Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hen House, Hens and Lots of Dirt Movin'

I can't even begin to express just how fantastic our friends are. Without their help, their encouragement and their old projects we'd still be a no-chicken family. Who knows? We might still be living in town, under the flight path at the end of that newly expanded runway, just a few blocks from the upcoming freeway interchange. After all, it was the addition of chickens to our backyard nearly two years ago that really began the ascent to farm living.

Free Chicken: Flo, our first hen, was a hen-pecked mess when we picked her up from friends desperate to find her a home. She'd never laid. We didn't really care. The girls were interested in chickens, farm animals, well, any animals. Flo was looking for a home, and we lived only a few blocks from her original owners.

One Woman's Trash: Hens need homes, and I'm pretty big on recycling. Plus, what can I say, I make do with the budget I have at any given time. So rather than run out and buy a hen house or even the parts to build the whole, I reached out through social media where I discovered a fantastic coincidence. Several sweaty hours, bloodied arms and granny knots later, Flo had a safe night-time space in the form of a transformed rabbit hutch and enclosure. She only spent the most dangerous hours there - the opossum hours, the raccoon hours, the owl hours, night.

Three's A Crowd: By springtime, the girls were enjoying Flo, but we all agreed she could use some friends. Plus, the girls wanted to raise chicks. And is there much cuter than children and chicks? OK. Children and just about ANY baby animal? So we picked up a pair, an Aracauna ("Tiger Ginger") and Barred Rock ("Falconer"), and repurposed some of our own projects to build them their first home before they joined the Big Backyard World.

Changing Spaces: Then came the Big Move of 2012 in which Flo, Tiger Ginger, Falconer and their home came out to the farm, along with the kids, the parents and all of our belongings. We attached their enclosure to a larger enclosure which we'd rehabed on the new place. The big run is under an oak tree on a hillside near the house. The hens are welcome to lay, rest, or run at any hour of the day, and most often seem to enjoy running up to and around the people house. They seem to take the greatest pleasure from pooping on the porch. More than 50 acres to roam and they have to leave their mark on the PORCH!? These ARE pet chickens! Our three hens were joined this spring by another young Barred Rock, "Owl," which was a gift from a new neighbor.

When Jokes Turn Real: A young friend saw our chickens running lose. I had NO idea she was considering getting rid of her brood when she said, "Mom! I want to bring my chickens out here!" I laughed and said, "Do we get the house with them?" Her dad had built a fantastic chicken house and run with all the trimmings. I'd been eyeing it for more than a year, mentally measuring it, taking notes so that someday I might build something similar though I knew the craftsmanship would never compare. A couple weeks later, her mom called to offer the chickens and the house to us, for real. We coordinated our schedules, mapped out a plan, and made it happen. They wanted to exit the egg business. They wanted their hens to go to a good home. They wanted the corner of their yard back that the hens had completely taken over. We were a perfect fit.

New Digs: A week before we were to bring the hen house out by some unknown means, a local
friend bought a new flatbed trailer on impulse. After years of flat-towing his aging Jeep, it was time, and his timing couldn't have been more perfect for us. I wasn't sure he'd let me take off with his brand-new rig, but he didn't even hesitate. With Mr. B, myself, and the wife-husband team who was giving up this house and flock, we were able to open up a section of their fence, move the house onto the trailer, and repair the fence in a matter of hours.

It took two days to prep the site, thanks in no small part to the brick-hard soil around the day pen and so many other spots on the property. We used pick axe and shovel to hack a notch into the hillside above the existing run. Once leveled, I tiled the run area with pavers our friends had included in the package. If we've learned nothing from our first run, we've learned how destructive squirrels can be. The concrete pavers should keep the squirrels from undermining the new hen house.

It's not often that I can visualize my demise, but as Mr. B and I prepped to move that house off the trailer, down the hillside, under the oak tree and into place, I had clear visions of the thing sliding off the trailer and snapping my arm in two. It was kind of like the images preschoolers have where "broken arm" means the whole thing just snaps right off your body. I was pretty sure we were doomed, but Mr. B had a plan; and it worked beautifully.

Free-range Hens: Now our flock of eleven hens put themselves to bed at night - the original three in their hutch, the new eight in their house. Sometimes, they wander into each other's homes by day, even lay eggs in each other's spaces, but they keep to themselves for the most part. By sunrise, they're in the run giving themselves dust baths and tanking up on water for the day. We open their door to the outside world and hope for the best each day; there are hawks and coyotes, foxes and bobcats about. So far, the new hens have kept themselves pretty close to their home rather than ours.

Good thing.

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