Saturday, March 1, 2014

A new house for the hens

Before we ever got chickens, I had heard that it can be pretty addicting. Now that we've had a small flock for 2 years or so..... I totally get it. I love our girls! They are so much fun and bring us great satisfaction, that our family is somewhat sustaining through having these birds. One more step on the path to keeping our consumerism truly local. We recently moved from an urban setting where our flock was in a backyard, shared with a pool and lawn, to the country. The very place where I was raised, up on a sweet little mountain in Sonoma County. There is ample room here, and the birds look out of their pen to see trees, mountains, clear sky and breathe the fresh air. It's that way for us too, every time I step outside I feel utterly blessed by our home.
Living out here has countless benefits for our family though there is one major hurdle for having something like a flock of birds. Predators. Where we were living before we could let the birds out in the yard all day for them to forage, the only "predator" being a neighborhood cat who stalked them from the top of the fence.  Up on our hill though.... the only way we can let them out is if we remain close by and keep our eyes peeled for trouble. There are foxes, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, rats and raptors. They all would just love to have a nice fresh egg or better yet a plump organically raised chicken for supper! (They probably don't care about the organic bit, but I'm sure these birds would taste nice)This morning we saw a coyote trotting past the coop, she stopped and eyed the birds until I poked my head out the door and belted, "Get out of here!" The coop itself is a chicken fortress, my husband Brian made sure no animals would get in there without our permission, but we still have some animal proofing to do to the chicken run, probably on the sooner side, before one of our sweet silly birds becomes lunch.
That there is Minerva, she's kind of my favorite. Don't tell the others. She is a Cochin. She is gorgeous, with shiny black feathers, that are iridescent and highlighted with green and gold. She also happens to be our most friendly chicken. She tolerates my 2.5 year old Lyra following her around the pen saying , "Oh Minerva, such a beautiful chicken, can I pet you." Every so often Minerva will slow down enough that Lyra pets her. She'll let me pick her up and pet her, she is so soft and oh so sweet. Typical of her breed, Minerva is a brooder. Brooding is what chickens do when they decide it's time to hatch some eggs. They hunker down and sit on the nest. This would be a wonderful trait if only a) we had a rooster and the eggs were fertile b) if we wanted to figure out how to deal with a potentially large amount of male chickens (roosters) coming into the world. A flock can only handle one of them. What do vegetarians do with a bunch of roosters they don't need? I'm not against eating them theoretically. If I was going to bring meat back into my diet, that is about the only way I would do it. Birds that we raised and ideally we slaughtered, full circle. I'm not up for the whole slaughtering bit, neither is my husband... hence we don't have a rooster. Minerva has gone broody probably 12 times in the last 2 years. Seriously!! One time we ordered a dozen fertile eggs for her to sit on and hatch. I guess she didn't do the best job because only 2 eggs hatched and then one chick "disappeared". We think something ate it. Her one surviving offspring was thank goodness a female! She is a Welsummer named Ginny. A super beautiful breed, she is thin and graceful, upright and active. She is also the most skittish chicken we've had! Apparently when chicks are raised by a mama chicken rather than in incubators by people, they tend to be much more wary and squeamish around people. Oh well, she's lovely to watch and lays the most beautiful chocolate brown colored eggs.

Perhaps I have found my calling with these birds. I could watch them, take photos of them, and write about them all day, alas.... my real children need my attention too, so until next time.... enjoy those frittatas!

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