The Great Bird-napping of 2011

I had a little fun with this one….hope you enjoy:

It was a moonless night, and T and I couldn’t help but stop to crane our necks and marvel at the fact that we can clearly see the Milky Way from our front yard, despite being only 30 minutes (as the crow flies) from the lights of downtown Asheville.  Sometimes our night sky is so intensely beautiful I feel like it can’t be real, that it is actually a planetarium ceiling, an enhanced regional stargazing map, or a giant NASA photograph showing electromagnetic spectrums otherwise invisible to the human eye.  I swear sometimes that hazy smear of galaxy looks almost iridescent purple from here, like the northern lights or heat lightening.

But this night was also frigid, well after dark in late January in the mountains; so we didn’t linger long.  His creative energy always ready to burst forth in a squawk, T began singing a little tune as we crept across the road toward the little shed on our neighbor’s property.

“Shh!” I admonished in a whisper, “We don’t want them to know we are coming!”

“I feel like we are burglars, or assassins, sneaking over here to kidnap the chickens,” he quietly joked, humming a bit of the Bourne Identity theme.

An image of critters in bandit masks a la Fabulous Mister Fox suddenly came to mind, and I had to suppress a laugh as we approached the door.

Though we weren’t doing anything illicit, we were feeling wary about our task: to move a rooster and four chickens (already discombobulated from an earlier relocation) from a temporary kennel to our recently completed chicken coop.  Given our past experience with roosters (one which was ready to spar at the slightest provocation, and one who died suddenly and unexplainably), we weren’t sure what to expect, and were apprehensive about hurting the birds, or ourselves.  Though we’d had lots of experience taking care of chickens (thanks to H & M last summer, and watching a neighbor’s chickens, ducks and sheep over the holidays – which I failed to blog about) we never actually had to catch and hold any of them.  Hence the nocturnal visit, since chickens can’t see well in the dark and become very docile.

Midwinter may seem like a strange time to get chickens, and in fact we were leaning away from getting birds at all, for the time being, despite the nifty coop T labored over this fall.

We still aren’t sure how long we will be on this little rental property, and have no idea where we’ll land next and whether there will be a place for chickens. But once again, the universe answers: out of the blue we receive a call from a friend of a friend who had to move unexpectedly, and couldn’t take her chickens to her temporary new abode.  She needed someone to care for them for a few months until she and her kids get settled somewhere big enough to accommodate the birds too.  Needless to say, this worked out perfectly for us: we get the benefit of fresh eggs, manure for the compost (when we listed poop as a perk to my mom, she laughed and said “isn’t it funny how different our lives can be?”), and more experience caring for chickens – without the commitment.

The problem was, she needed a home for them pronto, and our coop still had no door and a leaky roof.  T had pieced the thing together gradually, mostly using excess lumber our neighbor has been slowly milling (from trees that were downed in the recent state road building project).  I think he did a beautiful job, especially considering he has no prior carpentry experience, made up the plans himself, and had to fit together mismatched scraps.  When we got the news that the birds were on their way, our neighbor graciously loaned us an empty shed/coop while we hastily banged together the missing pieces, including some roosts and an entry plank.  Then we waited until dark for the creep and snatch.

Roosts, feeders, and a fake egg

Ready for the girls (and fella)

Despite our “docile at night” theory, there were still a few mis-grabs (perhaps I’m being too delicate and timid, but I find it really difficult to position my hands just-so to restrain the wings), resulting in big flapping, alarmed croaks, and some feathers in the air.  But the transfer was mostly peaceful, and didn’t involve running circles around the pen trying to catch spooked or escaped chickens on the ground; an utterly ridiculous dance that I’ve since performed several times.

To our surprise, the hens recovered quickly from the upset, and are already laying a gorgeous rainbow assortment of eggs, including some with lovely pale green shells.  They didn’t understand at first that the outer boxes with handy flip-top lids were for laying, and made little nests on the floor of the coop instead.

The ladies reject our 'nesting' boxes at first.

I thought we’d need to get some fake eggs or golf balls in there to encourage them.  In fact I tried a roughly egg-shaped piece of white styrofoam that my mom carved out, but to my frustration (and theirs too, I suppose) they just kept kicking it out of the box, and I eventually removed it.  Then one morning they spontaneously started using the boxes – maybe because the main floor started getting pretty poopy pretty quick.


I'm always really excited to find a green egg.

Foster chickens: John-Henry, Clara, LulaBell, Little Bit and Gracious

I’m already totally in love with John-Henry, the rooster, who has the most elegant plumage I’ve ever seen.  He crows all day long, for no reason I can glean, and it makes me chuckle every time.  Here’s a little video for the “Old MacDonald”-singing-kid in you. Don’t you think he is just resplendent?

His feathers actually glisten in the sun, as if they have been waxed. I adore the long grey tailfeathers, which bob when he walks and flutter in the wind.


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5 Responses to The Great Bird-napping of 2011

  1. Diane says:

    I love this! — your story and the chickens, too. How in the world did you get that rooster to crow on cue? I’ve missed your writing; it’s good to have you back.

    • teeandzee says:

      When your rooster crows incessantly, your bound to be able to capture it eventually! Admittedly, though, I did have to discard several long takes where he just refused; that is, until I’d just pressed the button to stop recording, when he’d let loose with a loud crow!

      Thanks for your encouragement! I’m glad you enjoy reading along.

  2. katie says:

    brilliant! i was just wondering the other day how you two were faring out on the farmy. the birds are lovely, and i am sure the eggs are delicious!

  3. Sarah says:

    Love this – I think we might be long lost sisters! Last time I was visiting my mom on her farm I developed an obsession with chicken farming – I was even perusing a chicken coop catalog, I never knew there were so many varieties with different amenities! You should get a turkey. They are wildly entertaining.

    • teeandzee says:

      Oh yes, don’t get me started on the farm supply catalogs. Ever spend any time with a beekeeping catalog? Dangerous! That’s my next venture…I’m taking a class in the spring.

      Our neighbors S&S have turkeys, featured here:
      They are hilarious, but seem like a lot of trouble too. Our neighbor’s couldn’t really be contained. They’d jump fences and wander all over, falling prey to coyotes, wreaking havoc on our gardens and potted plants, and tormenting our dog. Tasty, though, or so I hear. 🙂

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