The month of March is upon us and with that comes an anniversary. Or a birthday, rather. My chickens turn three years old. Happy, happy birthday girls!
It’s a landmark, a milestone, a big deal to have three-year old chickens. At least I thought it was until I googled the life expectancy of a chicken and found it to be 8-10 years for backyard hens and some have lived up to 20!!! What???? 20 years. I’ll be drawing medicare. Almost. It’s only a big deal to be a commercial chicken and live three years. Just chalk that up to my list entitled, I thought I did well, until I found out I didn’t.
Given that enlightening statistic, I am not doing so well with my backyard hens. I’m down to only 3. I know, I know. If you’ve been hanging around this blog for long you might remember I started with a lot more than three. More like 15. But you know, life happens. There have been accidental deaths, malicious deaths, unexplained deaths, and drownings. It’s been quite the ride.
And if you haven’t been hanging around here long, here’s the dealio. These girls were raised in the house, yes you read that right, in the house! First in the bathtub of the extra bathroom then in the spare bedroom/office. A cardboard box served us well as a brooder until they were old enough to go outside. Looking back I realize I might have been a bit overprotective. They would sit on our hands and sit on the desk with me. Looking back I realize I didn’t realize little chicks could put off so much dander. Woowee, the dusting I did once they were outside. Then as they got older, they were treated to earthworms bought from the bait store. I watched them grow from little fuzzy chicks to the awkward ugly teenagerish stage before they turned into hens. They would fly on our laps, hide eggs willy nilly. They learned to get along with the dogs or rather the dogs learned to get along with them. One even hitched a ride with J-Dub to church and was walking around in the church parking lot.
These chickens have traveled with me, moving from Texas to New Mexico in the back of a truck because I couldn’t bear to part with them. They are dear to my heart. They have given me hours of enjoyment. Just the other day, I was throwing sticks for the dogs in the backyard and one of them attempted to fetch with them, running out behind them after the stick, hoping it was something a bit tastier, a Slim Jim perhaps. Of course I tried to get a video but by the time I ran to the house and grabbed the phone, everyone (dogs and chicken) had lost interest in my game.
These chickens are tough. You have to be to live around here. Just the other day I accidentally pelted one in the head with a pine cone. Pure accident. Trust me, I didn’t miss my calling playing softball.
Recently we’ve been dealing with our new dog Ozzie, the chi-weenie, really giving the chickens fits. There is one hen in particular he likes to bully and we’ve taken to calling her mangled back because he literally will get on her and attempt to pluck her alive, leaving her down exposed. Her back is a mixture of yellow and white soft feathers. He is punished harshly when he is caught but he is proving himself to be a slow learner in regard to the chickens. I didn’t know what to do and I almost gave him away but J-Dub, seeing the distress it was causing me and EK both, built a portable chicken tractor/coop for the chickens. Before that, they roosted in an old well house but were free to come and go and roam as they pleased. With this new chicken coop on wheels they are enclosed constantly but safe from the terror of the chi-weenie.
I prefer them to be free range. They prefer to be free range. But it puts me at ease to know they are safe when I can’t watch them closely. Each day I let them out to roam about and forage and I put the dog up. All animals are treated equally.
J-Dub worked a long time on the chicken tractor and I am so happy with it. These contraptions range anywhere from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars. We tried to be as economical as possible and also reuse things around the place. Upcycle if you will. We can actually call ourselves green now.
He bought the lumber new and built a 6 foot by 6 foot frame. He covered it all in wire, bolted two wheels on the back (which may need replacing) and a handle on the front to push/pull/heave it around. There is a door to let the chickens in and out. On the back he built a box for them to nest in, equipped with their own little ladder to climb. The nesting box has a lid that opens up so I can reach in and get the eggs. He covered part of the top with tin and yes, he did, he added rain gutter which flows into the watering trough. On the opposite end is a feed trough with a trap door so I can dump hen scratch in easily.
And no, I don’t have trick chickens that lay oblong, funky shaped caps of some sort. That’s just a decoy. It worked.
Basically it’s a chicken dream house. And I’m really getting the itch to stock it with some babies.