Ok, I will admit it. Our bathroom is really starting to stink! The weather has been so bad for the past week that it has been impossible to finish the chicken coop and we cannot put the chickens out in it until all the little cracks and crevices are sealed. I would be devastated if we had made it this far in our chicken raising career, only to have our flock decimated by some predator. We originally intended to have three chickens, we bought four because everyone we talked to and all of the books assured us that you normally loose a quarter of your flock in the beginning.
Well it has been a month and frankly I am happy to say that my chicken raising skills must obviously be better than my beekeeping skills. We have yet to kill a single chicken. I think that is quite an accomplishment considering the vast number of bees I’ve killed with my murderous beekeeping ways. When we got the chickens four weeks ago they were teeny tiny little balls of fluff, you could easily fit two of them in the palm of your hand. Now they are slightly larger than an extremely fat pigeon and ten times as ugly. Sufficient to say the teen age years are equally as detrimental to chickens as they are to pubescent band geeks. Fred says they look like miniature vultures. I do not know what they look like. Half plucked, moth-eaten, over loved ducklings? Needless to say they are no long the tiny fluff balls we brought home from Green’s.
This is evident in their ability to pop up out of their box at their whim and the copious amounts of chicken dookie soiling the paper every day. They are constantly jumping up on the edge of the box, teetering momentarily on the lip then careening wildly with flapping wings either to become wedged between the wall of the box and the bathtub or to ungracefully plop to the bathroom floor. This is follow by panicked squawking from the escapee and her fellow inmates left behind. It is like once they have “flown the coop” so to speak they are in a new kind of panic being exposed to the whole new world of the bathroom. After squawking wildly for several minutes a deathly hush will fall over the whole flock, like they are all afraid to make another peep. I walk in, pick up the offender and gentle put her back with her sisters. She is momentarily frozen and then the joyous reunion peeping begins and her sister’s welcome her back to box world with much fluttering about and wing flapping.
They are truly hysterical to watch. As they get older they become more and more tame and less and less terrified of the world around them. Especially if there are raisins involved. I think they would do just about anything for a raisin. Two of them will now sit in the palm of my hand or perch on my finger if there is a raisin involved. They are also wildly curious about anything anyone might be eating or drinking in their vicinity. If you get near the box with even the appearance that you might be holding something edible they will all stretch their necks out and come to the corner peeping and looking and vying for attention. They are also undeniably curious.
This is amusing because for the first couple weeks of their lives they we completely terrified of everything. I was quite certain that one of them would surely expire from a heart attack simple from me changing their paper. Now they come to my hand and peck curiously at my bracelets and rings, they are fascinated with blue nail polish and squawk indignantly when they realize the hand is not bearing raisins. Really the absolute funniest of their antics arise from their raisin lust. They will snatch whole raisins from your fingers than run maniacally around the box unable to stop long enough to eat their snack for fear one of their sisters will snatch it.
One brave and greedy little chicken will snatch the raisin then run full tilt circles around the box making strangled cries of triumph while being chased by her three siblings desperate to snatch the prize from her beak. This usually continues for several seconds as the raisin is passed from chicken to chicken until it is finally torn into small enough pieces to be eaten on the run. And the first raisin is always the most prized, even if other raisins are offered or tossed into the box. The chicken with the initial raisin has the boon that everyone else wants. They are like jealous little children constantly afraid they are being left out.
Speaking of jealous little children, my eighteen month old niece loves the “bock bocks” as she calls them (chicken is apparently to difficult to pronounce, seeing as how when I say “chicken” she gives me her trade-mark daddy-scowl and stoically corrects me “bock bock om,” she is very patient with my lack luster learning skills although it obviously frustrates her to no end) however she has no intention of sharing the raisins with them at all. It is beyond hysterical to watch her totter into the bathroom to peer over the edge of the tub, clutching a box of raisins. The eager chicks line up at the edge of the box peeping and trying to get a better look at her and the bounty. She giggles and coos and hold out a raisin, and as soon as a chick gets close enough to possible grab it, she squeals and shoves it in her mouth as fast as possible. What can I say? The kid likes the bock bocks but not nearly enough to part with her raisins!
So here we are, with a stinky bathroom filled with four pullets quickly outgrowing their quarters and no finished coop in which to house them. Fred is out piecing the chicken wire on as I type but the unpainted part of the coop has become so sodden in the torrential rains of the last week that there is no way it can be painted until we have had a few days of sunshine to dry it out. So we are in a holding pattern with stinky bird in a too small box until we can get the coop completed. And it has to be completed before we can put them out. If you read the chicken books (and I have, probably too many of them) there are any myriad of predators out their just waiting to devour the chickens. I think the absolute worst were the raccoons that will bite off the chicken’s heads and leave the little corpses spread around the coop or the rats that wait till the chickens fall into their sleep stupor and then gnaw off their feet! I have been having nightmares about mutilated chickens since I finished that chapter a week ago.
We have definitely decided to install a night light inside the coop. We are looking for one that is solar powered that will charge through the day and put off a soft glow at night. We do not want to make the coop so bright that the chickens cannot rest but chickens apparently go into almost a comatose state in complete darkness. This is why they roost and prefer roosts higher up off the ground. Although chickens have very little means of self defense to begin with, apparently, in this state of stupor they have none and will not even attempt to evade a predator or to squawk and warn of intruders. Several books I have read indicate that putting a night light in the coop will provide the chickens with enough light to allow them to become mobile in self defense if faced with a predator.
I was also surprised with how little noise the chicks really do make. Several people have asked how we sleep with the chickens right there in our master bathroom. But really after the sun goes down, they quite down and go right off to sleep. If someone gets up in the night to use the bathroom they may peep a little out of curiosity but mostly they just turn around and drift back off. They have really been quite easy to care for and, contrary to several of the things we were warned of, they are not mean or standoffish nor are they unbearably filthy. The do smell but it is not their fault. The birds themselves do not have an odor but where they are currently housed in such close quarters their litter constantly reeks and needs changing. They are still using shredded newspaper, however, when we move them to the coop we intend to switch to pine shavings.
From what we have read and been told pine shavings will help control odor and are extremely absorbent. We are going to use the deep liter method which will hopefully result in less time mucking out the coop and will also insulate the floor and help teach the chickens to “scratch” or hunt for their food using their feet to dig around. So far the chickens are quite entertaining and although I will not miss the smell I will miss their bathroom antics.
Come back to read about their adventure of moving out and living on their own.