Tuesday, May 31, 2011


It was a busy weekend around the coop, both human and chicken. Hank is in his first of several weeks' playing with the symphony, filling in for a colleague. Two rehearsals and woodshedding (one of the works they're playing is John Adams' Death of Klinghoffer and it's a formidable doubling part) consumed a fair bit of Hank's weekend. Helping Max study for finals (division of labor: Latin, me; Math, Hank) also took some time, although given Max's general distaste for studying, not all that much.

My primary focus was on readying the chicken yard for the girls, who have begun to seem a wee bit cramped in their brooder. This is especially noticeable when they all decide it's time to give that whole flight thing a try and go racing and flapping from one end to the other. It's a little like ORD at rush hour. My hope is to move them outside full-time this coming weekend, although that plan will depend in part on just how feathered they've become and whether the weather cooperates. But this weekend it was definitely time to introduce the girls to their soon-to-be habitat, in small doses to start.

First, though, it had to be chick-proofed.

The coop resides within a quadrant of our backyard that we fenced off separately from the rest at the start of our first post-Maddy gardening season. That spring, as Maddy dug ferociously all over the backyard, Hank and I mixed concrete, sunk posts, and hung a cedar dog-ear picket fence. I had staked out that corner of the yard as a vegetable garden when we first bought the house 6 years ago. That garden project involved reclaiming a substantial amount of brick paving to demarcate beds and digging in lots of peat moss and compost to lighten the clay-ey soil. It was the only truly sunny corner, given the two towering oaks that shade the vast majority of the backyard. Someday I will write more about those oaks--they are truly majestic trees and probably deserve an entire blog of their own, that's how wonderful they are.

After the erection of the Maddy-fence, I continued to garden there for a couple of seasons, but the wonderful oaks become more so every year and what used to be a reasonably sunny patch becomes less and less so every year. It is this dynamic that has led me to shift food growing to the front of the house (more on that another day) and left the back garden, as we call, it, increasingly underutilized. But the fence is still perfectly good and dog-proof and the dappled sun and shade seemed like it might be perfect for chickens.

The fence, although dog proof and perhaps adult chicken proof, is decidedly not chick-proof. So we hatched a plan to reinforce the perimeter with what is essentially a baby gate for chicks. Sunday morning, Hank and I braved the 90 degree temps, staple gun in hand, and tacked chicken wire to the wooden fencing. Where there was no wooden fencing we used a system I have used for vegetable trellises for many years: metal fenceposts and wire mesh. It's not without its aesthetic compromises, although I have to confess I'm a fan of the functional agrarian look. Galvanized trough, anyone?

The current baby-proof yard is only about half the entire back garden space. I'm still growing herbs, kale, chard, peppers and cukes in the remainder of the space and will eventually let the hens range through the whole thing (and probably eat quite a lot of produce in the bargain). But for now, they're limited to the lower part of the garden. And this is how it looks:
isn't the sanded and repainted bench (another project from the weekend) lovely, too?
So it came to pass that having done everything a parent could think of to do to make the environment safe for the next generation, I loaded the girls into a small box with high sides and carefully ferried them, skittering and scolding inside, from their cozy living room nest to the great outdoors. I lifted each from the box and placed her feet on the ground--the first time any of them had touched earth! They all stood up straight, raised their heads and looked intently about them:

And then, as if they'd been doing it for millennia, they began to scratch and peck at the earth, the plants, and, best of all, the insects!

Gertie, Sadie, Rosie, Hattie and Millie
What became instantly clear is that we have a true flock. The girls ranged about the yard, always staying within a couple feet of each other, seemingly aware of the benefits to all of staying in proximity. As with the scratching and pecking, this piece of instinctive chicken-ness, in my very 21st-century, express-mailed, surrogate-mothered girls inspires awe, even though I know they're only doing what they are biologically programmed to do. These girls are incredibly well-adjusted--completely at home in their own feathers in a way so many of us humans can only imagine. And that is quite beautiful.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing how quick they mature. Get a rooster. Your neighbors will not mind. They will adjust.