We finished the coop yesterday and the girls are ready to move. I am more than ready for this move since they are getting too big to have inside. They love to come out of their cage when we come to visit, but are starting to fly to the couch, or if one spooks the rest causing a tangle of wings, feet, and beaks, a surprised bird finds herself on my head or farther in the room than she’s ever ventured. No more calm little chickies walking around, they need a space of their own.
The run portion of the coop is 32 square feet and the coop area is 16 square feet. From what I’ve read this means I could raise between 4 and 8 birds depending on size and how often we move the coop for fresh foraging. I opted to start small. Right now the run looks spacious, but the girls are not even half grown. Eight square feet per bird though does seem sufficient.
I took a good look at the coop this morning before initiating the transfer from indoor cage to outdoor coop. I knew the coop would never look this nice again, just as a brand new house with fresh paint looks before a toddler with a need for creative outlet crafts Picasso-like, one-of-a-kind art on the walls. The elements and seasons would weather the outside, and the chickens would decorate the inside, daily, with copious amounts of art best suited for my compost.
The coop cost about $200.00 to build. This is considerably less than any coop I found online, all of which needed assembling anyway, or were too heavy to deliver to a residential address. This cost does not include factoring in our labor. It took 24 combined man, woman, and kid-hours to complete. As I’ve found with our own house, though, the satisfaction from a do-it-yourself job is a hard thing to measure, and mystically seems to offset the time, sweat equity, and sometimes the frustration involved. I’m pretty sure the girls will appreciate our efforts.
Finally it was time to introduce the chickens to their home. I opened their cage and placed it, facing inward, at one of the side doors. They were definitely interested and excited, as noted by their chirping sounds, but no one ventured into the big open space right away. After a few minutes, Darky entered the coop and the other girls followed. I put my camera down so I could shut the door quickly because Pirate, our dog, was outside with us. By the time I did, all four girls were back in the comforts of their cage. This was not going to be easy. They love being outside in the grass and dirt, but all the previous times I brought them out, I just tilted their cage into a penned in enclosure. Tilting would not work this time.
Finally I resorted to placing them in the coop. This became a mini-exercise in juggling because, as I was reaching in to get a second bird out of the cage, the first one was coming out of the coop. I had one hand blocking the bird trying to exit, one hand on the bird I wanted to add to the coop, and one eye on Pirate. By the time there were three birds in the coop it got easier. There is comfort in numbers, they say. As soon as all four birds were in, they started enjoying the green carpet, eating some leaves, finding and eating ants on the wood frame, and scratching and preening. I sat down to watch. Which reminds me, the coop did have another cost. I wanted a bench in the garden so I could sit and watch the chickens when we let them out in the evenings. I figure all gardens need a good bench anyway. I sat down to watch and suddenly I was filled with beginner questions. How would I get them to go upstairs to roost tonight? Will they understand what to do with the nest boxes when it is time to use them, months from now? Did we really make it as predator-proof as possible? How long will it take until they are not afraid of noises from planes or storms or crows? Crows? I realized there were several crows calling and the girls were silent and huddled. One chick was making a low guttural sound very different from their chatty let’s-look-for-bugs-in-the-grass chirps. Maybe all birdcalls are a cause for caution or maybe chickens can’t discern a hawk call from a crow call.
Turns out the chickens are smarter than I about the crows. Well, I’d feel better to say their instincts are better honed. Crows are apparently not only yet another of the many chicken predators at large, but crafty at their role. They are known to observe the goings on at poultry farms, noting the movements of chicks, and attacking at times most advantageous to success. The poetic phrase for a group of these small black birds – a murder of crows – insidiously crept into my thoughts as I watched my chickens warily listening to the caws. And now as I write, it seems the crows are very active today. Their caws are frequent and ominous and their sentries fly off from the trees surrounding the garden each time I check on the girls.
I knew I would worry about the chickens the first few nights, but I hadn’t counted on crafty murderers, on critters working in pairs or groups, or even on anything noticing the chickens so fast. My imagination was not helping to calm my worries so I went to vacuum the room the chickens had been raised in, protected from marauding crows. As I worked, small light-gray downy feathers took flight on the air expelled by the vacuum. I felt sad. These lone feathers, unattached to a bird made the move to an outdoor coop seem more serious. It reminded me of finding socks or some other remnant of my daughter’s while vacuuming her room. She’s left the nest too, flown off to college, exploring a world far vaster than chickens have to face. I don’t know just how much I have imprinted on the chickens, but they sure have made a big impression on me. It’s not just about fresh eggs anymore. There is something less tangible about our relationship. I shut off the vacuum, heard more crows calling, and wondered if it is going to rain tonight. I might have to camp outside.