I’m sure you’ve all been asking yourselves, How are Grace, Simba, and Hermione doing? You’ve been desperately hoping each time you click on a Pickle Patch post that I’ll include some news about our chickens. And each time, I’ve let you down.
Until today, my friends.
Grace, Simba, and Hermione are thriving. Every day they look less like cute, fuzzy little chicks, and more like full-grown chickens. I can’t imagine that any other animal illustrates the concept of adolescence better than chickens: for several weeks, they had yellow, downy fuzz on their necks and heads, but feathers down below: half chick, half chicken. Throw in some pimples and a squeaky “cluck,” and you’ve got the universal 13-year-old.
After about 4 weeks in a large plastic bin under a heat lamp in our garage (the very impressive, chicken-raising term for this setup: “The Brooder”), they were large enough to move out to the chicken coop in our yard. And, I’m proud to say, they have survived! I honestly feel a greater sense of accomplishment about keeping these chickens alive outside than I did about keeping our newborn children alive. As clueless as first-time parents are, at least we’re the same species as our children; when it came to chickens Erick and I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what we were doing. We ended up ordering the chicken coop from Wal-Mart (yes, Wal-Mart sells chicken coops; who knew?), and Erick and his father constructed a rudimentary fence from metal posts and chicken wire. This probably won’t be our final set-up; it’s too flimsy to withstand predators and Vermont winters for long. But until Erick gets around to his winter project of building a chicken coop by hand in our basement (which he claims he’s “getting excited about;” who knew?), it’ll do.
Of course, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. First we had to resolve the tiny little issue of whether we were allowed to keep chickens in our neighborhood at all. Our kind neighbors, neither of whom minded us keeping chickens, both mentioned in passing that we should know that there was some sort of “Neighborhood Covenant” forbidding the keeping of farm animals. Huh?!? In Vermont?!? But we wanted to be good neighbors; I didn’t relish the idea of trying to keep chickens secret. We hadn’t been told of any “Neighborhood Covenant” when we bought the house, but there was a reference to it in our Deed. Good girl that I am, I went over to the Town Clerk’s office and pulled up the Covenant. It does exist, it does forbid the keeping of “anything other than domestic animals,” (and sets strict limits on what color you can stain your house), AND…it expired the year we moved in! So our chickens are legal. (And now we’re now planning to paint our house purple and start grazing cows on the lawn).
The first day the chickens were out in the coop was pretty harrowing. I was like a new mother, checking her baby obsessively in the bassinet; I kept peeking in the coop, to make sure that they were eating and drinking and alive. Our coop has a fenced-in “grazing” area on the bottom, and a ramp leading “upstairs” to the roost and nesting box. By nightfall, I noticed that our chickens were still hanging out in the downstairs grazing area, which made me a little nervous; safer for them to be up in the roost, protected from predators. Something wasn’t right. By about 10 PM, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I threw boots and a coat on over my pajamas, strapped on a headlamp (since it was pitch dark outside), and tromped out to the coop with Erick wearily following along behind. It was like a scene from every zany “clueless people raising animals” comedy ever made.
There were the chickens, cuddled up and sleeping in the grazing area. We picked them up (thankfully sleepy chickens are much easier to get a handle on than wide-awake chickens) and moved them up to the nesting area. That was all it took; “OH, there’s an UPSTAIRS?” you could see their little chicken brains clicking.
Moral of the story? Chickens: not so smart.
And now for the bad news: It looks like we have one rooster. This isn’t exactly bad news, since in my darkest moments I imagined that somehow we’d end up with three roosters, and that all our efforts on behalf of these chickens would be for naught; we’d be left with an empty chicken coop and no eggs. And I’m still not entirely sure, since supposedly you can’t really tell which chickens are hens and which are roosters until about the fourth or fifth month, when the roosters will start to crow. But all I can say is that one of our chickens has a huge, bright red comb on top of its head, and the other two don’t. I’m calling it: Rooster.
Thankfully, our girls have enough experience with other roosters to agree that we don’t want to keep a rooster. “That one’s a rooster,” they’re already telling their friends. “We’re going to give it away…or EAT it.” And no, we have no idea which girl’s chicken turned out to be the rooster, because really, these chickens are impossible to tell apart. But Fiona keeps insisting that she’s sure the rooster is Campbell’s (Simba).
A hard, heartless bunch, these Gong girls.