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This morning brought both welcome and unwelcome surprises. The welcome surprise were the first of our eggs, of which there were two. The unwelcome surprise was that the chickens did not lay them in the lovingly crafted* nest boxes that my amazing co-pilot installed this past weekend.

No, my darling girls apparently chose to lay their very first eggs on the trapdoor that leads out of the coop, which meant that when I opened it, the eggs fell down into the run. The two-foot-high run. The two-foot-high run that I was not going to crawl into after the egg that rolled almost all the way down to the other end. (I ended up easing it onto the blade of a shovel and dragging it gently out of the run. It still ended up with a cracked shell. I don’t know if it happened due to the shovel or if it happened when it fell into the run.)

So now I’m about to start studying up on ways to get chickens to lay eggs in nest boxes. I knew there would be a learning curve with all of this. I just never thought the chickens would be on that curve with me.

*translation: slapped together out of scrap wood and adding that final and oh-so special touch of scavenger chic to my post-apocalyptic looking chicken coop.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that my chickens are the most contrary chickens on Earth.   After weeks of trying to coax them out of their coop and into their run, they’ve gotten into the habit of going in, coming out, going in, etc, thus demonstrating the old cliche about chickens coming home to roost in a literal sense.   All was well in my little corner of the world, until there came a fine evening at the end of a fine day, and the weather being so very fine that the chickens absolutely refused to go home to roost.  Or they decided that since their run was officially part of their home, they were home to roost already.

Anyway.  They refused to go upstairs to bed, instead choosing to mob up in the corner of the run, fluff their feathers, and try to get some sleep.   And sleep they would, except for that crazy lady who:  banged on the side of the run with a broomstick, let the dogs out to bark at them (and then hastily dragged the dogs back into the house so they wouldn’t wake up the kids), and finally grabbed a spray bottle and let ‘er rip with it, until the chickens went up their ramp.

You’d think, however, that after just a couple squirts, a chicken would give it up and head inside.  Not my the Wyandottes, though.  They ran back and forth in front of the ramp for almost an entire bottle’s worth of squirts before getting a clue and heading upstairs.  It reminded me of that carnival game where you had to shoot a picture of a duck with a water gun as it moved back and forth, except the only prize was being able to sleep that night without having to worry about the chickens.  Just as well, since with three kids, we already have enough stuffed animals.

And now, the dogs actually get to show their usefulness.  I let them out earlier, they scare the chickens back into their coop, and everyone is happy.  (Except maybe for the chickens.  But there’s no pleasing them, anyway, contrarians that they are.)

So today’s lesson is that just when you think things will never go 100% your way, you’re probably right.  After a fairly craptastic day yesterday (which doesn’t even bear talking about.   I mean, there are people in the world who would love to have the problems I had yesterday because theirs are so much worse — but still.  Yesterday was annoying.) I was getting ready to throw my hands up and give in.

But today, things were looking up.  Five of the six hens actually deigned to come out of their coop and were looking pretty happy.   All in all, a good thing.  Until you ask what about the sixth hen?  Well, she seems to be injured.  We’re not totally sure what all is wrong, or how it happened.  But injured she is, and I don’t know what to do.   The upside, however, is that the husband actually got today off (I was braced for him working 14 hour days every day until he leaves for another month) and is doing his best to make the injured chicken comfortable.  I hope she’ll be okay.

So hopefully tomorrow, the chickens will come back down…all six of them.

Why does so much of my life involve wheedling?  “Please eat your dinner, girls” and “Please come out of your coop, girls” are things I say repeatedly day after day after day after day, albeit to two different groups of girls.   What’s funny is the first group, the young humans, absolutely jump at any chance to get out of their “coop” (this winter, since we actually had one, has all of us with a massive case of cabin fever) but refuse to eat.  The second group, the young hens, on the other hand, eat all before them, but won’t set a foot outside their coop.   (Except for yesterday, when one of the Golden Laced Wyandottes actually flew out the upper door of the coop and into the yard.   Good thing the husband was home to help with the capture, and the dogs were in the house.)

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could split the difference?

Since I can’t, today I tried setting a sliced apple on the trap door to the run.  The plan was that they would peck at the apple (a favorite of both groups of girls), and when it fell down, the chickens would go after them, and discover what a lovely run they had.  At first, the Newton maneuver seemed to be working.  The Delawares (the boldest of the lot) came down, and started on the apples.  After they fell, however, they simply went back up into their coop.

What’s a girl got to do to get chickens to eat some bugs?

So after all the complaining (from the chicks, that is) about their close quarters, you’d think they would’ve been chomping at the bit to get out and into their plush new digs. That’s what I thought, at least. The reality, however, is that when their “brooder” was put into the living area of the chicken tractor, its door left open, five of the chicks cowered at the back, refusing to come out.

The sixth, one of my door chargers, proceeded to get stuck halfway down the ramp into the tractor portion, cheeping pathetically until I got her back into the living area. (I guess I have the treads too far apart for their comfort.  Which begs the question:  will this coop ever be done?) So with Door Charger 1 reinstalled in the coop, I closed the trap door for the time being (as in, until I can figure out how to add more treads without actually having access to the door because the chicks are in there and if I open up the roof while they’re in there they might fly out and then a dog could get them and aaaaggghh.   No, the coop will never be done.)

What happened to the other three door chargers, though?   I mean, I understand there’s a reason that “chicken” is synonymous with “fearful”, but c’mon already!  Don’t they realize their great great great etc grandmother was a dinosaur?   Gotta love my agoraphobic rex chickens.

Well, the coop is done. Or mostly, at least. There are a few small details: a hasp and a handle to be attached, a coat of paint to be slapped on. It’s done enough, however, to be moved off the front porch, across the front yard*, around the side of the house, and into the backyard. Easy peasy? Right? Yeah, right.

But wait! Did you say the coop is on the front porch? Yes, I said that. We don’t have a garage, and the weekend that the great coop project began, it was raining.  So our covered front porch was the logical choice of building location.  And had the coop been finished before the husband left, all would’ve been well.   Or would it have been?

It would have, until the husband tried to wheel the chicken coop (actually a chicken tractor, since it’s on wheels and designed to be moved) through the gate into the side yard.  It wouldn’t have fit.  How do I know this?

Because yesterday, a friend of mine came over and watched my rugrats while I enclosed the run (which really should’ve been done before the coop portion was built atop it) and then between the two of us, we managed to get the fifty gazillion pound coop/tractor down the three stairs and onto the walkway.  She went back into the kids, and I spent a few minutes trying (and slowly succeeding) at moving the coop through the overgrown grass, which is so overgrown that it transformed my moveable coop into a non-movable coop.   Not exactly a walk in the park, unless you consider body checking a chicken coop through grass a walk in the park.

The kids calmed down, my lovely friend helped me get the coop through the grass and around to the gate…where we discovered the awful truth:  the coop is several inches wider than the gate.  Even taking the gate off its hinges would’ve left us a couple inches too short on clearance.  Discouraged, sore, and above all, tired, we left the coop in the sideyard for the night.  She gathered up her kids and went home, and we went about the business of finishing the day.

I got my kids fed, washed, and ready for bed, all the while with the phrase “I’m going to have to push it down the street, around the corner, into the alley, and into the back gate” beating it’s awful rhythm into my head. . . go ahead and laugh.  It’s a pretty funny picture, I admit.  Just wasn’t looking forward to that.

The next morning, though, inspiration struck!  And now the coop is in the backyard, waiting for its chickens.  How did I do that?

No scene ala The Monkeys, no chicken coops taking to the roads.  I ripped the roof off of it, turned the bottom sideways, and dragged it through the gate.  I had to do some more work on it, (ie, I pretty much had to rebuild the roof) but over the course of building this benighted coop, I’ve gotten really good at ripping things apart and putting them back together.

So it’s been an interesting couple of weeks, to say the least.  And while I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on how to build chicken coops now, I would say that I’m definitely an expert in how not to build a chicken coop.  That’s got to count for something; right?

*aka the wildland meadow. It’s been raining a lot, the husband has been gone so hasn’t mowed it lately, and the grass/clover mix is between six and nine inches tall.

Except for the plan bit, that is.

My husband, God love him, is a man.   By which I mean not only will he not stop to ask for directions, he seems to believe that the mere existence of anything like directions is an insult to his manhood.  Like the time we were leaving for our third date, heading from my neighborhood (which was not his neighborhood, or anywhere he’d ever spent any time) to go for coffee.  We were traveling through an area with a lot of road construction going on, and I suggested he might want to go ahead and get right to get to the appropriate freeway.   He laughed his charming, manly laugh and said something to the effect of being the rare man who will ask for directions if he needs them.  Unfortunately for him, he said this as he pulled onto the wrong freeway, going in the opposite direction of where we were heading.  Poor guy, he’s never going to live that down.

Then again, I’m the girl who knew this about him, and married him anyway.  And despite the fact that I’ve known his uber aversion to directions, plans, etc, I still somehow think that he’ll change.  With every new project, a tiny voice in my head says, “This time, things will be different.” They never are.

Two weeks ago, we bought chicks.  Six of them.  There we were, driving home from the feed and seed, kids strapped into the minivan, a chirruping box on my lap, and the husband said, “I guess now we’d better get started on that chicken coop.”  “Yes, dear,” I replied, “this week we’ll pick a plan.”

Famous last words.

Fast forward five days.  The husband is in the military, and will be leaving home for almost a month, leaving me with rapidly growing chicks, three small children, and no chicken coop.  During the past week, my various attempts at coop planning had been thwarted by, well, life in general.  So imagine my surprise when the husband says on Friday night, “The kids are asleep, so I think I’ll head on over to Big Box Hardware and Lumber* and get stuff for the coop.”  “Don’t you think you should settle on a plan, first?”  I asked.

To give him credit, he did look over various chicken coop plans.  Too bad he paid no attention to anything like say, a materials list, or anything pesky like that.  Off he went.  And the following day, construction began.  Sort of.  (If you call the husband standing on the porch staring at lumber “began”.  I do.  Life with the husband has definitely taught me to be more flexible with specific definitions of words.  But that’s another post.)

Long story short, a week ago, the husband took off for a month, leaving me with the three small children, three rpaidly growing chicks, and an incomplete chicken coop… more to come.  For some reason, the words to “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille” have been flitting through my head these past few days.

But I can’t help but wonder:  if I hadn’t used that dreadful P word before he left for BBH&L, and used some alternate word (blueprints, maybe?), would I have a chicken coop now?

*Fake name, of course.

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