Settling The Birds In
Chickens are highly sensitive to new smells, sounds, and they have a strong homing instinct. When taken from their familiar surroundings to a new home, they become disorientated and stressed. At this stage, if not properly handled, the immune system can be overwhelmed by a disease challenge and the birds become ill, or they may not eat and drink the correct amount, which can affect the development of bone and muscle, which in turn can produce problems in adult life.
On arrival home the pullets should be moved from their carrying boxes into the hen house. It is important at this stage, not to lose the hens, so if possible, place the carrying boxes inside the house before opening them. If you have a hen house with an attached or integral run, and there is no escape route, the pop hole can be opened after about an hour, allowing the new hens out into the run if they so wish, but do not force them out. Place food and water in the run, close to the pop hole and leave them to become accustomed to the new surroundings. In the evening, for the first three days, they may need to be ushered back into the house to roost, but they are quick to learn, and from then on they will know the routine.
It is important at this early stage for the new pullets to feel safe and secure in their new home, so it is better to leave them alone, keeping inquisitive pets and children well away.
After three days they can be let out of the small attached or integral run into a larger run, or into the garden. The more space you can allow them the better, because hens love to roam, and forage, and find interesting things to do. If they have lots of fresh air and exercise they are more likely to remain healthy and lay better quality eggs.
If the birds are to be kept in a free standing house with the freedom of the garden or paddock you will need to erect a temporary ring fence around the house to keep them confined for the first three days. After three days the fence can be removed and the birds will return to the house for food and water and to roost. In this situation, it is important to ensure that the garden or paddock is fox proof.
It will take at least a couple of weeks for the birds to become completely settled and content in the new abode, having gained confidence and learnt how to react to all the new experiences. From that point on, their personalities will develop, and an interesting relationship will develop with their human keepers.