I am madly in love with my chickens. I can't help it. I love the sounds they make when they are telling me that I have forgotten to give them their own portion of cucumber. I love the way they look at you expectantly when you walk through the gate, hoping you have a taste treat in your hand. I love the way they move, the way they...hey, yes, dammit, I am revealing my love of chickens. Um, you may ask...how did this happen?
Well...when Jeff and I first moved to the countryside our vet asked if we would get chickens. He told us that they were really amusing, fun to watch, and were one of his favorite kinds of animal. I had never really thought of it that way, but, okay.
There was a pen next to the pump house and we thought that, yeah, maybe we would EVENTUALLY get chickens. I set down the law and said NO CHICKENS for the first year. We used that area for a dog pen (yes, vain attempts to rein in our two wild dogs!) and then I really just forgot about it...until...a friend said she was moving and couldn't take her flock with her. Mind you, this was a whole flock, not just a couple of hens.
Jeff didn't want the roosters and then we learned that the roosters went with the deal, so, we took them all on. As stated in an earlier blog, the flock had 4 roosters, and, we thought, 13 hens. I went into full scale info gathering. I ordered 4 chicken books, started an informal tour of chicken coops and looked at every website I could find on chickens, some of which I still look at. From those books I started to design of the chicken coop. Jeff, in the meantime, started looking at storage shed plans on the internet and we came up with a structure sturdier than our own home! (That really isn't saying much 'cause this place is a little on the rickety side!) We had a date of July 3rd that we were working towards and as time was running out, we started to get a little anxious.
I would have to say Andrew was an angel sent to us from Oregon...okay, I will...he WAS an angel that stumbled into our yard one day. He was house sitting for neighbors and was, I think, bored. Turns out that Andrew was also a carpenter! Or studied to be a carpenter...let's just say he had a little more training than we did. Andrew, in 3 days, logged many hours of work and was a total delight to work with. In the very last days of getting the coop ready, we were working from 8 in the morning until 10 at night with flood lights!
We wanted to make sure both the pen and the coop were secure from predators. That took many more hours than I ever imagined. We pulled chicken wire over the tops of the pen and then I wove fine wire to connect all of it. We have already shut out a rat and a very large hawk. I can't say we knew what we were getting into building it, and I most certainly had no idea how I would soon adore having chickens.
<>Until the morning we went to fetch the chickens, I had never touched a live one. Being a chef in a former life, I have touched plenty of dead ones. To this day, when I pick up a chicken, I can't help but think...ah...there is the drumstick… With a lot of help we managed to get the chickens into a variety of containers, mainly milk crates turned upside down over them and then something slid underneath until they were set on the bed of the truck.
We got them home, finished securing the pen, and by then it was nightfall, the time when all good chickens go into a deep sleep "coma". Boy, are they easy to pick up or touch at night. They don't squawk or fuss at you. They are pretty darn easy to deal with. The chickens were all perching with one another, huddled next to one another to keep warm. It is very tender how they will snuggle with their almost mortal daytime enemy.
We have set up the enclosure in such a way that they can come and go into the chicken coop and the pen. At night they all head to bed about 60-90 minutes before sunset. They all have their specific place in the coop on their perches, and they all have their sleeping buddies. It is the same pattern every night.
I find myself spending as much time as I can with them. I will take a chair, a book and my cell phone out to the pen and just hang out. I take the cell phone 'cause so many people just giggle or laugh when they hear the chickens in the background. I really don't know what it is about chickens that so captures peoples imaginations. My Dad wants to come up here from San Diego to see the chickens. A good friend of mine in town has told many people about the first time I had to take a chicken to the vet ...and is convinced that I told her that I had the chicken on my lap while driving 30 minutes to a vet that specializes in chickens.
Sitting with the chickens is one of the most calming things I do in a day. With 27 little beings to watch, there is always something to see. There is Queen Elizabeth: she was sick and is now much better after we have given her pills twice a day for 2 weeks! There are the other 2 large girls: Eleanor and Martha. To kind of explain the names, we got the chickens on July 3rd, hence the president's wife’s names. But let me tell you, you don't want to mess around with Eleanor. She is not to be trifled with. She casts her gaze upon you ...and you know not to cross her. Martha, on the other hand, is one of our steady and reliable egg layers.
I could write for days and not be able to fully explain how fun, unique, challenging, rewarding and pretty wonderful to have these chickens. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I feed them and they feed me. The food cycle/chain is pretty darn close. Also, with all of the ages of the birds (baby chick to OLD!) there are so many things to observe with their behavior. Everyday something new happens.
Today, for example, I took out an old cantaloupe that we had grown but not gotten around to eating to give to the chickens. I cut it up into chunks and tossed it into the pen. JEEZ...I thought that they liked cucumbers and tomatoes, but NOTHING in comparison to cantaloupe. The bigger hens were grabbing the nearest chunks and running across the pen with the melon in their beak, with the other birds screeching and running behind trying to snatch it away. I was just tickled to see their behavior. They delight me!
I am grateful to the chickens for many things (eggs for one) but I will be forever grateful to this flock for getting me back to writing. Bless you, Eastside Road chickens!