Monday, January 23, 2012

Chickens in the basement, woo hoo!

As some of you might remember, I asked for chickens for Christmas, and the universe, not my husband, brought them to me. Dereyk had agreed that, yes, I could have chickens, provided I addressed the rat problem and the next day a lady showed up at work asking if there was anyone who would be willing to adopt some silkie chicks that needed a home.

Needless to say, I now have six fluffy chicks in the basement in a pet shop rabbit cage covered with a packing blanket. Very Jane Eyre. Two white, one black, one grayish brown and two tortoiseshell beauties — I was going to get four and name them Eeny, Meeny, Miny and Mo, but two others came along in the box so I’ve added in as possible handles, Ooggie & Boogie. These are the names from the bedtime stories my mother used to tell although Dereyk says there’s no way he’s yelling, “Oogie, Boogie, dinner!” in the yard so the names might not stick.

And then there’s the strange cry one of them made last week, giving me feverish thoughts that I might have a boy or two locked up in my basement and boys are not allowed.

Anyway, one can’t keep ones chickens next to your washing machine for long, so I’ve been coop hunting. I figured I’d just get a shed, but sheds are now super expensive, and the old days of driving down Montauk highway to the place where they had old sheds you could get for a couple hundred dollars is long gone.
It’s a shame; I miss that world every day. They always had cool sheds; all the newer ones we found seemed, well how to put this? Ugly? Hmm, yes, that would be the right word.

So next I thought we’d build one, because I do have a husband who makes his living creating things out of wood, but in the course of looking up chicken house plans I stumbled across a few coops that were so cool, I told Dereyk his furniture making skills were not necessary. The Nogg sheen is a British designed beauty, shaped like a wooden egg but it only held 2 chickens so no go. And an architect in Holland named Fredrik Roije designed something called the Breed Retreat that was a masterpiece of Frank Lloyd Wright styling, but it didn’t look like it could hold more then four hens.

I figure my limit is twelve chickens, I’m a hobbyist, not a farmer and I want to have my chickens eat what they find outside, so I need my coop and my pen to be portable, or in chicken raising parlance, a tractor. A chicken tractor has wheels that allows you to (hypothetically) move it from one area of the yard to the other so the chickens don’t scratch to bare dirt and their manure gets spread around the property. My friend Ashley has her chickens in a trailer that she drags around her farm, but I couldn’t find a cheap enough Airsteam.

I would really like them to be free-range, but the losses I incurred the last round of chicken rearing have taught me there’s little to no chance of letting them really run free without their own secret service protective detail, and as I work almost every day, they’ll need to be protected in a run.

The Eglu was my first thought. Designed by some Brits from The Royal College of Art as their senior project, it is made of extruded plastic and comes in electric pink as well as an amazing chartreuse. Created for an urban chicken situation it looks fantastically easy to clean and to lug around, but I’m more Shabby Chic then Modernista so I was drawn to the buildings of Dan Cohen from Michigan who spent 15 years as an architectural model maker before deciding that chicken coops were his holy grail. Dan answers the phone himself at his company Green Chicken Coop when you call on a Sunday and understands exactly what you’re talking about when you express concerns about coop esthetics. They’re ecologically approved and supposedly stamped okay by Miss Martha S herself.

Meanwhile Dereyk is so excited that he doesn’t have to build the coop that he’s taken on my other dream project — a greenhouse. Of course, thanks to the internet he’s discovered that all the really fantastic greenhouses and conservancies and orangeries are English and come with a hefty price tag, not to mention the cost of heating them during the winter, so if I happen to find a big bag of cash on the side of the road…

Paige Patterson has already bought a slew of poppies seeds to spread in the snow for next spring’s garden.