Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Chickens, Part One

The coffee is brewing in this chilly old house, and the rest of the family is sleeping. This January day, poised between night and dawn, seems like a good time to tell you about the past year here.

After two years of research, we finally made the commitment to get chickens. In March we commissioned a local coop builder to make a coop and run. The run is six feet high so that most people can walk around in it without ducking. the coop is inside the run, on stilts. Under the coop hang the chickens' feed and water containers. The chickens walk up a slanted walkway to get to the coop. We get the eggs out by opening a door in the back at coop level, and that's how I clean out the coop as well. We did add a clear plastic roof over the coop to keep it drier, but that's the only modification. Oh, and yesterday, the bottom of the door came loose because Mr. Polar Vortex froze the wet ground so fast that it swelled and prevented the door from opening, and I forced it a little too hard. (Also I had to pour boiling water on the ground to soften it.)

In April I ordered some chicks from Pickering Valley Farm and Feed, in Malvern, and picked them up in early May. Beforehand, I had repurposed our dog crate to become a brooder, by lining the lower sides with cut-up brown bags and duct tape. Glamorous! I had read that the little creatures are messy, and yes. They were. I had made an earlier trip out there to Pickering Valley to get a brooder light, chick feed, and a waterer and feeder, so we were all set up when I picked up the little darlings.

I had to keep the chicks in the sunroom, because that's the only place we could lock away the cats. At three weeks I started "hardening them off" by putting them outdoors in the coop for longer and longer periods when it was warm enough. The cat carrier was perfect for mass chick transport.

At five weeks the girls spent their first night out in the coop. By then I had hooked up the adult-size waterer and feeder. I had to show them how to walk up their little gangplank to the coop, by picking up a couple chicks and pushing them up it, but they learned quickly. Chickens want to roost up high. It's what they do. They go up there when it begins to get dark, not without a lot of shoving and complaining and blocking the door. It's a comical half-hour production.

Next: their breeds, names, and personalities, and how we are not going to eat them.

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