Saturday, June 25, 2011

And then there were 9... and then there were 8

Or "How not to meet your new neighbor".

We have been very diligent about security with our chicks.  Our new coop has hardware cloth covering it to protect the chicks from raccoons and possums (I think possums is plural...) We close the chicks up at night in the coop so that they don't get eaten by an errant fox. We heard there was a coyote in our neighborhood last year but haven't seen it this year. And we stayed with the chicks when they were small while they free-ranged out of the coop during the day. Our chicks are just now big enough that we didn't think the hawks or the crows would abscond with them- and interestingly, the chicks are slightly smart.  They run to the coop if they hear the hawk family overheard or the crows get particularly rowdy.

Caramel- our Easter Egger
 So when Caramel disappeared yesterday during the afternoon, we were baffled.  We knew something was wrong when she was not with the group as we began to herd them back into the coop. [As an aside, we have been thinking that Caramel might actually be a he and not a she- those tail feathers have begun to arch and 'her' legs were much thicker than our similar chick, Butterscotch].  At any rate,we searched and searched for her as the rain began to pour last night. I was looking for a pile of feathers somewhere and hoping to find any remains before the kids did.  No luck. 

Today, we were hesitant to let the other chicks out of their coop. We decided a hawk must have taken Caramel off to a nest somewhere because we could find no evidence anywhere. When we began working in the yard, we felt it was safe to let the chicks out because there were four of us in the backyard- definitely a deterrent to hawks. And the chicks love roaming the backyard- scratching for bugs, shredding my tomato plant leaves, uprooting the beans I planted...  As I was pulling ivy, I heard a child scream and my husband call my name sharply- I ran wondering if a child was jumping up and down in an antpile or something.

My husband disappeared in the woods on the side of our property.  Our 7 year old, was screaming, "It got Neige!" As I got closer, I saw my favorite chick- our white Aracauna Neige- laying on her side in a spray of white feathers writhing around.  I ran and picked up her limp body and asked our son what happened. "It was Sadie! She grabbed Neige and Daddy told her to drop it."

Sadie is our neighbors' dog. We didn't see that one coming.  We haven't even met all of our neighbors after our recent move.  Sadie visited us twice in January but we haven't seen her since then. Her owner called out "Sadie" and that's how we learned her name. I was devastated and furious, picked up Neige, and went in the woods after my husband.

Neige was older and close to "The Egg"

I found him at a fence trying to figure out where Sadie had gone.  He is a nice polite type. I am not. "Who owns Sadie?!," I yelled out to several times to seemingly empty houses. Tacky, yes, but my children's pet was now dead in my arms.  Eventually at a house undergoing a renovation, an older man walked out and said Sadie belonged to the owner. The man spied the limp bird in my arms and ran to get him. 

A nice young man came out (Ian), saw the bird, and a flicker of recognition flashed in his eyes.  He claimed Sadie and began apologizing for the dead bird. "Can I get you a new one?" No, that's really not the point- your dog killed our chick in front of our kids. "Oh, oh, [as this sunk in and his little boy wandered out] and are you missing another one because I think she brought one home yesterday."

This is really not the best situation under which to meet your new neighbors.  Sadie had carted off Caramel last night and Ian and his wife could not figure out where in the world she had found such a beautiful bird as a snack.  Normally, Sadie is fenced in but with construction at their house, she escapes. We haven't seen her since January so didn't realize we had a dog nearby that would threaten our chicks.

While my husband exchanged info with Ian, I took Neige's body back to the boys dreading having to tell them about her death. I firmly believe that death is all how you present it, however, and drama doesn't serve anyone well (Aside from yelling WHO OWNS SADIE, of course).  Our 4 and 7 year old sons were waiting anxiously on their parents who had disappeared into the woods. They were sad to see Neige dead but being able to pet her body and say goodbye seemed to help.  I told them that Sadie also killed Caramel. "Where is Caramel?", they asked. I should have said in heaven but I was thinking very literally at that point. "She's in their trash can." "Well, why didn't you bring her back so we can bury her with Neige?" You can't really explain to a 7 year old that the chick is at the bottom of a trash can. Under trash. With trash on top. "Well, get it off. I'll go get my boots and go tell Daddy to get Caramel."

And so that is what we did.  We went back over to our poor neighbor's house who was still feeling awful about what his dog had done.  And our boys asked him to get Caramel out of the trash can.  Well, why not?!  He was very accommodating [I mean, what else could he be?] and unearthed our chick. We buried both of them together in the back yard.

Our neighbors' construction will be finished in about a month and they have promised to have the fence fixed then.  I shared that I don't like the thought of locking up their dog but I I don't want to coop up our chickens either... I just hope this month passes quickly and Sadie forgets her tasty chick neighbors next door.  In the meantime, we are going to build a roost swing so that our chicks can play in the coop more.  And we will finish the run attached to the coop.  We didn't think we needed the run because they could free-range but obviously we do.  And we will miss Neige and Caramel.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cooped up

One of the first challenges with our chickens is giving them a place to live.  Apparently I can't count by weeks anymore. I thought they were going to be about 5 weeks old when they joined us- no, they were only 2 weeks old. And they were so cute and fluffy! But they had down instead of feathers which meant they couldn't go outside yet.  I thought it would be rather sad if I sent the class chicks outside and they got ill and died...

Our soft, downy chicks in the bathroom.
So we brought them into our downstairs bathroom.  It's a small bathroom that is completely tiled and should be easy to clean, I thought. As the odorama hit us after a few days as we walked in the back door, though, we quickly began counting the days until the chickens could live outside.  The positive side of the chicks being inside is we got to spend lots of time holding them and they were easy to catch.  They would chirp their melodic sweet sounds until we went in and visited in the morning. When night fell, the chicks became silent as the huddled together in comfort.  But the task of sweeping out the bathroom and cleaning the poo off the floor became rather tedious. A fellow "chicken" friend suggested putting them in a large dog crate which would make the cleanup easier.  At first I thought this wouldn't give them enough space, but as the weather warmed and the chicks went outside more during the day, the crate was perfect.  Thank you, Robin! 

Keeping the chicks inside gave us a few more weeks to solve the coop challenge: where to locate the coop and the run.  At first we thought we would tuck the coop in a cleared out wooded area. It was shady and cool but there wasn't any greenery to munch on. We quickly discovered how much the chicks like to eat clover, grass, and anything growing in the garden.  We bought a kit to build a small coop with an attached smal run- perfect for 3 to 4 chickens. But we wound up bringing home 7 chicks because I can't count chicks either. Here is the photo of the coop we built from the kit you can find at

This coop was great temporarily- until we realized we just love the chicks and got 3 more (we know some will be roosters). We decided to turn the smaller coop into a tractor coop which means that we can move it around so they can eat fresh grass and clover. But most days, we just open the doors and let them free-range.  It's interesting how they roam around but don't go far from the coop- hence the term "coming home to roost". 

Next up, the new coop my dear hubby built completely from recycled and reused materials...