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Hens in Residence | Temporary Housemates

Hens in Residence | Temporary Housemates
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Once upon a time there were lots of chicks, of which we bought five

Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
Once upon a time there were lots of chicks, of which we bought five

As long as I’ve had livestock, no matter how cozy, how dry and warm, how peaceful the atmosphere inside, some part of my awareness stays out on the range.

I feel this especially in late spring when the lambs are out on pasture, and in the dead of night, a coyote yowls half a mile away.

I feel this in winter too, when the temperature plummets from single digits to negative digits, and I feel it particularly this winter with its spate of [vehement expletive] double-digit negatives, plus wind.

Their summer home

Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
Their summer home

So in January, instead of fretting and handwringing about the prone chickens, we integrated. One old screen door, plus on- hand turkey wire, plus a coupla extra 2x6s, even a spare hook and eye, and, shazam—we had ourselves a basement coop.

Then, when every last heat molecule skedaddled and the Polar Vortex ravished us, we went all went to bed content: three floors of heartbeats—the humans on top, the pets next down, and five chickens in the hold.

At last I relaxed. And for two weeks we cohabitated pretty happily.

This basement apartment marked yet another address for our gypsy chickens. Born in an Ohio hatchery, they traveled as day-old chicks to Guy’s Farm and Yard in Morrisville, VT, where we fetched them last summer. We brought them home in a cardboard box to their new life a big plastic bucket, and then a packing crate, and then at last they moved to a hutch I built from scratch (and scraps) ten years ago.

Introducing them one by one: Pug, meet Chick.

Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
Introducing them one by one: Pug, meet Chick.

The Gypsy Chicks in one of several homes

Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
The Gypsy Chicks in one of several homes

Finally with winter’s onset they migrated to a hay-lined bunker in the barn, and when the way, way below zero temps bore down, they moved again, becoming our Hens-in-Residence.

All was fine and well until they began laying their first eggs. (Though talk about “local” and “fresh!”) It was wonderful to go “down cella” and come up with enough for an omelet. However the hens’ egg-laying vocalizations, which can waver from an amusing “cluck cluck” to a grating oh-just-make-it-stop on the listening spectrum, induced us to move them back to their former habitat once the weather gentled.

en route to their first floor walk-down apartment (ahem, the cellar).

Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
en route to their first floor walk-down apartment (ahem, the cellar).

Hens In Residence (temporarily) (yes, it was pretty dark).

Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
Hens In Residence (temporarily) (yes, it was pretty dark).

This morning as I refilled their water bowl, and doled out grain, and scattered carrot peels, they seemed chipper. One was on the roost, one was on the nest and three were roving their hay- strewn place. But I think in their pea-size mind, they know this is only temporary, and they won’t be surprised when, oh boy, they make yet another move in the spring.

All grown up

Photo/Art by Julia Shipley
All grown up

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Julia Shipley

Author:

Julia Shipley

Biography:

Julia Shipley is the author of three poetry chapbooks and most recently, a prose collection Adam's Mark: Writing from the Ox House, supported by a 2010-11 Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant and published by Plowboy Press. Her Vermont Rural Life blog showcases the people, land and community of her unique corner of Vermont-- a mix of mountains and fields, daisies and delphiniums, Holstein cows and eight point Bucks, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers, newcomers and old-timers all making their way in one of the least populated places on the east coast
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5 Responses to Hens in Residence | Temporary Housemates

  1. Susan Q February 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    Enchanting writing and perfect pictures to accompany it. Especially fond of “once the weather gentled” – I’ve never read or heard this thought expressed this way, and it charms me! You make me wish I had the space for raising some chicks and keeping the hens!! Thank you.

    • Julia Shipley February 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      Susan, thank you so much for the kudos. Isn’t that first picture with about a bizillion chicks in the bin amazing?
      Before I moved to my bonafide homestead, I lived in a third floor apartment above a doctor’s office in the village of Johnson, VT. Somehow I convinced my sweet landlord to let me build a little coop out in the back yard for a flock. He said yes! To this day patients visiting the doctor still ask why the golden hens aren’t perched on the front porch anymore. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

  2. Aimee Seavey February 27, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Look at those happy girls! Hang in there, Julia! Spring is coming (IT IS!). Love this post!

    • Julia Shipley February 28, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      Thanks, Aimee! Aren’t Buff Orpingtons beautiful? I think they are the golden retriever of chickens.

  3. susan Russo March 11, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    At the moment, 11 March 2014, our “handsome” Plymouth Rock barred, along with 2 Auracanas and one Austrolop have been living in our cellar since December. They reside in two “Pac & Plays” and have run of the back room, where they stay either in or on the edges of the “pens” and lay eggs almost everyday, for which, there is a chorus when the egg is presented to the other ‘girls’. Three hens… Three nesting boxes… all want the same one at the same time. When weather is “warm” enough, we take them outside for awhile keeping a close eye on them as there are hawks and an occasional eagle that floats by on the currents. When they’ve had enough, they walk over to the door and give us look when we don’t respond to their wanting in,when ‘they’ want in. Some day the weather will turn warm again and off to the coop and pen they will go. Knowing these little darlings the way we do, they will probably try to breakout, come across the yard and peck on the door til they are let back in. Up until last July, we had a sweet hen, Bridgitte that lived inside with us for three years. She had been injured and would not have survived out with the rest of the girls. She would sit in my lap and watch televison with us and when the channel was changed, would give a look of distain. She layed her eggs in her abode, took walks with us after work and even rode in the car in a crate a number of times to Maine. She was part of our family as are BB, Camel, Jasmin and Handal. They are gentle creatures all with their own personality, comforting at times on a bad day, and no way could we let them stay out in the coop on these cold winters days and nites… So,instead of a dog or cat, we have our feathered friends to entertain and feed us

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