We may have blizzards (well, almost) here in April, but that doesn't keep the grass from growing thick and lush and green. Today, barely into May, my husband did the first mowing of the 2010 season.
That meant that we had to move the temporary chicken yard from the lawn into the field. In the field, away from the chicken shed, the hens will need the portable house that my husband built last year, with beautiful, smooth carrying handles, a ground-level "lounge" and a top apartment (accessed by a retractable ladder) with room for roosting and egg-laying. This keeps the hens safe at night.
During the day time, they are supposed to range freely within the confines of the portable fence, but last year we noticed that the hens spent most of their time inside the house, not eating grass, not catching bugs, not making their egg yolks a deep orange color, and not saving us thousands of dollars in laying mash. Out there on their own, under the deep blue sky, I think they felt exposed and vulnerable--and with reason, what with spring-mating hawks wheeling and whistling above.
This year, in addition to the portable coop, there is, inside the portable fence, an A-frame structure, also husband-built, that will provide shelter from the hawks and shade from the sun. We moved all these portable-but-heavy structures into the side field this morning--close to the driveway, away from the woods where predators lurk. Tonight, after sundown, we will transport the hens to their new abode.
To transport a hen, the most important thing is to wait until the sun goes down. Blessedly, after sundown chickens go into a sort of catatonic state, and you can do with them pretty much what you like. You go quietly into the quiet chicken shed. The hens make some muted greeting sounds, which you ignore. You pick up the nearest hen by her "shoulders" (the part of the wing nearest the body) and, supporting her with both hands, tuck her head under your arm. The bird you have picked up may make some protest, and so may her mates on the roost, but they will all settle down as long as you move quietly and don't trip on any feeders or waterers or nests that may be in the way.
That is what we are going to do tonight. I have gotten so good at this that I can catch and carry two hens at a time. When they are inside their portable house, we will close all doors hermetically. Early tomorrow morning I will go out with water and food, and let them out into a brave new world of tall, tall grass and wild, wild bugs.
I am hoping that the A-frame shelter will make them feel secure enough to go out and catch their meals on the wing or on the hoof. I am especially hoping that the three new pullets, who so far have barely ventured out of the shed, will learn to enjoy the intoxicating flavor of new grass. This concept of moving chickens around from place to place during the growing season is the dernier cri in chicken keeping. I just hope my chickens agree.
After getting the chickens' summer quarters ready, I spent the rest of the morning threading sticks into another panel of my wattle fence--not much more to go!