A friend of mine recently put out a call for someone to take a few of her beloved chickens. She ordered some Swedish Flower eggs in the Spring, and didn’t expect almost all of them to hatch! For this reason, we will be getting three hens and a rooster! We are so excited for their arrival, although it has meant a great deal of work around here. The last time we had chickens was nearly five years ago. It was a good experience at first…until the rats came. There were a lot of them. Seems our first attempt at creating a chicken coop wasn’t entirely small rodent proof. At first we were in denial about just how many rats there were, until one dramatic evening when Rob went into the barn to put something away. Before he could turn on the light, he noticed the straw beneath the chickens feet heaving. When he flicked on the light, he saw over fifty rats scurry up the walls and out of the barn. After that we removed all the chicken feed at night, in hopes they would look elsewhere for food and shelter. Turns out that rats aren’t overly particular about their dinner, and turned to eating chicken poop when their feed was in short supply. But the day one ran up my arm and hurled itself across the barn as I attempted to take out the garbage was the day we decided to get rid of our first lot of chickens. They were delicious. The rats vacated not long after that, since it was late fall and they needed somewhere with more food to survive.
Since that time we’ve always dreamed of having chickens again. What I want to say deterred us was finding the right breed. The first lot were Chanteclers, which are supposed to be wonderful laying hens for northern climates. They turned out to be so skittish that they would run in terror from the feed we threw in their general direction. This created a huge problem, since this is generally how you call your birds home. They were so fearful in fact that we thought there was something wrong with one of the birds because it sat still most of the time and would come close to us. It also had some feathers that stuck out at the sides of its beak. We affectionately named this one ‘mutton chops.’ Turns out once this hen started laying eggs that they were blue! What we thought was a ‘sick’ and docile bird turned out to be an Easter Egger! The only one of the lot we liked much.
But when my friend offered me her birds, which had a most wonderful description, I couldn’t resist. This meant I had to face the real reason we haven’t had chickens again..the great deal of work it was going to be to overhaul our coop. Accepting the birds meant the work on the coop had to be done, despite a good likelihood that we will be moving from this home.
Our ‘new’ rat-proof chicken feed storage unit
My in-laws came over on Saturday and helped us with the project. Rob’s dad has built hundreds of cages for shrikes and came equipped with a roll of industrial strength wire and an air powered staple gun. His expertise was invaluable, and he had a plan to create a room within the barn to keep all rodent life out. We were able to piece together the coop using materials that we already had between the two families. He showed me how to use the staple gun (which was an intense experience!) Rob did a lot of the cutting of wood and his Dad and I worked in the coop putting the pieces together. Rob’s mom took the kids all day while we worked. She even braved a trip to the library with a newly walking baby girl, who likes to get into everything! It was so nice to feel so supported in our work. It felt so right to spend a day working and playing together, breaking midday to share lunch. It was so generous of them to spend the day with us, and we appreciate their help with such deep gratitude. We didn’t finish the coop on Saturday, but decided to stop working late in the afternoon with only the front and door left to finish. It had been a long hot day, and we appreciated cooling off in the pool in the late afternoon sunshine.
Sunday, Rob took the kids and I worked to finish the coop. It was definitely an empowering experience to finish the project myself…well, mostly, Rob helped out during the children’s rest time! I’ve done my share of construction while completing my visual art degree, but chose to use hand tools for most of the process, since that’s what appealed to my creative (and tentative) side. Using power tools is a whole other experience. I had my hand at a staple gun and used the chop saw too. Not sure I’m a huge fan of these implements, but it was a power-trip to be sure!
Putting in all that work in our barn has me feeling more nostalgic than ever about this place. I love it here. I think the new chicken coop is amazing. If any rodents find their way in, they deserve whatever food they can find! We even upgraded our feed storage…if you can call using our old freezer an upgrade! But what I have learned is that it doesn’t matter where we end up, the support of our community is what matters, and we will make sure it comes with us to our new home! We will pick up our birds next week sometime. Before then, we need to find some bales of straw and fill the freezer!