This is the battle cry that is launched from most chicken lovers/owners at least once a year. Especially around springtime when feed stores are overflowing with fluffy little orbs of feathery hatchling-ness ripe for the picking. More hens! More eggs! It really is a sickness.
But for “the pet that gives back,” it’s a slightly more justified request than for, say, more shoes. Chickens do best in flocks. They feed off each other socially, they get a sense of peace and calm by meandering about the yard together, gossiping about the day’s events like little ladies strolling through the garden with their hands clasped behind their backs, they take dust baths together, and they roost together at night. They teach each other which bugs are good and which to keep clear of the beak, and they alert each other when there is danger–like yesterday morning when Goldie bok-bok’d to the young’ins about the presence of a black snake in the grass. For chickens–as for most prey animals–there is safety and happiness and peace in numbers.
And okay, in case you see right through my scientific justification, I just want more fluffy feathered fatties meandering around my backyard in the dew-covered grass in the dappled morning sunshine. Just a couple, mind you. Three was my original “perfect number” until I realized that when you lose one and are down to just two, the whole pecking order is out of whack. With two, one is alone while the other is working on delivering an egg–a process that usually takes a couple of hours. With two, one is forever at the bottom of the pecking order, always on the run from Ms. Domineering Head Hen. (We all root for the underdog and we would like for her to have a friend to soften her status in the flock. It’s always less-stressful when there’s someone else to share your misery with, right?) And so, two hens is simply not fair. Three hens is better, definitely. But then what happens if one dies? Two. Again. Not good. And, most importantly, wouldn’t it be even more glorious to have four or five fluffy hens race across the lawn toward me when I come outside instead of two or three?
And so, while thoughts of more-more-more enter my head each spring and I tamp them down quicker than a hen swallowing a worm, I realize another series of dilemmas:
1. The run isn’t big enough. Based on my research at the time, it seemed big enough. But when I go on a trip–which happens more often lately–it’s simply unfair to expect the girls to thrive in such a small enclosure. No room for dust baths or to stretch their wings, or to get away from the dominant hen without retreating into the coop.
2. We built their enclosure in a spot that requires that the girls cross over my patio in order to get to the grassy yard. This results in much pooping on the patio and a special backyard shoes policy, since we all want to avoid stepping in chicken shit with our beloved Toms. Wouldn’t it be nice to go sit on your patio and avoid peeling out on a fresh pat of poo?
3. I live in a flood zone. Not only do we get tons of rain in our Florida summers, but it tends to gather–and sit, sometimes for days–in between my back door and the chicken coop. Not only is it not fun to walk through stagnant water to reach your hens, it’s even less fun walking through poop-infused stagnant water to reach your hens.
4. Sun. Although we do get cool seasons in Florida, the dominant season is Just Plain Hot. For about seven months of the year. The current coop location gets sun from around 2 pm until dusk–the exact part of the Florida day that is the hottest. This results in a temporary patchwork installation of old umbrellas affixed to the roof of the run for the summer. (There is a roof on the run, but with the angle of the afternoon sun, it doesn’t provide any shade at that time.)
And so last week I mustered up the courage to ask my dad about moving the beloved coop that he painstakingly built from the ground up to the other side of my garage. Issues resolved: shade in the afternoons, no more need for the hens to cross the patio or for me to walk through floodwaters to reach the coop, and room to expand the run! MORE CHICKENS! God bless him, he listened calmly (as he does to most of my earth-shattering ideas) and agreed this will be the first project on his honey-do list this fall. Score!
In the meantime, a friend who is currently attempting to hatch some eggs under her broody hen has offered to donate a couple of her hatchlings to me if all goes well. The timing isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t turn them down. There’s always my little “baby coop” to use for the newbies while they integrate with the existing flock during daytime turnout this summer. This was the process I used when introducing Mabelene and Henrietta to Goldie and Marguerite last spring.
And if all goes well, by fall, I should have a whole new chicken situation going on. And much more fodder for City Hen blog posts! Stay tuned…