Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
By Cam Mather
Ever notice how when you buy a “blue” Honda Civic, or a red Chevy Cobalt, or whatever, you suddenly notice how many other people have the same car? It's a bit like how ever since we acquired our chickens, we began noticing how many expressions that we use, are related to chickens.
Here are just a few that Michelle and I have noticed.
We bought our chickens as 20-week-old birds ready to begin laying. If we had tried the whole incubation thing, we wouldn’t have wanted to “count our chickens before they were hatched.” The 20-week-olds were only $10 each, which when you think of the eggs that they’ll provide us with over their lifetimes, it really was just “chicken feed.” I was kind of hesitant about getting them but when Michelle said, “Oh, you’re just chicken!” I was inspired to finally take the plunge.
I usually let them out of their coop at dawn because I’m “up with the chickens.” Once they got settled in, we realized that the ladies really do have a natural “pecking order” and that Henrietta “rules the roost.”
We tried to find a cheap, used coop to buy but around here they’re as “rare as hen’s teeth.” We recently moved their coop to behind the house and we placed bales of hay around their coop to provide some insulation. We couldn’t figure out how one of the chickens kept escaping from her pen until we saw her climb the hay bales near the fence and she literally “flew the coop.” And now that we allow them to run freely around the yard during the day, we tend to bring them in late in the afternoon because we don’t want to “wait ‘til the chickens come home to roost.”
Since the ladies love to dig holes in their pen, which makes walking treacherous, we’ve learned not to “put all our eggs in one basket” when we collect them, for fear of tripping.
I’m sure there’s more.
We moved the coop to its winter location during the week that I had Heidi and Gary’s tractor. Even though I thought I had designed the coop to be movable, as I added a better roof and insulation and other “stuff,” it got heavier and heavier. We moved the coop closer to the house. It’s on the south side so it’s sheltered from the prevailing wind and will get some solar heat. Since I had recently acquired a lot of older square hay bales, so I put them around the coop for insulation. I’m calling it a “strawbale coop,” even though it’s really hay.
The ladies seem to really like it. Even before I moved their coop, I noticed how much they seemed to enjoy climbing on the other piles of square bales I had placed throughout the gardens. So now they have their very own jungle gym to climb on all day. There are also some maze-like spots where they can get in and play hide and seek. It took them a few days to settle in to their new spot. Egg production dropped for a day or two.
Michelle spent a recent weekend with a group of friends having a “hen party” and she was gearing up to take lots of eggs to her gathering. Henny, Penny, Flora and Belle each provided one egg a day for weeks and Michelle was able to take plenty of eggs with her. On the Saturday that Michelle was gone I found just two eggs in the nesting box, and on the Sunday there were just three. On Monday when Michelle came back all four of them laid an egg. I’m sure it was just a coincidence, but I swear they knew she really wanted them to go full out and when she left they finally relaxed and took a bit of a breather. Good for them. They deserved it. They are doing a marvelous of job of providing us with amazing eggs. And they are also good at entertaining “Princess Elizabeth” aka Lizzy the cat, who spends hours watching them.
When they start to feel “cooped up” they natter at us to let them out to graze during the day, and they are often out roaming for 3 or 4 hours a day. Unfortunately, with the cold weather, most of the grasshoppers are gone. But as I’ve been planting garlic, they hang around me and unearth all sorts of grubs and cutworms. While I’d love to think that they just enjoy spending time with me, they do seem more focused on what they can unearth from the freshly dug soil where I’m working.
It's my job every day to gather the eggs and also clean out the coop. I enjoy doing it, really I do. I don't do it because I am "hen pecked!"
The ladies have been here for 5 months and I must say, the novelty of having them hasn’t worn off yet. They are simply a treat to have around.
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