Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Baby chickens

I forgot to write about Sunday, when we put our six baby chickens out in the yard. They had been in the big wire rabbit cage in the garage before this, because when we first got them it was too cold at night for them to be out. But I felt sorry for them--as they grow bigger, the cage is crowded (though not as crowded as they'd be, say, on a chicken farm.) The worst part, though, is that the garage is quite dark, unless we have the door open. Matt and I had started calling them Vampire Chickens....

So when the camping trip went south, I decided it would be a good time to set them free, now that the nights aren't dropping below 55 degrees. The first step was to fence in around the coop. We learned from experience last year that if the chickens don't get used to a coop, they rarely go in at night (excluding the coldest weather, but even in rain and snow they will roost in trees if we don't chase them down and put them away!) With the first batch of chicks this spring (the ones that ate plant food and died ALL on the same day!) we had great luck with fencing around the coop and keeping them there for a week or so. They learned the coop was shelter and went in every evening even after we let them have free run of the yard.

Using an ingenious array of twist ties, rubber bands and twigs, we attached chicken wire to the permanent fence, and made a movable barrier that stretches from the fence across the small bit of the yard next to the patio, neatly hemming in the coop using that, the true fence, and the raised patio as borders. We attached the end of the chicken wire to a garbage can that we collect fireplace kindling in; that way we can move it like a gate to get in and out of the pen. When the chicks figure out how to hop over the fence or onto the patio, going through the rails, we'll take the fencing down and they'll have the yard. Hopefully that will take enough time that they'll learn about the coop, too. We clipped their wings before we let them loose so they (hopefully) won't get over the back yard fence....

Ruby, Dixie, Lulu, Pepper, Eowyn and Anya seem to be enjoying their new found freedom. It's funny to watch them move in a little pack for safety as they explore this much larger place. And they're enjoying finding bugs, too--a bit of variety from that chick starter food! Yesterday Dixie got a caterpillar, and the rest were chasing her, trying to steal it away. Our hens, Marie and Scarlett, occasionally hop the chicken wire because they like the chick food better than their own--and of course to get into the coop to lay eggs. It's a peaceful little farm scene.


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