I had been thinking for a while I would need to increase my stock of hens. Over the past couple of years the flock, for one reason or another, has dwindled from seven to three. The three that remain are black rock hens, which is a lovely hardy, docile breed. As an experiment I thought I would try a slight variation on black rocks and this time went for Rhode rocks. Rhode rocks are a cross between a Rhode Island red cockerel (a very old breed which used to be crossed with light Sussex to produce hens which were reasonable layers but were also quite good table birds) and barred Plymouth Rock hybrid hens.
My contact for Rhode rocks was Donald MacDonald from Struan on Skye. I have bought khaki Campbell ducks from Donald for the past 20 years though this is the first time I have tried his hens. My wife and I travelled to Oban on Tuesday to the central point at the auction mart where Donald distributes his hens and ducks to a host of customers, most of whom are regulars. My henhouse is not large and seven or eight hens would be its maximum capacity. I therefore increased my flock by four.
Integrating two lots of hens can be problematic and to try to minimise any bullying on the new quartet by the original trio I put the new hens right into the henhouse with food and water. This gives them a chance to eat and drink in peace, which I m sure they appreciate after their long trek from the west of Skye via the auction mart at Fort William, the auction mart at Oban then on to Perthshire. About 9.45 pm, once they were roosting, I opened the boleyhole and allowed access to the original three hens. It was semi dark, giving them less chance to bully the newcomers, and pretty soon all seven were on the perches sitting quietly.
Next morning, I opened the boleyhole about 6.00 am. The three black rocks came out but the Rhode rocks stayed put. I gave them a couple of hours but they still remained inside. This was not really surprising as I don’t think the hens, at 17 weeks old, had ever been outside in their lives. I eventually had to push them out and shut the flap behind them.
The four wee souls stood outside the henhouse on their ‘veranda’ looking absolutely lost. Compared to the two-year-old black rocks they were extremely pale (peely-wally was the expression I used) and looked as if whatever brain they possessed had been removed. In due course they jumped down on to the ground and stood in a huddle. I had put more layers’ meal and water near to them as I wanted to build their strength up. They began to feed, drink and eventually became slightly more lively.
The three black rocks had been doing a fair bit of cackling, not sure yet what to make of the intruders. There was a very occasional skirmish between the two groups during the day but with no serious consequences and really just to establish a pecking order. I’d a roll of netting in place to divide the hen run into two but that was not necessary.
By Thursday the Rhode rocks were becoming far more adventurous and exploring the length of the 50 metre-long run. The three black rocks mostly ignored them and though the two groups kept separate when their paths did cross there was no hostility. This is the easiest integration of two lots of hens I have had and I hope this early success continues.