Do You Have Chickens?
We have owned chickens for around 10 years now. We sure do enjoy the little buggers. The girls name every single one, love on them all, and then inevitably mourn their demise. They remember every single chicken, how it died, strange behavior quirks, and any weird eggs it laid. They remember even the ones that we gave away or sold. This year for 4H, they are wanting to do a project raising chicks to sell. In theory, this is a great idea. In practice, my property is being overrun by chickens! I have long since discovered that under 10 free-range chickens is a nice little flock of chickens. Over 10 free-range chickens is a marauding horde of chickens.
It gets worse when you have roosters. The hens will stay within a few hundred feet of their house. Roosters, on the other hand, will roam long distances to the garden you just planted, or the mulch you just spread, and will take all the hens with them to feast on all those pretty little seeds and seedlings as well. Add in the deer and wild turkeys that come around, and you might as well not bother.
At our last house, we built a 7 foot fence. It kept the chickens out most of the time, and the deer out most of the time too. Last year, here at this new house, I planted a few dozen peas, half a dozen tomato plants, and a few peppers, garlic and onions. You know, you always start every gardening season with such hope!
The deer kept the tomato plants trimmed down to about a foot high and the chickens pecked any actual tomato’s that had the temerity to try to ripen. They ate all the pea seed and scratched up the peppers. They also ate all the blueberries off our 8 plants just before they were ripe, and helped them selves to the majority of the grapes and huckleberries. Luckily, they didn’t eat the garlic and onions, just scratched around them every few days. I think the chickens knew that garlic is a main ingredient in chicken soup. Instead of killing them outright, they decided to torture them like POW’s in a concentration camp. Luckily, I was able to harvest a few sad looking bulbs at the end of the year.
Sigh. My poor garden. Some dreams die hard.
This year I told Josh I want a garden and that means the chickens need to be corralled. They will also need moved as they are exactly where I want to put my garden. He suggested selling them or eating them. The girls were livid. So we decided we would move them behind the arena to an about 10 ft x 50 ft space next to the orchard and fence them in there. The problem is, we have no coop.
The chickens currently are living in a hovel left behind by the former owners of the property. It was built out of an old wire dog kennel, lined with tarps, some wood, and then a wooden frame was built over the top with some type of rubber roofing that is sagging and leaking all over. It is nasty, cold, and unsanitary. The complacent ones go into this structure at night. The suspicious ones roost in the trees directly next to it. Somehow they seem to think that they are safer from raccoons and other predators at night if they are out in the open. Or maybe they think the structure is nasty too. Who knows.
Therefore, most nights Emma and I can be found out by the chicken coop with garden rakes and hoes, gently nudging their sternums until they step up squawking and scolding onto the rake and we are able to gently bring them down to eye level, then quickly whisk them off to the coop. Fishing chickens that are 10 feet up out of the trees is more of a balancing act than it sounds, especially when you are 5 feet up a ladder leaning with your gardening implement slightly to the left and around a branch to reach the chicken that has decided to roost just a bit higher than usual. Still, it prevents occasions where I am woken abruptly at 3 am, and stumbling out of bed, hair on end, no contacts, rush outside in my nightie and boots, broom in hand to try to rescue a chicken being attacked. It isn’t really a scenario I enjoy. Thus the fishing in the trees every evening.
We are battling out whether or not to try to move the nasty structure, and re-build it in a new location (Josh’s idea), or to pour a concrete pad that is much more easily cleaned and build a shed/coop that actually will enclose the chickens and keep them safe, clean and dry (my idea).
Every day I have been looking for Chicken coops on craigslist and other local buy and sell groups. Chicken coops are expensive! Someone is making a killing! Most of them are these cute little mini barn structures that will hold 2-3 chickens with a nice little 3 foot square run. Cute…but I would need at least 5 of them at $300 each for my 15 chickens. Some of them are “home owner specials”, much like the one we currently have. If I wrote the ad, it would go something like this: “We are offering an awesome deal! You can buy our built from old kenneling and scrap, falling down, filthy, tetanus infested maggot den for only $400. Can house up to 20 chickens. You disassemble and haul.” You get the idea. Finally, there are the beautiful perfect coops whose only major flaw is the $1500-$3000 they cost and the fact that we would have to rent a truck and a crane to move them.
So while I have a major bee in my bonnet about getting the chickens moved to start my garden, it has become apparent to me that compromise is going to be key here. I told the girls that we might need to get rid of a few chickens for now (insert weeping and gnashing of teeth), so that we can keep the ones that we have more under control and healthier. I am still negotiating on the coop itself-maybe if we pour the pad this year and set up the nasty old structure on it, then next year we can build an actual coop?