...All we knew was, we had chickens! - Homesteading: It Starts With Health
Now that we had chickens, we needed housing for them & fast! Thankfully my much younger half sister who brought us the chickens also let us borrow one of her large rabbit cages & was kind enough to give us some feed. Not knowing what to do with these girls, we put them in their cage & put them outside on the grass during the day while we planned the building of our girls new home. In the evening we brought them inside, cage & all to reside in the basement where they would be safe from predators.
At the library, we checked out as many books on chickens we could get our hands on. Chickens In Your Backyard: A Beginner's Guide quickly became our favorite. We checked it out so often that we ended up buying a copy for ourselves! At home we pulled out past copies of Mother Earth News to view "Do it yourself" (DIY) chicken houses. We decided on a small ugly looking contraption & discussed our plans with my building savvy father. He promptly shot our plans down. "You want to do it right." He said. "You don't want to built this. It's a piece of crap." We looked at each other wide eyed, then looked back at my dad, the one with all the building brains. "Well.... we don't know what else to do & we don't want to spend a lot of money on a chicken house. We need it built right away! They can't live in a cage all day." I replied. We were frustrated by our lack of skills & time. Thankfully my dad offered his assistance.
Plans were drawn out, then we three hit the hardware store for supplies. We returned home to begin building. It took us about a week to complete. My Dad would check our progress each day, giving guidance & assistance when needed. In the meantime we were dutifully letting the girls outside in their cage when we got home from work. We always read that hens were quite, that it was the roosters who were the noise makers. Imagine our surprise & dismay when our girls cackled, clucked & carried on, sometimes rather loudly. One of the many things we discovered was that when our girls made the most noise it was because they just laid an egg. When we would find an egg, we would grin at each other like idiots. You would have thought we laid the darn things ourselves we were so proud.
We worried endlessly that our neighbors would complain about the racket. Much to our surprise & delight, they enjoyed the chickens & asked if they could bring their kids to see them. The kids were ecstatic. They had never seen a real live chicken before let alone touch one!
We visited our very first farm supply store, called Agway. It was a delightful sensory overload; a candy store for wanna-be homesteaders. The store had canning jars in every size, farming tools to do who the heck knew what with, all sorts of tack, pet food, livestock feed, giant feeders, books, medications, fencing, gates, pre-built coops, rabbit houses, poultry supplies, & much more. We were nearly delirious when we noticed a sign declaring they sold chicks. The cashier told us they would have chicks in about a month. She then informed us that in the meantime we could come back that Saturday morning for their livestock auction. That's all we had to hear, livestock auction! We'd be there alright, we wanted more chickens!
By the time Saturday rolled around, we got up at 4:15am. We prepared for our big auction day, packing lunches & filling bottles with fresh water from our well. We arrived several hours early. It seems that the times given were for the vendors to start bringing in their goods. Oops! We looked around a bit & discovered we needed to register as bidders. As early as we were, we noticed that we were the second names on the list when we registered, so we weren't that early.
We decided to drive around the New Jersey countryside while we waited for the auction to begin. We drove through gently rolling farmland where horses grazed on tidy green pastures with white fencing separating the fields. We even chanced by some yard sales where we joyfully purchased items of interest for mere quarters. We drove over small streams & under canopies of trees rich with new green leaves. When it was getting close to time to return, we selected a quite spot along the road where there was shade & ate our lunch. We watched cattle quietly graze, enjoyed the melodious chatter of song birds, & felt the warm spring breeze on our skin. Life was good.
With full bellies & smiles on our faces we returned to the outdoor auction. Now that the vendors were all there we could walk around looking for hens. We wanted eggs right away, so we didn't want chicks who would take months to grow. Unfortunately there weren't a lot of big hens to be found. We picked a few of interest & took our seats. As the seats filled up, the folks sitting next to us asked what we were looking for. We excitedly told them. With friendly amused smiles they informed us that they were there for the larger critters. There were goats, chicks, all sorts of poultry, pigs, livestock supplies, horses, & more. John's leg bounced with barely contained energy while we waited for our chance to bid. In the end we went home as the proud owners of one bearded gold & grey colored hen. This time we knew what kind of bird she was, a hybrid known as an "Easter Egger" because they can lay colored eggs. We had hoped to bring home more hens, but where we once had two, we now had three & better yet, one that would give us pretty pastel eggs!
By that weekend the chicken house was nearly complete. The girls were living inside of it, John just had to put up the siding, finish the roofing, & finally stain it. We introduced the new hen, there was a lot more bickering than we'd anticipated, but things settled down pretty quickly. We named our new hen Wacko because she was just that. Imagine if you will, coming home from work to your little trio of hens. Two of them happily cluck at you, the other lets out a weird warbled cry & runs so fast she kicks up a puff of dust behind her as she road runners across the property. Why does she do this? We don't know, so we laugh. We laugh every single time. Wacko also developed the habit of roosting in the holly trees at night instead of her cozy hen house. We would be outside with flash lights, dealing with holly leaves poking every bit of bare skin they could find while we carefully retrieved a growling Wacko from the trees prickly limbs. Besides behaving like the road runner & roosting in trees, Wacko also enjoyed sun bathing. She would lie on her side in the sun so that we would think she was dead.
Our friends & coworkers were very curious about our new venture. The most common question we were asked when they discovered we were getting our very own fresh organic backyard eggs was, "Do you eat them?" No matter how often we were asked, it never failed to take us by surprise. Of course we ate them, what else would we do with them? Well, for them the idea of eating eggs from our own birds was dirty, even disgusting. This viewpoint can be blamed on the perfectly shaped eggs sitting in tidy refrigerated rows at the grocery store. Somehow in this environment the eggs are not from chickens, they are from the store. This makes them safe, normal, & acceptable.
All we knew was that the eggs our girls gave us were were delicious! When we cracked them, we looked upon beautiful nearly orange colored yolks that rose majestically from thick translucent white beds. When we separated the yolks from the whites & tossed them back & forth in our hands we were amazed because the yolks wouldn't break. We cracked one of our girls eggs & then cracked a store bought organic egg for comparison. The store bought egg had a pale yolk that barely rose out of the thin runny white. When we tried to pick up the store bought egg, it broke apart in our hands, oozing through our fingers in watery mess.
We vowed to never eat another store bought egg again.
In my next post: Building Our First Hen House
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