My wife and I started thinking about getting chickens in early 2020. Some others in our church had them, and other people we knew from our jobs as well. Reading about our fragile food chain and riots made me want to do something. The whole idea of growing our own food moved from being a nice quaint hobby to a means of coping with the lunacy of a society in upheaval. We’re not full-blown preppers...yet. But chickens and a garden seemed reasonable.

My wife and I agreed that we wanted a nice coop nice that fit with our property. Beyond that, consensus was difficult. I had built a firepit last year, and this gave me confidence that I could learn what was necessary to build a home for chickens. I bought plans for a 12’ x 6’ footprint coop. This story is about first getting the chickens while the coop was not quite finished.

I had told my four year old grandson that we would have chickens when he came back to our house at Christmastime. This kept me focused on getting the coop worthy of occupation. I'm too optimistic, because things kept taking longer than I thought they would. Two learning points: 1) Nothing is as simple as it seem; 2) When I think I'm saving money by doing it myself, I might be mistaken. However, I enjoyed the process, even while blowing the budget and enduring setbacks.

For a while we didn't know where the chickens would come from. We found a chicken farm called Dunreath in nearby Ashland that sells a hybrid breed called Golden Comet, good-natured and productive egg layers. However, when they came up for sale, I was too late - they were all sold. Just as well, because the coop really wasn't ready at that point in time. My wife did get feed, scratch and bedding there.

Many people get chicks from Tractor Supply. But chicks really wouldn't do. We aren't set up for an indoor incubator space, and it would detract from the coop effort to make that work. Compounding this is that it is very difficult to tell what sex chicks are, and we need hens. We also didn't want to deal with the cold reality of bumping off unlucky roosters. Local regulations allow up to six chickens in residential areas, but no roosters.

So another possibility emerged from nearby Powatan - a feed store called Hertlzer's that advertised availability of a breed called Red Sex Link hens. When I called, only two were available, and one of them was lame. This was my best option on Friday before Christmas, and I asked them to be held for me.

All day Friday I tried very hard to get the hardware cloth on the frame of the coop that would serve as the main predator protection and fence for the flock, but I ran into some issues with the borrowed tools and quick winter days. I called on Saturday morning and told them not to hold the hens for me. However, my wife’s twin sister (in another state) refused to believe that no chickens could be found. Sure enough, she sent a us a link to a homestead farm nearby via Craigslist that was selling grown chickens. The seller agreed to give us six at $10 apiece, but they needed to be picked up around 7 am as that was when they were gathered for feeding. I made plans to pick them up Monday morning.

We pushed to get the hardware cloth up. I didn't get done Saturday, running into problems with the tools and competing errands. On Sunday my wife was able to help and we worked until 9 pm with light. I still hadn't buried hardware cloth to prevent digging predators, but at least all the walls were in place.

The seller was a fine young man with about 50 chickens, which he raised free-range style in a large open pen. The chickens were guarded by a dog, and their coop was a wagon with a windbreak and a dozen crossbars for roosting. He had about sixteen acres on which he had started planting berries and fruit trees. He explained that the chickens took too much time for the money he made from selling the eggs, and he wanted to bring his flock size down to reduce feeding costs and time involved. The farm was not his full-time job. The flock was composed of 75% white leghorns, and a mix of others. There were a handful of roosters.

My wife wanted a mix, so I picked out two blackish hens, one golden and three white leghorns, which the young man characterized as productive but not charming. He was a thin athletic man, and he began to chase down the chickens that I selected. He used a net (remember this) and brought me the chickens one by one. He grabbed them by the wings with one hand and collared their feet with the other, and handed them to me upside down. This was my first contact with live chickens! I took them to the dog carrier and laid them down, and they didn't make any real trouble about their fate.

The ride back home was pretty quiet. I thought the chickens might be in some distress, so I didn't play the radio, but it was about an hour's drive and eventually I put something on and the chickens didn't react. Once home, I had my son help me move the dog carrier into the coop.

Now in my haste to make the coop ready, I had not yet installed the door latch. I opened the dog pen and left the coop for a while, pulling the door shut. I made myself breakfast and handled some work matters. When I returned to the coop, I wanted to get some water for the birds, as my friend Bill told me a horror story about one of his chickens dying of thirst during hot weather after just two hours without water. So I entered the coop with the water device for the chickens. I decided the dog carrier needed to come out, so I opened the door and left it open to get the dog carrier out.

At this time one of the white leghorns made her escape. She made her way into the woods near the creek, thick with vines and sticker bushes. I managed to drive her toward the house along the creek. But she was fast and she could fly - I knew I probably couldn't catch her in a sprint. I wasn't as good a runner as the young famer, nor did I have a pen or a net. She made her way to a big brush pile near the coop, and I decided to get some other things done until I could figure out how to lure her out. I thought maybe she would get hungry eventually.

The reality was I had to get some things done to the coop, even if I lost one chicken - the door needed a latch, the coop needed bedding, and I needed to add some roosting bars. After installing the latch, I eventually went inside the coop to add a hook to hang the feeder. I shut the door to make sure no more chickens escaped. For the first time, I realized...the door was latched, and I was inside the coop.

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If I had to, I could crawl through the chicken door to the coop. But that would put my body weight on the plywood wall awkwardly, and I didn't want to chance ruining the wall if another way out could be found. I had my phone, so I texted my wife to see if she could come home to get me, as her workplace is close by.

Of course, she told her work buddies about this who thought it was hilarious and insisted that I send a selfie. It was funny and I obliged. She suggested texting a neighbor. This made me think of my nextdoor neighbor Steve, and so I texted him and he agreed to come right over. In the meantime my wife texted the other neighbor Marilee, who came over too. Later I added an indoor latch by drilling a hole and running a little rope through to pull the latch.

I finished installing the feeder, the roosting bars, and added the bedding to the coop. There was plenty of work to be done still, but the coop was functional.

Around 3 or so I texted my wife about the missing chicken. I hadn’t told her before, because I didn’t want to upset her. She asked if it was still there with a teary emoji. I checked and it was still there. I decided I need to try to capture the chicken before dusk.

I remembered the fishnet used by the young farmer. The Dunreath Farms lady also used a fishnet to gather wayward roosters when we visited. I thought, who might
Feeding Scratch
have a fishnet? I trotted down the street to my retired friend Dave who has a fishing boat, and Dave had one and agreed to help. Ultimately, I flushed out the chicken and Dave adroitly netted her. I grabbed her with both hands still in the net and we brought her into the coop and released her. My wife named this one Houdini, but the thing is it's hard to tell the three white ones apart I wasn't sure which one it was. Later, one of them tried to escape again and I concluded this must be the same one. I studied her and realized she was the only white one with a straight comb.

I fed them and lined the ramp with feed in an effort to entice them into the coop. They took little interest, but as darkness settled one of the black chickens made her way up the ramp to the opening to the coop. The rest followed. There was some fussing as the black one did not actually enter the coop, and seemed adamant that no others should enter either. Eventually three did enter, but three made their roost on the ramp and spent the night there.
Ramp sleeping

The next day, my grandchildren arrived Christmas eve. My older grandson put on boots and visited the chickens with me several times that day. The chickens were flighty, but enjoyed the extra treats that we brought them. Everyone admired the coop and suggested names for the birds. I fed them some butternut squash leftover from soup that my wife had made. They seemed to enjoy it, especially the seeds.
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The evening routine was similar, except three of them were stopped at the coop door, piled on one another, with one of the black ones below them on the ramp. Later, the black one and one white one shared space at the coop entrance. I looked inside, the coop, and two were on the floor bedding and two were on the roosting bars by the nesting boxes. After a few days, the daily pattern has become for the ladies to enter the coop about half an hour before dusk. Five of them use the roosting bars, and one of them sleeps in the nesting box.

My wife read somewhere that the chickens will need a few weeks confined to the coop before we can let them out for a while. They're pretty quiet for the most part, occasionally getting after each other but nothing too vicious. The colored ones are all a bit bigger than the white ones, but the "pecking order" isn't very clear yet.

The one who sleeps in the nesting box has been named Rapunzel, because she's beautiful and she stayed in the coop until two days ago. She will eat out of your hand, and talk to you.


We call the golden one Honey. She’s quite a beauty too.


We can now tell the three white ones apart. Houdini (the escapee) has a straight comb and one eye.

The other two I call Daisy Left and Daisy Right, as their combs flop opposite. I think Daisy Right laid the first egg yesterday, as she was hanging around the coop during mid-day, which has not been her pattern.

The black and white hen, probably the biggest, has been called Madea, Miss Bossy-Pants, and Henny-Penny. She hasn’t been as dominant as some of those names imply, so I am inclined to go with Henny-Penny for a while.

First egg
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