So our Real Milk source dried up last fall, sadly. I was driving down to [practically] Mexico (okay, maybe it was only San Tan Valley, but it felt like we were driving to Mexico) to buy this amazing, delicious, healthy stuff. It was amazing – we haven’t had milk like that since we moved from Michigan. But the friend who was running her small farm found that she had to revamp things – drastically. This meant that until she could procure some real pasture land, she had to sell off her animals and close up shop. Such a sad day for all of us.
And in a roundabout way, that’s where this story begins. When my friend sent out her notice, I was understandably sad, and when we picked up our milk for the final time, we were chatting. I support her decision, even though it meant a loss of this amazing milk for my family, and as we were talking, I asked her what she was doing with her chickens. It was a completely spur-of-the-moment question, and then after hearing her response of “I’m going to sell them,” I had to hurriedly call Mark to see if it was okay to even consider progressing.
You see, as Mark was out here 2.5 yrs ago interviewing in Tempe, I was back home with Brendan, at a Tractor Supply Company, holding fuzzy little chicks. These things were so flippin’ cute I could hardly stand it – fluffy little balls of fuzz, peeping, pecking curiously. I actually tweeted a picture and my husband’s response was, “Why aren’t you buying them, already?” I knew I couldn’t buy chicks until we knew if we were moving – and indeed, my intuition proved correct. So my long-dreamt-of chicken coop never became a reality in Dexter. And we only purchased this house at the end of July 2012, so we were poised at the corners of Maybe We Can Do This and Maybe We Can’t.
Happily, we had friends who were willing to help us build a chicken tractor (a portable coop with an open bottom for pasturing the chickens), and we had both the time and funds to pull this off. We chose a pattern called the Catawba, and procured most of our parts and pieces at 84 Lumber. The final cost was somewhere between $110 and $120 for the whole build, which was about half of what our friends who bought lumber at a local Blue Big Box Store paid.
So one warm day in late November, I drove out to [nearly] Mexico for the last time and picked up 4 pullets and 1 laying hen. I knew that I wanted a laying hen immediately, so shelling out the extra $5 for her wasn’t a big deal. The other four would grow in to laying-maturity soon enough. And truly – one of them began laying about 10 days ago, so we’re up to two eggs per day.
We call it “chicken therapy” when we let them range the yard at the end of the day (about an hour before sunset) – we sit out in our non-fancy “patio furniture” (camping chairs!) with our mugs of tea, a book, yarn work, or a laptop, and watch them chase crickets, scratch for bugs in the desert-scape, investigate the (now, former-) horseshoe pit and dust bathe there, or come looking for wheat that we toss out for them. It’s truly delightful – I had chickens as a kid, but don’t remember them being so fun to watch. And right now, my friend Elizabeth is reading this, shuddering, and thinking I’m insane, because she hates birds. Especially chickens.
We named each bird – Brendan picked out most of the names. Henrietta is the oldest; our first laying hen and a Rhode Island Red. The conversation went something like this, “Mama! I think the hen should be Henrietta. HEN-rietta. Get it, Mom? Get it?” “I’m trackin’ ya, son….” (shaking my head with silent appreciation for his puns). Rosie is a Red Star – her colouring is darker than the other Red Stars. Annie is another Red Star and was named after Ann Arbor – we have a dog named Dexter, so honouring A² just makes sense to me. 😉 Jewel is the final Red Star and Brendan thought the white feathers on her neck looked like a bit of jewelry. And Baby Paulette is just that – the baby of the brood. She’s a Barred Rock and is delightful. She’s definitely Chicken #5 (bottom of the pecking order), but she doesn’t seem to care. She’s uniquely independent and doesn’t mind being off by herself, looking for crickets, getting hand-fed crickets by Brendan, or being snuggled by one of us. Yes, she’s my favourite.
There are hundreds of more words I could pour out at the moment on this topic: how these birds are improving our lawn and yard (eating weeds and bugs), how they up our preparedness-factor, how the eggs taste, how delighted I am at feeding them a Real Food diet…. but I’ll save it. I’ll leave you with a compilation of “our girls” and save the rest for future posts.