On March 31st 2023, following a long run on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, Apryle and I went to a small farm in Fall City, Washington and adopted six little chickens. The six downy feathered birds fit neatly in a shoebox and when we arrived home we transferred them to a guinea pig cage. We were sure to blanket the bottom of the cage with a soft substrate and keep a heat lamp on top of the cage in order to keep the vulnerable chickens warm. We added water and food and were sure to watch each bird drink and eat before we left them alone. Their little peeps echoed through the house and we could not help ourselves from snuggling the chicks.
We landed on six different breeds of chickens: Rhode Island Red (Maple), Speckled Sussex (Fern), Buff Orpington (Willow), Barred Plymouth Rock (Camellia), Araucana (Laurel), and a mixed breed Olive Egger (Olive). We assumed that we got six hens, but we later discovered that the Olive Egger was a rooster and we changed his name from Olive to Oliver.
The first couple of days we tried to leave them alone so that they could become accustomed to their new home. They mainly ate their pellets for the first week, but after a while we introduced chopped zucchini and peppers. They devoured their vegetables and it helped us create a strong bond with them. As the weeks went on, we let the chicks roam around a small room to get some exploration time. They enjoyed their walkabouts and they became quite adventurous, running and jumping on anything they could find. They came to associate Apryle and I with food, which meant they generally gravitated to us whenever we entered the room.
As the springtime temperatures increased, we decreased the lamp temperatures and even started to bring the growing chicks outside. The chicks first adventure outdoors was on April 25th, less than a month after we brought them home. We established a small holding pen and the chickens would hunt for insects and worms. Basically for the month of May, we would let the chickens roost inside in the mudroom and spend their days outside in their holding pen. We finished assembling their coop on May 10th and we let the little chickens explore it for the first time.
Disaster struck on May 26th when our Rhode Island Red, Maple, developed spastic torticollis or wry neck. We acted quickly and isolated her and began a regime of vitamins and hand feedings. After 8 days, she looked better and we started to reintroduce her to the flock. We continued to add vitamins to the chicken’s shared water for about another week. On June 1st, we let Maple rejoin the flock in a limited capacity. Fern, our Speckled Sussex took her under her wing and helped her to hunt for insects, but many of the other chickens picked on her. Then on June 3rd, we decided it was time to let the other chickens sleep outside in the coop. They all handled this quite well, but we continued to quarantine Maple until June 4th, we let her reintegrate with the flock. However, we still kept a close eye on her until it was obvious she was back up to full strength.
We were so happy that we had weathered such a difficult time with Maple and that she had made a full recovery. All of the chickens seemed healthy and happy, enjoying foraging in the yard and roosting in their spacious coop. Throughout this time the chickens were using a temporary holding pen that we attached to the coop so we began working on building the chicken run. This was an involved multistep process which strung out over several weeks. I started the project by digging a foundation and laying down cinderblock for the run footprint. Then we attached 2×6 boards to the cinderblocks using tapcons.
Following the completion of the foundation, we added 4×4 support beams that would support the rafters. After we had our chicken run frame, we laid out the roofing panels in order to keep the chickens dry in the rain. We then used 1/4 inch wire fence to create the walls of the run. This allowed maximal ventilation and lighting while limiting predators both big and small from infiltrating the run. We custom built a door to the run and then added a chicken exit in the coop with a guillotine door. Finally we added a rain gutter to keep the water from wearing away the foundation.
We moved fill dirt in order to bring the chicken coop up to grade and then added a fenced area to the north side of the run. This allowed for a little extra uncovered space for the chickens to roam if they are not free ranging in the yard. Finally we added another chicken door from the run to the pasture and then called it a successful project. I plan to continue to landscape the area around the chicken coop and bolster the fencing, but overall the chickens have an excellent place to live and forage.
While working on the chicken living quarters, there were many other incidents both positive and tragic that occurred throughout the summer. On July 24th, we awoke to find our rooster Oliver very sick with difficulty breathing and nasal discharge. We rushed him off to the veterinarian, but he tragically passed away during the examination. None of the other chickens displayed any symptoms and all appeared healthy, but it did not help to ease the pain of Olivers untimely passing. Unfortunately our flock was decreased from six to five and Olivers boisterous personality was greatly missed.
The surviving chickens continued to grow and develop their own personalities. Laurel, the Araucana is the smallest of the chickens, she most enjoys fruit and is the first to eat the kiwis that fall from our vine or dig into the apples that fall from the tree above their pasture. She is the most athletic and is known to make great leaps and quick sprints throughout the yard. She is also the most fearful and skeptical of humans and is often the most difficult to catch.
Fern, the Speckled Sussex, is the largest of the chickens and was first to lay an egg on August 20th (day 141). She enjoys scratching at the earth and digging for insects. She is one of the slowest of the chickens and quite easy to catch. She has a mostly sweet demeanor and is receptive to snuggles.
Maple, the Rhode Island Red, is medium in size, but lays the largest eggs. She has a very mild temperament and is very easy-going. She also enjoys scratching at the earth and hunting for insects. She appears to be the most independent, often roosting alone in the coop instead of snuggling with the flock. She also is not afraid to explore the yard alone, but often teams up with Fern when foraging. She is receptive to snuggles and is also the most interested in interacting with humans, perhaps because of her special attention when she had wry neck in her early weeks of life.
Willow, the Buff Orpington, is one of the largest chickens in the flock and has a beautiful yellow coloration. She is most obsessed with dust baths. She loves to dig a large hole and burry herself in it, kicking up dust and dirt all over her body. This behavior is so interesting to watch, and though the other chickens do this on occasion, none are as interested in dust bathing as Willow. She is also fairly receptive to snuggles with humans and is fairly easy to catch.
Camellia, the Barred Plymouth Rock, is perhaps the most beautiful of the chickens, with a very unique coloration. She is one of the largest chickens, but is a little more evasive and resistive to human snuggles. She also seems to be the most aggressive towards other animals that are not chickens. She will often chase away squirrels or Stella’s Jays that attempt to get too close to the flock or her territory.
Overall we are extremely happy with our decision to get chickens. They have been so much fun to watch grow and develop their own personalities. The coop and run building process challenged us and provided a unique summer project. After all of the time and monetary investment, the chickens also began providing us with eggs. Fern was the first to lay eggs followed closely by Maple, then Willow and Camellia. So far, Laurel has not laid an egg, but we are still getting 24 to 28 eggs a week. We look forward to watching our flock continue to evolve and perhaps even grow!
- March 31st: Chickens first day at Little Bird Landing (Day 1)
- April 25th: Chickens first day outside (Day 25)
- May 10th: Chickens first day exploring new coop (Day 40)
- May 26th: Maple develops spastic torticollis (Day 56)
- June 1st: Maple rejoins flock in limited capacity (Day 62)
- June 3rd: Chickens first day sleeping outside (Day 63)
- June 4th: Maple rejoins flock in full capacity (Day 64)
- July 24th: Oliver passes away (Day 114)
- August 20th: First Egg laid; Fern(Day 141)
- September 23rd: 4 out of 5 chickens are laying eggs (Day 175)