Guest post by: Patsy Melton
I love chickens. I didn’t know I loved chickens till I cobbled together a dog kennel around a chicken coop given to me by a dear friend (whose daughter had used it for 4-H chicken projects). It took me quite a bit of time to get it ready for chickens. It looked as in the photo below when I finished with it.
First, the pen needed to be topped with chicken wire to protect the birds from flying predators. I stretched chicken wire across and secured it with plastic cable ties. Yeah, I know, they’re not gonna last forever. But I tend to be a Scarlett O’Hara – I’ll think about that tomorrow. …
Next, I put a tarp over the back half of the pen because … the chickens I chose to raise and keep would not go up the little ladder and into the chicken coop. They were hatched and spent their first days in a ground coop and had no idea of how to go upstairs to the bedroom. So I made them nesting boxes out of cardboard and put lots of straw down. They roosted on the ground by perching on the sides of the cardboard boxes. I know, because I took a flashlight and investigated them after dark to see just what they were up to. They spent a month or two like this.
I got my chickens in March of this year. Bear in mind, this hobby is brand new to me. Never done anything like this before. I was really enjoying getting to know my “brood.” They were my little sisters of the Convent of St. Patsy. St. Patsy catered to their every need. St. Patsy gave them layer crumbles, cracked corn, fresh greens (well, semi-fresh, at least). Then, it happened. I feed them fresh food and water in the morning before work and then freshen their water again in the afternoon after work. I came home from work and found one of my girls with her head removed. Seems they like to peck at the grass on the other side of the dog kennel fence. A predator (I don’t know exactly what) came by and killed her while she was pecking with her head through the fence. I was devastated. I promptly got more chicken wire and more plastic cable ties and went round the kennel, hoping to keep the chicken heads firmly attached to the bodies.
The little sisters needed help. They didn’t know they needed help. As the abbess of this convent, I was determined to keep them safe from all harm. Once I got the chicken wire all around the dog kennel, I felt that they were going to be all right. My friend from church gave me another silkie hen to replace the one I lost.
We went along with our routine. The sisters were laying eggs and I had enough to give eggs away to family and friends.
A Rooster in Our Midst
About this time one of the hens started crowing (gasp!). Aha, a rooster has infiltrated the convent. Bless his heart, he was so young, he didn’t know how to crow when he came here. That is until he heard the call of another rooster who lives on a neighboring property. When he first started crowing, it sounded like he was strangling and needed a Ricola. He sounded sort of like the duck on the Aflac commercial. He soon had his vocal chords toned and trim, because it is the most shrill, nerve-shattering cockle-doodle-do that ever has been! I knew this particular bird was growing bigger than the others. I should have known this bird was male because he began to develop this red, wrinkled, tumor-like thing on the front of his head. I kept hearing the line from Kindergarten Cop in my head – It’s notta tumah!
Silkies, I find, are very nurturing, very mothering hens. They want to set on eggs and hatch them. One day I was pleased to find that one of the hens continued to sit in the nesting box. I figured she was trying to “go broody.” I left her alone. She was so focused on hatching the eggs, nothing distracted her – not the crowing rooster, not the other hens pecking and scratching, eating bugs and cackling and talking to each other. I started counting the days – 21 – till the eggs should hatch. Every day I’d check on her. It was like she was frozen in time, in suspended animation, awaiting the arrival of the mothership, er, babyship!
During this period I got no eggs. It seems that all eggs laid went under the little hen. A nice lady on another blog that I follow told me I should have marked the eggs because the silkie would try to hatch all the eggs. Another learning experience, folks. And one egg hatched. A baby chick who with his mother went into the penthouse apartment because he was small enough to go through the chicken wire.
Who knew I would have so much fun keeping a few chickens? What a great pastime. … I know what people mean when they say they watch “farm TV.”