How and why we started raising chickens

We have had chickens for several years now, with a few chickenless years in between. Even though we live in the metropolitan area of Orange County CA and do not have acres of pasture land or a barn. (That would be my sister in Oregon, oh wait, she just moved, still with a barn but in Washington state.)  Here is a bit of our chicken history.

First, Mr. Peabody, we have to get into the WABAC machine and go back some 30-odd years. I was living in the bay area and was taking a class, through the city, at the Integral Urban House on gardening and composting. The IUH was a suburban home, in the narrow Victorian style one sees frequently there owned by UC Berkeley. They were converting it to being as ‘off the grid’ as one could get for back then and right in the city. I remember it vividly. A composting toilet, a bee hive, a fish tank with a wind turned aerator. The front and back yards were built into raised beds and filled with strawberries and squash and lettuces and…you get the idea. No lawns. In the side yard they had cages of….

bunnies!

No chickens around. How could that be? For some reason they raised bunnies for meat and used the bunny pellets in the compost bins. Chickens seem so much more practical to me but they had not a one.

And yet, they had some books for sale and one was called “the Backyard Chickens” and was written by the people who lived across the street! Fancy that!

I put my meager monies together and purchased it. I still have it to this day. Raising chickens is what ‘little-house-on-the-prarie’ gurus do along with quilting, butter churning and watching the skies for locusts.

As a side note, there was another book I purchased during this time titled “the Encyclopedia of Country Living” by Carla Emery. She had married at 30, popped out 5 kids and lived at the crossroads of nowhere and boonies. She wrote about all the country living tips she had been learning and self published a book, she and her friends putting the pages together and self binding them. Then she sold them from the back of her truck at farmers markets and schools until it was picked up by some publishing house or other. From what I understand, its in its 40th printing and beyond now. But back than I got one if its first actually published copies. The paper is different colors, dry and feels recycled. It’s so old hubby mentioned getting rid of it the other day while he was cleaning out our library. If I had been a dog, you would have seen my hackles rise and the beginnings of a snarl while I insinuated myself between him and my precious old book.

But where was I?

Now fast forward many years later and I get a phone call. (I was married and living in OC now with 3 children.) It would seem a friend of a friend needed to move and get rid of a dozen chickens they were raising, could I help?

“Grab a jacket! Get in the car! Go-go-go” I yelled at the 2 kids at home. We arrived at this house, I think in Anaheim, maybe Garden Grove. She had a nice coop and a great tall fenced in run.(But was I paying attention to this?) They needed to show the house and were moving to the country. Would I like some chickens? We got to pick the 4 we liked the looks of best. She gave us a carrier to bring them home in. I think I even forgot to call hubby and let him know about them. Hmmm. But other that being very surprised, he was a good sport about it.

We carefully shooed them into our narrow side yard and put up a little 3′ fence to keep them in. Yeah, right. Ha! They were amused and jumped right over, exploring the yard. I was a little worried about Jack, our lab-shepherd mix dog who was probably about 2 years old at the time. But I needn’t have been. He just sniffed at them and watched them scratch around. (I do believe he is the most hen-pecked dog on the planet, sweet thing.)

All our pets get along together
All our pets get along together

So we enlisted help from our next door neighbor, who had  his own aviary in his back yard. He handed over various sheets of wire for us to use.

Then I turned to older son. Several years ago he had turned a huge wooden crate that we had gotten into a time machine. It looked very cool with bucket seats inside, I think a steering wheel and machine parts attached all over it. Whenever something around the house broke or he found a wire or something on the ground, he would attach parts of it to his time machine. But wouldn’t that box make a fine temporary coop?

So we dragged it over to the corner of the yard between two tall cypress trees and against the gate we didn’t use going to behind the garage. Those trees are gone now, but they provided shelter for the birds and we just put in a few extra poles to attach the wire to and made a half circle for them to live in, beginning and ending at the gate behind the trees. (I don’t think I have any pictures to share, since we weren’t digital yet at that point. But those details are not important).

For the next few years we kept them there. We put 2 wooden crates inside the time machine and a board going across for roosting and nesting. In the wet weather, although they were pretty protected by the trees, we would throw a heavy blanket or tarp over the open side of the box. They have us eggs, tipped their water bowl over at least 3 times a day, dug under and hopped over our pitiful fencing attempts. But it was worth it.We named them and older son discovered his love of birds.One of the hens got broody and we learned about raising chicks then. That was an adventure.

We were very lucky you know. We apparently had no predators in the area that were paying attention or our girls would have been goners. Any old animal, if it could have gotten by Jack, could have killed our girls. But we never had a problem.

After a few years though, I got tired of the flies and the shoddy look of the leaning fence. We would do fixes and patches, always trying to stay a step ahead of the hens. But we were always several paces behind.

We finally took the whole thing down and gave the girls away.

A few years after that though, I missed fresh eggs again. There is just no comparison with store-bought eggs. And if I recall correctly, Older son was in high school now and for biology, was experimenting with raising a baby chick. That got the ball rolling again.

The trees were gone, but we build a better run. Hubby took wood and chicken wire and build an 8′ long cage with wheels at one end so we could move it around. Bless his little heart! But with our little yard, where would it go? Still, he put a platform at one end and covered it with corrugated plexiglass so they had shelter from the rain. Then, the now older-older son built them a coop with a roof that lifted up, a floor you could pull up too, a side wall that swung out and a removable loft, complete with a snazzy ramp. We fenced it in with higher fencing and life was good. More or less.

Open house at the new coop condo! Come on girls, check it out. This could be yours with the right down payment.
Open house at the new coop condo! Come on girls, check it out. This could be yours with the right down payment.

Anyway, that’s how this chicken mania all began.

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