chickens

Biggering our Brood

This morning we had the extreme pleasure of going to pick up our chickens!  We stopped en route to pick up some wood shavings and peat moss for bedding.  We were told by another homesteader friend about including peat in the bedding.  There are a few benefits.  The chickens do the work of mixing it in with the wood shavings, it reduces the smell due to its high absorption rate and when it comes time to clean out the coop, the former bedding can go right onto the garden beds as rich compost once it sits for a year.  We then headed to my friend’s place on the far side of the city to meet the new additions to our brood!

The children were very excited to meet the chickens, and spend some time with my friend’s son, who happened to be cuddling a chicken when we arrived.  He showed us around their urban farm.  My children especially liked meeting their rabbits, since they’ve always wanted their own!  It was nice to see their birds free ranging in the yard, something we hope to be able to carry on.  Failing that, there’s the garden enclosure that didn’t get planted this year that is now full of delicious things for chickens to eat.  We don’t have a fenced yard, and there is a dog who lives next door.  We’ll have to see how that goes.  We’ll find out this afternoon after the children finish their rest times.  Right now they are in the coop, getting used to their new surroundings a bit.  I left some food in there for them, so they’ll hopefully associate it with ‘home.’

My friend has been thinking for months about which of her beloved birds she was going to give us.  I can’t imagine how difficult that choice was for her, as she and her sons are very close to them all. We feel so blessed to add some of her loved and well cared for chickens to our homestead. It has been a long time coming since we’ve wanted chickens all along, but due to a rat problem had to redo our coop before trying again.  It feels so right now that the day to have chickens again has arrived.

I am excited for my children to have the rhythm of animal care introduced.  I am also looking forward to fostering a closer bond between my children and the food their eat.  The more levels of food production and preparation I can involve them in the greater chance they will learn the true value of what they eat.

Introducing the new additions to our family:

From left to right: Goldie who is a mixed breed who was hatched in a classroom and is already a good layer.  Then the three Swedish Flowers, Brownie who was named by my oldest son, Daisy who was named by my middle son, and Lucky the rooster who was named by my friend in honour of his narrow escape from her soup pot!   We decided to take a rooster mere hours before my friend’s chicken harvest in hopes of having some chicks of our own in the Spring.

Welcome to your new home!

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Roosting

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!