So you’ve worked out how much room your chickens need, designed your chicken coop and your chickens, chicks, or pullets are on the way.
We can still remember the excitement of waiting for the delivery of our new chickens- our first questions was: I wonder how long it will be until they lay their first eggs!
Are you wondering what you need to do when they first arrive and how you can get them off to the best possible start in life? Well look no further, because we’ve wrote exactly what we did when we received our 18 week old hens and how we got them laying sooner rather than later.
Just before we get into the meat and bones of this article, it’s assumed that you don’t currently have any chickens at home- as introducing new chickens to an existing flock is a completely different process. We will be writing how to do this
in an upcoming blog post– the article has now been written.
What To Do When Your Chickens First Arrive?
Although the temptation is for you to be very loud and excited when they first arrive, this is the worst thing you can do. Your chickens will be very confused and daunted after their journey and they will be afraid of any loud noises.
Read more about transporting chickens humanely.
The best thing you can do is carry them into their coop and lock them in there. They will normally be delivered inside a cardboard box, make sure to leave them inside the cardboard box and just place the box inside the coop. You can then open the top flap of the cardboard box so the chickens can leave the box once they are feeling confident enough.
The only other thing inside the coop at this point should be some water and pellets or crumbs which can be spread on the floor.
Check up on your chickens in a few hours and you will find they have probably left their cardboard box and are happily roosting together. If they are still inside the cardboard box lift them out one-by-one and place them on the roosting bars.
The reason behind leaving them locked in their coop for the first 24 hours is that they will realise that the coop is their home. Then when you eventually let them out into the pen, they will happily return to the coop to roost in the evenings.
In our experience chickens who haven’t been kept in the coop at the start, tend to be stubborn and don’t return to their coop in the evenings without ‘persuasion’!
Introducing Them to Their Pen
Once they’ve spent 24 hours in their coop it’s time to introduce them to their pen/run for the first time. This is always an exciting moment and a great opportunity to get a really good view of your new chickens.
It’s important at this point to say don’t force your chickens out of their coop. All you need to do is open their coop door and wait. For an added incentive you can spread some feed in their pen along with fresh water. If you’re not sure what to feed them, read our beginners guide to feeding chickens.
The more curious chickens will leave the coop first and explore but within a few minutes the rest of the flock should come out and join them. If after a few hours the flock are still inside the coop give them a gentle push out into the pen.
You can leave your chickens for the rest of the day now to explore their new environment and get comfortable!
If you’ve built your own coop, run, or yard for your chickens now is a good time to test its ability to contain them as well as the safety of the coop.
When you’re in construction mode, it can be easy to overlook important features that may allow for chickens to escape, become stuck, or even allow predators to enter.
So, even while you leave your chickens alone to enjoy their new space, it’s wise to return frequently, in the beginning, to ensure their safety and make any adjustments to their new home.
You might be surprised at what chickens can get into in short amounts of time, especially if they are flighty birds. Heads get stuck, water buckets get tipped, and birds escape. So check back frequently in the beginning, and then taper off as the day goes on.
Taking Your New Chickens Back to Their Coop
When it starts to get dark its important you go back outside and make sure your chickens are inside their coop. We’ve always found that by getting the chickens use to the coop (before they are allowed in the pen) they are much more likely to go back into the coop when it’s dusk.
If you’re chickens aren’t in their coop yet gently move them towards the coop- we do this by using a large sheet of wood (8×6 foot). Have a person at either end of the wood and drag the wood across the floor- moving the chickens back towards their coop.
It’s important that any move you make around the chickens is calm and slow; don’t charge at them with the wood whatever you do!
We found this great video if you need other creative ways to catch your chickens. Or if you don’t want to watch the video, look at Tips for Catching Chickens.
A great question at this point which people ask is: “is all this necessary if I’m planning on letting my chickens free range”?
This is still necessary and perhaps even more important if you’re planning on letting your chickens free range. Before they free range they need to know exactly where their home is. Otherwise you will find your chickens roosting in nearby trees if you’re not careful…
How Long Until Your Chickens Settle In?
You may find that for the following week or so your chickens need to be encouraged to leave the coop in the morning and go back to it during dusk. As previously mentioned, to do this, just leave the coop door open and sprinkle food out in the pen.
After a week or so they will leave and return to their coop on their own and your chickens will be settling in nicely.
It’s at this point that if you are planning on letting your chickens free range, you can take down your temporary pen and let them roam! Again though, after their first day of free ranging, make sure they return back to their coop during the evening.
Interested in learning more about the benefits of keep free range chickens?
There are certain signs to look for to check if your chickens are settling in and becoming happy in their new environment:
- They should dig for bugs and merrily cluck as they do so!
- Oh speaking of clucking, they should begin to cluck to each other more often.
- Another great sign is, they will take dust baths.
This behaviour will be in stark contrast to unhappy and scared hens. Unhappy hens will pace around constantly and are very noisy. You will learn to notice the difference between a scared squawk and a happy cluck.
After a week or so if you have any pets of young children you can now introduce them to the chickens- for the first week we’d just let them settle in on their own without the audience! If you do have any dogs make sure to keep them on a leash when you introduce them to your chickens, just in case…
You might be surprised to find that chickens can actually recognise their owners dogs- read more here.
When Will My Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
The answer to this question mainly depends on both the breed and age of the chickens which you’ve bought.
Some breeds, such as Buff Orpingtons, can lay over 200 eggs per year whereas other breeds, such as, Silkies don’t lay that many (up to 100 eggs per year). Read more about breeds in our Best Beginner Chicken Breeds article.
Of course, the other factor is age.
If you’ve purchased a started pullet (a hen that’s between 15-22 weeks old) then you should find within 3-4 weeks of them arriving you will have your first egg!
You will probably find the first few eggs will have soft shells and might be slightly odd shapes, this will settle down after a week or so- if this continues read what to feed them.
However, if you’ve purchased matured chickens (aged 1 year old +) you will find they start laying sooner. Give them several days to settle in and you should find they start laying again. Also you might find that they start laying as soon as they arrive and then after a few days stop laying. This is normal- give them a few days to settle in and they should start laying again.
As a general rule of thumb, pure breed pullets (Rhode Islands, Plymouth Rocks, Leghorns etc.) will start to lay eggs from around 20 weeks whereas hybrid pullets will start at around 18 week old.
One last thing to remember is the time of year greatly effects when your chickens will start laying. If you get your chickens during the winter then it will be a lot longer until they start laying- however get your chickens in the spring and they should be up and laying in no time!
Do you have any other tricks to settle in your new chickens? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below…