Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chicken Diaries

Or BIG USEFUL BIRDS episode 3. What we have learned from chickens.
Lila, Shelby and Hidey
 By now, our  sense of landscape edges and domestic tidiness has been decimated by chickens and their "free range" time which amounts to scratching earth with big legs and feet while pooping, flinging debris and digging bowls of dirt throughout the yard. Meanwhile, these near dinosaur-age creatures are purposeful, entertaining, and not much trouble at all, while providing daily nutrition for our family.  With their lima bean-sized brains, they notice changes. They have moods. They have rituals. The most surprisingly great and under-reported thing about chickens is the little sounds they make: like three month old babies just waking up when you hold them. Other times just cooing and muttering. Sisters bickering. Waiting for the egg to drop. Impatience, Etc.
Okay and then there are the BIG SOUNDS they make. Riotous soul rendering squwawking, rhythmically persistent in sets of 27 or many more. Sometimes a syncopated duet.  Often about nothing visible to us. Other times about how they just laid an EGG egg egg. Or about the bluejay jay jay robbing. Or who got to eat the snail snail snail. Recently,  a dormant brain fold remembered a poem by William Carlos Williams which so captured my imagination at age twenty:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

From "In an American Grain".  How we can differently appreciate the words today.
Chicken Architexture, part IIIAnother sculptural challenge taken on by Art Ranger.
For months, their living space was in flux as though in a natural disaster.
This fall, shortly after she turned a half century old, the days got short and the chickens stopped laying eggs.  Nada.  This time moulting meant menopause instead of adolescence or coming of age.  For our eldest chicken, Hidey, as soon as a few feathers had fallen out, her ability/desire to go upstairs was impaired.  It was too sad - okay!  After no chicken had lain a single egg for two and a half months, we began in earnest our design and construction of the Senior Housing Remodel. Luckily we had already fallen in love with “redwood dogeared fence pickets” advertised on the radio, so we knew what lumber to get.  As a slow-learning stewardess of the chicken species, fragmented and distracted by a variety of household tasks, Art Ranger inadvertently put these big useful birds through an extremely slooowwww remodel. Sometimes, you just have to sculpt the heck out of something.  This dang pop-top, sidekick building seemed to take on a bit of chaos theory,  growing ever more complex and absurd, like a shifting puzzle.  We now understood the realestate concept of “scraper”.  Adding on to an already quirky structure was a tricky insideout miniature chicken-centric maneuver.  We need perch space for five new chicks in order to be sustainable.  We need their food not to get crapped upon.

Coop Remodel

Friendly ramps and stairs, plenty of exercise but no demoralizing leaps. In keeping with our reduce re-use philosophy, we also incorporate reclaimed redwood from an old gate on the property.  We strive for a feat of unconventional yet indigenous looking construction, a home/ muse that keeps chickens feeling fresh and happy to lay eggs.  Around February, the three tree-year elder chickens began laying again.  About two a day.  And that warm shape is again magic in the palm. They really aren't senior citizens  at all yet.

Shelby at the door
It turns out  that with good  wire snips, and if you wear the right gloves, and long sleeves, you can attempt a wrestling match with the chicken wire. Add cable ties or wire as fasteners, you can form/ forge many shapes. With a sledge hammer still more shapes.
Of the Chicken Diaries will involve literally designing a “crapshoot” drawer for easy compost collection. Plus how chickens are the ideal dieticians, magicians of digestion. How chickens will make you solve problems.


  1. I can hear these chickens in my head now. And thanks for the William Carlos Williams poem -- a nice thing to read on a grey day.

  2. Crapshoot. Hilarious. I have a plywood board under the roosts for easy cleaning. Cause chickenshit is the best. Help! I have 9 chickens and still have problems. Come on - tell.....

  3. Looks deluxe! I like the redwood. I don't think it is the size of the brain that matters as much as the quality of the brain. Some of our chickens are top notch thinkers. Others are real ditherers. Much like --. Cara