Cluckingham Palace

I was wondering if I ever really would get my own flock of chickens. We talked about it as if it would become reality, but progress was not quite encouraging. A long time ago, someone used to own horses here, and there was a turn around pen (or so I am told that is what you call it) that I thought would make the perfect chicken yard. It was large, shady, and already had the fence for the bulk of the structure. In my mind, it would be the work of two afternoons to enclose it and build a shelter. That shows what I know. It has been a year since we moved here, and we have been busy with so many things. The list is a long one and building a chicken fortress turned up close to the bottom. Well, it was near the bottom on Mike’s list. I kept thinking about it and decided to see if I could find anything useful on Craigslist to give us a jump start. All in one afternoon I found a set of ten nesting boxes and a truckload of fencing and miscellaneous farm junk. Mike generously agreed to drive all over the state to pick these items up. We continued to discuss building plans for the fortress at leisure. No rush. We didn’t have any chickens to protect and I didn’t know where to find any. I figured if we built it, they would come. About once a month Mike and the boys would put in a few hours work on the enclosure, just to reassure me that they took this plan seriously and that they really did love me, despite my crazy plans and long list of manly projects.    But things were moving so slowly. I got serious and began praying for God to send me some chickens. 12 hens and one rooster, to be exact. 

Well... about a week later, I was driving the musical ones to piano lessons on the back roads. I love the back roads. They are all windy and woodsy. We go by cow pastures, tunnels formed by live oaks, mansions and trailers next to each other. Hardly anyone but me is ever on those roads. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a small sign leaning against a row of mailboxes that proclaimed, “Chickens for Sale”. I immediately decided to stop in for a visit on the way home. A little old lady named Myrtle rode out the door on her motorized chair and showed me about 30 Dominique chickens crammed into a 20 square foot chain-link dog kennel. They hardly had room to walk around each other. She needed to get rid of them right away. Her priced seemed fair enough to me, so I promised to buy 12 hens and 1 rooster on Saturday. That gave us three days to finish up the chicken yard. 

Mike was not as excited as I was. However, we had already marked Saturday as a Home Project Day and the coop was finally at the top of the list. We drafted the big boys and got it secure by the end of the afternoon. I am going to skip the unpleasant parts of the day and just say that the boys and I had great attitudes as we sweated away the hours. 

Finally, it was the appointed moment! Victoria and I drove back to Myrtle’s trailer, hauling Chance’s kennel as a make shift chicken carriage. We found that Myrtle had already picked out the chosen ones. I hesitated to argue with her, since she undoubtedly is much more of a poultry expert than I am, and she is also very old and frail, but some of the hens did look suspiciously masculine to my untrained eye. I hinted at my doubts and she assured me she had “swung the nail” over each one of them, with a surprised expression and in a tone that said “What more can anyone ask or expect?” Maybe you wonder what the nail has to do with anything? I am not making this up. Myrtle told me she hung a nail on a string and held it over each bird. If it swung from side to side or around in a circle it indicated male or female, or was that female or male? Who knows what I ended up with, but I didn’t have any other methods to determine which birds were which, so I had to let it go. 

The chickens were not impressed with the dog kennel, however, they became strangely silent when I turned on the ignition. The previous protesting at being crammed into a plastic death trap evaporated, while a horrific smell permeated the bus. I think I scared the poop out of them. By the time we got home and dumped them in a horse stall, they were apparently convinced they were all chicken and dumplings. We opened the kennel door and tipped it up on end, but they just lay on top of each other, beaks open and panting, eyes bugged out, and drumsticks frozen in time. We had to shake the kennel and pull each one out. They recovered their senses after a drink of water and a bit of chicken scratch. They liked the horse stall and exterminated all the spiders in residence. 

As soon as the coop was finished, we sent volunteer chicken catchers in. Grace is holding a hen that we named Penny, because she is quite obviously the least common denominator in this flock. She is easy to identify because she is the only one who has a black beak. Even if she didn’t, we could pick her out in a crowd because the other hens will walk by her and swat her or peck her for no reason at all. 

The ladies loved their new home as soon as we tossed them in. It is so spacious and weedy. They have ten times as much room as they did before and the accommodations are five star in comparison. They ran all over, scratching the ground and nipping weeds. They took dust baths, tried out the roosts that used to be trash can holders, and scattered hay. They found the hanging food and water dishes, which are another improvement from their old life. Myrtle had food and water pans on the ground, which meant they were walked in and contaminated instantly. Mike rigged up a chicken foiler from a plastic lid and cup to prevent them from trying to roost on our food and water containers. 

So far the nesting boxes remain pristine. I made a little nest inside each one out of hay. Paul picked up birds and showed them the cubicles, but so far no interest. We might try setting a few fake eggs inside one box to see if that gives them an idea. They have not begun laying yet, so we will be patient. Mike put hinged boards on the back of the nesting boxes so we can collect eggs without having to step inside the coop at all. This really is the most desirable set up, as they poop all over everything. It literally explodes from behind, like grape shot, without warning. This entertains little boys, but the rest of us are somewhat reluctant to mingle. 

Below you see Cluckingham Palace from the front. On the left is the yard or walled castle gardens. It gets taller on the right where we built a shelter with a cathedral ceiling. This covers the dining hall and sleeping quarters. They like their dust baths in this area as well, but the restrooms are all over the entire grounds. Amazingly, it does not smell at all, yet. Perhaps the great ventilation will keep it that way. I can see this view from my bathroom window and can check on the birds first thing in the morning. Mike built supports out of PVC pipe to hold the rabbit wire we enclosed the whole thing in. I don’t think we are being overly cautious as we have noted hawks, raccoons, and foxes on the property.

This whole idea was all mine. I don’t think Mike would have ever considered raising chickens if I didn’t get the ball rolling. Surprisingly, he called me several times today to ask how “the girls” are doing. He wasn’t too keen on the bunny at first either, but I have seen him cuddling Snowflake and actually ask to have his turn holding her, so I expect he will enjoy this new adventure along with the rest of us. Especially when they start repaying us with eggs. If it turns out we have a flock of roosters, Chicken and Dumplings is Mike’s favorite dish. 

© Being Fruitful, 2012