Believe it or not, our chickens are still alive. Hobbes, Wonderwing, and Kylo Hen are now pullets – in other words, hormonal tweens – and have so far avoided raccoon attacks, dying of thirst, spontaneously combusting, or any of the other fates that kept me up at night ever since we set up their cardboard box on our covered patio.
Like proud parents whose kids were heading off to college, we invested in and built a coop for them, with only a modicum of back-tracking, yelling, unscrewing of bolts, and a liberal-but-not-extravagant application of gorilla tape. They earned it. Plus, they were suddenly so tall that they were basically as tall as the top of their comfortable box and were threatening to peck their way loose, which is as good a description of teenagers as I can imagine. In any case, I could see myself interrupting a Zoom meeting to explain I had to corral chickens that had staged a jailbreak on our patio, so it was time to build a secure home for the poultry. Zoom etiquette might be loose, but it’s not chicken-jailbreak loose.
When we carried their cardboard box to the new coop, swung open the door, and tilted the box to usher them into their new abode … they just sat there. So we scooped up Wonderwing and, like the Grinch stuffing a tree up a chimbley, shoved her into the coop. Kylo Hen followed after a mild nudge, and then Hobbes showed spunk by hopping in herself (although maybe she was just resigned to the frailties of the human nature and decided to just go along with whatever we had in mind.
Nevertheless, they adapted quickly to the enclosure of the coop, different and a little bigger than the box (not to mention less soggy from all the times they kicked over their water bottle and flooded the cardboard through the pine shavings). They quickly explored all the corners – when one pullet found something interesting to peck at, they all had to rush over and form a mosh pit of ground-pecking. “Well, Hobbes is pecking at something, maybe I’d better get over there and start pecking too.”
I’m not sure why people chose the complicated metaphor of lemmings when they had a cluster of chickens pecking at the same square inch of ground.
Anyway, the pullets quickly relaxed into coop life like they were born to be quarantined; or maybe they lacked the will to complain about their station in life. However, there were interesting new bits of ground for pecking, new scents, new textures. They were less likely to kick pine shavings into their water dish. And they weren’t constantly chirping right outside the house. So that was all good. But they weren’t going in the hutch.
“But can’t you see the pine shavings? Don’t you want to be happy, laying eggs in the dark?” I pleaded. They would walk halfway up the ramp, then jump off the side. And if you tried to gently nudge them up towards the hatch … “Squawkkk!! Sir, I’m not that sort of chicken!”
But our six year old insisted they would be happier in the hutch at night, so shove we did, at least temporarily, so they would all at least have some dim chicken memory of what the inside of the hutch was like. Eventually, they would all poke their heads in, and Hobbes wandered all the way in unprompted one day, which was a first. Again proving that the smallest could be the bravest.
(Quick quiz, without thinking: what gender are Wonderwing, Hobbes, and Kylo Hen?)
Even this coop, though, soon began to seem small. They’re constantly expanding like feathery balloons that inflate faster than you expect, with the chickens’ taloned feet reminding me of the caricature of Jeremy’s sneakers in the comic strip Zits. What to do?
(Quick quiz answer: you thought they were male, didn’t you? Even after reading the rest of this blog.)
We’d ordered an additional chicken run, but from a different company than the source of the actual coop. Which meant that in terms of expanding the pullets’ habitat, the coop and the chicken run fit together about as naturally as Legos and Duplos.
So, a bit of innovation. We managed to line up the doors of the run and the coop – mismatched in size as they were – and used some leftover hardware cloth (which is a very soft word to describe a springy roll of wire with very pointy ends, but what do I know?), to loosely cover the gap. It might not foil the raccooniest of raccoons during the night, but during the day, it served the purpose.
Then we waited.
The pullets seemed distrustful of an open door. Maybe they’ve been reading their James S. A. Corey and feared the corners they couldn’t see – except the corners were all mesh fencing, so that couldn’t be it.
Eventually, Hobbes was the first to hop into the run, and then they all followed.
The combo is not fancy, but it has room, sunlight, water, food, and shade. Not bad for a commune of three, especially when they aren’t even contributing with eggs yet.
The pullets really are like a trio of siblings. They cluster together when cold or when they’re ready to sleep; then they can suddenly charge at each other in an explosion of feathers (not literally; that would be messy) and squawking at random times when they are in the run. Maybe they’re just feeling their oats like teens hitting the highway with sunglasses, soda, an iPod, and others to impress by bravado. Or maybe they’re just stretching their wings.
And … they’re adapting. Tonight when we went to check on them, they were out of the run, back in the coop, and even back in the hutch, cuddled together and cozy against the night. Instinct wins, apparently.
So I don’t know if there’s a lesson in training or nature here. But all I know is these pullets are growing fast, they seem healthy, they seem safe, and in a few months they might start pulleting their weight with the most-literally-locally-sourced eggs we could hope for.
I just wish they were a little friendlier about it all.