Once upon a time, I dreamed of owning chickens ... then, last spring, the dream came true! As our girls (Henrietta, Cinnamon, Hermione, Spottie, Hershey, and Alex) get ready to celebrate their first birthday on the farm, I thought I'd share their story.
A visit to our local feed store began with the usual excitement of spring fever. We looked over seed and vegetable packets, reviewed the spring magazines, and thumbed through the newest books. The kids wanted their own gardens to tend this year, so we were all excited about the idea of getting started. That's when it happened ... an unmistakable "peep" was heard from somewhere in the back of the feed store. Off the kids ran, and soon they spied them ... dozens of adorable, fluffy, one-day-old chicks. Immediately we were smitten!
Owning a small flock of chickens had been on my wish list for quite a while, but now the opportunity was really in front of us. What would we need? A coop, run, feeder, waterer, brooder lamp ... my mind was working overtime. And yet, my thoughts were cautious because my husband wasn't with us. This had to be a family decision.
Soon my daughter found the smallest chick in the bunch ... she even gave her a name. It broke my heart, but I had to say no. We needed to talk this over as family .. .bringing them into our lives wasn't something to do lightly. And so the littlest chick rejoined the rest of her flock.
Shortly after leaving the store, we joined my husband and in-laws for dinner, and, of course, the excitement of the day was shared. My husband agreed ... if the chick had been named, well then, it had to come home with us. Oh the squeals that followed! However, the minimum purchase was six ... and so, after dinner, we found ourselves back at the feed store. The littlest chick, Cinnamon, was still there, and she, along with five others, were gently placed into a box and rode home on my daughter's lap under her and her brother's watchful eyes.
The kids slept right beside the chicks the first few nights, and before long the chicks outgrew their box and were ready to make the move to a coop. As moving day came closer, a design was decided on, and I sketched out an attached run for added security. In our part of the Midwest, foxes and raccoons are often seen, and coyotes sometimes heard in the woods. I read everything I could get my hands on to make sure we were prepared. We settled on square lock pins to secure the doors and D clamps for the nest boxes. The run was made with a heavy gauge wire roof to keep the falcons out, and my husband spent many hours pounding rebar into the ground along the outer edges of the run and coop to discourage digging animals.
We then cut a vinyl flooring remnant to fit the coop floor. This keeps the wood floors underneath dry, and clean up is a breeze. When it's coop cleaning time, I simply sweep the pine shavings into a wheel barrow and toss them into the compost bin, remove the vinyl flooring, mop and disinfect it, then let it dry thoroughly before replacing it in the coop. We added 14-gauge wire to the windows, which is kept in place with deck screws and fender washers. This allows me to easily open the windows on hot days (and nights) and still feel the hens are safe and secure.
The coop was soon ready, and moving day came. After a bit of exploring and stretching their legs, the hens began what we call "chicken races," or nonstop back and forth running along the length of the run!
When the hens were 18 weeks old, we discovered our first eggs ... we were thrilled! From then on, it's been a race to see who can make it to the coop first for a "chicken and egg check."
The past year has been a time of teaching our children how to care for their little flock, but also a time of having some old-fashioned fun. In a day filled with so many electronic distractions, it's been sweet to see them enjoy this simple country pleasure.
Mary is a Midwest farmgirl who enjoys the simple pleasures of living in the country. "For us, living where there is plenty of room for gardens, animals, and for kids to play and explore is the best kind of life." You can visit Windy Meadows Farm at www.windymeadowsfarm.blogspot.com.