The last couple of weeks have been filled with ups and downs. We kept Eric home with us several days to help us finish the chicken coop, and then, finally, to go pick out some hens. We had gone with the intention of buying one or two hens that were going to serve as mothers for some fertilized eggs of a pretty breed being offered to us by a friend, but ended up being convinced to buy 4 hens and leave the trying to get baby chicks for later, when Eric is older and we have more experience.
Finishing up our pallet chicken coop
So, we went with the plan of just checking out what was available, but came home with 4 new laying hens, two black and two brown, a feeder water dispenser, a sack of hen feed and a sack of hay. We were told that we should leave the hens enclosed in their coop for a few days so that they would identify it as their new home, so we figured that that would give us time to prepare a safe area for the chickens to go outside meanwhile.
If you will recall, when Eric was still crawling around, we built a movable fence out of pallets to keep him in a smaller, safe areas outside. We decided to use that pallet "fence" around the chicken coop to keep the hens in an area away from the dogs. Sheena seemed to pay no attention to them, but active, crazy Kahlua seemed very interested in "playing" with the new members of our family.
To keep the hens from flying out of the area, we got a large piece of fishing net that had been thrown away in the port, and used that to cover our fenced in area. It all seemed to work quite well, and had the added benefit of being portable, meaning that the hens would be able to free-range, to a certain extent, over our entire property.
Adventuresome Maggie May was the first hen out of the coop
So, after they spent their first day and night in the coop, we excitedly opened the door, and eventually the most adventuresome hen, the darker brown one, was the first to head down the ramp and start pecking at the ground. Soon after, the other hens followed her lead.
I was excited to watch them explore the new area, and studied their differences in hopes of being able to distinguish them to name them. Distinguishing the brown hens was actually easy, and I noticed that the more friendly and adventuresome hen was a darker brown and had less white feathers than the other one. So, I decided that she was my favorite hen and that she would be named Maggie May because I decided that she looked like a Maggie.
Kahlua seemed to enjoy watching them a bit too much, too, but I assumed that that was normal, considering they were such a new addition to her territory. We figured that the hens were safe from the dogs as long as they were in their safe little run, so we weren't too worried about it. I noticed that Maggie was approaching the area underneath the chicken coop, but Mauri took a look from the other side and didn't think that they would be able get out there, but shoved a few pallet pieces into the spaces just in case.
Throughout the day we periodically checked on them. They seemed happy and would occasionally go out and explore and go back into their pallet chalet to rest. By nighttime, when it was time to figure out how to get them into their coop, they made it easy for us since they had already gone back in by themselves, and we closed up the coop for the night.
The next day Eric wanted to go see the "llines" (which comes from gallines- the Valencian word for hens). So we went out and opened the door, and the girls immediately came hopping out. We were happy that the girls seemed so well adjusted to their new habitat. Since the day before had gone so well, we had a false sense of security, and went out to breakfast without a second thought.
Mauri had to go work on the boat that morning, so I went to buy some new food for the girls on the way home, after having noticed that their chicken feed was almost completely comprised on genetically modified corn and soy and their derivatives!! One of the main reasons that we wanted to have hens in the first place was to have access to healthier eggs!!
Unfortunately the place we bought the hens from did not have any "ecologic" (aka. organic) chicken feed available. In their store, though, they did have some grain mixes for birds that included an unknown mix of grains and seeds (wheat, barley, sorghum, sunflower seeds) and lentils, etc. It did have some corn (likely also genetically modified, but, of course, unmarked) and what looked like soybeans, but both were in a much lesser quantity as compared to the chicken feed. So, I bought them some, along with some extra black sunflower seeds, and decided I would do some more research online as to what I was going to feed them. The girl at the store told me that they were looking to get some ecologic chicken feed soon, so she took down my phone number to call me when it was available.
I got home, excited to give the girls their new, healthier food. To my horror, though, as I drove into our driveway, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, poor little Maggie May lying dead on the ground. My heart started to pound rapidly, and I started to shake. What if the dogs had managed to push over the fence and had killed all of the hens!?!?
I screamed at the dogs and quickly opened the door and locked them inside the house, just in case, and immediately went running down to see what had happened. The whole setup seemed to be in place, and I didn't see anything else unusual around, except for our neighbor sitting on the wall between our houses. He only speaks German, and I was still completely flustered and I somehow managed to ask him what was going on. As I was trying to figure it out, I opened up the doors of the coop and was relieved to see the other 3 hens inside and OK.
My neighbor tried to explain to me that there was a problem with our wall, but I was too preoccupied to really care about trying to figure out what he was saying. He left, and I went inside to call Mauri, but immediately got a ring at the doorbell. Of course, it was the neighbor again, who wanted to come in and look at the wall from our side. I let him in and we had to walk right past poor little Maggie on the ground. The neighbor mumbled something about dogs and chickens, and headed to the wall. He soon came back with a piece of broken tile that was meant to keep the rain from falling between our wall and his outdoor porch, and mumbled something else about "Spanish construction."
Where we got the fishing net
I told him we would fix it, so he left, and I was finally alone to try to deal with my situation. I collected Maggie in a plastic bag, and put her in the fridge because I didn't know what else to do. On the way, though, I couldn't help but show the dogs and yell at them again. The poor girls, though, probably had no idea what I was so upset about.
I decided to try to go fix the chicken run so that the girls could go out and safely pasture again. I cut part of the fishing net and shoved it into the open area underneath the coop so that the girls wouldn't be able to escape again. I also paid attention to where the pallets made contact with the chicken coop so that there were no small areas uncovered with the net from which the hens could escape.
My main concern was the chickens not escaping, but I hadn't counted on Kahlua's new obsession with the hens after having hunted one down. We weren't completely convinced by our setup anymore, but I figured it was more secure now. So, I let the dogs back out while I got ready to go out to lunch with Mauri. My plan was to get the chickens closed up in the coop before leaving so as not to leave them out with the dogs unattended. Before being able to even get dressed, though, I saw through the window that Kahlua had pried one of the gates opened and was inside our chicken run!!!
My heart started beating again, and, half-dressed and barefoot, I went running to try to save the remaining three hens. By that point, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know exactly how long she had been there nor did I know if the hens were all out or not.
I screamed at Kahlua to get out!! She was stuck, though. So, I tried to call her to the gate, which I opened. She, though, was afraid by my extreme reaction to her being in the chicken coop, so she refused to come. I finally had to pull her out from between the pallets and the coop after ripping off the net in that area. That's when I noticed the three hens, motionless, lying below the ramp to the entrance of the coop.
By that point I thought that she had finished off the rest of our hens. I saw lots of feathers on the ground, and the hens refused to move. I heard one starting to make noises, though, and thought, well, at least one had survived. I hoped that she wasn't too badly hurt!!! She got up on her own and jumped up into the chicken coop!!
I then removed the ramp to get a look at the other two hens. That caused another hen to get up and jump into the coop. I was relieved to see that two of the hens seemed to have escaped unhurt.
I reached for the third hen, who moved in my hands, and rested her on the entrance to the coop, and she went in on her own.
I couldn't check how badly, if at all, any of them were hurt, but didn't want to scare them any more than they already were. So, I decided to shut the door and leave them to rest while I went out to eat. I was relieved that they had all survived the ordeal, but was worried about all of the feathers that I had seen on the ground.
In the end, all of the hens seemed to have survived unhurt. They must have shed the feathers in the stress of the situation. I wasn't ready to take any more chances, though, and the hens stayed inside for the next couple of days while we decided on what to do to give them a safe place to roam outside.
Mauri began to build them a new, taller fence out of pallets, but I wasn't at all convinced by the new plan. I also wanted to have an enclosure that we could easily enter to be able to interact with the hens, and get to their coop to clean it well.
We decided to put up a 2 meter tall chain link fence which would completely surround the chicken coop, giving the hens an 8.3m by 4.5m enclosure. We decided to leave the litchee tree in their new chicken run. So, the next few days were dedicated to getting the fence up so that we could finally let the poor girls out.
We only had time to get up two of the sides of the fence up before Mauri had to go back to work this past Monday. Luckily, that was enough to finally be able to let the girls out again. We let them out for a little while that night, and were afraid that we had almost lost one of the hens! One of the black hens had jumped up on the compost bin made out of pallets, and from there was looking over the fence. We were afraid she was going to fly away.
By night time, I had gone inside with Eric, and Mauri went out to close the chicken coop, but realized that one of the black hens wasn't inside. Of course, with her being black, she's harder to see at night, and since it had been a black hen that looked like she was going to escape...
Luckily, he found her hidden under the coop, so he asked me to go outside and help him nudge her back inside.
Over the next few days, the girls have become adjusted to their new habitat. They go inside by themselves at night, and no longer run away when they see me. If anything, they usually come running towards me because I give them a plate full of seeds. That makes it harder for me to go inside their area. Not only do I have to look on my side to make sure that Kahlua doesn't get in, but I also have to make sure that they don't run out trying to get to me.
As for Eric, on Monday, they called me from school to say that he had a bit of a fever. So, on Monday morning, I only had time to move the compost bin out of the chicken run and to clean the coop a little bit, changing the food and water. I removed what was left of the genetically modified chicken feed, and put in my mix of seeds, grains and legumes.
Eric seemed to be fine by the time I picked him up. I made him something to eat because he hadn't wanted to eat at school and seemed hungry. After eating, he took a nap, and later woke up and wanted to go out to feed the hens. He played around and seemed fine, but at nighttime his temperature was exactly at 37ºC, probably because of his cold.
The next day, I planned to take him to school again, but changed my mind when he went out to feed the hens, and was bit whinier and clingier than usual. I decided to keep him home, just in case. He didn't have a fever, though, and ended up being fine all day. Unfortunately, our recent summer-like weather decided to take the day off. It became windy and rained a little, so there wasn't much that I could do with Eric at home. We ended up watching the two Cars movies several times while playing with cars and legos. I even got him to help me to start working on his falla ninot for the school falla which I plan to later use for a pull-string piñata for his Cars-themed birthday party. That is, of course, if he is still in love with Cars by then.
The infrastructure of our falla ninot: Lightning McQueen, of course
It ended up being a long day with Eric inside, and I was ready to get him back to school the next day. That night, though, Eric's always sensitive skin showed bumps that, once again, looked like they could possibly be chocken pox. It was dark, so I couldn't see them very well. So, I decided to ask Maite if the chicken pox were going around the school. They weren't. We decided that if they were indeed the chicken pox, that he would have more the next day...
He didn't. So, the next morning I was pretty sure that they weren't chicken pox. Plus, I remembered the last time I had taken Eric to the doctor for red raised bumps and they had been diagnosed as mosquito bites. They, like these, had a small white-head like bump on the top which is why I didn't think they would be mosquito bites.
I got Eric dressed and we went down to let the hens out and feed them. Eric loves feeding them!! That's when I heard, though, that the word had gotten to the school that I was going to take him in to have them take a look at the new bumps, and that I was being questioned for not taking him to the emergency room immediately if I thought that there was a possibility that they might be chicken pox.
Of course, I have already made the mistake of bringing Eric to the ER twice for possible chicken pox. Since they do not do testing for them, they diagnose them based on seeing the pox in several stages (spots to bumps to blisters to crusts). So, the only way they would be able to diagnose them or rule them out would be to wait to see if any more came.
I was pretty sure that he didn't have the chicken pox, but decided I wasn't going to waste my morning at the med center to have someone else tell me the same thing. Eric was fine, but I also decided that I would avoid any possible problems at school by not bringing him there.
So, Eric and I planned a small field trip. We decided to go get a "replacement" hen to bring our happy group back to 2 red and 2 black hens. When we arrived at the place that we bought them from, the guy we had talked to last time was unloading a truck full of hay. He was surprised to see me back so soon, and asked why we wanted another hen. I was a bit embarrassed, but explained what had happened. He was too busy to get me a new hen, so he told me to look for his uncle.
I found his uncle, who brought me to the place where they keep the laying hens. There were quite a few more red hens than last time, but there weren't very many black hens left. He caught me a red hen, and I noticed that she was darker than the one we had at home. She also had more of a crest and waddle, so maybe she will be the closest to being ready to lay eggs.
When he brought the hen to my car for me, I told him that I had a gift for him. I was bringing him back my sack of chicken feed because I didn't want to give my hens genetically modified food. He brought it to his nephew to see what his nephew had to say about it. They both seemed very surprised.
I tried to tell him that one of the biggest reasons that we decided to get hens in the first place was because we wanted to have control over what they ate so that, in turn, we had more control over the eggs we ate.
In the end, they exchanged the bag of feed for the hen, and didn't charge me anything. I felt a bit bad about that, but, on the other hand, was happy that, in a way, my money hadn't gone towards genetically modified food.
He told me that they were waiting for some ecologic feed to come in, and I told him that I had already left my name and phone number with the girl in their store. So, hopefully, that will be available soon. Meanwhile, the girls will be eating the mix of seeds and grains I bought for them, to which I added more lentils, some quinoa and some split peas for an added dose of protein to make up for the soy. So, along with the food scraps and insects that they get from the new compost bin I've started for them, they should have a pretty complete diet for now. I would like to add some sesame seeds for more calcium, and will buy an oyster shell-like supplement for them if I need it when they start to lay eggs.
Eric went back to school on Thursday, so, no, the chickens didn't give him chicken pox. I took advantage of the beautiful weather to try to finish cleaning up outside and to dog-proof the fence. (I have seen Kahlua sticking her nose under the fence and figured that is was only so long until Kahlua dug under the fence to get at the hens). Pictures of that will come next time...