by Carmen Macdonald
In hindsight, a lot of work could have been avoided if I simply had not answered the phone. Phone calls from a trip running errands have the distinct possibility of becoming expensive, and in this case, laborious.
But in this day and age of micro-instant connectivity, I guess it's expected. Plus there's the outside chance that something was wrong, at least that was the justification for cell phones so many years ago.
I took the call from my wife Jen.
"What are you doing?"
Maybe it's just an acquired skill after more than a decade of marriage, but I'm always leery of the painfully obvious question. It was a Wednesday, mid-morning.
"I'm picking up some flea stuff for the cats….they've got the cutest baby chicks here."
A few years ago I wanted to get some chickens. Part of the self-sufficient trend. Big garden, fruit trees, chickens… come a small-sized disaster we'd eat good for a bit. Kind of like amateur-hour prepping. I got over it with time.
I must have paused for a sec, a sure sign of weakness. The pace got quicker, I caught every third or fourth word. "Buff Orpingtons…cute…says they're nice…kids…bye!"
It took her 10 minutes to make the purchase. It would take me three full weekends to get a place built for them to live.
When I got home that night and looked around, initially I found nothing more than a little box. "Look! They're so cute!" Apparently the old dog crate had been converted into a chick pen, complete with heat lamp.
In all honesty they were cute. Balls of yellow/orange fluff.
I knew the kids were my first priority here. They needed a talk before the little critters took hold of them.
"Okay you two. Chickens are not pets. They're low on the food chain animals and outside of producing eggs, it's pretty probable a dog, coyote or cat will at least get one of these. Don't name them. I don't want a bunch of tears when these things end up on the dinner table or suffer some other form of traumatic end someday."
"Quicky, Pokey, Pipsqueek and Z" an immediate response from my daughter. My son just nodded in agreement. Being the older of the two, he can't be caught verbally agreeing with his sister. That would be, uncool.
Counter-measures were necessary. If there were to be names, I needed something identifiable, something to do with the realities of life. "How about broiled, baked, fried and barbecued," I shot back.
It was pretty apparent that after building a coop, I'd need to construct my own dog house if I wanted to continue the comments.
One adult Buff Orpington hen can produce over 200 eggs in a year. We now had four of them in training. I doubt Sylvester Stallone in his Rocky prime could have powered down the production to come of these four chicks. What the heck are we going to do with nearly 1000 eggs? I tend to get caught up too much in the details.
The city of West Linn allows you to raise 5 hens for eggs with no special permits or regulations (surprising because everything in this town seems to have a permit attached). Being that she only picked up four chicks was an obvious display of moderation on Jen's part.
When the idea of chickens crossed my mind a few years back, I was enamored with a coop design called a chicken tractor. The design, in theory, made sense. For just a few chickens, the coop is mobile, with no floor. So rather than the chickens pounding on one primary section of ground, the tractor can be moved around the yard so no one area takes too hard a beating. It also keeps the manure moving around, fertilizing and keeping any smell down. With a coop over a scratching/feeding area, it seems like it has sun shade and rain cover built in.
I found pictures online, but no real plans. No bother, I probably wouldn't have followed directions anyway. Off to the lumber store. I picked up 8, 2 x 4's, a couple 2 x 10's (forgot why at this point, in my head a couple longer boards made sense) and a sheet of plywood. If I needed anything else, I had a few scraps of this and that in the woodpile.
This was going to be coop "on the fly." Probably not the best way to go. Between rain storms, a minor heat wave and an out of town wedding, it took me three weekends to get the tractor put together, sealed, painted and fenced in. I'm no expert, but it seems too big, too tall and too heavy. Other than that it seems to work. Big door in the bottom. On side of the top has two doors that fold down on hinges. The "stairs" retract on a string to seal the chickens in, predators out, at night. For now I have the heat lamp hanging in there to keep 'em warm for a bit longer.
The chicks moved outside just over a week ago. All in all it seems pretty painless. They hang around the yard with minimal problems and they seem to be a slug's worst nightmare. We're letting them get a little bigger before we give them complete unsupervised run of the yard. We've got a cat that's a pretty solid hunter.
I have to admit, at this point, they're pretty innocuous. Couple of them follow the kids around and Jen got a bag of some kind of grain that with a single shake of it they come sprinting over. Other than that, they scratch their way around the yard and simply do their thing, including putting themselves to bed at night.
So as a first time chicken guy, what am I missing? I'm not 100% convinced yet that they'll be worth the effort. If it goes the other way, I've got a special bottle of barbecue sauce in the fridge, and I'm not afraid to use it!