We hadn’t had chickens since leaving Albuquerque 20 years ago, but backyard chickens seemed to be “in” all of a sudden. A dozen eggs were almost $3 in the supermarket – colorless things with shells so thin they’d crack if you barely touched them. So, we decided to get on board with the fad and get some hens.
Since store-bought coops were expensive and flimsy, we snagged a used dog house on Craigslist. Made of ¾” plywood, it was like a fortress, didn’t cost much, and got our creative juices flowing. We re-roofed it with left-over shingles on hand, made a trap door in back to get eggs and a guillotine door in front to close it up at night or in bad weather. A small sheet of plywood for nest boxes, a piece of 2×2 for roosts, some scrap lumber from a construction site, plus a few bits from the Youth Ranch for the window, and we were good to go. With some left-over white paint, it matched our house and outbuildings. An iguana cage (also on Craigslist) got laid flat for the run. We made a door to deliver food and water, hit it with stain left over from our patio, and bought one piece of plastic roofing to cover half the area. Total cost was under $150: less than half what we might have paid for something not nearly as good.
With a water bucket and feeder from our local feed store, and oyster shell container made from a used plastic container, we were ready for hens. Research of different breeds resulted in a short wish list, but all of a sudden, there wasn’t much available. We found some “teenagers” on Craigslist in Boise. Although any drive past Caldwell/Nampa is a major excursion for us, a nice young college kid had gotten “extras” and said that, if we were willing to come all that way, we could have two of them for free. With a $10 used animal carrier, we “hit the road.” Traffic, construction, one-way streets, etc. reminded us why Boise is normally off-limits.
The two Barred Rock hens we got were well behaved during the ride, and once they felt safe in their new home, got friendly pretty fast. We named them Henny and Penny. Call “hey, chickie girls” and they run over to see what goodies are being offered. Like the rest of our animals, they are quite spoiled.
Our first pretty little brown egg at the end of July was a major event. Once started, they were giving us 2 eggs almost every day. Then, after a weirdly warm Fall, Wham! We got winter. In the nick of time, we got an electrician here to put an outlet at the coop, a heater base to keep their water from freezing and a ceramic heat bulb for inside the coop. With short days, arctic temperatures (it was -15 one morning, for crying out loud!) and molting, egg production stopped, but we were just happy they survived the winter.
You know the lyrics to that Christmas song that go “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”? Our daily mantra became “make it stop, make it stop, make it stop”! We tarped the coop and run and just added them to the daily shoveling patrol, with snow was piled higher than the coop at one point. Seems Mother Nature was making up for the 10 mild winters we’d had since moving to Idaho. We let “the girls” just focus on survival but by March they were popping out eggs again.
Then we had a sudden death and lost Penny. Can chickens have heart attacks or aneurysms? On one hand, we felt really bad that a creature in our care had died. On the other hand, we were offended that she died in spite of being spoiled rotten.
A lone chicken is not a happy chicken. Henny was so freaked out that she return to the coop and dropped her egg out in the dirt run. A local hatchery in Caldwell posted an ad for adult laying hens and Penny II (P2) came to live with us. She laid an egg in the nest box the very next day, and learned immediately the routine of when treats arrive and who brings them.
Since neighbors let their chickens run loose, we were feeling guilty about how confined our girls were, so we found two 2nd-hand metal shelving units to use as framework (Craigslist, of course), ordered some wire mesh, and fashioned a roof and 2 door units from the shelves. Voila! The girls went from a 4 x 6 ft. run to a 4 x 14 ft. with a higher ceiling. The door panel on the W. end helps block the wind and the hot afternoon sun. (PS the “free range” neighbor chickens have all been eaten by roving animals!)
Our office window lets us enjoy hen watching, as well as the wild birds that come to the feeder.