We love our Nellie and Rockefeller, but I dream of the day when we have at least a dozen chickens with acres of land for them to roam on!
Okay, so you wouldn't actually want to make omelets out of these eggs, which is a shame... because there were THIRY SIX of them! Our ridiculous chickens (mainly Rockefeller, who is the nuttier one) decided to lay their eggs behind a piece of fencing. And I thought she was just an irregular layer. Clay was organizing some lumber recently and made a lumber rack so now my back yard looks less like a lumber yard, or at least like a more organized one. He got quite the surprise when he lifted this piece of fencing though! We gathered up some spare egg cartons to pack them in, not wanting to set off a rotten egg bomb. I tell you, chickens are crazy birds!
The problem is, then they sat in the garage for a week or so because we didn't want to put them in the garbage can and risk setting of a nuclear stench (they must've been really old!). So then last Sunday we had the brilliant idea of driving out to the salt flats for a little hillbilly fun. We invited Clay's brother and sister-in-law and headed out to the flats, carefully packed eggs in tow.
The funny thing is, the eggs didn't smell as bad as we had thought they would, but the salt flats were really stinky! And the eggs were so old that they had changed texture and some of them were quite hard to break. But we had a grand old time tossing them out into the wide open and just generally being silly and enjoying a little Sunday afternoon adventure. Just one more perk of keeping chickens:)
Sam, having figured out how to undo the latch on the chickens' coop, lets them out on a regular basis, much to their grass-eating and garden-trampling joy. But how can I say no? They provide hours of entertainment and Sam is head-over-heels in love with them.
Interestingly, they are the most patient with him. Or perhaps it's his patience that's rewarded, as I certainly don't have the patience to follow them around the yard, waiting for them to pause so I can scoop them up or pat them. Regardless, they allow themselves to be picked up and often held for a few minutes before they flap their wings in a fluttery protest, indicating that they must get back to the serious business of eating bugs and the tender young plants in my garden.
It probably doesn't help the garden-eating situation that Sam picks phlox and other delicacies from the flower garden and hand feeds them to the chickens. No wonder they like him the best.
We feed them like queens; fresh greens, grain, left over salad, baked potatoes, homemade bread, cornmeal cake and every tasty thing a chicken could desire. We build them a chicken palace complete with roost and cozy laying boxes. And what thanks do we get? Certainly not eggs! Half the time they snacked on them themselves! Totally grossed me out at first. We tried checking the boxes religiously, stuffing it chock full of hay and sawdust and Clay even crafted a decoy egg out of wood so when they pecked it they'd get discouraged. But, nothing worked.
Enter, the egg catcher:
Clay built them some new nesting boxes with slightly slanting floors and I crafted some "egg nets" out of cute fabric and ribbon.
We tied the four corners of the nets to angled nails beneath each nesting box.
And gave it a few test runs with the wooden egg, which after its failed job as egg decoy became a toy for Sam. It worked brilliantly! The egg rolled gently down the sloped floor and through the hole, landing cradled in the flowered net beneath, and out of the reach of bored chicken beaks.
Meanwhile, Nellie and Rockefeller dug holes in the flower beds to nestle in and Sam kept them company. He calls Rockefeller, "Rocker" and dotes on both of them.
We were surprised and delighted to find five eggs in the nesting boxes when we returned from Yellowstone. These are the first eggs that Nellie and Rockefeller have laid!
They were so cute and tiny. That's Rockefeller's blue egg there next to a store bought one I had in the fridge, and I don't even buy the extra large ones! (I feel too bad for those poor chickies squeezing out such unnaturally humongous eggs!) It didn't take long to put those eggs to good use. I made delicious blueberry pancakes, adding one extra egg since they were so small. I was amazed at what a rich color the yolks were. I guess a steady diet of greens, bugs and compost scraps will do that!
They still haven't been laying regularly though and a reader suggested placing decoy eggs in their nesting boxes. Apparently it makes them broody and they lay more. Sam and I collected a few egg shaped rocks to tuck in there. What do you think? If you were a chicken, would you be fooled?
Sam greeted my parents' chickens like old friends. My mom and dad have a much larger flock than we do (about ten to our two) and they have Plymouth Barred Rocks (like Nellie) and Rhode Island Reds, real Yankee birds. They live in a dilapidated shed that wasn't good for much except looking rather picturesque against the backdrop of the forest. Now it makes a charming chicken coop.
Every day my dad gathers between seven and ten eggs in his special egg basket, reserved just for this purpose. He hoses off the mungus (a word for the gunk on the floor of a chicken coop, invented by my mom and her brothers) for my mom. She likes the eggs to come in clean and shiny, and mungus-free.
My parents give away most of their eggs to my uncle or a family down the road with six kids who my parents play surrogate grandparents too. Sharing your bounty is a real part of the culture around here. The first day I was home a friend from church brought over some fresh strawberries and my uncle brought some flowers over for my mom. Several other friends stopped by just to bring the local gossip. The next day we took some fresh eggs down to my uncle. He was always bringing us goodies from his garden when we lived here; beets, rhubarb, acorn squash. It's one of the aspects of living here that I really loved. People are a bit reticent at first, not as outgoing as westerners. But they'll give you the shirt off their back, and the squash from their garden.
After finding Nellie and Rockefeller in the neighbor's yard one too many times it was time for action. And that action involved power tools. Clayton has built a top-notch, secret hideaway, chicken palace in our back yard. Okay, maybe it's not that grand, but I do like that you can't even see it when you walk into the back yard; it's in that unused space between the back of our garage and the back neighbor's garage. And it has a lovely roof with shingles and some pretty lattice to keep the chickies in and other critters out.
Good thing Clay knows how to build things, because I would have had no idea how to even start. The chickens would probably be huddled under a blue tarp if it had been left up to me!
All day long he was hammering, measuring, sawing, and slowly, but surely the frame, then the roof, then the shingles and then, a wonderful chicken house! He thoughtfully put their nesting boxes on the back wall and made them a nice long roosting bar to march up and down.
Sam, of course, was eager to help. He followed his dad around trying to do all the things he was doing. And I followed them both around trying to removed all the sharp tools from Sam's path and pull him down from the ladder. He's quite the fearless climber.
Nellie and Rockefeller didn't seem to mind waiting in the side yard. There were plenty of bugs to eat and tender plants to nibble. They do love their house though; as soon as I open the door, especially if I'm carrying a bowl of fresh kitchen scraps, they come running.
Because of the strategic behind-the-garage-placement it's kind of hard to get a really good shot to show you how it looks. But, just imagine a long coop, walled in on three sides (two by garages), with a chicken wire door, and a slanting roof with gutters to redirect the rain. It's quite charming, I think. The only thing missing is a sign with Nellie and Rockefeller's names. Maybe that will be my next project.
And here are the girls, Queens of the Coop. Nellie is really the queen, even though she's smaller. Rockefeller follows her everywhere and frets terribly if she can't find her. They are the best of buds and real sweethearts, so patient with Sam, gentle and friendly. They are truly the easiest of pets, we fill their waterer every few days and their grain bowl. Usually at least once a day I take them kitchen scraps, though only because it tickles me to give them treats because they love it so much. Other than that they're happen to just peck around for bugs and hopefully in the fall provide us with pretty brown and blue eggs every morning.
Nellie, our Plymouth Barred Rock, gave us a scare recently when she disappeared. I was in the den, at the back of the house, when Rockefeller (the brown Araucana) looked in the back door and began peeping at me frantically. I went outside to see what was the matter. I couldn't find Nellie anywhere and Rockefeller was beside herself. Those two are inseparable; they're never more than a few feet away from each other. Nellie's the dark patch under the plant in the photo below.
We went around to the neighbor's houses and left "missing chicken" notes on the doors where people weren't home. I was hopeful that she hadn't been eaten because there were no loose feathers or other signs of a struggle, but I wasn't terribly optimistic. She's only a couple months old.
As Sam's bedtime was nearing and the dark was falling I was feeling less and less optimistic and more and more sad that we had lost one of our chickens. As a last ditch effort I decided to put Rockefeller back outside, but in her covered box, in the hopes that her incessant, woeful peeping (she hadn't stopped since 2:00 when Nellie went missing) might help Nellie find her way back if she was still alive.
Several times I thought I heard Nellie peeping, but each time I went to check it was only Rockefeller. Then I thought I heard a call and answer pattern of peeping. I thought, surely I'll just be disappointed again, but I went to check anyway. And I distinctly heard Rockefeller calling and an answering peep from behind the recycling bin! I went and scooped Nellie up and reunited her with an overjoyed Rockefeller. They slept nestled snug in each other's feathers all night long.
Look for us on Wasatch Garden's Tour de Coops at the end of June!
Our two baby chicks have been named, which means that they are officially not eating chickens. The brown one is Rockefeller and the black one is Nellie. Rockefeller is an Araucana and will lay greenish-blue eggs. Nellie is a Plymouth Barred Rock and will lay lovely, brown speckled eggs. Sam is completely enamored with them and spends hours a day watching them in their box. I have a feeling they'll be closer to pets than farm animals, with all the love and attention they get from Sam. I've noticed they're less skittish around him. I think they're used to him already. It's interesting to me how humans are born with a natural affinity for animals and the outdoors. Caring for animals seems to be written in our genes. It warms my heart to see how happy the baby chicks make Sam.