The adults used to be the first ones awake at our house, pretty regularly. In recent weeks, that’s changed. Now, it’s not uncommon for us to hear a couple of feet walking across the floor before we’ve gotten out of bed — feet carrying a little kid to the door that leads to our backyard. And it’s all because of chickens.
We’ve arrived at the chicken chapter of our lives. It includes constant reports from the kids on chicken activities, involves a new kind of food in our chewy.com cart and gives us fresh eggs every day. We had talked about chickens for years, and we finally fell into owning them a few weeks ago, when we stumbled across the perfect coop — an item we’ve been scouring OfferUp for with conviction since the beginning of the pandemic.
We must not have been the only ones. Coops were hard to come by, or at least the kind we wanted: one with a full-size door, so we wouldn’t have to crouch to clean their tiny ladder or refill their water dish. It’s idealistic to think kids will do all the extra chores — feeding, cleaning the coop, opening it in the morning and closing it at night — but we all know adults are going to have to be involved on some level, even if it’s a supervisory role.
When the coop’s owner said he’d only sell if we took the two chickens he had, we looked at the clock and figured out how quickly we could get to him. The coop was so good that we were prepared to be unprepared about chicken ownership.
How unprepared? We knew nothing about the different kinds of chickens. We had just planted our “microfarm,” and had begun to see sprouts on our winter greens. And we didn’t have a fully functioning gate on our little farm, one designed to keep chickens in and dogs out.
So we researched and found chicken groups on Facebook. We watched, with sadness, as the chickens snacked our fresh sprouts into extinction, and then we researched how to protect our garden. We socialized our herding dogs with the chickens, after learning while on vacation that one chicken did not survive a run-in with one of the dogs.
These things happen. But we bounced back. We found two hens in need of a home and scooped them up. Although we had decided against naming the birds, the kids decided one should be Beyonce and the other RBG. Who can argue with that?
We discovered, in a separate gardening group, that little sprouts can be protected by using upside-down, mesh trash cans found at the 99 Cents Only store. So, we hunted down enough (read: we went to three different locations) and populated our garden boxes with them. For the most part, they’ve kept the hens out.
Now we make sure the dogs are supervised. The chickens are enclosed, but they can slip through our fence, and the dogs generally want, so badly, to be good girls. But, we still supervise to make sure instincts don’t take over.
Other than that, we look for eggs, because they don’t lay eggs in their cute little nesting boxes. Not one of them. They’ve all decided to lay them behind our compost bin, for whatever reason chickens choose these types of things. We’ve become so spoiled, we’re almost disappointed if we don’t find three eggs every day.
What we’ve learned from raising chickens
- Protect your plants. Chickens will eat a garden as if they’re weed whackers, so protect your plants with chicken-proof barriers.
- Hunt for eggs. We wanted chickens because with seven people in the house, we easily consume an 18-pack of eggs in a few days. But chickens will lay where they want, so keep your eyes open. The kids like everything about the chickens, but they love the daily egg hunt.
- Offer treats. Chickens like freeze-dried mealworms as treats. And they’re not gross for humans to hold.
- Observe bedtime. They put themselves to bed. It’s amazing.
- Discover eggs of all shades. Hens begin laying, generally, around six months or so depending on the breed. Find the right breed, and you’ll get blue or green eggs, just like Dr. Seuss.
- Enjoy their antics. Chickens are social. They like hugs. They’re chatty, but not loud. Their distinct personalities are a crackup. And there is something super calming about going in the garden and just watching them and hearing them throughout the day.