We hadn’t had chickens since leaving N. Albuquerque Acres 20 years ago, but a few backyard chickens seemed to be “in” all of a sudden. For a while, a dozen eggs were almost $3 in the supermarket and were 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 of our own.
First we looked at coops. The kits for sale were hundreds of dollars and barely above the level of cardboard construction. Even the samples set up at D&B were falling apart, and they were unused and “professionally” assembled (for which they would charge an extra $40).
We’ve bought and sold lots of things on Craigslist – which also serves as entertainment along the lines of: why would anyone ever want/buy such a thing, and text that illustrates the total failure of our education system with regard to spelling and sentence construction. Used coops were either crap, too expensive, or too hard to move. Thinking along re-hab lines, there was a dog house for sale in Notus that looked promising and we snagged it. Made of ¾” plywood, it was like a fortress.
We cut down the roof size and re-shingled 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. Of course, it had to be white to coordinate with our house and outbuildings, but we had left-over paint on hand, too.
Then, we found another Craigslist ad for an iguana cage and got that for the run. Flipped flat rather than upright, we made a door to deliver food and water, stained it with Thompson’s left over from our patio deck, and just bought a piece of plastic roofing to cover half the area. Total cost was under $150, so less than half what we would have paid for something not nearly as good.
Water bucket and feeder came from our local feed store, oyster shell container was made from a used plastic container, and we were ready for hens. Research of different breeds resulted in a wish list of possibilities. All of a sudden, the only types on the list were either newly hatched chicks that would have required a heat lamp, special food, and a long time to start laying – or 2 year old hens that might have only a year of decent laying left. Then we found some “teenagers” on Craigslist in Boise. Now… you have to realize that any drive past Caldwell/Nampa is a major excursion for us. But, a nice young college kid had gotten 6 chicks in case some didn’t make it, and they all survived. He said that, if we were willing to come all that way, we could have two of them for free. Having gotten an animal carrier from a local lady for only $10, we “hit the road.”
The two Barred Rock hens we got were lovely and very well behaved on the ride home, peeking at us and talking softly now and then. However, we were reminded why Boise is normally off-limits. There was construction everywhere and we got detoured to the point of getting lost, so had to ask directions to get back to a main thoroughfare (of course, our map was in the glove compartment of the VW at home), and there are just too many people on the road. It was early afternoon, so you’d think they could have stayed home for a while in light of our special outing that day.
Once they felt safe in their new home, the girls got friendly pretty fast. We named them Henny and Penny, with Henny being the outgoing personality and Penny the shy one. Just call out “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, got a heater base to keep their water from freezing and a small ceramic heat bulb for inside the coop. Short days, sometimes arctic temperatures (it was -15 one morning, for crying out loud!) and molting, they are not giving us eggs right now, but if they can just survive the winter, we’ll be happy.
You know the lyrics to that Christmas song that go “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”? Our daily mantra now is “make it stop, make it stop, make it stop”! We resorted to a tarp over the coop and outside run to cut the wind and keep out the snow, and the coop and surrounding area is just another item on the daily shoveling patrol. It snowed again last night and it’s snowing again right now. Looks like Mother Nature is trying to make up for the 10 mild winters we’ve had since moving to Idaho.