Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Birthday Wishes -- Chickens

Five of the new "six-pack" of chicks.                        Photo by Keith Skelton.
Marilyn Monroe's “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” was not what I was crooning months before my birthday when, during a casual walk through the backyard I turned to my beau, Keith, and said, "You know…I've always dreamed of having chickens. Maybe that's what I want for my birthday."

The idea roosted until one day when Keith and I joined some longtime friends at a local microbrewery for a pre-birthday celebratory drink.

"How do you like your chickens?" our friend, John, said as we plopped down on barstools beside him.

"What chickens?" I asked.

Keith shot John a daggered look. John grimaced at having just stepped into proverbial chicken shit.

“I have chickens?” I asked with glee.

I kissed Keith who wore a ticked-off smile.

In a classic case of putting the eggs before the hens, or in this case, the chickens before the coop, I learned I was the adoptive mother of six hens, six beautiful "little ones" whose temporary residence was a cardboard box in John's family's coop. (FYI, a cardboard box with a thick layer of pine shavings and a heat lamp works just fine—at first.)

“No worries,” said Keith when I inquired as to where the little critters were going to nestle their feathers once they were home. “We’ll have a coop de ville built on the back hill in no time.”

The chickens grew from toddlers to teenagers in just over a month and the chicken coop still exists in random pieces. (A word to the wise—if your tool belt's been shelved for awhile, a coop may take longer to build than you think, especially if plans call for a hen high-rise adaptable to a mother-in-law studio, if necessary.)

In the meantime, Keith and I built the chicks a temporary townhome from a wooden crate "borrowed" from the local shopping mall’s dumpster. (I spied it while he was in line at Starbucks.) We crafted a wire frame for the lid.

The temp-townhome
Two weeks later, we decided an outdoor run was necessary. So, we constructed a frame out of white irrigation pipe (don't forget the blue and purple glues) and wired it with 1/4" galvanized hardware cloth (rodents can get through chicken wire). Free at last to roam the grounds, the outdoor pen has now become their temporary full-time home. In addition to their starter chick food and water, a couple of times per week, we throw in some snacks like beets and fresh clover green (they love food scraps--just don't serve them uncooked eggs--gross!)

My "little ones" discovered their wings a couple of weeks ago and have begun to flutter. One day while trying to move them back into garage, a group runaway occurred. It took a good hour to track them down and coax them out from the property’s dense foliage borders. (Clue: chicks are mostly flock oriented and will regroup if left to their own devices.)

At a writing class one day, I discovered several local female friends also have chickens. Janice told the tale of her chicken breaking its leg and now residing in her house. “I love being able to hang out with the chicken all day,” she confessed. I cringed at the thought. After being shat on numerous times while transferring them between their homes, I can’t imagine having even one of my feathered six-pack in MY house, but, then again, never say never.

As for names, well, I haven’t quite mastered those yet either. I thought that after a couple of months, their personalities would evoke some monikers; but, very few names have come to mind.

Babette from "Cooped"
Just yesterday while watching the chickens peck and dust bathe in the glow of the setting sun, I became mesmerized by the way the Silver Spangled Hamburg strutted by as if playing with me--waddling her tail and pecking at the seeds I had delivered. The sun's setting glow lit the silver on her wingtips and created a twinkling sparkle across her jet black back. Diamonds, I thought, my hen's shimmering like diamonds. It was then that I knew her name.

Diamond's truly a girl's best friend. And, for my birthday, I can now say that I received the biggest one ever.

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