We finished building the coop and the run this weekend, and yesterday we went and picked up some chicks from Wing and a Prayer Farm. The chicks are about 5 weeks old, a mix of Faverolles, Columbian Wyandottes, Araucanas, and some other stuff (maybe Tammy will post a comment and fill in the holes). I'm not sure which, or if any, are purebreds; we were so caught up in the delight of selecting our 12 hens, and agreeing to be chosen by one of the roosters. That's him on the left in the picture.
We had every intention of starting with wee baby chicks and carefully brooding them along indoors, but damn if this hasn't been a busy winter and spring (if anyone's still bothering to check in, you may have noticed that I haven't posted in uh...a while). We both have a lot of work, and we've had to travel quite a bit both for work and due to an illness in the family. Not an ideal arrangement for coddling babies that need consistent attention. A friend recommended that I get in touch with Tammy at Wing and a Prayer, because she breeds and broods quantities of chicks for sale (and to expand her own lovely, happy flock). I emailed her about a month ago, when she was hatching a fresh batch, and asked her to hold a dozen or so for me until our schedules calmed down. What fun to visit her farm yesterday – to meet her new baby lambs, her gorgeous white peacock, Figaro, and his mate Susanna, and her busy flock of chickens.
Then we got down to business in her smaller coop where the young'uns live. Tammy and her daughter Char patiently introduced us to one bird after another until we'd chosen 12 gorgeous babes. We also wanted a rooster, and while sexing chicks is harder than you might think, even as they start to show their combs, Tammy and Char were confident that there were 5 or 6 in the bunch. One young fella kept coming to the door of the coop and cocking his head at us. That and his virile good looks persuaded us he was the one. Meet Rocky:
I've often joked that when we finally got our chickens, I would name our rooster 'Coco', short for Coq au Vin – which would be his fate if he turned out to be a total dick. When it came right down to it though, once we got them home and into the coop and little mister right away took to protecting his girls, it seemed only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt along with a righteous name. Tammy was pretty sure he's mostly Barred Rock, and that may explain why every time he came towards me, the part of my brain that I can't control said 'Rocky!'. Reason enough to call him Rocky I guess, but it's a good strong name, and given that TJ works in stone and I've christened our little piece of paradise 'Bedrock' (a story for another post) – well, Rocky seems absolutely right. Look at him here standing between the dog and his ladies:
We have some concerns about Macy and chickens, since her first encounter (with a friend's flock) was to charge and scatter the group and then single out and kill one. Hard to say if that's to be her default or if it was just novelty prey. Her introduction to them yesterday was much more subdued; instead of getting that wild dog 'kill' face, she was excited and wagging her tail and kept looking to me for MY reaction. I just kept stroking her and telling her quietly that these our our new friends. Fingers crossed.
I'm so impressed with TJ's inspired coop design. We determined last summer that the old garden cart frame would make a good base, so that we could wheel it around to different parts of the property. You may have heard of a chicken 'tractor' – a coop on a wheeled trailer that can be dragged around with a tractor. Well, ours is a chicken 'rickshaw' that we can wheel around with manpower.
The egg boxes are built into the outside wall; the chooks can get to them from inside, and the little 'roof' on the outside flaps up so we can collect eggs without going inside. There's a larger door for human access, for watering, feeding, and cleaning. The tennis balls on the corners are to protect our foreheads from being gashed by the metal roofing.
The other end has a guillotine-style door that raises and lowers on a pulley, giving way to a ramp and chute into the run. The run is designed to fit over a 4x8 garden bed, so we can concentrate the chickens' scratching weed-eradicating bug-eating auto-fertilizing activities on one bed at a time for soil enhancement. We'll also be getting an electric fence set-up so that they can range more freely. If it turns out the dog can be trusted with them, we'll give them complete free-ranging privileges.
Inside the coop, there are five nesting boxes and a few roosting bars, one set high enough that the birds can peer out the window (undecided whether or not this a good idea – last evening a few of them were crashing at the window as though they were trying to get out).
There's also a heat lamp, since they aren't fully feathered out yet, and it's still been pretty chilly overnight. We're keeping them indoors for a couple of days to get them accustomed to their new digs; maybe Wednesday or so they'll get to go outdoors for their first time. That should provide some fine entertainment. So many firsts to look forward to: they're still young enough that they cheep like chicks, so the transition to bauking and clucking will be a milestone. And I know my heart will melt the first time I hear Rocky crow. They won't start laying for several months (5, on average?), so the first egg will be cause to jump and shout. I can't say I'm looking forward to the first kill, but that's bound to happen, too.
And I can't wait to see what beautiful birds they grow into. They're already quite fetching.