We hadn’t checked on the chickens for a few days and H.W. came back from the henhouse telling me I’d better come see for myself. I hadn’t even noticed hearing them for a couple days (their food and water supplies last for two weeks so we can ignore them at times), so I freaked out. “Just tell me if they’re dead“, I wailed, on my way out to the henhouse without a jacket, but he wouldn’t.
The chickens were fine, milling nervously in the corner with their necks stretched tall and tilting their heads at us, cheeks comically fluffed out. The big event was prominently featured front and center in the first nest box- eight perfect pale blue eggs.
I’m so proud! Our chickens are all grown up! Finally. They were due to start producing around November, but that was the beginning of winter. So they helped themselves to a whole ‘nother season of free feed before starting to earn their keep.
I was expecting some “starter eggs”- gnarled, diminutive, or otherwise dubious quality eggs while they were “breaking in”, so to speak, but all the eggs are uniform and perfect. Next, I’m all excited about getting an incubator, and multiplying the flock.
I was lying on the floor the other, day, probably making a list, when all the chickens came up to the window and started looking in at me. Pecking on the sill and canting their heads to look out of one beady eye then the other, they peered in the window, eye to eye with me. I only got awful pictures through the glass, but this one caught one rooster shaking out his big old mane, as he’s wont to do.
Do everyone’s free range chickens run around all winter?I was leaving their coop closed some days, because I thought it was too cold, but it seems no matter how cold it is (-10C), they come rolling out of the henhouse at 8am and spend all day outside trucking around being chickens. Sometimes they stand on one leg like storks and get pretty puffy, but they definitely like it outside, trolling the compost heap and looking in the front door.
Surely they’ll start spending their days indoors when the snow gets too deep, though.
…the rare Snow Chicken makes its appearance in early winter. It forages under the snow layer for food and has been witnessed consuming snow for water. Its movements may be tracked by the large three toed print it leaves behind.
A new threat to the chickens: raccoons. We’ve been getting relaxed about shutting the chicken hatch at night, and that was a bad idea. Came home one night and there were three little pairs of beady eyes, one raccoon just trundling out of the henhouse; last night HW busted one in the henhouse again. Clearly that’s who upset the food trough the other day. Luckily they seem to prefer chicken food to chicken for food at this point.
The henhouse got a fall cleaning/ “henhouse makeover” in fall colours. The abundant maple leaves provided a big new spongy carbon layer, piled in over top of the dung and old grass that has been piling up. It’s like lasagna gardening, only lasagna composting. It makes the henhouse smell really good again too. Now when I open their hatch, I hear crunching inside as they start walking towards the door.
I love the chickens! They’re all grown up, and there are far fewer, because most of the roosters got eaten, but the little flock is so mischievous and amusing and … lively. It’s just nice to have animals roaming around being animals, murmuring to each other and sneaking around, popping around the corner of the barn, and scratching in the hay with their butts in the air like little schooners. They hover around when we’re working or raking leaves, waiting to reverse our work or dig for uncovered treats.
They can fly quite well, too, as I discovered when I was dumping leaves in the henhouse. I guess it scared the willies out of them, and they went flying out the door over my head in a panic.
They vanish completely for hours every day though. I was wondering where they were hiding, and it turns out they DO roam around in the woods. There were sightings of them back in the woods. That’s so awesome. Wild chickens! Like the wild chickens of Hawaii.
The girls are almost due to start popping out eggs, so it was time to give them boxes. I was quite happy to repurpose a decrepit pile of assorted drawers, feed boxes, and hutches, formerly used for a rabbit raising op. Chickens aren’t fussy, and what the assortment of boxes lack in beauty they make up for in saving time.
We just tacked them back together where they were falling apart and tacked them to the walls however they would fit, and presto, chicken condos!
Also a deluxe new pole near the ceiling for them to roost on, since they crowd together every night, teetering on the highest point of the branch. I think height on the branch equals status.
I started letting the chickens out into the wide world when I got back, because they have to learn sometime. I’d open the main door and just leave it open and wait. For hours they only poked their heads out, until one of the roosters got jostled and fell out, with much squawking. Over the first few days, they slowly ventured a few feet away from the coop.
That was fraught with anxiety for me. At first I only did it while I was around, all scared of all the threats they would encounter, with no street smarts at all! But they seem to be ok. I’ve seen them practically interacting with the ravens, whom they are about the same size as now, the bear has rolled through, as have the neighbor’s dogs, and there have been no losses.
At first, every morning when I opened their hatch the roosters would tumble out and stand there wide legged, blinking, and shake their necks out.
Rearranged the henhouse interior and made some big high perches for them. They all (except for the smallest one, who’s gonna get called Teensy, and remains hilariously all legs, like a plover) look like real chickens now, plush with feathers and their final colours. They’ve been roosting together like hens on the edge of the boards and more surprisingly, flopped out on the grass, so perhaps they’ll move up a level now.
I wish they liked me more; they flee enthusiastically every time I rattle the door, but then, I tell myself they’re extra twitchy because of the bear. Twice, a bear has gone in the coop (opened the door) and stolen a bag of food. No chicks killed. Twice. Twice is a bit embarrassing, and the second theft was in the middle of the afternoon. I was very surprised at that.