The weather experts kept pushing back the storms’ arrival time yesterday, so we decided to get the chicks out of their indoor enclosure and into the outdoor tractor for a little playtime. We still get some cold nights, and they’ll go outside full-time when we hear more clucking than peeping. That can’t happen soon enough for all of us because the difference in environment between even a lovingly maintained indoor enclosure and fresh green grass is stark.
We’ve paired down our flock to a manageable seven. The Big Guy cleans the tank out every other day, and they have room to do gymnastics in there, but, in the tractor, they can actually fly a little. In the tank, they eat their medicated baby food — they’ll go to plain old cracked corn not too long from now. In the tractor but they’ve discovered the joy of chasing and chomping bugs. They get to play “who wants to tease the cat?” When they get tired, they find a sunny spot for a little meditation.
From past experience, we know all this roaming and bug eating makes delicious eggs with rich yolks. And, even though I don’t claim to be a chicken psychologist, from my lawnchair, the outdoor chickens, much like outdoor kids or cats or dogs, just seem happier.
The chicks are really starting to feather out, but there’s still enough fluff that we only let them outside when the sun is strong enough to counteract any cold. Yesterday, we let them play outside while their enclosure was cleaned, and they cavorted and experimented with running up the gangway and then jumping off. Katie sat nearby, whimpering when she thought they were going too high. I was sitting by them most of the time, but they were far more interested Katie and even the cats.
There don’t seem to be any mean girls in the group, and I wondered if they just get along because they don’t know any other clique.
We started with a dozen and then, knowing our coop isn’t big enough for all of them, the Big Guy took a few over to a neighbor in exchange for some eggs from her grown birds. The neighbor was happy to have the new little ones and assured the Big Guy they would fit right in. At first I was thinking she must not have any mean girls either, but then I remember the one thing I’ve always loved about chickens.
It’s that, for the ladies anyway (not so much for the roosters), it doesn’t matter if you’re a Rhode Island Red, a Barred Rock, an Americauna, a newcomer or hatched in the same bath, or even an over-protective dog. If you’re willing to hang out for a game of ‘how high can you fly,’ you’re part of their flock.
It was almost uncomfortably warm on Saturday so we let the chicks into the chicken tractor to play while they’re current enclosure was cleaned. It was a good chance for them to really meet Jim, Princess Jane, and Katie.
Jane and Jim inspected the chirping babies and, discovering that the tractor was secured by wiremesh at all sides, spent most of the day feigning interest in a chipmunk hunt.
I sat with the chicks for a while, cleaning some garden implements and getting them used to the idea of me as Mother Hen. Eternally loyal, Katie sat with me. As she moved, the chicks often moved with her. She would sniff at them and wag her tail a little as they chirped at her.
The chicks came out of their eggs at the feed store, so the only “mamas“ they’ve ever known are a heat lamp and the changing hands that feed them. Katie was abandoned to a kill shelter as a puppy, and I doubt she had much contact with her mama.
Something in her past or her nature, however, made her loyal and gentle, more than a little bit of a pushover, and, when she has to be, brave. It seemed fitting that, for the moment, they saw her as the “Mother Hen.“
Princess Jane was much more welcoming than we expected when we opened the box of week-old chicks and gently deposited each one into the shaving-filed aquarium where they will live until they feather out. She had, after all, just come inside from disemboweling a chipmunk who made the mistake of venturing out of the woods, but it might have been her full belly that made it possible for her to treat the new arrivals — pullets all – as ladies in waiting rather than waiting dinner.
It took less than a week of staying home to realize that, even with Thing1 home, we were saving piles of money by not eating out, not driving, not buying anything except what was on the grocery list. It took less than two weeks to remember that we could brush off our gardening skills and, without sending Thing1 to the Army (who wouldn’t take him and his malfunctioning immune system anyway), have some fun and make a sizable dent in that bill as well.
So the garden plan was drawn up. Seeds were started. And chicks were ordered.
We’ve had chickens in the past, and they’ve always been fun and educational . From the ladies, we’ve learned that it’s never too early or late to enjoy a good meal. From the roosters, our kids learned more about the facts of life than we were ready to explain. We learned a few unpleasant facts of life from the foxes, and the roosters learned the hard way not to pick on my chicks.
This time around we ordered pullets instead of a straight pick. We only need 6 but, wanting a few different breeds, we ordered the minimum 6 each of Rhode Island Reds and Americaunas from the feed store. Our chicken tractor will hold six comfortably (comfy chickens lay better eggs – seriously), so when they get bigger, we’ll give half of the flock to neighbors who want home grown eggs.