Coop_chickens_trueblue_magazine Arts & Culture

The Joys of a Chicken Coop

So I get these ideas in my head sometimes, and I’m good at making things happen. The problem is, I don’t always think it through or do adequate research first. It makes life adventurous, funny, and occasionally slightly chaotic. This is the story of my backyard chickens, beautiful birds who each give us one lovely brown egg a day.

One morning, about a year after buying a house, I woke up and thought to myself, I need backyard chickens! Yes, I do! Ok, so what do I need? A coop I guess. I’ll just build a coop out of my parent’s old dog house.  My parents don’t have a dog anymore, and haven’t for years; they don’t need that dog house. But they’re not very good at giving away things, so I have to strategize to get things away from them. Depending on what it is that I want, I call either my mom or my dad, thinking about who I think might be less attached to the thing that I want. Some things, like pieces of my parents’ old fence that they have stashed behind their house, I don’t ask for. I just take. Those old boards became pathways in my garden for a while, a fort in my backyard, and now they’re nailed together and hanging in my hallway as art. Reclaimed wood! Termite riddled! Actually, it looks pretty good, I get lots of compliments. Where did you get this wood? It’s so awesomely aged! Ok, back to the dog house. In this case, I call my mom.

Mom, can I have the dog house?
What for?
Well you’re not using it anymore, are you? Are you going to get a new dog ever? I want to build a chicken coop. 

After a bit more wheedling, my mom said yes, but I had to ask my dad, too.

Dad, can I have the dog house to build a chicken coop? Mom said yes.
Well, Nala likes to go in there with her kittens.
Does she have to?
Well, she likes it. 

So I’m back to square one. But my mom always has lots of good ideas so I call her again.

Mom, do you know anyone who can build me a chicken coop?
Yes I do!

Of course she does. So I visit these friends of hers and it’s fantastic; they already know all about chicken coops because they have their own backyard chickens. He knows how to build, he’s into using bits and pieces of reclaimed what-not to keep costs down, and he’s not even going to charge me for the labour! He builds, on short sturdy stilts, a fabulous little house for three or four hens. It has a removable nesting box, a big(ish) door for me to open to collect eggs, a removable continuous feeder box, a little hen door on the side that I can open and close with a little rope, and even the roof comes off for heavy duty cleaning! Wow! Oh! A ventilation window on the side, too! All these things that I would never even have thought of. They even know the best place I should buy my chickens from.

So my chicken coop arrives at my door and it’s so beautiful, it fits together like a big 3D puzzle. I love it. OK, it looks pretty hodgepodge, but a little less so after I paint it all the same colour. I order the chickens, and I go out and buy some chicken wire, which I loop from the chicken coop, around a tree, and back to the fence. I use my staple gun to attach the wire to the side of the coop and the fence. I’m ready!

The next day I drive out to collect my hens in a cat crate I pick up from my parent’s house.  I collect the chickens. I’m driving home with them, they’re clucking away, and I pick up my phone and call my husband.

I got the chickens!
Really? (laughs)
Maybe now is a good time to tell you that I’m scared of chickens…
So am I!
Really?! Oh no!

I get the chickens home and I’m trying to figure out how to transfer them from the crate into the coop. It turns out that my boys, who are 6, 4 and 1, are scared of chickens too, so they’re not much help. At first I try just kind of dumping them out of the crate but it’s heavy and I can’t lift it very high, and the big(ish) door is not big enough to get the front of the crate really through. So I kind of just dump them out on the ground, my boys are screaming and running away from the chickens, and I’m kind of screaming too and laughing hysterically at the same time. Eeek eek! Hahahahah! I find a broom, tear down the chicken wire on one side and just sweep  them in to the coop. Done! Victory! Ha! The boys and I go inside to wash hands, have a snack, reward ourselves for a job well done. Then one of them looks out the kitchen window and says:

Mom, the chickens are out!
What?! Really?
Yeah, look! Look!

I’m already at the window, and sure enough, the chickens are out of the coop. So I go out with my broom, take down the fence again, chase them around the yard, and sweep them back in. I make certain there are no holes around the bottom for them to crawl under, and go back inside.

Mom! The chickens are out again!
Oh no!

I know what this means, and my heart sinks. This means that the rumour that I have heard, that chickens can fly, is true. This means that I have to cut their wings.  I have no idea how to cut chicken wings, and also, I’m scared of the chickens. I take a deep breath, and decide to put off this job until the morning. I chase them into their coop at nightfall, and shut the door. Then I turn to my trusty sidekicks, google and youtube. I read a how to page, and then I watch a two minute video on how to cut chicken wing feathers so that they can’t fly, and I feel fairly confident that I’ve sufficiently absorbed the information.

The next morning, I grab my best scissors, and gather up my little audience of three, and head out the door. I’m really hoping that my oldest boy can help me because I may look confident, but I’m still scared of the chickens! The four of us form a line and just stare at the coop for a bit, and then I gather up my courage to open the door to let the chickens out. Somehow I manage to get one into my arms, and she’s not pecking or scratching me, for which I am so grateful. Now I try to get my oldest son to grab the wing and stretch it out, but he daintily reaches out with two fingers like it’s a pair of dirty smelly underwear, and the chicken just easily pulls away from him and tucks her wing back in to her body. I try the four year old too, but he’s not much better at the wing holding job. So I’m on my own. I turn the chicken, holding it kind of like a football and figure out how I can hold her and spread the wing, all with my left arm and hand, leaving my right hand free for the scissors. I do it! I rule! I turn her around and do the other wing! Then I throw her over the fence and into the coop yard. She walks around, does a few hops, but doesn’t seem hurt or too upset. I catch the other two chickens and gently snip off all their flying feathers too, then I turn my back on all the brown feathers littering the yard, and take my little audience in for breakfast.

At breakfast, we feel very proud of ourselves, and we discuss what to name the chickens. We can’t tell them apart, so we end up deciding to call them all Mabel. Every time we tell someone their names, the conversation goes a bit like this:

Do they have names?
Yep! They are all named Mabel.
They? All of them?
Yep, all three of them have the same name. Mabel.
Mabel 1, 2 and 3?
Nope, just Mabel.


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