A little context.  In the backyard of our new home sits a decrepit barn.  It’s maybe 40 feet long and 15 feet wide. The floor is dirt, riddled with holes created by a thriving rat colony, a colony for which I only recently discovered I was inadvertently providing a daily smorgasbord. The walls are corrugated tin; curled, rusting, and no longer reaching to the ground in most places. One end housed a chicken coop, again riddled with rat holes.  One side of the coop was open to the main body of the barn which provided a moderate wind break but little else in the way of protection from predators or the elements.  The walls to which the nesting boxes were loosely nailed provided a protected network of pathways for the rats to access the chicken’s food, water, and of course, freshly laid eggs.  Cardboard and torn plastic bags hung all over the inside of the coop, presumably in an effort to provide some kind of insulation, but if it was ever effective in any way, that time had long since passed.  Now the damp cardboard and shredded plastic just contributed to the decidedly derelict aesthetic. 

Access to the outdoor run was guarded by a metal door that had to be tied shut each evening using a strap, the other end of which was tied to a nail inside the doorway.  Rat poop was as plentiful as chicken poop which, if you are unfamiliar with chickens, is saying something.  

The coop housed thirteen scrappy looking hens who the previous owners swore were prolific layers, but who actually produced 2 or 3 eggs on a good day. Again, if you are unfamiliar with chickens, this is underachievement on an epic scale.  I was delighted to “inherit” them with the house, but soon found out the romantic notion of chicken ownership was something of a misunderstanding.  They ate massive amounts of food, (ok, they and the rats did, but it took me a few months to figure that out) pooped prolifically, and alternately entertained and worried me with their bizarre antics.  They were fascinating to watch, and I quickly became very fond of them.  The mom in me came out as they picked on one another.  Hen pecked is a thing! Hens really do peck each other – hard. I tried to explain to them that they should be kind to one another to no avail.  A pecking order?  That’s a thing too!  I gotta tell you that story sometime – that was wild.  I watched a new chicken get sorted into her spot in the space of half an hour. Chickens are actually amazing.  

So anyways, I’m getting fairly attached to these girls, and the days were starting to get shorter, and much colder.  I was beginning to seriously worry about how they were going to handle the winter.  I’m told they can handle even subzero temps as long as they have access to water, but at night they were snuggling four together in the little nesting boxes and I started to wake up to a skin of ice on the water dispenser.  I was beginning to realize that these chickens were not going to make it through an Ontario winter in this barn.  

Enter hubby.  This man, first of all, can build or fix anything.  He’s insanely smart.  I’m unapologetically jealous of the way his brain processes information.  He’s an actual genius.  He also ALWAYS “knows a guy”.  As an electrician with mad trouble shooting skills, his name gets passed around a lot and he knows people from every trade out there.  So naturally, when I expressed concern that my underachieving chickens were going to freeze to death, he had a plan.  Now, to be fair, his first plan was to stew them.  He was pretty unimpressed by their sad egg production and briefly tried to discuss the cost benefit analysis of continuing to feed these eggless mooches versus popping them in the freezer.  That plan, however, was quickly abandoned. His second was received with far greater enthusiasm.  

We would dig a foundation, lay six by sixes in a gravel and screening filled trench and fill the foundation with more gravel and screening.  On this base we would get secondhand freezer panels from one of the many guys he worked with. (Shout out to Carlo from FedTech who will never read this but to whom my chickens and I are eternally grateful).  And from these panels we would build heavily insulated walls and a roof.  Within a few weeks, a super cozy, protected-from-the-elements-predators-AND-rats-structure had emerged behind the rickety old barn.  The man door sealed and closed firmly and there was a little 12 inch by 8 inch chicken door that opened at sunrise and closed at sunset keeping the girls warm and safe all night long.  Hubby built nesting boxes to the exact dimensions of their previous coop so that they would feel comfortable and then added poles for them to roost on. He provided a strong anchor point for their food dish and stable base for a water dish that has absolutely no chance of ever freezing in their new home.  I’m telling you, this little coop is chicken heaven.  I filled the boxes with straw and scattered a cozy layer of wood shavings over the rubber floor.  There was nowhere for a rat to hide, as one unfortunate wanderer discovered.  It found its way in through the chicken door, but clearly the girls did not appreciate the visit. So, by the time I arrived, all I found was a tail that I initially mistook for a frayed piece of string.  Trust me when I say, you do not want to be outnumbered by angry chickens.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  As we were building this haven of warmth and ratlessness, hubby asked if I had a plan for relocating the chickens.  “No problem” I assured him.  “When I come out with my little scrap bucket, they come running.  I will be the pied piper of chickens! They will follow me happily in an appreciative row as I carry my scrap bucket from their existing coop to their new mansion.  That’ll be the easy part!”

Not so!

It took me fully 45 minutes to move those ridiculous, deluded, and shockingly agile, only moderately flightless birds.  Richard was on door duty.  In retrospect, I should have given him the role of videographer.  Never have I seen such a display of speed, maneuverability and cunning.  They would clump together and then scatter, flying right past my head, darting between my legs, literally running up the sides of walls to get around me.  Visualize one of the fight scenes in the Matrix, only not in slo-mo.  Those were some of the most exasperating minutes of my life.  These brainless, defenseless, soon to be frozen if they wouldn’t let me help them, feathered poop factories fought valiantly to escape being saved from a disgusting, falling-down barn full of rats, while all I wanted to do was take them to a warm, dry, safe home full of everything they needed.  

In the midst of the mele, I found myself wondering why after months of bringing them all kinds of yummy food every morning, filling their water bowl, cleaning their boxes, and closing up their barn to keep them safe every night, would they imagine I could mean them harm?  All I had ever done was take care of them and negotiate for their lives when they fell dramatically short of producing the eggs I was promised they would supply.   How stupid did they have to be?

And suddenly you see where this is going.  It was another one of those moments where I felt like God was chuckling over my shoulder.  “See? This is my entire life with humans.  All I want for you is to give you a beautiful, safe home full of everything you need and so much more.  But you run away from me, preferring your rat infested, drafty, dirty lives to the life I’m offering you.  When did I ever mistreat you?  Where would you ever get the idea that anything I have for you could be inferior to what you are living in now?  Why wouldn’t you trust that I have something great waiting for you, and just follow me?”

I dunno, maybe if the Bible were written in modern day North America, then instead of being the sheep of God’s pasture, we would be the chickens of his coop!

3 thoughts on “The Chickens of his coop

  1. I love to read about your antics and lessons learned!
    Can’t wait to see their new mansion.. I am litterally on the fence about chickens; I go back forth between “the romantic notions of chicken ownership” & all the advice I read about the hard truths of ownership and all that goes with it. Lol!!

    Thank you!

    • LOL! Don’t let me scare you off. I think in the grand balance chickens are worth the trouble. They are always good for a laugh at least! But be warned, they do require you to get out of bed at a reasonable hour EVERY SINGLE MORNING. As a decidedly non-morning person, that is easily my biggest beef with them 🙂

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