Don't Fence Me In

"A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes."
--Mark Twain

If there is one thing you can say about expectations, it is that they are always, without fail, met. With what they are met, now that is what makes the story interesting, or perplexing, and sometimes even frustrating.

This can certainly, perhaps even especially, be said of expectations relating to co-habitation with animals.

Let me preface all of this by saying that I realize, of course, that a chicken is a chicken....

and a human is a human.

You can read all of the books you want, then want all the things you want based on what you have read, but at the end of the day there is nothing like experience.

We really didn't know for sure what our 17 hens would want with respect to space. I built a reasonably sized coop (about twice the advised minimum for them at maturity) on the edge of the drive last fall, with bumped out nesting boxes (more for us than them).

There is room for at least ten more on the pine branch roosts, though floor space would get tight during feeding time in the winter.

I built the coop on 4x4 "sleds" so that I could move it to its permanent location. The info I read & based the coop design on, I must say, was spot on.

In the summer they would free range all day, and only use the coop for eating/drinking, afternoon naps, and nighttime.

With a ratio of 3.4 hens/acre, there would be plenty of room for them to explore.

Our extensive landscape plantings, and more importantly, 1.5 acres of vegetable ground, were always a concern, but I thought we could work it out.

Unfortunately, chickens prefer the same light, fertile soil as plants, only for their dirt baths, and its inhabitants (earthworms and grubs) for their snacks.

It was not a worst case scenario...yet. The annual mulching has not been done, and hardly a thing has been planted outside our first spring plot, which is protected with chicken wire. It has been effective, for the most part, so far.

It has become increasingly apparent that our optimistic expectations about free range hens were not spot on. Even though it may not always be obvious to the eye, depending on what project we are in the middle of, I do like to have things in their place, from tools and materials (like mulch) to plants, desirable and less desirable, and it now appears, hens.


with all this in mind, and knowing that good fences may very well make good neighbors,

our ladies now have slightly less range.

I did try to give them a mountain range, made of composted mulch and dead grass plumes, for climbing, dirt bathing, and digging for bugs.

Further testing is sure to come, but at this point, the plan (expectation?) is to add two more runs, so we can rotate them around, as I assume (expect?) that this grass will soon be gone.

We just saw a video where a woman let her birds free range for just an hour or two before dusk. Maybe this solution will work for us.

I will try and keep my expectations to a minimum.


Stephanie said...

Oh how I long for chickens. However, De Soto won't let you have chickens OR rabbits as they are deemed livestock. If I had known that beforehand we would seriously had looked for another place to buy a house at. I just figured "It's DeSoto..." and didn't think it would be an issue. :( I know I need to propose/challenge the chicken laws but I must confess to being a bit intimidated by the whole thing.

jason said...

Apparently C'dale is considering allowing a small number of chickens per home in town. Perhaps this will trickle down to surrounding communities with the concerns about the hormones/other chemicals, as well as the movement back towards people raising their own food. I know a few folks with the City of C'dale. I'll see if they have any suggestions.

Stephanie said...

Hope things are going well since Spring has sprung down here. I was hoping to get the garden in this weekend but I have fighting demo's at Irish Fest...of course now its suppose to rain on and off all weekend so even if I weren't on demo duty I wouldnt be able to get in the garden :( Of course first week of May is Makanda Fest I hope it has better weather.

Stephanie said...

Hey! Long time no updates. Was listening to WDBX yesterday and was listening to the Glinda Greenhouse show and you guys were mentioned several times! :) How have things been?

Anonymous said...

Jason---again outstanding site you have here!

It's been a long time since we've run into each other. My name is Mike; we had some classes at SIU together (poetry workshop etc...). You told me about your site and your farm when we spoke at the coop a few times. Anyway, do you deal in raw goat milk? If not, do you know anyone who raises goats in a sustainable environment? I have one source in the Cobden area and was looking for a backup provider. This is just for personal use--for our cats. When you can, contact me at:

I love your ideas and what you and your family have built--too cool!

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