When backyard chickens start to rule your life, it’s time to make some changes. The worry over their exuberant discussions that can sometimes rival the volume of the idiot neighbors’ yappy dogs, the stress about keeping the ever-growing babies in a too-small kennel, the fear that if left out with the big gals, there will be carnage and bloodshed. You spend way too much time at home, decline invitations to go out with friends, race home from whatever appointment you’ve been on, just to get home before sunset so that the babies can be let out to get up to their roost for the night. Pretty soon I’ll be eating out of cans with a stick because I’m afraid to go to the grocery store. Well, the time has come. Yesterday I said to myself, “Self? It is time to step away from the chickens.”
Adding to the dilemma of successful chicken integration was a new twist: Goldie went broody. The bad news: she’s more emotional than a hormonal teenager with first-day PMS. The good news: she spends all her time in the nesting box, thus removing an additional threat to the young ‘uns. Now, how to capitalize on this new twist? The answer (we hope)? Chutes ‘n Ladders.
After two very strong cups of Baileys-laced coffee (hey, it’s the weekend; leave me alone), I decided yesterday that though my ground-level square footage in the hens’ run was limited, vertical space was still available. I donned my baseball cap and worker clothes and grabbed my fully-charged power drill (thanks, dad), let the hens out in the backyard, and walked into the run to survey my blank building canvas. There was the babies’ kennel, squished up against the wall. There is the outcropping of a ledge above the nesting box–the little ones’ evening quarters and newly declared safe zone. There is the dual set of roosting poles stretched across the run which serve as the vaulting pole for the babies to launch themselves up from the kennel to the ledge. Now, since they feel comfortable with their surroundings, and heights are their only safe place, I must build a sort of upper-level domain that they can live on until Marge’s urge to dismember them passes.
A few planks of wood and some zip ties later, and the new backyard hen Chutes ‘n Ladders domain was constructed. It’s not pretty–paint would certainly help; maybe a pretty lime green and white?–but I’m hoping its not a permanent thing.
I herded the babies into their new domain so that they could have a few hours of time to figure it out, Marge-free, and shut the door. And watched. And wonder of wonders, they did. Smart little crackers. Before I knew it, they were both navigating the upper-level platforms like champs (well, Henrietta had to show Mabelene the ropes first), and they settled on their ledge for some quiet time. I placed Marge back inside an hour later, and though she wanted OUT (as usual), and she paced back and forth like a lion in a cage, I stepped away and left things for a little while. Prayed the little ones wouldn’t come down to ground level and meet up with a very large black and white surprise.
Before nightfall, I let everyone out for a last backyard bug hunting rendezvous, and then the babies went back inside and up to their ledge. Marge went in next–against her will, of course–and eventually things settled down for a peaceful night. And I with my glass of wine and Santa with his–oops, that’s not the right story–I finally rested.
This morning, I heard ear-splitting shrieks. Leapt out of bed, threw on a robe, tore outside–past four wide-eyed cats who wondered where their breakfast was–and checked on the hens. The babies had come down at sunrise and probably been surprised by an equally-surprised Marge (“Oh crap [though I’m sure she didn’t say ‘crap’]–you two are still here?”), but thankfully, they had remembered how to slip into their cracked-open kennel door and to its relative safety. Whew. The next test is to place them all inside for a few daytime hours and see what happens. Marge will be ÜBER-frustrated at being locked up, but I have to do these experiments while I’m home, darn it. Nobody wants to come back from the grocery store and find a dead henlette. Would Marge kill them? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure she would. It’s less than four weeks to my trip. This has to work.