It’s almost time. It’s been just over five weeks since three little chicks, tiny enough to snuggle into the palm of my hand, came home to roost in my basement. I’ve fretted over them. I’ve cared for them. I’ve learned their personalities. And I’ll mention it again…I’ve cleaned up a lot of chicken poo.
Susie Q, MaryAnne and Roz have lost just about all of their baby fluff and replaced it with sleek, smooth, lady-like feathers. On Wednesday, they will officially be 6 weeks old. And according to my beginner’s guide to raising chickens (otherwise known as Chick Days: Raising Chickens from Hatchlings to Laying Hens) it’s time to move these lovely pullets outside.
There’s only one problem with that.
The coop isn’t here yet.
I’m an Amazon Prime member who relies on two-day shipping for just about everything. So when I ordered a lovely home for my then still-in-eggs chickens 6 weeks ago, I assumed the “allow up to nine weeks for delivery” statement was a ridiculous exaggeration.
I was wrong. So, I’m in a bit of a pickle.
The good news is, the girls are healthy, happy and learning about the outside. We’ve been taking them out for short play dates in the yard. At first, they stuck together like birds of a feather. But after about 15 minutes, these little ladies who’ve spent their entire short lives in a bin lined with pine shavings under the red glow of a heat lamp started to move. Just a little.
They felt the grass under their feet. They steadied themselves. They stretched their wings a bit. And then they started to peck.
They are pecking! At the grass! Like real chickens!
There’s even better news here. I know, it’s hard to believe there could be anything more delightful than a young hen slicing the tips off blades of grass with her beak. But stay with me.
The best news of all is that Henry didn’t eat them.
That’s right. Because while the chicks were exploring the lawn outside, there was a frustrated Westie howling inside. He was yelping. And crying. And pathetically begging to get in on the action.
So, a few days after the chicks spent their first extended period outdoors, we decided to give it another go. This time populating the lawn with three birds, two humans and a West Highland White Terrier.
There was the potential for real disaster here.
I mean, Henry is a ferocious rodent hunter. I’m not kidding. This dog would chase a squirrel to China and back if the darn things would just fight fair and remain on the ground. People keep saying: “How is Henry going to like those chickens?”
They say it with a bit of a smirk. I laugh them off. But inside, I’ve had some serious doubts. What if Henry actually kills one of our chickens? He’s a hunter. Chickens are prey. I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to lose a hen to the family pup.
It’s a bad thought.
I let Henry into the yard as I carried a basket of chicks behind him. I set the basket down. Henry used his nose to investigate it’s contents as the birds sank timidly into the floor. One by one, I picked the chickens up and put them in the grass. I held Henry tight and let him sniff them.
And to my immense relief, he didn’t chomp down on their fragile necks.
I actually thought those very words.
Instead, he sniffed them. And watched them. And looked at me quizzically when they didn’t crouch down, paws in front of them, tails wagging, ready to play.
They don’t want to play with me?
Henry couldn’t believe it.
He followed them around and corralled them when one strayed. He whimpered a little with excitement. MaryAnne even pecked at Henry’s black button nose when he got too close. When they flapped their wings in his face, Henry looked a little stunned. But there was not a single sign of the dog-eat-chicken food chain in the backyard.
Now, let’s be clear. I’m not naive. I don’t plan to let Henry run wild with the chickens unsupervised. And I’m well aware of the chase instinct in a dog. If one of these girls starts running, Henry may not be able to stop himself. But I learned that dogs and chickens can get along.
And that when they say shipping takes nine weeks, they probably mean it.