The Ladies

One day last July, we got to talking about chickens.  For the first time, we got into some pretty serious gardening and our fantasy discussions often led us to topics of self-sufficiency, living off the land, goats, sheep, livestock, etc.  Our  little backyard was not the place to start a farm, but in our minds we had it all planned out should one day we come into some land…we can all dream, right?  What we knew we could manage was a small flock of chickens, just enough to give us some eggs each week.  We know several families in the valley who have small children like ours and raise chickens in their backyards.  Seeing their children interact so closely and harmoniously with the hens was always so heartwarming to me and gave me that feeling of longing for a simpler time…you know, down on the farm.

While driving through downtown Napa, we passed the local feed store (Wilson’s Feed & Supply) and decided to just jump right in. We didn’t have a coop or really even know anything about raising chicks.  We just thought we’d figure all that out later.  A huge box of baby chicks was in the entryway and Levi was jumping up and down trying to look inside.  After cooing over the adorable little balls of fluff chirping their teeny little lungs out, we started to chat with the knowledgeable staff.  Seeing that we had children, we were advised to stay away from certain breeds and to consider other more, “child-friendly” chicks, like the “Buffs”…the what? We hadn’t yet read a book on chicken raising or breeds.  We were told that wasn’t important and to not get too caught up in all the books and internet sites about backyard chickens (have you seen how many there are?????) People have been raising laying hens for years, it was nothing new, now matter how trendy it’s become.  We left the feed store with an Ameraucana, for her blueish-green eggs, 3 Buff Orpingtons and a Rhode Island Red, who all lay brown eggs.  5 chicks!!!!!!!!

Ironically, the first thing I did was go online to the library and check out like 10 books on backyard chickens and Michael was already searching the internet for information…so much for heeding the feed store manager’s advice. We’re dorks, what can I say?

The chicks lived in a big box lined with wood shavings in my studio for the first several months. Their little chirps made such a sweet sound in the morning when we would go in to see them. Levi loved holding them and watching them jump around.  It was like having hamsters…only different. We knew that they would grow quickly and that they would soon need a coop.  Being the handy man that he is, Michael got to sourcing wood for the coop and we got lucky when friends told us they were taking down a bird aviary that was in their backyard. The screened-in panels made for perfect walls in the chicken run and the adjoining coop was made from recycled wood that we had from another project.

When the ladies (Blanche, Rose, Sophia, Magda and Red) were about 3 months old, we moved them out to their new palace.  We often let them out of their run to free-range in the yard…that also meant that Levi and Calvin would chase them, but they got used to it. They grew so fast and before we knew it, it was December. We started to think that we would never get eggs, but then lo and behold a week before Christmas we opened up the door to the coop and what did we find? An EGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A real egg, all brown and smooth and perfectly egg shaped. It was small, but it was a start!!! NOW we felt like real pioneers.  (Remember…we are city people from Chicago…growing our own food and gathering our own eggs made me feel like Laura Ingalls!)

Everyday thereafter we have gotten eggs. Some days it’s 3 eggs, some days it’s 5, but it never ceases to be a thrill when we open up the door and see those beautiful little gifts given to us from our hens.  We thank them daily for giving us these eggs and for being such good chickens. Levi loves to play with them in the garden, watching them bathe in the dirt, pecking at the ground for grubs and worms. And Calvin loves to sit in front of their run, playing with the hay, calling out “balk balk”.   They’ve become a wonderful addition to our family and man, those eggs are out of this world.  SO rich and delicious. We can’t eat enough of them.  And another benefit to keeping chickens is all the poop they make!! Seriously, it makes for a great compost addition to the garden. I love knowing that we feed them food from our garden, they give us eggs to eat and poop to compost with…it’s such a great cycle!!

So glad we jumped into the feed store last summer and came home with some chicks!

Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces
Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying

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  One thought on “The Ladies

  1. Jillian
    February 9, 2012 at 12:23 am

    My family has been thinking about chickens for a long time. You have inspired me, and you have inspired me to get chickens. We only have one question….what should come first, the chicks or the hen house?

    • darafelz
      February 9, 2012 at 3:26 am

      It’s so worthwhile!! If you have the space to keep the chicks indoors for a few months, while you build/buy a coop, then you’re good. They need warmth and shelter until their feathers come in, so they wouldn’t be ready to go into a coop right away at this time of year. This can buy you some time and planning for getting the coop set up…it also motivates you to do it, because they grow so fast! Best of luck!

  2. February 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    We bought about 18 meat chicks without having an extra coop for them. It’s good incentive to get building quick;) They grow fast!

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