As many of you know, we have a little flock of chickens living on our homestead now, bringing our animal count from one (an ornery indoor cat) to seven (said cat, plus six feathered ladies). We’ve now had many moons with our hens, and since so many of you ask how the chickens are doing, I figured I’d give you a little update on them.
And so, I bring you Adventures with Chickens, Part I!
Chicken Roll Call
In case you’re wondering, they’re in the chicken tractor in these pictures, and more on that below. But since Tikka is a diva and the two white chickens are at the bottom of the pecking order (i.e., they often run away), there are multiple pictures here. From left to right, Tikka is the iridescent black chicken, Parma is right behind her, Marsala is to the right, and Piccata is on the far right. The white hen in the middle picture is Tendie, and behind diva Tikka in the last picture is a rare shot of both Noodle (she has a darker head) and Tendie peeking behind.
We’re now able to easily pick up (and catch!) both Piccata and Tikka, while we can get Parma and Marsala with some success. With effort between the two of us, and much swearing, we manage to catch Tendie and Noodle when necessary.
Noodle and Tikka have proven to be escape artists (Tikka escaped twice in one day), but thankfully, they don’t wander off very far from the coop when they do. What have we learned so far? Chickens have very distinct personalities, as well as distinct relationships with their human friends (and captors).
Eggs and Nesting Boxes
Of course, our main reason for getting chickens is for eggs. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t give them as comfortable a space as we can, or that we don’t worry about them, or that we don’t care what they eat or do – it just means we didn’t get them simply as fun pets to watch.
As you can imagine, I use a lot of eggs in my baking and business, and keeping our own chickens made sense for replacing (at least to some extent) the dozens of pasture-raised eggs (and dozens of dollars!) we used to buy and spend. Yes, it’s work and money to raise chickens, but dang, that first egg, and first dozen eggs, from your own hens is so very satisfying.
One of the adventures we’ve had with eggs is where, precisely, the hens decide to do their business. We have nesting boxes set up in the coop – we made ours out of milk crates, extra flooring sheets (for weighing down the boxes), and pine bedding.
Chickens can be picky about where they lay their eggs. The spot must be clean (away from where they poop regularly), not used for sleeping or roosting, and in a quiet, preferably dark corner where they feel safe to lay. Easy, right?
We’ve had to move the boxes from cinderblocks to the floor and back to the cinderblocks (as they get wet and grody from sitting on the coop floor), as well as shift them from corner to corner in accordance with our ladies’ preferences. Even with all of that, they still sometimes choose to lay eggs on the floor, or (more rarely, but more annoyingly) outside in the grass and under the coop.
Thankfully, they’ve been back to the nesting boxes for the past couple of days, which makes me quite happy. Here’s hoping they keep it up!
The Chicken Tractor
Oh man. So this thing has been a project in the making for quite some time, and may still need some tweaking. But let me start with the basics.
Firstly, what is a chicken tractor? No, it’s not a machine that digs up chickens. It’s basically a movable, temporary coop, designed to allow chickens to scratch and feed and roost in a different spot of grass on different days. The reason for our having a chicken tractor is twofold:
- We don’t have a fenced-in yard, so we don’t free range our chickens. There are too many strange dogs about (especially ones that visit the Airbnb next door), as well as large animals (we had a bear in the yard a few weeks back!). Plus, we don’t want to annoy our neighbors more than we already might with our, ahem, lax mowing schedule.
- Speaking of mowing, the tractor is our answer to having to mow all. The. Freaking. Time. Especially in this crazy rainy year. We put the chickens in the tractor, set it on a new patch of grass every day (or every other day), and within hours, they’ve scratched it down to a manageable level, as well as fertilized the ground with their droppings. They love the tall grass and its new bugs, and we love the lawn control and the ability to “free range” them as best we can.
Now, you may be wondering, how did we get them into the tractor? It didn’t start off this pretty. These days, they go in easily, knowing that the tractor is their ticket to freedom and grasshoppers. But we had to tweak its design a bit: the door was originally near the top, so they’d either have to climb a ramp or we’d literally throw whoever we could catch into the tractor and hope they’d stay. Not sustainable.
We ended up cutting a new “door” in the chicken wire, and we now use the door flap to cover the hole, and a tarp to cover where the door was. Now, the chickens can easily walk into the tractor from their coop, as well as walk back to the coop in the evening. Yay!
Lastly, a word on chicken TV, AKA simply sitting outside and watching the chickens do their chicken-y business. If you haven’t taken the time to just watch animals do their thing, go ahead and change that. Not only will it crack you up (we laughed for a good five minutes just watching chickens chase each other over a particularly huge grasshopper we found in our garden), but it makes you just stop. And watch. And stop thinking.
The chicken coop (and often the tractor) is conveniently and purposely located where we can easily watch them from the kitchen and backdoor windows. If we’re stressed out, feeling blah, or just need to take a time out, we watch chickens. Chicken TV is a fabulous reset. Chickens aren’t brooding (hah) on the future or the past – they’re just looking for their next juicy grasshopper.
Have a fabulous week!