10 September 2010

New chix on the block

I hadn't quite pictured acquiring my chickens this way, hanging out in the Trader Joe's parking lot at 7:30 AM, waiting for the farmer's wife to show up. Another woman was sitting in her car, too; I sidled over and verified that she was there for a transaction similar to ours. Apart from the schmoozing about coops and breeds, it felt like we were parties to a drug deal.

We'd been instructed to look for a dark-green Buick sedan, and to bring a crate and cash. Ms. Farmer slid smoothly into the space between our vehicles. I checked the girls over with an unpracticed eye as we shuffled them from her pet carrier to ours. A barred rock, a partridge rock, a blue-laced red Wyandotte. Young birds, pullets, on the verge of starting to lay. Yup, that was our order, all right. I caught myself expecting meowing from the carrier on the short ride home. I wonder if the poultry smell will linger to drive the cats wild on their next trip to the vet.

Here are the barred rock and the blue-laced red Wyandotte. The latter is a pretty fancy breed, though reputed to be as good a layer as the more common rocks.

I'd been negotiating with the farmer, who goes by the nickname Cooper, for several days about varieties and delivery options. There was a chance they'd arrive over the holiday weekend, so I quickly finished painting the coop and went to Naomi's for a galvanized feeder and waterer. They're such simple, pleasing, farm-y looking devices; the design probably hasn't changed in decades. Jerry picked up a couple of carabiners -- apparently raccoon R&D hasn't yet figured these out -- to secure the nest box and human access doors.

Here's the finished coop, shortly before occupancy. The area behind the blue door and under the solid box is open but fenced with hardware cloth. The ladder on the left leads up to the enclosed roost. The yellow door is for access to the nest box (and eggs!) from the outside. There's another, slightly larger door, on the right-side wall, inside the enclosure. That one is for cleaning and replacing bedding material. The theory is that the chickens will climb the ladder and roost inside at night. So far they haven't gotten the idea, though a combination of coaching and cooler weather will probably help.

My uncle Sol is probably rotating in his grave, but of course we had to name our chickens. We seem to have settled on Maxine for the black-and-white barred rock, Michelle (as in Obama) for the bellissima textured Wyandotte, and Rachel (as in Maddow) for the chestnut-colored partridge rock. Though the nuances of their individual personalities have yet to reveal themselves, Max has roosted, the last two nights, on the perch we installed in a corner of the run, with the other two snuggled on the straw bale underneath. So I'm calling her marginally more dominant for now. I could be entirely wrong. What do I know about chickens?