Some men buy their wives flowers or jewelry or expensive handbags. I’m the first to admit that thoughtful gifts fill me with gratitude for the time and attention that went into selecting them. About three weeks ago, Music Man surprised me with an unplanned trip to our favorite store, so I could pick out his latest gift to me. The store wasn’t Tiffany’s. It wasn’t the boutique florist with the jaw-dropping arrangements. Nor was it Michael Kors.
Y’all, he took me to Rural King.
Have you BEEN to a Rural King? That place is a homesteader’s dream store! I walk in and my eyes go all buggy and my jaw goes all slack. The kids love the free popcorn and all the adorable baby animals in the back corner. My husband walks around dreaming up all the ways he could spend lottery winnings, mentally filling cart after cart with merchandise. I typically bounce between the baby animals and the clearance tables.
Well, on this particular trip, Dustin gave me the go-ahead to kick my chicken dream into gear. We picked out eighteen adorable balls of fluff from their large metal tubs. Each chick was hand chosen by one of us. We looked for lively, energetic biddies with healthy, clear eyes and strong legs. Just kidding. That would have been the logical way to go about it. Actually, it went more like this:
[We approach the Buff Orpingtons.]
Cora: Can I pick first?!
Rural King Employee: ONLY touch the one you’re going to take home!!!!
Cora: Okay, I want that REEEEAAAALLLLY cute one right there! [scoops up fluff-butt #1]
Lane: Okay, my turn? I want that BIG one. [scoops up fluff-butt #2]
Me: Everyone pick one more Buff, we need 6 total! This breed is known for being really gentle and great layers.
[Dad and Mom each get to pick a Buff; Dad cracking chicken nugget jokes the entire time.]
[We move over to the Rhode Island Reds.]
Me: Everyone gets to pick one! These are really good brown egg layers, and they’re dual-purpose, which means we can eat them when they stop laying.
Cora and Lane: [ensuing squeals and giggles as they try to catch the cutest chicks]
Dustin: [More carry-out chicken jokes]
Me: Babe, how many chickens are we getting?
Dustin: [starts calculating egg rates in his head, how many chicks we’re likely to lose before maturity, and how much this is all going to cost him.]
[On to the Americaunas!!!]
Me: Okay, we need four of these… they lay colored eggs, sometimes even blue or green!
Cora: [squealing] THEY’RE SO CUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTE!!!!!!!
Me: [Reluctantly turning to the Leghorns] Okay, we’ll get three of these. They don’t have a lot of character, but they’re pretty prolific egg layers.
Dustin: [Begins making fun of my chicken lingo]
[Cora spots the tub of Silver and Golden Wyandottes and starts asking for one.]
Cora: Please, Mommy??? They’re just so adorable!!
Me: Are these good layers? [to the employee] Okay, ONE Silver! Then we’ll be up to eighteen chicks! Grab some feeders, waterers, chick feed and a light, and let’s get these babies home.
Dustin: Wait… there are six chicks in each takeout box? You mean we got three Six Piece Nuggets to go????? [hysterical laughter from the children]
Obviously, this is the best way to pick out chickens for your starter flock.
Our new additions came home to a round metal tub all ready to be filled with pine shavings, chicks and their feed. As soon as I had unloaded them all into their new home though, I knew I had made a gross error in judging how much space they would need. Within an hour, one of the larger Buff Orpingtons (three of these chicks were a week old, while the rest were just a couple of days old) had already flown up to perch on the edge of the tub.
We reconfigured the laundry room to put up walls around the tub, but I was nervous about someone getting out in the night and dying from lack of heat or water. We started looking for a better option, and found a secondhand, pre-fabricated coop for sale on Facebook. It worked like a charm, as we could keep the top off to allow the heat lamp to hang down and to allow easy access to the chicks.
After a few weeks in the laundry room, it was becoming evident that the girls were needing more room than the coop could afford. We took them outside a couple times that week and let them wander around inside a dog fence we found at the back of our property. They loved being outdoors, and having more room. So last week, I converted a corner of our shed into a makeshift chicken pen. It’s simply a tarp on the ground with the dog fence set up on three sides and their chicken coop forming the fourth side. We began using straw for bedding rather than the pine chips, and it seems to be keeping the smell down much better. The girls are now only using the heat lamp at night, and they’ve begun emptying their feeder about once every 18-24 hours.
One of my favorite things about raising chicks has been learning their personalities. The Leghorns (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) and the Silver Wyandotte (Mrs. Beakley) are extremely shy and standoffish. Trying to catch them is a pain; the Leghorns squawk and flap like you’re trying to kill them and try to escape your hands as soon as possible. The Americaunas are also shy, but they’re easier to pick up; they also settle right down when you’re holding them. The Reds and the Buffs are the friendliest and most curious. Whenever we set anything down in their coop, or open the door to let them wander, it’s always Reds and Buffs that comes running to check it out first.
And of course, there’s one chick that stands out above the rest. Anytime she sees me, she comes a’running as fast as she can. She hops onto my hand, climbs up my arm to my shoulder, and perches under my hair. She’s always content to just rest in my arm, and she loves to peck at my rings. Meet Henny Penny, our sweetest Rhode Island Red.
If it weren’t for the poop everywhere, I’d keep Henny Penny in the house with us. She’s that fun and sweet. In my mind, there’s Henny Penny and the rest of the girls are her little chicken squad. If indeed, they are all girls. Rural King made it clear that there is a 10% chance the chicks were sexed wrong, and we could have a couple of roosters in our flock. I’m actually pretty sure that one of the Buff Orpingtons is a rooster. It’s the biggest one, it’s pretty aggressive if any of the girls are in its way or roosting higher than he is, and his comb has already turned bright red.
The outside Chicken Castle isn’t fully prepared yet; we are planning to use an existing run that adjoins our livestock pen to install a coop addition. The girls have spent some time out in the run on sunny days; it’s quite comical to watch them throwing dirt over themselves, wallowing around in their chosen patch of grass, and running pell-mell down the run toward the rest of the flock.
I never pegged myself as a “chicken lady”. Apparently I’m becoming one, though. It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of my day to go out to the shed, scoop up a couple of the girls and take them outside to scratch around the yard. Just don’t judge me too harshly if y’all see me at the Rural King with chicken feathers in my hair or poop on my shirt.