A week ago Sunday, we finally moved the girls to the coop. It seems a bit impossible that only six weeks ago, actually seven now, I first brought home a cheeping box from the Post Office and set up chicken keeping in Mike’s shop. It has been like no other animal experience I’ve had to date. And I will say it is something I can see myself doing until I just can’t any longer.
When we upgraded the brooder from a large cardboard box to a metal water trough, we also moved from the work area of the shop to the actual apartment where I could better control the temperature. But it became very clear, early on, that a heat lamp in early summer in Texas was pretty much a waste of time. I dispensed with that around week four. In fact, I decided that turning off all of the lights, and pulling the food, was a good way to prep the chicks for the move to the coop.
I didn’t think that one through very well. Sixteen hungry pullets flapping and squawking their way to the front of the chow line can, literally, knock an under-caffeinated old gal on her ass in about 2.2 seconds first thing of a morning.
I never did get the hang of slipping the feeder under the bird-proof netting undetected.
However, birds used to flying to the rim of the tank at the first sight of net-free space are much easier to snag and stuff into the Rubbermaid tote for transport.
Ahh… payback is sweet!
I had read that, to make sure your young birds know where to find their food and water, you should keep them in the coop for a few days. Well, I suppose I have a flock of overachievers because they found the food and water in quick order, then lobbied their little hearts out to be set free. On the second morning, I left the coop door open to see what would happen. By day’s end they had mastered leaving and returning to the coop unaided. And then the games began.
It’s been pretty hot here so far this summer. The coop has a south/southwest orientation, so it catches the late day sun. Not a good spot when you consider metal walls, even if they have been insulated. Not to mention, the water tends to heat up pretty fast in the hanging waterer. Good shade is a commodity until somewhere around four-thirty or so.
My habit is to go out to check on the girls twice a day, around lunchtime and again about three. On the third day, I found about half of them out in the run, snugged up against the shady side of the coop in a row of holes they’d scratched in the dirt. The rest were still inside the coop, doing much the same thing against the opposite side of the same wall. Except the ones inside were panting hard and looked miserable.
A quick scan through suggestions for cooling off chickens convinced me that the open air, hot as it was, was the best place for them.
They already associate me with food, so the sight of the feed bag is normally enough to make them come running. But those hot little chickens didn’t have a run left in them. At least, not until I went in and started trying to encourage them to come outside!
One or two came willingly enough. Just scoop them up and set them outside the door. Another one put up a fuss and repeatedly hopped right back up and inside no sooner than I’d turned my back. I finally started shutting the coop door. Which gave me no less room to operate, but did keep those chickens willing to be chased out no “out” to be chased to.
Mike built the roosts along one wall of the coop, roughly eight feet across, with one about four and a half feet high and one about six feet up. We use half of an old wooden ladder to give the girls access to the roosts. They’re great. Unless you have to duck down under them to grab a bird. Coming up and whacking your head is bad enough. Coming up and whacking your head and knowing full well you now have chicken shit in your hair is well on the far side of disgusting.
I lost count of how many times I bumped the waterer. Or how many times I hit my head on the metal feeder that I’d raised to avoid spilling. The massive rainfall we’ve had this summer has kept the humidity around 80%, so I was soaked through in the ten minutes or so it took me to collect and relocate a handful of birds.
But, finally, all sixteen chickens were outside and seemed to be cooling off. To be safe, I refilled the waterer with fresh, cool water and hosed down the dirt in the run.
I was a proud chicken mama when I went back later to open the coop door and all of my little sweeties came running.
I seem unable to be convinced that all the chickens are present and accounted for unless I count them three times. On the evening of day five, I repeatedly came up one chicken short. As they had the day before, the girls brought themselves in at day’s end. Except one. I made a couple of loops around the coop before I finally saw her, Daisy, just rounding the corner ahead of me. And the chase was on!
She has repeated this infuriating little scene every evening since.
Last evening, Sheli was here to help put chickens away. True to form, Daisy ran. When she realized I had help, she took to the high ground and ended up on the roof of the mini coop. Sheli and I made eye contact and came at her from two sides. Daisy neatly flew up and over my head and landed at a dead run. Damn bird.
All in all, things were going as well as I could expect. And then, last night, I needed to drive into town to be available to meet the washing machine repair tech at Sheli’s apartment this morning. Just as a nasty storm was moving in.
The chickens had never been in a thunder storm. I worried they would be scared enough by the thunder and lightening to end up with broken legs or wings. It was hard to drive away.
Three inches of water came down during a two hour storm. And the worst thing I found when I checked this afternoon was a mudslide on the same side we’d excavated a few weeks ago after another such deluge. Unlike my lightweight birds, I sunk over the soles of my heavy boots in mud trying to walk on that side of the run.
Well, if that’s the worst thing that ever happens, I still see myself keeping chickens as long as I’m able.