Gertie Died.

i found her outside in the run this morning, lying in a perfect little beautiful fluff of feathers. She must have come outside sometime in the night, knowing it was time. We are all very sad. 

Still Kickin’

Gertie is a tough little gal. Let’s hope this–her second tough night–is successful and I find her pecking about tomorrow morning in the run with the other gals. 

Last night when everyone went to bed and were roosting comfortably in the coop, I placed Gert in the coop with everyone else and went in the house, saying a quiet little prayer. Looked outside 20 minutes later and there she was, back down in the run, standing like a zombie near the water bowl. So I put her back up. Ten minutes later, same thing. After the third time, I put a bowl of water in the coop next to her, hoping she wouldn’t pass out and drown her little head in it. It kept entering my mind that she was coming back out so she could die alone, like many animals in the wild will. But she didn’t die. Thank God. After a sleepless night of getting up and going to shine a flashlight out my kitchen window, expecting to see Zombie Gert again standing rigidly in the run all alone, I woke up this morning to a living, breathing set of Australorps, although Gertie was still worse-than-lethargic. Dare I hope?

But today was much the same as yesterday: tail droopy, eyes closed most of the time, unmoving. Syringe-feeding with antibiotic-laced water every few hours, emulsified tomato soup with peas, carrots, and beans–also syringe-fed if she wanted it–and vitamin-soaked green grapes. She also ate a few good little bites of watermelon. 

It’s heartbreaking to see Dot going through this confusing time. She lays with Gertie in her little corners, gets up when Gertie stands like a little zombie, watches me VERY closely (her sharp beak not too far from my medicine-administering hands) as I hold Gert and syringe-feed her. She and Gert have been attached almost literally at the hip since day one. And it’s no different now. I just hope and pray that we don’t lose Gertie for Dot’s sake, as well.

In the midst of all this, we are experiencing record-setting rainfall in St. Pete, and since I live in a flood zone, there have been 2-3 inches of standing water everywhere–so much so that I had to go and buy stepping stones to get from my house to the coop without getting drenched. And with all the rain, the trillions of little fine-featured African American ants (must give credit to Kelly for that one) that live here  have all come to the surface and are climbing on EVERYTHING, including Gertie’s poor, immobile legs. I almost wonder if that’s the one thing snapping her out of her occasional frozen state–eat that ant that just bit me!

And another lovely caveat: there’s a red-shouldered hawk who tried to grab one of the gals while they were free-ranging in the backyard yesterday. I was in the house for five minutes, heard Goldie alert, ran outside, and no chickens to be found. Goldie and the other big girls were hunkered down in the roots of my fishtail Palm trees. I found Gertie and Dot laying in terrified little puddles on opposite sides of the yard. Grabbed everyone up and into the run they went. While I was drying Gertie with a towel, that damn hawk actually tried to come through the clear run ceiling to grab at them! Thank God for overhead protection.

And now, this exhausted nurse needs a glass of wine. More tomorrow…

  

The Dilemmas of Chickendom

When I first got hens, my vet told me, “Watch out–they’re known for having respiratory issues.” But in all of my stellar animal-care pride and ego, I scoffed like an insulted English lord and thought, “MY hens will never get sick.” And I was right for awhile. Why not? I practice clean coop-keeping measures, removing their nightly droppings every morning. Their run is raked and refreshed with new dirt and sand often. I mix diatomaceous earth in everything they touch. Preventative, natural herbs including probiotics are blended into their food. Electrolytes and apple cider vinegar in their water. Frozen ice bottles keep their water cool in the summer, along with fans on timers both inside and outside their coop. Heat lamp in the coop in the winter for when the nights get below 45 degrees. They eat a blend of organic and Purina protein-rich feed, and they enjoy handfuls of fruits, vegetables, dried mealworms, and other vitamin- and protein-packed treats. 

And then, inexplicably, one day, one of the girls gets droopy. Or there’s a mysterious cough. Or someone is sneezing. Or an eyelid remains closed for days. Or you introduce new members to the flock. Or it rains for four days in a row and floods everywhere and there’s way too much standing water for your comfort. Out comes the saline rinse, the B-12 supplements, the VetRx remedy, and now that it’s finally available over the counter, the avian antibiotics. 

I just battled through a sick flock a few months ago. Thank God everyone made it through. And then one day last week, Henrietta emerged from the coop with her right eye closed. Saline rinses daily, oral antibiotics, an eye lubricant from the vet. She seems to be improving, and even opened her closed eye a few times this morning.   Two days ago, Goldie starts sneezing. And so on goes the VetRX (drops for the nostrils to help open the sinuses and promote healing of the respiratory system). And then this morning, one of the babies comes out of the coop all droopy and lethargic. Before I even sip my Saturday morning coffee, that baby is beak-fed a round of antibiotics by her very concerned mom. And you know what? Screw it: EVERYone gets antibiotics. It goes in their water, it gets sprinkled on their food. It is mixed in their favorite wet mash of treats. I’m not missing anyone this time. And now… we wait. 

If only the depressing rain would stop now! Not likely: St. Pete is entering day two of flooding downpours, with 70-80% rain coverage over the next several days. Our ground is already soaked, our roads flooded, our yards are wetland marshes, and we’ve already exceeded our monthly rainfall by about a billion inches. Sigh. 

   
    
 

Lockdown

I have never had a stroke or heart attack, but I think I know what it would feel like, thanks to Dottie and Gert, who flew the coop this weekend. It started out like a normal day: get up, let the hens out, clean out the evening’s accumulation of crap in the coop, refresh water containers in the run, and then go about my business while they all forage for bugs in the yard. I trimmed pottery in the garage while fighting off hordes of blood-thirsty mosquitos, attempted to resuscitate my burned-stalk vegetable seedlings in the garden, and headed inside to vacuum and shower before a highly anticipated afternoon nap while storms brewed on the horizon.

As is my habit, I continually peered out my back windows to be sure all was well in chicken-land. And just before plugging in the vac for a 20-minute session of sucking up elephant-sized dust bunnies, I peeked out in the backyard once more to get a beak count. Three. Hm. Normally the babies are at least nearby the big gals, even if they’re not blending up a fresh pitcher of margaritas together and discussing today’s church sermon. But the littles were nowhere to be found. There was a momentary whisper in my head–“they’re fine; get your vacuuming done and then go roust up the flock later”–from the little devil that occasionally offers up unsolicited advice, immediately countered by the logical “go check them–better to be safe than sorry” advice that usually wins out, and so I went outside. 

Normally, my appearances outside are greeted by a full-on charge of five feathered bodies galloping across the grassy yard toward my outstretched hand full of grapes or other treats. This time, only three fluffs came at me. I wandered around the yard looking for whatever dirt-bath holes might be cradling my two otherwise-engaged young-ins, ready to gently scold them for not coming out with the other gals. No babies. Peeked under the house in the shady crawl space under my kitchen that keeps them all cool so many hot afternoons–no babies there. Mild worry started to creep into my head like a slow-spreading stain. Checked behind the garage where the flock can sometimes be seen digging up dried cakes of leaves for worms and lizards–no babies.

So I called them. And heard them! Little muffled grunts and clucks like I normally hear, but NOT coming from my yard. From behind the fence. They were OUT. Somehow they’d gotten into the neighbor’s yard behind mine. An unkempt rental with tarp-covered junk and standing water that was probably the main source of the neighborhood’s mosquito infestation. And the home of a very large dog. Who, thankfully, didn’t seem to be outside at the moment.

You know those moments when you have a close call in your car or you almost trip on a step but recover, when an electric shock jolts your body from the inside out and you get goosebumps on your arms and the hair stands up on your neck? Yup: that. 

I went to the only section of the fence that I knew to have a small chunk missing in the bottom–maybe they had crawled out through there? But no, the missing chunk was barely the size of a dollar bill. They couldn’t fit through there. Grabbed the ladder from the garage and peeked over the fence and there they were, having themselves a little backyard salad of the neighbor’s overgrown weeds. Would I leap over the fence to grab them up if the dog came outside? Risk a likely–and justified–dog attack to get those little black marauders out while putting my own safety in jeopardy? Those questions flew through my mind and I decided not to answer them, especially since said large dog was not an old friendly Golden Retriever-type who barked pleasantly through the fence on occasion while wagging his tail. Quite the opposite.

I ran along the fenceline with a panicked sort of elongated head-bobbing thing happening, peering through the fence cracks to see if I could see Gertie and Dot, all the while calling them and hearing them respond, like a twisted game of Marco-Polo. Looking for a bent fence post or tweaked fence panel that I could unbend or un-tweak to get them back in. But no obvious escape route presented itself. So I darted back into the garage to grab a bag of their food, knowing the crinkling bag sound would draw them like flies to me, ran back to the only damaged fence panel I knew of, and in a moment of Hulk-like strength, ripped the panel off the fence. The opening was only five inches wide, but who knows–maybe they would jump through. Nope. They ran over to the opening, snatched some food from my hand but refused to venture through to my side. I ran back into the garage and yanked a bag of stale popcorn out of the fridge (you learn to keep odd things around for chicken bribery), rushed back to the fence opening, shook the bag and dropped a few morsels on my side, and…nothing. No takers. Sheeeet. What would make them abandon all caution and fly through a fence crack? GRAPES. I run, arms flailing crazy-man style, to the house, taking out half the low-hanging spider webs from beneath my lemon tree on the way, and leap up the back stairs and into the kitchen. Grab the bag of grapes from the fridge and dash back outside, imagining the neighbor’s dog was outside by now having himself a fresh chicken shishkabob, Dottie-style. 
Pushed aside the big pool deck box that was partially obstructing my access to the fence opening (and which I later surmised could have very well been the platform from which they leapt over the fence and into their current situation), ripped off a second fence panel–this was no time to observe proper fence etiquette–shook the bag of grapes, and had them in my sights again. This time, Gert took the bait, jumping through the opening and back to safety. Score! And Dottie still won’t come. Runs around the neighbor’s yard instead, calling in her panicked little badly tuned clarinet-sounding honks. By now, the whole flock is freaking out on my side: Gertie because her other half is clearly in distress and she can’t see her, and the three adults because of Gert’s distress, all of whom are now running in circles around my yard calling out various chicken obscenities in my general direction, since I’m clearly the cause of all this ruckus. 

But then a quiet calm settles over me like a blanket. Wait a minute, I think, I have the bait I need for Dot right here: Gert! So I chase everyone into the run, grab up Gert, and walk over to the opening for her calls to draw in Dot.  Dot sails right through the opening. Drop Gert, slide a piece of plywood over the exposed fence hole, and lock everyone up in the run. By now, they’re all just ecstatic to be in there, protected from me and the chaos I’ve caused. And so I head into the house for a much-needed and well-deserved shower and nap. 

The whole flock has been in lockdown for 24 hours while I surveyed the property and determined there are no possible escape zones. The fence panels are now replaced, the pool deck box moved to another location, and the babies’ flight feathers clipped. All is well and good now at The City Hen. And I need a drink.

   
  

Every Day is New

Everyone is healthy, knock on wood, and my little flock has grown to five.  Goldie hasn’t laid an egg in two weeks–normal considering what she just recovered from–and I’m still having to toss Mabelene’s and Henrietta’s eggs since everyone was on antibiotics. (This is practically against my religion.) But only for four more days. . .

The little black ‘orps are joined at the hips–almost literally. Where one goes, the other follows, not even one step behind. What one says, the other echoes. When one is briefly out of sight of the other–and this only happens when evil Henrietta emerges like a black cloud in their sunshiney day, casting shadows of terror and blight in their world–the other chirps her panic until they are reunited and then they trot off, side by side, into their little rainbow pony world.

And even though their devotion to each other remains unchanged, their progress in the flock is changing almost daily. In a few short weeks, they have learned to go up into the coop at night on their own, they’ve discovered how freaking awesome watermelon and corn on the cob is, they’ve learned it is right to be terrified by anything flying overhead, they spend almost all day free-ranging with the big gals in the yard and in the cool dirt recesses of the crawl space beneath my kitchen, and most importantly, they’ve learned how to get out of Henrietta’s way. And so–deep, satisfying sigh–they can now be left with the big girls in the run when I take off to reclaim some semblance of a social life. 

Life at the City Hen is good, and I cherish these uneventful times. And ooh!–just wait until these babies start laying eggs this fall!

  Fluffy hens who love the fan. 

  

Sleepy Dottie.

   
Dot in a sea of Gert’s feathers.

  
Gertie’s large feet.

If You Don’t Have Your Health…

As many of you are devoted pet owners, you know how it feels when your pets are sick. Not good. Helpless. Worried. Distracted. With our dogs and cats, we take them to the vet. They hate it, they stress out a bit, but they’re used to human interaction and going places and coming home. Medicine, maybe a dreaded follow-up visit, and back home and well again. With chickens, it’s very different. This is when we wish the seasoned old traveling farm vet would trundle up our drive in his ratty but well-equipped truck and saunter bow-legged to our door, black bag of medicinal miracles in hand. 

But in this new age of backyard chicken-keeping, accessibility to expert vets is limited. Most small animal veterinarians don’t treat chickens, nor are they equipped to do so. My vet happens to be willing to try (as evidenced when Mabel and Marge were sick), but we all know how that turned out. In addition, the stress of bringing a chicken to the vet’s office, having her handled by multiple people, possibly jabbed with needles and force-fed remedies, blood draws–that all usually doesn’t bode well for an easily-stressed creature. As if treating them wasn’t hard enough, there’s this added caveat: when a chicken exhibits signs of illness, it is usually too late for treatment. As prey animals, they’ve learned to hide any signs of illness, since they’d be singled out by predators as an easy dinner. And so they hide it until they’re in a desperate state. And that’s when we see it. 

So when Goldie wobbled out of the run last Sunday morning in slow motion, tail dropped, stopping often to rest and close her eyes, I did what any worried pet owner would do: freaked out, texted everyone I knew for advice, then scoured the Internet for backyard chicken-healing remedies. Mid-morning, she laid a very unusually light-pinkish egg with a fairly soft shell, waddled out of the coop, and lay down in the shade. Shit on a brick: Goldie is sick.

Here’s another conundrum in the chicken-health world: there are NO recognized, authorized online experts for diagnosing and treating chicken ailments. There are one or two fairly well-informed chicken owners who preach “their” methods, but the rest of the chicken-healing web world is built on community forums filled with advice and recommendations–often varying greatly in content–that must be waded through and dissected carefully for what makes sense to you

In my experience with sick hens, I knew it wasn’t looking good, especially with Goldie’s age (five) working against her. So I gleaned what information I could, blended it with advice from a valued chicken-keeping friend, and searched my cabinets for Mabel’s antibiotics from two years ago. Found them! Expired by six months, but who gives a rat’s ass. We are in panic mode here. Pulverized half a pill, mixed it with water and yogurt, readied the syringe, and psyched myself up to get it in her gullet. Thankfully, she’s easy to catch and rather happy to sit on my lap for a conversation over coffee, so I had her set up in moments. Lightly tapped some of the meds on her beak, and she immediately drank it. (Chickens will eat almost anything you drip on their beak.) and so it went: a few drops of antibiotics followed by a B12-soaked series of chopped-up grapes, more antibiotics, another grape, and before long, all the meds were down the hatch. Off she waddled to sit in the shade with her gal pals. The rest of the day, I went outside every hour or so to give her more vitamin-soaked grapes and peas, a whole raw egg (the yolks are one of the highest concentrations of B12 you can get) which she enjoyed some of, an oatmeal mash infused with oregano (considered to be a natural antibiotic), and anything else I could think of to boost her immune system. Dripped a few drops of oregano oil in her water, added electrolytes, and watched and waited and hoped.

Later that evening, another dose. Next morning, PRAYED (and I don’t pray a lot) for her to come out of the coop, and when she did–albeit slowly–rejoiced to all that are holy. More research on the Internet, more B12, more treats, and off to the feed store I went in search of Tylan, an antibiotic known to have good success rates in chickens. It’s a powder you simply mix in their water. And it ain’t cheap. Let’s just say you could’ve replaced your entire flock tenfold with what this stuff costs. But Goldie is my matriarch, my ambassador for chickens, the mother figure who teaches all the babies what’s up with the chicken world and how to live in it. And I adore her. So the Tylan made its way into her little body via yogurt-cranberry juice-water-filled syringe, and she was again rewarded with green grapes after her dosing. Same routine as the day before: constant checking, more treats in an effort to keep her eating and hydrated, and more worried hours. She seemed to go through the motions of grazing with Henrietta and Mabelene every few hours, but would stop often and lay down, close her eyes, sleep in the most random places–mostly under the house where it is cool. The girls would just take their cues from her and stop and drop along with her, sleep when she did, and get up and graze when she felt like getting up.

By Tuesday, I noticed a slight improvement. A bit more pep in her step, less napping, more inclined to eat and drink on her own. Hallelujah! She was definitely feeling better. And so I kept up my regimen, and she continued to get better. By Wednesday, I stopped praying and started to make a list of what I owed God for this immense favor. 

Thursday morning saw me taking up my new morning habit of wide-eyed staring out the window, coffee cup in hand, waiting for the girls to descend the coop ramp and emerge into the run. “Thump!” The sound of someone jumping off the roost onto the coop floor. Henrietta emerged. Sixty seconds later, another thump and there was Goldie (whew, again I could breathe.) But oddly, no Mabelene. THIS was strange. Not only is she normally the first one out, she’s normally out before daylight. A minute later, here she comes down the ramp, eyes half-closed, taking careful slow-mo steps, tail drooping. She looked like the hunchback of Chicken Dame. Shit on another brick: Mabelene’s sick. Back to the meds, the B12, and another chat with God. 

By evening, after a tenuous session of syringe-feeding a chicken who is NEVER held (and who let me know in no uncertain terms that she did NOT want to make it a habit), she was sipping on a raw egg yolk and retired to bed before dark. Thus began my second vigil of the week, another round of cancelled appointments for the next day, and a sleepless night. Next morning, out waddled the crew. Except Mabelene. I knew she was dead. I started planning her funeral and choosing her music. I considered how it would be to open the coop and face her cold dead little feathered body on the roost, frozen in place like a perfect little sculpture. But wait–was that a thump? I saw a small cloud of pine shavings floof out of the coop entrance. Mabelene is alive! Still a bit off kilter, but with a gleam in her eye that had taken a 24-hour hiatus. After the air re-entered my lungs and my body unfroze, I flew outside to greet my flock. Whew.

And so Mabelene has bounced back along with Goldie. Henrietta seems to have been immune to whatever virus affected her sisters. I’m certain the virus–or whatever it was–came by way of the new babies from their farm. So everyone just wrapped up their 5- to 7-day round of antibiotics, just in case, and I am ecstatic to have seen my gals waddle out of the coop again each morning like it’s just another day in the life. 

Time to exhale, and to resume the daily business of integrating the flock… Stay tuned for a progress report in my next blog post.

  
Goldie and Mabelene–wonders of wonders.

Baby Steps

Babies are doing well! Eating like little feathered champs, learning that my hands are often the vessels for delicious treats, and adjusting to life near much larger hens–one of whom wouldn’t mind taking a bite out of them every chance she gets. I’m talking about Henrietta here.  She charges at them, corners them, pecks them, and basically terrorizes them. Perfectly normal behavior for a dominant hen. And since Henrietta is pretty much on the bottom of the pecking order with the other big gals, I suppose she’s due her turn. Thank God the babies know to get the hell out of her way. It took one major pecking session and the loss of two feathers. Ouch. So for now, they remain in the safety of their cage when the big gals are in their run, and then when the big gals are out free-ranging in the yard, the babies get to roam the big run. They leap, they jump, they mock-fight, they nap, they dig and scratch, and they eat everything they find. Happy hens.  

Mabelene is afraid of them and jumps about six feet every time they fluff their feathers, Goldie is indifferent to them, and Henrietta wants to take a bite out of them. All normal for this stage of the game.

Baby steps. 

  

Ever watchful of the evil Henrietta, Dot (left) and Gertie remain on alert, even behind the safety of the enclosure.

More Chickens!

Shameful, the length of time between my postings of late. If you’re not following The City Hen on Facebook, you may have missed a few things. Not your fault–I know Facebook is not a friend to all. But there are some amusing postings we at The City Hen make every now and then. 

But to our loyal WordPress subscribers, let me break the awesome news: there are two new additions to The City Hen flock! Fresh off the boat from a sad little farm in Pinellas Park (of which I would have exited with peeling tires, had my friend Megan not given me the gentle “We must save them” look), two 8-week-old Australorp hens have found their way home. 

For those of you not too familiar with chicken breeds, the Australorp is a beautiful, docile black-feathered hen of substantial size and prize-winning ebony feathers who typically tops the list in desired backyard chicken breeds. Knowing they had ANYTHING to do with my now 5-year-old Goldie’s Orpington lineage was enough for me. And who doesn’t want beautiful black hens on their back lawn? We are equal-opportunity, after all. (Was that wrong?)

And so, Dottie (named after my deceased Gram Dorothy) and Gert (a name I simply loved and then found out was my friend Rachel’s gram’s name–which totally sealed the deal) found their way home yesterday, enduring the exhausting and stressful life change as best as their little bodies would allow. (By the way, all hens should be named after grandmas, don’t you think?)

Thank God (and Dad) for my spacious new run! This new hen integration will be a thousand times easier than the last time! (Reference my agonizing 2013 blog posts.) The big ole dog crate generously donated by Emma & Skip–my much-missed friends from the barn–is a life-saver, allowing me to house Dot and Gert in the safety of their own run inside the big girls’ run. And after a day of anxious reception by the big girls to these new much-peeping interlopers, it actually seems like my new flock will actually be open to integration in several short weeks. 

Now that Gert and Dot have had their thorough DE dust baths and immune-boosting probiotics, they are ready to assimilate into the life of the much-loved backyard City Hen–aka, lottery winners. 

So expect some upcoming news and silly stories, and always the random observations we make about our feathered friends. The city hens never disappoint. 

   

Already roosting–and joined at the hip.

 

So sleepy after the challenging move. 

The New Digs

The three city hens on Mississippi Ave are back to share some stories after a much-too-long hiatus from the blog! We sometimes forget that our readers stay awake all hours, checking the blog in eager anticipation for any new news. (Riiiight….) But I really must apologize for my lack of writing!

Like I’ve said in previous posts, no news is usually good news. Goldie, Mabelene, and Henrietta are still strutting around the backyard, raising a beak-emitted ruckus when they don’t get turned out early enough in the morning (hello, Saturday attempt at sleeping in), and enlightening us humans with very their busy antics.

The Fall molt is winding down. All girls temporarily lost a good deal of their feathery fluffs starting in October, and have since rebounded with even more downy fluff-covered bodies than before. I was a tad worried about Goldie since molts are tough on hens’ health–and Goldie is no spring chicken (ha–had to say it) at five years old. I watched her like a mother hen (full of ’em this morning, aren’t I?) and incorporated extra protein and other nutrition-rich goodies into her diet. She made it through, and almost on the 3-month dot, laid her first egg last week.

Mabelene is the chicken wonder. As the smallest, thinnest, gangliest hen of the flock, I expected her molt to be nothing less than death-defying. And she surprised us all by continuing to lay beautiful green eggs throughout the entire molt! It’s been three months and she still hasn’t grown her neck feathers back fully yet. It is my lifelong goal to fatten this little hen up to ensure her long-term health.

Henrietta is the unobtrusive middle child. She molted fast and well, but the eggs still elude her. Come on, Henrietta. Start laying! Perhaps the peer pressure will get to her soon, with Goldie and Mabelene dropping one in the nesting box every other day.

The biggest news since my last blog post is in the girls’ living quarters. After much planning and angst about becoming one of those redneck building hoarders whose yard becomes overrun with outbuildings, I bit the bullet and convinced my dad to help build a bigger run on the other side of my garage. It accomplished three major goals: give the girls more space (to alleviate the guilt factor when I travel), get them out of the sun (the former location welcomed all of Florida’s delightful oven-baking afternoon sun eight months out of the year), and restrict the amount of steaming chicken bombs from the garage and patio (never fun to step in).

And after a long few weekends of digging the new foundation, moving walls and re-predator-proofing every inch of the mesh, and a four-person team to move the coop, the girls are now in their new home. And it is wonderful.

Now that we have more space, it begs the question: should we get a few more hens? 🙂

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I Need More Chickens

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…

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Mabelene reacts to the news.