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{This one’s for Brian, who asked for it.}

A month ago I lost Phil, one of my Hussies. I went into the chicken house and there she was on the floor, with only a few gouges from either whatever predator killed her, or from the other chickens. I couldn’t tell what had happened. Obviously not something hungry, because no part of her appeared to be eaten. I disposed of her body. I am sad and the death remains a mystery.

Down to two hens, it was time to get new ones. Last year I wanted new hens and waited in the season till hens would be grown up, and went to the feed store to be told, “Good heavens, there are never adult hens left! They are all claimed as chicks!” So this year I knew I needed to be one of the chick-claimers, and to figure out how to make it happen.

I went to the feed store to ask questions and think it through, but accidentally purchased four Ameraucanas. Ooops.

They lay greenish/blueish eggs. I think it will be fun to mix up my light brown and dark brown eggs with the others. I put them in a cat carrier the first two days, because I had no other ideas. Finally I transferred them to a cardboard box. When the weather got nicer, I made a tiny temporary pen outside and let them play in the sun and eat grass during the afternoons, and then caught them all and put them back into the box when it got chilly in the evenings. Most of the time, and on rainy days, they lived on the hearth next to the woodstove so they could keep warm.

Brand new babies thier first night.

Tara came to visit me and the chicks.

I suspect that my cat, Racecar, is both insulted that the chicks are soiling her cat carrier, and wishing she could bite them.

Tara sitting with the babies (and Racecar) outside in the sun. You can see the window screen I used for a top, when there was no one to supervise.

They liked to stand inside their food and water dishes while they used them. Yes, the dishes got filled with grossness very quickly. I cleaned them about three times a day.

Here’s more of a birds eye view of their tiny pen.

Will named them the Lil’ Hussies, which I think is adorable.

Cuties in their tiny temporary pen.

More baby photos.

And more.

And more. Honestly, I tried to pick one and ditch the rest, but they are all SO CUTE.

I’m leaving on vacation soon, and I wanted to get some kind of better setup for the chicks, for when the housesitter (Tara’s dad) comes. Also, after two weeks, the chicks were stinking up the house. Chickens don’t do much more than eat, drink, and poop. And finally, they are growing fast and getting stronger. One day when I reached into the temporary pen outside to grab them and put them back into their cardboard box for the night, one got away from me.

Chickens can’t stand being apart from a chicken who has gone somewhere else because they are just certain that the far away chicken is doing something amazing and they are missing out on amazingness. So they run, fly, shriek and do whatever necessary to get to that other chicken. Such was the case this time. Docile as a group, when they spotted their fuzzy friend two feet away in the grass, outside the pen, they all went crazy and soon there were four fuzzy babies cheeping and fluttering and jumping and scaring each other in circles around the yard. Oh. My. Gosh.

Of course Racecar, who is always nearby because she is such a protective Aunt Cat, (heh heh) wanted to show them how dangerous it was to be out, so she pounced at them! Not on them of course, because I was there and she suspected it would not be approved of. She was right. I gave Racecar my mom voice and said, “Hey!” and she went away. Luckily, the chicks came back to their familiar temporary pen and food and water dish that they recognized, as I thought they would. I caught them all and got them into their box.

Whew! Definitely time for a better plan.

I reviewed images on Pinterest, and found one that I liked. It’s an A-frame, with the nesting area in the top, and yard area in the bottom. It seemed like it could be made small, and light so that it could be mobile, and just might work for chicks. I have very little construction knowledge, but a truckload of confidence and determination, plus a few tools scattered around, so that was enough to get started!

First I went to Home Depot and purchased a pile of lumber in their rejects pile in the back. All kinds of warped and broken boards for 70% off. I did have to buy one sheet of plywood at full price, and I had an employee cut it in half for me (for free!) so I could fit it into the Jeep. Yes, I hauled all the lumber and hardware home in my Jeep, and it only cost me $39. I’m so proud. Then I went to a tractor supply store that also functions as a feed store, and bought poultry mesh (otherwise known as chicken wire).

When I’m used to gossip and fashion magazines in the checkout line, this sight was a welcome change.

I went home and used my hand me down tablesaw for the first time, and borrowed a skill saw, and dug round the shop, and the garage, and the wood shed, and collected things I would need.  I made one more trip to the Rainier hardware store to buy staples for the staple gun. I mean, seriously I do not know what the heck I am doing, and I’m not set up for this. But why should that stop me!!

I began building my A-frame chicken pen. And guess what? I finished it. And it’s cool.

This is about 1/3 of the way through my project. I moved slowly and thought through next steps as I saw what I had in front of me. Totally winging it the whole way through. ha ha!

I built an area for a nesting box, but also installed a board endwise so they could roost on it. Then I installed a ramp so they can climb up. Take a good look now at all this wood and no poop in sight. It’ll be the last time that’s true.

Ok, I think this is good to go. The side is on hinges, so I can access the stuff I need to get to. I moved their familiar box of straw to that platform when the chicks moved in…with a little opening cut into the cardboard box for them to find their way out.

Main problem: the plywood warped. I still don’t know how to fix this problem.

Food installed, water installed. Now all we need is chicks!

I worked on it three different days and finished in the evening, as you see in the photo above by the long shadows that completely shade the lawn. I cannot reach down to the grass from the open door, so once the babies went in, they were going to have to stay in. No more cozy nights beside the fire. Because I am a nice momma, I waited till the next day when it got warm again.

Babies in their new home!

They only took an hour to figure out how the water works. There is a ball inside a tube, and they have to push the ball up with their beaks to get water to drip out.

I had checked the weather forecast in case the worst happened and they did not go up top for the night. It was not going to freeze, but it would be around 40 degrees (5 C) which is much colder than what they’re used to beside the woodstove. Still no idea how to fix the warped plywood, I had thrown an old inflatable mattress over the top which blocked the hole but also trapped the heat from the sun up there. If only the babies would go upstairs for the night. However, I checked on them all day long and for most of the day, only one baby went onto the ramp. As it got darker and colder, a second chick got onto the ramp and began to follow the brave chick up. But they constantly looked down below and the other two chicks were having none of it. They began to settle into the grass for the night. So the two on the ramp jumped down and joined them. “No, babies!!”

I fretted all night, worried that they would freeze to death, or get the chicken flu, or be put out with me.

I went out as soon as I woke up, while it was still cold and foggy and damp, with fingers crossed that they would have found their way to the top, and climbed into their warm box in the night. But no, a tiny huddle of chicks was there on the ground, pressed into a corner of the pen, tiny feathers all fluffed up. It made me sad.

During their second day in the pen, all four of them got comfortable climbing up the ramp to the rafters and roosting. In the three days since, no one has gone all the way back to the cardboard box though, so they don’t have that warm straw to curl up in. I’ve always said chickens are dumb. And, even though I want to forgive these darlings and give them the benefit of the doubt, I admit that baby chickens are dumb too. That evening, as they all began to form their huddle on the grass for the second night, I went out and got them stirred up again and coaxed and coaxed till I got them to climb the ramp. It was chilly in the evening and the wind had picked up, and as soon as they got to the top, they were visibly more comfortable. They stayed up there. Yay!!!

Upstairs/downstairs view of two babies in the grass, two in the rafters. And Racecar, as you see, is never far away.

It’s evening, so will you little ones please stay up here for the night?

I went out to check them the second morning, and they were up and about…pecking food and grass and cheeping vivaciously.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

My farm is greening up in the Spring weather.

Not to give a false impression: it’s not really a farm and I’m not really a farm girl. But just give me a little time…

I grew up on some land. We had pigs and rabbits and chickens to supplement our only meat supply each winter: deer, elk, and if we were lucky, bear. We chopped wood to heat the house and to cook on the wood stove. In the early days, Mom cooked all our meals on the beautiful cast iron stove. I learned how to make toast on the surface by sprinkling a little salt, to keep the bread from burning. We used the stove to heat a flat iron to iron clothes because we had no electricity. We took our baths in an big aluminum tub in the yard, beside the pump, because we had no indoor plumbing. And yes…we woke up sleepy in the middle of the night and shoved our feet into boots to trudge through the snow to the outhouse. I am a rare remnant of American history, in that my childhood was from an earlier century.

I’ve been nostalgic for decades, daydreaming of the someday when I could have a farm of my own, and now I’ve got it. But see, here’s the thing: in the meantime, I became a city girl. Not in my soul, but in my experience. Because of my job, I’ve had to live in cities. I’ve only known electric heat and natural gas water heaters for those luxurious hot showers inside my home. When I was lucky, I had a little patch of grass to mow and some dirt in which to bury some bulbs for next season.

Managing a big piece of land is going to be a big job, and I am confident I can figure it all out. I’m also wise enough to know there will be a sharp learning curve. But off I go! Look out world. 😉

The Hussies behind a fence.

The Hussies behind a fence.

Eggs in their proper place.

Eggs in their proper place.

I grew impatient with the idea that perfectly good eggs were being stashed in the forest, as a result of my wandering Hussies. I began a campaign to diligently collect the hens each day and return them to their pen. With a four-foot fence they were contained most of the time, and typically only one or two hens would fly to freedom per day. After one week I had a carton full of eggs and the Hussies were less inclined to escape. Then I contacted a local man I know to come and build me a respectable chicken fence.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

Douglas helped me take down the old fence so we had room to put up a new one.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

I was tickled by the official label slapped onto my lumber order.

My boyfriend and I (yes!) pulled out the old fence to make way for the fence guy to build a new one. After two weeks of being returned to the old pen, the hens got into the habit of using their lovely henhouse with perfect little boxes filled with dry straw. So, while they have returned to their wandering habits, they still come home to lay. I am so pleased to be getting daily brown eggs, with thick shells and dark yolks you get from country hens.

I had to pick up two more 4x4s in the Jeep, which is not made for hauling lumber.

My Jeep is not designed for hauling lumber, but that didn’t stop me.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Some feathers to help me remember my Lacey, the sassiest of the bunch.

Fence-building is currently underway, but we had a tragedy nonetheless. Miss Lacey, whom you met not too long ago in my post about finding a stash of eggs, wandered into the country road and was hit by a car. I researched and decided not to try to eat her. First because she died by blunt force, which likely ruptured her organs, and second, because those organs likely had a chance to contaminate the meat as she laid beside the road all day long before I came home from work and found her. I am sad to lose my Lacey, as you can imagine. I’ve grown to love the bold & sassy Hussies.

The rain let up for a week and the ground dried out enough to begin using big equipment. I backed the riding lawnmower out of the shed and got it running. I had not personally cut the grass since buying the used machine, because I had friends and neighbors who took turns on it last year. It took me awhile to figure out how to get the blades going. I chose a knob that looked promising and gave it a tug. The serpentine belt went flying and the engine cut out.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

Serpentine belt came off the deck the first time I tried to use the mower this year.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

The grass grows fast in the Spring and it was like mowing a jungle.

I went online and discovered that I had done the right thing, it just hadn’t gone well. I checked local repair shops and found they were closed for the weekend. And then I looked up schematics for a Husqvarna blade deck and got some tools and pulled it apart and put the belt back in it’s place. I put it all back together and tried again. Viola!

Add small tractor repair to my list of talents.

There is a lot of grass to cut here. The property is 4.3 acres and I imagine the house and pond take up the 0.3, leaving approximately 4 acres to mow. Whew. It took me 5 days of mowing to get it all done. About 14 hours total. The tractor wasn’t running well and I ended up taking it to the shop when I got done. It should be done in a week and I’ll have sharpened blades and I’ll be able to tackle all that grass once more.

I’m continuing with adding a bit of landscaping here and there: rhododendrons and azealas, honeysuckle and camelias, a bunch of hydrangeas from my Uncle who lives a couple towns over, and a few plants my mother gave me years ago: a peony, some irises, and lavender. Each day the place becomes a little bit more my own personal heaven.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

Looking across the pond up to the house, while taking a break from mowing the back forty.

One of my many guises

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