The Colonel’s Plan – Poultry Farming

August 8, 2018

Dear Daddy – 

We have chickens. For the first time since 1971, we have chickens. Christian proposed the idea for my birthday, and the others conspired to keep it from me. On Saturday, the day before my actual birthday, they sprung it on me. Renee had gone out to “run errands” for the day, and I had stayed home to rest, primarily. My head and neck had been hurting for three days—tension, no doubt. I was going to try to do a little work, taking apart the deck, and our shrubs were still in need of some additional trimming. I lamented that the boys rarely came over any more, and I felt stuck with a lot of work by myself. 

Renee apparently took that to heart. She called me around 2:00 and said she had been at your house all day, with the boys, working on my birthday present. They didn’t want me to feel alone, so I should come over and see it. When I arrived, the coop they were working on—a design Christian had found on the Internet, and for which he had bought or scrounged the materials—was half-complete. There were four legs mounted in the ground, and a platform for the floor, plus the uprights of the walls. When I saw it, I thought they had built something akin to the platforms small towns used to cobble together at the train station for the President and other dignitaries when they came through on whistle-stop tours. 

Then they led me into the back room of the garage, and presented me with four hens—Lady Bracknell, Gwendolyn, Cecily, and Miss Prism. Bracknell is brown; the other three are white. Gwendolyn’s comb leans to the right, Cecily’s to the left. Miss Prism is apparently a Centrist. They were all living in Schultz’s dog crate. 

“Are they all hens?” I asked dubiously, looking at their huge combs. I knew hens had combs, but I wasn’t used to them being quite so large. Mother, who, like you, grew up with chickens, didn’t even think hens had combs. I was assured they were hens. They had laid four eggs already, although two had been pecked open before Christian got them. They had been with us since the previous Thursday. Christian had bought them from a chicken farmer right around the corner on Cedar Lane, who was anxious to move them out, because more chicks had just hatched. Bracknell is a year old, and the others are a few months behind. 

Christian had been sure that the coop would be ready for occupancy that night, but we only got the roof and two walls up. Two more walls, two doors, two ramps and the hardware cloth for the lower section had to be installed before it was safe for them. 

Sunday the rest of the walls went up, and Christian had the doors cut and assembled. Monday, we were ready for the hardware cloth, but I wanted it to be secure. When I say we had chickens in 1971, we had, in fact, had only one chicken—a white rooster named John. I had brought John home as a chick from Kindergarten in the Spring of 1971 and raised him. You built him a chicken coop, about 30″ by 30″ with an equal-sized run.  

I think we kept John about a year. Maybe it was less. He was with us through a visit from your brother Bill and his family. I remember him staring at himself in the chrome bumper of their station wagon. He used to chase Susan around the yard. If I ran he would chase me, but I don’t recall ever getting spurred by him. I was not afraid to crawl into his coop with him, so I assume he liked me better than he did Susan. 

Whether it was Christmas or the following Summer I don’t recall. Maybe it was even Spring. Anyway, we went to North Carolina. You and I argued about John. I don’t recall asking to bring him with us, though I probably did. But I know I asked to leave him enclosed in his coop if he was staying. You insisted he be allowed to run free. 

When we came home, a week (maybe two?) later, all that was left of John were some feathers in and around his run. You said a fox had probably caught him. I held a funeral and buried the feathers by the ramp of the white building where we kept the Gravely tractor and the oil tanks. 

I am understandably cautious, therefore, of predators. Foxes dig. Hawks swoop down. Racoons have hands and can open latches. I researched how to keep them from just digging under our coop and killing the hens. The designer of the coop had made a hardware cloth floor and stitched it to the hardware cloth walls. I didn’t like this for two reasons. One, Christian had not really allowed for it when he had sunk the support posts and built the raised floor. I did not want to dig under the structure in rock-and-root-infested soil. Just digging a trench around it was bad enough! Two, I didn’t like the idea of the bottom of the coop wall being nothing but flexible wire. So I cut and installed cross-members on the ground, and then followed the suggestion of Carolina Coops to make a predator apron on the ground all around the coop. It attaches to the wood base and prevents digging

Turns out chickens have the same tendency to separate by color that some humans do. While we were getting all of these preparations together, the three white chickens were picking fights with Lady BracknellWe assembled Laddie’s crate and put her in that one. Chrisitan traded out the white chickens, one at a time, to room with her, to try and teach a little racial sensitivity. 

Last night, Christian finished the doors and latches and I got all the hardware cloth installed. Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn moved in. Today, Wednesday, Christian and I finished the predator apron, set up a temporary run with wire fencing (it needs its own predator apron and a gate) and moved the other two in.

I’m still paranoid. By the time this letter sees the light of day, will we still have all of these chickens? Or any of them? 

In the meantime, we’ve now gotten eight eggs, counting the two they broke. 

Love,

Steven

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