Today on the Homestead, This Happened: Chicken Coop Coup

My chickens are in complete and open revolt, and I have no idea why. The entire free range flock attempted a chicken coop coup three nights ago – which also happened not only to be the coldest night of 2017, but also the evening we discovered a pack of coyotes taking up residence beneath the hay wagon in the upper pasture. Definitely not a night my chickens, guineas, roosters, pullets, and ducks should be outdoors.

I have attempted to decipher their odd before and why the revolt happened, but I am still stumped. My Ruby might be the boss witch of the horse pasture, but I am the queen of the barnyard and my flock has always followed me around, done exactly as they were instructed, and put themselves up at dusk and eagerly awaited my arrival with evening snack.

But two three night ago, all of that changed in the blink of an eye. My husband thinks the four inches or so of snow we got deterred the flock from leaving the barn – where they like to hang out all day on a regular basis, and walking, waddling, and a little bit of flying, to the coop.

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Some pullets and one rooster bedding down above Pearl and Rooster’s barn stall. No amount of prodding would make them move. Nothing short of picking up each chicken and carrying them individually to the chicken coop, was going to get them inside.

Since it was -1 degree outside and I had already been at the barn chipping ice from all the waterers and horse trough, pouring in fresh water (and bottles of salt water to keep them from turning to ice for at least a few hours) I was not about to spend another hour attempting to catch and carry each bird and then get inside the coop door, each and every chicken.

The birds came over to me quickly, wanting to say hello and get snack (which they did not get) but they still refused to follow me out of the barn. They winged rioters were going to be on their own until morning…again.

Perhaps, but that still doesn’t seem to make much sense. Except for Soup and Stew’s offspring, all of the rest of the flock lived here on the Dodrill Hill homestead last winter and had experienced snow. Last winter was incredibly mild and we may not have gotten that much snow in one fell swoop before, but the flock still shouldn’t have been overly frightened of it.

The only other remote change in their environment the day the chicken coop coup began was the cleaning out of the nesting boxes. This act, of course, occurs regularly. Several eggs that had gotten missed from the two corner nesting boxes dropped out of the boxes and onto the coop floor. That has never happened before, but if a black snake stretching across the boxes and shedding its skin over the summer did not scare the flock out of their home, I don’t think a couple broken eggs would prompt them to relocate.

I have cajoled, threatened, and picked up several of the chickens, to get them out of the stall divider boards and out of the barn. Nothing has worked. The flock, except for two chickens and Flock Leader – the big rooster in charge, and the ducks, the entire flock is now living in the barn. The offspring of Soup and Stew and a California Sex Link rooster are squatting above the birthing stall where Pearl and Rooster – the baby goat, are living. The rest of the flock that hasn’t obeyed my commands and gone back to the coop, are sleeping in one of the tallest barn rafters.

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The clarity of this photo is not great, it was dark in the barn and my headlamp put a glare on the image when taking the picture with my cellphone. But, you can see what my rioting flock was doing.

I could have picked up the birds hanging out above the goat stall, and did that with a couple of them, but these girlies and one roosters, were not even willing to come down even for a treat.

The leghorn rooster, I call him Flock Leader Jr. is sitting on top of a hen, not mating or fighting, just apparently attempting to stay warm…did I mention it was -1 degrees? When I went to the barn for morning chores, it was -7 on our Appalachian homestead.

At dawn, the birds must be leaving their new roosts and going back to the feed and tack room. The mini donkeys like to sleep in there sometimes (the feed tub is locked as are the natural first aid kit items)so I leave straw in back part of what was a massive goat herd stall, for them. When I go to feed, the flock is all cuddled up in the straw awaiting my arrival and for the feed scoop to turn in their direction.

The first night of flock disobedience also coincided with the completion of a more fortified stall for Pearl and Rooster to lodge in instead of the temporary birthing stall.

Before they took to the barn rafters, the entire flock, ducks included, were inside the stall. The chickens might have flown in, but the ducks would have had to push themselves through a tiny gap in two side barn doors that were not latched tightly – because the stall was supposed to be empty until morning, to get inside.

Did the flock think they had a new winter home and simply got confused? I actually thought about relocating all of them to the barn because they prefer to spend all of their time in there and in the hay bale area with the herd just outside of the barn. But, the mere mention of turning a stall into a coop made my Bobby’s head spin all the way around.

I got a lecture about how much time and money it took to turn my big coop and run into the Fort Knox of chicken coops – and moving it 200 feet, away from a ravine area, after a mink got one of my beloved Pekin ducks. When I suggested simply turning two stall into one big opening and moving Fort Knox in there, the look I got did not imply the usual “yes dear” response to which I have become accustomed.

Maybe some of you in our New Life on the Homestead community have experienced something like this before and can shed some light on this strange happening.

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5 thoughts on “Today on the Homestead, This Happened: Chicken Coop Coup”

  1. Since when is an animal protective instincts disobedience? We have a lot to learn from these animals who are not disconnected from their instincts . Your willingness to deny them food for them trying to keep themselves alive makes me not want to subscribe.

  2. Hi Tara, we had a similar experience a few years ago, couldn’t figure out why they refused to come into the coop at night- they insisted on perching on a tall cedar tree. I made the mistake of forcing them down and locking them in the coop. They were fine the first night, then on the following night a bob cat tore threw the metal roof, the ply board and killed all but 3 hens(out of 45). I was devastated & cried for two days blaming myself for not listening to the birds; They knew there was danger & should have listened. I know it would have got them in the tree as well, but it was easier for him in the coop. We trapped the bob cat when he came for more, and turned him loose in the mountain.

    I listen to them now, if they seem scared I know there is a racoon or other predator around. I also read that if you put a red light in the coop, it scares predators away & for the last two years I have done that. a red heat lamp in the winter & good ole red 60 watt in the summer. It seems to work, not even the cats will go in unless its turned off (daytime for mouse patrol).

    • Beverly, wow, I can’t even imagine how sad and shocked you were to find most of your hens slaughtered by that bobcat! Bobcats are back on the rise here in our region of Appalachia, and unlike other nuisance predators (coyote, mink, wild boars) you can’t kill them. The flock still has not gone back to the coop, I can’t believe they survived in the barn rafters when we hit -5 degrees. The ducks went back to the Fort Knox of chicken coops, but the chickens, guineas, and rooster only left the barn once, to wander around a bit the one day it hit 60 and the snow turned to mud, but then we had an ice storm the next day, followed by 8 more inches of snow, and they haven’t been out since. Great tip on the red light, thank you for sharing!


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