One of Yeoldfurt's and my newest venture in our efforts toward self-sufficiency is to add chickens to the menagerie. We wanted enough eggs for ourselves and maybe a dozen or two a week to trade. So we bought 12 chicks in early April, 12 little yellow balls of fluff. Each one a tiny fragile handful of life. We got a heck of deal on a small broodbox at the local Tractor Supply. Someone had apparently been less than careful with the forklift and the box looked like it had been shishkabobed on corner. We got it for only $50, half price ...what a deal. We bought the broodbox, a bale of shavings, a heat lamp, a waterer, a feeder, 10 pounds of chick starter and 12 chicks for $140. As I wrote out the check, I was having a slap fight with myself in my head about 'how many eggs I could buy for $140!' Shut up, Self, I said ...it will be an adventure. Little did I know. Ha!
The adventure began as soon as I got home with all the goods and we peeled the cardboard away from the unassembled broodbox. The labels on the box promised 'Easy Assembly' and sturdy construction. Well, the hardware is sturdy for sure but the wood was soft. I remembered popsicle sticks as having more surface tension. Fortunately though the damage to the outside of the box was very much exaggerated to the actual damage to the broodbox. One of the side members had a hairline split, but it wouldn't affect the strength of the box once it was assembled so we were pleased with having gotten it for half price.
Now Yeoldfurt and I have collaborated on many projects together over the years, and generally speaking, we get along well and work great team as long as everything goes smooth. But if things start going awry, Yeoldfurt ...being of the male persuasion ... tends to get loud and vocal with his frustrations. I know, I know, he's not mad at ME but ... being of the female persuasion (or maybe it's just me) ... I tend to take it personal after a while anyway. So in the decade or so we've been together, we've both made an effort to evolve. He's developed a lot more restraint (longer fuse?) than he used to have and I've developed a somewhat (okay, only slightly) thicker skin when he's on a rip about something. I would like to say the spirit of cooperation was born solely out of our love and respect for each other and that's sure a big part of it. But the crux of the matter is, deep down we both know that most of the jobs we have to tackle require (at least) four hands and all the patience we can muster. I like to think we've both experienced some personal growth from our efforts.
An hour or so after we started, we were both sweaty and dirty but the broodbox was standing square and sturdy and ready for the chicks. We spread some shavings in the bottom, filled the water and feed containers and set our little golden fluff balls in their new quarters. They cheeped and huddled together in the corner for a few minutes and then slowly, the more adventurous ones started exploring. We kept the light on them since the nights were still in the 60's and they were less than a week old. They stayed in the broodbox in the garage for the first several weeks, growing more than few feathers and, yes, even personalities in that time.
At about four weeks, we moved them to the chicken coop outside. The nights were warmer by now and the chicks seems delighted with their new surroundings. All of them had real feathers now, but there was one that was smaller than the others. It was a Rhode Island Red and seemed to be laying down a lot. The other chickens, especially the three bigger Rhode Island Red roosters would peck on the smaller one. Yeoldfurt brought the smaller bird out and set it down on the grass. It only seemed to be able to stand on one leg. We couldn't really tell that the other leg was broken or dislocated, but the bird didn't want to bear weight on that leg. Yeoldfurt started calling the poor little bird Hoppy because when he really wanted to move, he could hop pretty good on that one leg. We decided to move the broodbox down by the chicken coop and give him a chance to get better.
Hoppy lived in that broodbox for almost two months. Every evening when I got home from work, we would have supper and then go out and sit by the chicken coop with Hoppy. Yeoldfurt would lift Hoppy out of his cage and set him on the grass, hoping some fresh greens and a few bugs would get him interested in moving around. Our Boxer dog, Maggie, did her part to encourage Hoppy to move too. If Hoppy sat down for too long in one spot, Maggie would whine and nuzzle Hoppy's tail feathers as if to say, "Come on, quit bein' lazy!" Hoppy would squawk chicken insults back at the dog and would even reach around and peck Maggie on the muzzle every once in a while. But neither one was very serious about hurting the other. We began to refer to the hour or so we spent like this in the evenings as Hoppy Hour and it was a nice down time for all of us. As the days rolled into weeks, Hoppy got stronger. He went from hopping to hobbling and finally developed a pretty good scratch and strut. Hoppy was growing up, but he was still smaller than the other three Rhode Island Reds and he's definitely a wimp. So the three big roosters are banished to the smaller section of the coop and Hoppy has the three hens all to himself ...only for another few weeks though. Only hens live long and prosper around here. Roosters have it good while they're around but they're freezer bound as soon as they're grown up and big enough to eat. They started crowing for the first time about a week ago. It won't be long now.
It doesn't bother me to eat meat I've raised. We knew when we bought the chicks that our goal was to keep a few hens for eggs. Any roosters in the bunch would end up in the freezer. I'm sure going to miss Hoppy Hour though. We used to sit out in the evenings fairly often before Hoppy came along. But somehow, making it all about Hoppy ...a sort of physical therapy for the little lame bird ...made it more important, more of a routine. Ending the toil of the day with an hour or so of quiet time with Yeoldfurt was a good habit to get into. I hope we keep it.