Chickens can take a while to think outside the box…

Years of observation of chicken behaviour have convinced me that chickens need space and lots of it. Time after time we have taken chickens raised in a shed or barn and introduced them to a free-range lifestyle and found they never looked back. The reverse is also true – if you take a free-range bird and curtail its freedom by keeping it in a shed it does not thrive. I was all the more surprised, then, at the behaviour of our three new pullets.

We bought them from a poultry sale and therefore didn’t see them in their home environment, which is always a bit of risk. However, the birds seemed young, healthy and lively, so we felt pretty confident.

Usually, young pullets will take half an hour or so to come out of their carry box and start exploring the shed, and within an hour they will be wandering around outside in the big pen, chuckling with pleasure at all the marvellous things they’re finding. Not so with this group. At the end of Day 1 they had barely explored the shed, and spent their time in a corner at the back, snuggled up under an old dog cage that we use as a broody coop. Assuming that they just needed a bit more time, I made sure they had access to food and water and left them to it.


By Day 4, however, when they still had not left the shed I was becoming concerned. Their preference for sleeping next to the old dog cage suggested that they were cage-reared, and only felt safe with bars around them. I could understand this caution after the stress of the poultry sale, but I would have expected them to have relaxed and started exploring their new environment by now. I now had a dilemma – were they so stuck in their cage mentality that they would never voluntarily leave the shed? Should I physically put them outside, or would this traumatise them permanently?

I decided to give them a bit more time which turned out to the correct decision. By Day 5 they began to make quick forays outside, no more than 10 minutes at a time, but I knew then that they would be fine. Within a week they were ranging happily with the rest of the flock, much to my relief.


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