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Chickens - Not for the Faint of Heart

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Chickens - Not for the Faint of Heart

The first thing you should know about keeping chickens is... they die.

For three years I have been wanting to get a flock of chickens and for three years have been too busy to get a coop built to house them. This spring, looking ahead and knowing that time constraints argued against coop building, I went ahead and ordered my chicks, figuring that the fact of their presence would move the coop way up in priority on the to-do list.

Boy, that really worked out.

Young chicks can be housed most anywhere as long as you keep them warm—at least 90 degrees in that first week of life (dropping 5 degrees each subsequent week until they are fully feathered)—so my chicks went into a kid’s plastic wading pool in my bathroom.

Kids, don’t try this at home. At least, not for very long.

While the presence of the chicks certainly made building a chicken coop a priority, what it didn’t do was erase any other items on my to-do list (things like magazine publication and college finals that can’t really be put off); neither did it magically endow me with building skills, nor building-agreeable weather.

The first batch of chicks wasn’t much of a problem, but I do have one important lesson regarding chicks in your house: do not leave a grandchild with them unsupervised, not even for two minutes. Because two minutes was all it took in my case. After playing with the chicks, feeding them noodles and laughing at their antics, I told my three-year-old granddaughter that “it’s time for the chicks to go night-night,” and we went off to do other things. When she left my side later, it took me two minutes before I questioned whether she might have been tempted back into the chick room and, when I opened the door to find her there, seven chicks were already dead.

Chicks are fragile, and don’t stand up well to a three-year-old attempting to convince them “it’s time to go night night.” 

It was a traumatizing event for both me and my granddaughter; lesson number one is that chicks die, and it doesn’t take long for a person to become rather strongly attached to them.

This was Mother’s Day weekend, so for Mother’s Day, my daughters bought me seven replacement chicks, and with weather now cooperating, coop building was at the top of the list.

I had one of those old metal storage sheds on a nice foundation in the back yard, but its roof had caved in one heavy snow year. I decided I would take it apart and use the foundation for the new coop. Of course, I also decided that if I were building a coop, I might as well build some storage into it as well, and the coop plans morphed into a chicken palace. For some reason it never occurs to me that I don’t have the capabilities to undertake whatever project it is I have in mind (which is how you’ve ended up holding this magazine in your hands, by the way), and the final coop plan included a gable roof (I thought it would be easier) 11 feet high on one side, to allow for a 6:12 roof pitch for shedding snow.

Have I mentioned before that I’m scared of heights? Even 11-foot heights?

Thank goodness no one ever gave me a reality show for television, because otherwise I’d be the laughingstock of the nation right now. Much of the coop was built by me with no other help and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’re at the top of a ladder that’s placed in the back of a pick-up truck, trying to screw in place a ten-foot board that’s 11 feet off the ground.

I never want to do this again.

Thankfully, my son-in-law Brian (who is a builder), came out and put on the roof rafters for me, and didn’t laugh too loudly at the structure I’d built, and my David spent several days helping me secure siding, insulation and roof tin on those areas more than five feet off the ground.

Lesson number 2: There’s a number of reasons people hire professionals to build things and if you attempt to build a chicken palace all by yourself, you’re going to discover every one. 

While construction was ongoing, I built a small, temporary chicken run for the chicks so they could enjoy the weather outside, as well as do most of their daytime pooping someplace other than my bathroom. Lessons 3 and 4: chicks grow, and they grow big enough really quickly to decide there’s no reason why they have to stay inside a kid’s wading pool all the time; and chicks poop. A lot. They are poop machines, in fact.

Lesson number 6 is that they call it chicken wire, but it’s not suitable for keeping chickens. If you have some, check out Pinterest for ideas on how to use it (unless you’re like me and you think you can do things you can’t, in which case your Pinterest project will never look like the original).

I used chicken wire as the roof to a chicken tunnel made of concrete blocks, and when a visitor to the area brought their dog and let it loose, the dog had no problem tearing the chicken wire apart. He killed seven chickens before I could run him off, including all three of the original survivors. Yes, my chickens die in sevens.

If you need to protect your chickens from critters (and yes, you do need to do this), don’t buy chicken wire. The fencing of choice is galvanized welded wire. If your chickens are small enough to get through the wire, you could reinforce it with chicken wire or with netting.

At this point, the coop is finished and the three remaining girls are quite happy with their new digs. I am quite happy to have my bathroom back as well, and am building a brooder inside the coop for the new chicks I have on order. The summer is spread out before me, with enough time before school starts to fit in another project or two. But the next project wont’ be quite so tall.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Politically Incorrect, chickens, chicken coop

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