The Yolks on You
My favorite time of the day is when I get home, pour a glass of wine, and let my chickens run loose in the yard. Poultry in motion.
How did this city-slicker turned chicken-wrangler get her start you ask? Well stranger, pull up a straw bale, let me pour you a dram, and I’ll tell you the tale of Thelma, the Wild Fowl of Windsor Farms. It starts with a screaming arborvitae.
A few years back, before the weather gods cursed Richmond with the no-more-then-one-inch-per-snowstorm hex, I was in the back forty (driveway) using my tractor (plastic snow shovel from Target) to clear out an escape route. I’m guessin’ it must have been three feet (8 inches) on the ground with it fixing to snow for the rest of the week (thirty more minutes). As I stood next to a snow covered arborvitae, there came a blood curdling shriek from within (seriously.) I spat out my chaw and grabbed my 12 gauge (screamed, dropped my phone and ran behind my car), then peered into the recesses where I beheld a majestic beast. Thelma, the elusive Wild Fowl of Windsor Farms (aka WFW), and she was one pissed off chicken.
I had heard tales of Thelma. She was the ultimate free range chicken since she had been running wild in the neighborhood after her owners, tired of chicken life, broke up her coupe and set her free. Months on the run had made her wiley and resourceful, but nothing had prepared her for the frozen white stuff as far as she could see.
I scraped the snow off her perch, shoveled a clear patch, and cut some nearby ornamental grass for a nest under the tree. And so it began. Not so much a friendship, but an understanding that she was welcome to come poop in my yard whenever she cared to.
Before you know it I bought a chicken coop and headed out to the feed store to buy four baby chicks the size of fluffy ping pong balls. A few months later they were laying eggs, and my life as a chicken wrangler began. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a lot of fun, and fresh eggs are the best. Think farmers market tomatoes versus January store bought. If you’ve ever considered chicken life, here are a few tips for beginners.
- Make sure your city or county allows chickens, and what the rules are for raising them. Most don’t allow roosters, and have a minimum and maximum requirement. Chickens are social animals, so RVA requires that you must have four. Five is too many and three is not enough.
- Save yourself trouble and heartache and build a covered varmint-proof enclosure around your chicken coop. Galvanized wire mesh works great, and keeps out even the smallest of the creepy crawlies. Keep in mind everybody loves chickens, including raccoons, possums, hawks and dogs.
- Start with chicks, they are readily available in the spring, and young chickens are more likely to bond with humans than adult birds. Do some research on varieties before you go shopping. They range from ridiculously silly like Polish Chickens to tried and true layers like Barred Rocks. Be warned window shopping chicks is like window shopping puppies. I-don’t-want-no-poultry can unexpectedly turn into Is-there-a-discount-if-I-buy-twelve?
- Figure out what coop works for you, but keep in mind plain and sturdy will outlast cute and flimsy. I have, and highly recommend, a manufactured Leonard chicken coop. It’s sturdy, well designed, and it keeps the girls well protected.
- Establish a routine with your flock, they like predictability. I give them water and a treat like canned corn in the morning, let them free range for a while before they roost for the evening, toss in a handful of dried mealworms as an evening snack, and they are happy campers. I was initially worried that my dogs may see them as feathered squeaky toys, but they get along great. If Gypsy, my Indian wild fowl, thinks Taz is getting too friendly, one well placed peck on the nose and harmony is restored.
- Keep things clean, and clear out the coop every few weeks. We use cedar shavings in the coop since they naturally repel bugs, and straw in the run.
That’s the short course. If you are dreaming about fresh eggs, feathered friends and have some questions, feel free to give me a call or a PM. If you have the right setup, they really are a lot of fun.