Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chickens... and the Men Who Love Them

As most of you know, this summer, during a visit to Ohio, we purchased three chickens at the Canfield Fair. Matt and I had spent more than a year discussing getting chickens. We had not, however, made a plan, built a coop or bought so much as a bag of cracked corn. Yet, on the final night of the fair, at the closing hour, there we stood with a box of chickens and a dream.

Most of our family thought we were insane. My aunt loaned us a dog crate and wished us good luck. The girls spent their first evening in the dog crate in my parent's garage. The next day, we checked them every hour for what we assumed would be piles of eggs spilling from the cage. No such luck. We decided they looked depressed and nervous in their cage, so we let them out in my parent's backyard to "relax" before their four hour car ride to Michigan. Getting them to come out of the crate took a little persuasion. Getting them back into the crate took two adults and a preschooler chasing them through two neighbors' backyards until we corned them in a basement window well. No problem, we thought, they just need a proper home and this will not happen again.

We had read about Joel Salatin's chicken tractors and earlier in the year we spoke to a farmer at the Maker Faire in Detroit who was exhibiting his own chicken tractor creation. We quickly decided this would be the best route for our backyard chickens. Matt was quite sure he could whip this up in an evening with supplies we had on hand. Two weeks, a hundred and fifty bucks, twenty-six chicken escapes and zero eggs later, the chickens moved into their tractor. Boy, were they glad to get out of that dog crate!

All throughout the fall, Matt continued to make "coop improvements". Maude, his favorite hen, was the inspiration for these improvements. He was constantly adjusting, rearranging and painting their abode, always with her in mind. He cares for Helen and Blanche as well; but, no one holds a candle to Maude, not even me. When late fall rolled around, Maude, no longer a pullet, finally laid her first dark brown egg. Helen and Blanche followed quickly with light brown and bluish-green eggs, respectively.

Now that winter is here, we have added a light to keep the coop warm and encourage year-round laying. The girls each oblige us with an egg a day and the eggs are always waiting for us in a neat little pile each morning. We have added a pricey "poultry fount warmer" to keep their water from freezing. Last week, they were moved near the house to block some of the wind and keep things even cozier. I expect that one day soon my belongings will be moved into the garage in order to make room in the master closet for Maude's cracked corn and grit.

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