The sounds of distressed clucking and squawking began to drift into the living room sometime between 10 and 11 at night—long after the hours when the “bukbukbukbukbukbuuuuuuuuuuuk” from Frannie Sue’s tiny but powerful lungs is considered appropriate. The dogs lifted their heads, tilted their ears backward and let out a low, slow growl. I muted my episode of The West Wing and strained to listen in with them. Silence. Then, THUD. WHACK. SQUAAAAAKSQUAAACKBUUUUUUUUUK. CRASH.
“Moosh!” I bellowed toward the bedroom in Heath’s direction. “The chickens! Something’s happening to the chickens!”
Not bothering to put on shoes, I scurried out the side door and stepped awkwardly on the balls of my feet, over twigs and stepping-stones through the backyard to the chicken coop. I didn’t have my flashlight, but I didn’t need it. Even in the dark, I knew what I saw crawling eerily from the chicken coop door.
A few seconds later, also shoeless, Heath came stumbling out into the darkness with rake and flashlight in hand, ready for battle. Except for the shoe thing.
“What is it? Can you see?” Heath asked me, his voice relaying equal parts concern over the mysteries that lay hidden in the darkness and frustration for being pulled from his cozy slumber into the uncertain, barefoot night.
I pointed to the varmint that clung ferociously to the inside wire of the chicken coop, activating the same defense used by Sam Neil’s character in Jurasic Park. “He can’t see us if we don’t move.”
But we saw him, his naked tail, his glowing eyes, his face that would have been cute in a different context. There was a possum in our chicken coop.
We would have to rebuild.
Our coop had been through much iteration over the years. We built it at our old house, repurposing wood and other materials from the original coop to save costs. Then we hauled it across the highway to our new place before then making one, two, three more additions and modifications to the original plan. We added on a wing, converted it to a duplex and moved doors around from side to side without investing in new materials to get the constantly evolving coop up to snuff. And now we had egg snatching, chicken pestering possums to answer to.
Forgetting that, just weeks ago we were much more a threat to chickens than this 8-pound marsupial, we vowed to spend our weekend reinforcing the coop to make it into a chicken’s fortress. We would plan incessantly, measure meticulously and level ground furiously to create a coop we could be proud of.
Saturday morning, as usual, came earlier than expected. And despite a late night crawl down Rainey St. comprised of pickle-flavored shots, lewd gestures in photo booths and chicken-and-waffle food trailer eats, Heath and I managed to pull ourselves out of bed and into the backyard. Even the White Rabbit would have scoffed at our poor timing, which found us deconstructing the original coop under the incessant and unforgiving noon sun without even a hint of a shade to ease our discomfort. As we pulled and prodded and pried the coop apart, the backyard began to look more and more like a WWI battle field with dismantled structures, entangled metal wires and the sounds of hopeless humans moaning with pain.
Are the chickens even worth it? Maybe it would be cool to start raising possums instead. I could name them after Downtown Abbey characters. Cousin Matthew. Lady Sybil. That would be fun.
We endured repeated trips to Home Depot and lost battery life to our drill at least twice (perhaps a bigger momentum killer than my tooth-hurty joke). We put up and took down support beams at least a dozen times and suffered approximately 87 mosquito bites and 33 chicken wire lacerations to the gams. And we snipped at each other more than I’m proud to admit.
“I don’t work well in groups.”
“Well, I don’t understand why you don’t understand.”
The whole “during” phase of the coop construction was unceasingly frustrating. Less team building and more scream building. But when we stapled that last piece of chicken wire, laid down the hay, and stood back to marvel at the handsome hut, we felt pretty proud of each other for conquering the beast.
“Good job Moosh,” we both said, arms around the other’s sweaty, dirty, sun burned waists.
We stood in silence for a moment; relieved the endeavor was finished and grateful for the promise of sweet, sweet air conditioning in our very near future. Finally, coop complete, we retreated indoors and collapsed in a tizzy of laughter on the couch. The chickens on the other hand, never made a peep that night.
I think it’s safe to say my favorite thing about having a vegetable garden is eating the veggies. But I’m fairly certain my second favorite thing is observing how much it changes not only from season to season but also from week to week. It’s constantly evolving and Heath has become a champion at monitoring its progress, knowing what’s in season and being able to prep the soil for the future. We have not yet been through a complete year with our ever evolving garden, but when I look back at pictures of our veggie sprawl from the day it was born to now, I’m tickled by how much it has morphed.
Well, the chicks, or chippies as I have been calling them (think cheep + chickies), are officially out of the laundry room and enjoying life outside with Frannie Sue in the coop! It’s an exciting time to be a chick.
The chippies seem to enjoy their new abode and it has been super fun watching them explore the new digs. Their personalities are starting to shine a little more and we’re thrilled to just watch and get to know them.
We’ve not named them yet, as I have been satisfied just referring to them as “chippies” or “the black one” and “blondie” but I wouldn’t say it’s an indicator of indifference on our part. Do allow me to share with you some of the fun facts about our new(ish) little friends.
-Pecking order is a real thing. We got lucky when we introduced Frannie Sue and Marion to one other, as Francis was small and spunky and Marion was just happy to have a companion, but that was pretty much a fluke according to tales we’ve heard. Sometimes when you introduce new fowl to one another, things can get ugly with the more established chicks attacking the newcomers, often pecking them to death. Not exactly a “welcome to the neighborhood” situation. I’ve read tips by many chicken farmers that say you can prevent this by placing the new hens into the coop at night while the rest of the brood sleeps. The idea is the chickens will wake up and have a “the gang’s all here” mentality without really counting heads (chickens are cute but not the brightest). But with Frannie Sue being the only lady of the house, we knew this tactic wouldn’t work. Fortunately Handyman Heath rigged up a chicken coop floor plan that allows the birds to see one another and interact without having to actually share sleeping space. The idea is that overtime Frannie Sue will take it easy on the whole territorial thing and embrace the company of the chippies overtime. So far, so good.
-You can train a chick to not be “chicken.” What I mean is, if you make the chicks feel safe, they will take on loving, social personalities. If you threaten their lives and set them up for scary situations, they’re apt to be a bit more timid. We were bad about this with Frannie Sue. We might have prematurely let her out into the real world, which resulted in some dangerous situations when she was younger (Stella got a little too “friendly” a time or two) and she did witness the brutal murder of her bff, which doesn’t inspire much confidence in nature or humanity. But the little chicks have had it pretty good thus far. We made a point to talk to them every day while they lived in the laundry room, and we made sure to handle them semi-regularly so they could get accustomed to people. Now, whenever they see us approaching the coop, they run to the gate and “cheep cheep” at us. It’s ridiculously cute.
-Different chicks, different style. As I mentioned earlier, chickens have their own personalities, as well as looks. The barred rock hen is definitely the dominate one of the chick family, while blondie is by far the most curious. She’s always the first to greet us at the gate or pop her head out of the chicken house. The Ameraucana is timid and needs a little courting to come around. But frisky or fragile, they’re all a lot of fun.
Moving furniture is easy. Figuring out how to develop a new landscaping plan from scratch, not so much. Establishing a visually appealing space that can accommodate doodle romping, veggie growing and human entertaining is easier said than done (and it’s not even easily said). The yard has a long, long way to go, but some semblances of life and greenery are beginning to take form. Behold the early stages of the new back yard.
And because they’re so pretty, a few of the fleurs we have going on INSIDE the house.