Monday, March 3, 2014

Clucking Happy . . .

Here in the mid-Atlantic region Father Winter has not been kind.  We experienced the "polar vortex," and the subsequent rain followed by sub-zero wind chills.  Eighteen inches of snow blanketed the frozen swamp that the overly saturated ground had become.  Then ice.  More snow.  Rain.  And all of it accompanied by the high winds that have become a regular winter treat these past years.  As I write this, winter storm Titan is baring down on us for an early March snowfall.  (As a gardener, I am hoping that this long freeze will kill off the devastating squash and stink bugs, but that's a tangent to itself.)

Through this cold and deep snow my neighbor, who just celebrated his 80th birthday, couldn't get out to the barn to feed his chickens and cats.  Being a good neighbor and animal lover, I volunteered to do it for him until the snow melted or the cold let up, which ever came later.
Little Man loves feeding the kitties.

One of the kittens we played with every day last summer.

First Day Fears

That first day, the rooster and his four hens ran from me when I entered the coop, but they were quick to scratch for the corn I threw across the floor.  It was all I had to offer as the feed was gone.  

But I had just finished reading a fabulous book about keeping chickens naturally.  Fresh Eggs Daily became my go-to resource for caring for the chickens without the proper supplies.  I pulled zucchini and yellow squash from the freezer, added some dried herbs and crashed garlic, and made some veggie soup for the chickens.  I also made them some herbal tea.  Both were served warm to help them through the cold.
Veggie Soup, Fruit w/ Chamomile, Herbal Tea

The next day, they were waiting for me just inside the door when I opened the coop.  This time I had my son with me, and he was able to lightly stroke the back of one hen while she ate.

Over the week, the snow gradually melted away, making it "safe" for the chickens to venture outside in the run.  It was fun watching the rooster standing on the ramp in the doorway, and when they heard us (or just me) coming, the hens all came out, pushing him down onto the muddy ground.  They would talk to us as we went about the business of preparing their food and that for the kitties, too.  I also purchased feed for them so they would have a balanced diet.
They love their treats!

I was proud to buy feed.
Enjoying Outside

Tossing scratch
I have always enjoyed chicken duties, but for some reason, this time was more rewarding.  Each day I left the barn feeling fulfilled in a way that only outdoor chores can provide.  But more than that, I think it was the bonding, however minute, that was beginning between me and the chickens.

My chickens!
Then, on Friday, February 28th, my neighbors gave me a fabulous gift.  In light of their upcoming move, they bestowed upon me their chickens.  I will be getting my own chicks this spring, and I am being particular about the breeds, but to have four hens and a rooster given to me was more than I hoped for.  (Until then, I'll be honest, I was merely hoping to receive the supplies for the chickens to rummage through and keep what I could use for my own birds.)

So, for my first full day as a chicken owner, I gave the coop a cleaning.  It was quick, because it was impromptu, but it was necessary.  The old bedding was more than well-used and decidedly dusty.  I used a mostly-untouched bale of pine shavings and found what I thought to be a bale of straw in the loft.  (After shaking out the flakes, I'm pretty sure it was very old hay and not straw, but oh well.  It's dry and warm, and the chickens will have fun scratching for old seeds.)  

I shook out about half of the bale, using it to line the nesting boxes, too, in the hopes that I may be able to get a few more eggs from them.  When I was cleaning the boxes, I collected the ceramic eggs my neighbor put in to help prevent egg eating, but there was one that didn't look right.  When I picked it up I was sure it was a real egg, but I couldn't be sure because it felt the same as the others.  It was real, though.  I found out the hard way, by squishing it.  

The hens were intrigued by my activity in the boxes.  They hopped up to check them out once I had the old bedding emptied, and then again when I put the straw-hay in.  

No eggs Sunday morning, but maybe with the lengthening days, the added herbs and nutritious treats, and more TLC than my neighbor was able to provide I might be able to get them to lay for another year.  (I'm pretty sure that's what they have left for laying, and it would be nice to have my own eggs while my chicks are growing.)

 Happy clucking!

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