to return home.  We train ours by whistles and the voice command “go home.”  If the training is reinforced periodically by treats presented in their home, they will never have trouble returning to their coop.

Geese require a very well ventilated coop, and we provide ours a dog kennel with a poultry wire roof.  This reduces disease, and helps them regulate their temperature best.  For laying eggs, they prefer a doghouse within their kennel. 

Geese and chickens rarely get along, but when a chicken is sick, geese will care for the hapless bird...and chickens will comfort an ill or distressed goose.  We like to pride ourselves on the service of our roosters, but Tammy's service will be no less important to our flock.

The roosters are instrumental in teaching the hens where home is.  They lead them back and forth from home to the grazing areas daily, and call home any strays at night with their goodnight songs of "come home," "time for sleep," and "have good dreams, I love you!"  In the morning, the roosters who stay behind to guard the coop sing the song all day to remind hens where home is, and whenever a hen comes home for whatever reason during the day, she is warmly welcomed: she's been working hard and needs a comfortable home.

We all do.  And Tammy will help keep our birds comfortable when they occasionally have to spend the night away from their usual home.

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