Last week started with one very sick baby, and ended with the Great Chicken Round-Up ... chicken rodeo at its finest. Say what?
Well, late Saturday night last week, 1 yo G started running a high fever. That continued through Monday -- we called the Dr. and all agreed it was probably the flu since he also had a stuffed up nose. I held him most of Sunday and Monday while he slept the days away.
Tuesday his fever was lower, but he was super cranky. Wednesday he was fever free, but had a rash. (Sounds like roseola, right? Except his rash was driving him crazy with itching ... and roseola isn't supposed to itch.) Thursday he woke up with crusty eyes, an even worse rash, and a snotty nose. Friday the rash began to fade away and Saturday it was gone. He still has a cough and stuff nose, though, so I'm home from church with him today.
To make the week even more fun, 1 yo G was cutting molars through all of that. My kids like to cut teeth in the middle of some terrible virus. 5 yo M cut his first teeth while dealing with the Hand Foot & Mouth virus. That was a terrible week, too.
Now, we've got a few kids with minor cold symptoms, but no signs of fever or flu. Which is good ... because we needed everyone's help yesterday. I spent the morning outside helping Steve and 8 yo J ready the old milk barn for our chickens. Up until now, our chickens have been living in an outdoor chicken yard with no shelter other than a doghouse that they were using for nesting. At night they roosted huddled on a wood pile. We have been vacillating on where to move them for months now.
Should we build a new coop right near their current yard? Should we build a new yard around the old kennel and create a chicken coop in one end of the kennel? Should we create a hoop house chicken tractor for them? Would that old wooden building in the trees work for a coop? We knew that anywhere we moved them would need a new fence.
Finally, as cool weather came on faster than we had thought it would, we realized we were running out of time. A week of nights in the 40s meant we had to do something fast. Last weekend we decided that we'd prepare the barn and move them this weekend. So 8 yo J helped Steve by spreading straw around in the milk barn and fetching things for him. Steve and I set up a metal gate thing that was lying around at an angle as one roost. Then we laid an old wooden ladder across two old saw horses for another roost. There were several old tires that we laid down and filled with straw to be nesting boxes. (One benefit of buying family property is the stuff left behind that you can recycle.) Steve also oiled the door so it would slide open easily -- all of that was the easy part.
The harder part of preparing the barn was fixing the lone window in the barn. It was boarded up and glassless. We removed the wood, used "crack fill" to replace some missing mortar, caulked all around the wooden window frame, and then cut a piece of plexi-glass to fit the window. We pre-drilled the holes and then screwed that onto the wooden window frame. It's not the best, and we had a few cracks start in the plexi-glass but it lets in light and blocks most of the wind. Just covering that window warmed up the barn considerably.
And then the fun began.
After we ate a late lunch, we headed out to the chicken yard. It was cold, in the 30s, with tiny snowflakes fluttering down occasionally. We knew the chickens had to be moved THAT day because Saturday night was forecast to be 27*. Our plan was to catch each chicken, clip one wing, and then let them out of the coop. Their clipped wing was their ticket into the yard. Once they were all out, we thought we'd spread out in a U shape and herd them to the barn.
We kenneled our dog (because she thinks chickens are fun play-things) and the neighbor's dog, as well. The poor things thought they were going to die as they watched all the fun -- they really wanted to chase chickens with us.
Our chicken yard is about 4 feet high, with a chicken wire roof. So anything you do inside the fence is done bent over and crouching. We had 24 birds in there: 22 chicken hens, one rooster, and 1 guinea hen.
I tried catching the chickens, but I wasn't succeeding. So Steve and 8 yo J took over. They got in a groove and started catching them. 3 yo L and 5 yo M thought they were helping, but not really. I clipped the wings of each one and then released it outside the fence. After they caught 8, I traded places with Steve. It was my turn to catch them. J and I soon had our own rhythm flowing and it went fairly fast ... I guess. I told Steve that I could feel "the burn" in my thighs, and we might have discovered a new workout method to market.
Then we were down to the last 5 birds, which included the rooster and the guinea hen. It took more time and effort to catch them, and we were laughing over all the lunges and missed catches. We finally had them all outside the fence. We took a little break to watch them, and move their waterers and feeder up to the barn. They were delighted to be out in the GRASS free-ranging. They destroyed their own grass ages ago.
And then the REAL FUN began.
We tried to form a U and shoo them toward the barn, with 5 kids, Steve and myself. (14 yo A was in the house watching 1 yo G through all of this.) We tried again and again to herd the chicken to the barn. We finally decided that we'd ignore the stragglers and come back for them. But then our main group repeatedly splintered. It was soon apparent that they would not shoo toward the barn. They kept looping back to the grass beside their old chicken yard. They also wouldn't stay in one group like the guineas we had last Spring would do.
So we brought a rabbit cage up from the barn and set out to catch them ... again. We caught the first 6 fairly easily, and then we headed to the barn with the cage to set them loose. J followed behind carrying a 7th one shortly after that. We headed back for the second batch of them, and soon discovered that the fence was a great wall to try to pin them against. Two or three people working together to corner a batch of chickens in one area against the fence could often lead to one of the 4 chickens being caught.
But it wasn't easy, and there were way more misses than catches. The more chickens that were caught, the harder it became to catch the rest. Again, the final 5 birds were the hardest to catch. The rooster and the guinea hen were the very last ones caught, after running around the house several times and all the way out near the wheat field, too.
It took four hours to catch them all once, clip their wings, catch them all a second time, and move them to the barn. Four hours of running, squatting, lunging ... and laughing. I was limping yesterday evening, but am feeling much better today. The children were afraid of the rooster before yesterday, but they're less afraid now. 8 yo J was determined that HE would be the one to catch the rooster ... and he did, with Steve's help.
We still plan to use that chicken yard next spring and summer for our next batch of chicks. But next year, we'll catch them, clip their wing, and move them directly into the cages. We know better than to think we can herd them to the barn ... now.
Unfortunately, we discovered that even with their wings clipped, the chickens can still fly about 4 feet high!! Some of them flew up to roost in the barn window last night. So our fence around the barn (which isn't yet complete) will have to be higher than we thought, or we'll have to build a chicken-wire roof on it, as well. Until the fence is complete, the poor things are stuck in the barn.
If we didn't have Molly the Chicken Hunter for a dog, we wouldn't worry about it so much. But, we have Molly. It's tempting at times to get rid of her so our chickens can free-range, but that doesn't seem fair to her.
People often tell us we sure keep busy with the kids, homeschooling, and living in the country. I usually reply we certainly aren't bored. Thankfully, most of our weeks do NOT look like this past week. This week was a little too crazy -- even for my tastes.
Trusting In Jesus,