In the evening around 4ish – give or take – now that Midwest November sunsets occur earlier day by day, the flock slowly heads back (more often coaxed) to the hen sanctuary. The sanctuary is my grandiose name for the inside of one half of an old outbuilding (the other half holds the wood.) This space, about 250 sq ft with walls bordered by straw bales, has been configured to house the coop (a smaller and fully secured structure) and provide a dry, draft free, cozy spacious place for the flock to hang out before bed, or where they might remain cooped up during inclement weather (especially during harsh winds and driving rain) or anytime really, if the need or desire arises.
At the end of the day, the chickens hang out in the sanctuary between 4ish and 9ish until they put themselves to bed in the coop. The timing depends in large part, on how active a day has been. During this period before bedtime, they eat their evening hot meal (in the summer, dinner is served outside.) The dinner by and large includes spaghetti noodles and some pieces of meat (never chicken), finely grated cheese (Sargento is their favorite), cut up green grapes, and Fage Greek Yoghurt or variations on this general theme. Here we have pumpkin guts in lieu of yoghurt…
There is always a fresh hanging romaine or red leaf lettuce, for pecking purposes. I did not come up with this menu or even the plate presentation – the chickens did. They refuse “scraps,” or anything that remotely resembles scrap. Therefore, the items on the plate must be clearly defined and separated. That’s how they prefer to eat it. Unlike other chicken people, who throw chicken scraps in a bucket and toss it to their chickens, who then go wild, as they pick their way through the smorgasbord. My chooks will barely investigate such golden slop. I truly wish mine would prefer scraps. Instead, I plate their evening meal, as meticulously and tenderly as a chef plates for a favorite customer – and I’m rewarded with coos and gurgles of appreciation when it’s done right.
The choices? Are theirs alone. Very picky eaters, these chooks. I do try – at least once – everything that people say chickens like to eat. This is what they like – especially spaghetti noodles, char-grilled steak, and grapes. In the summer-time, a 1/2 fresh frozen watermelon is enjoyed throughout the day — daily. They did not like the pumpkin guts, by the way.
After the evening meal (which also includes free feed of organic mash with meal worm in one tray and chicken scratch in another), the chickens clean, preen, and dust bath. On active evenings, Helen of Troy Boy chooses a hen or two for some loving, while Ruby Redhead just flirts (both are roosters who at one time were believed to be hens.) On less active evenings, the boys are too tired to even try (as in the title picture above), which palpably relieves the hens.
If by 8pm give or take, the chooks have still not put themselves to bed, I turn off all the lights except one, and usually within 1/2 an hour or so, they are all roosting in the coop. Going to bed involves even more ritual — final snacking of scratch feed and drinking water — you can’t make this stuff up. They have water AND feed in the coop! They aren’t going to starve or dehydrate over night. My God, if they had teeth, they would probably brush them. Once they are finally settled in, I close the coop door, store any left over food, say my good nights, do a quick security check of the building, and shut the building door.
The next morning, between 7 and 7:30 am, depending, I open the building doors (plenty of sunny southern exposure), put out the feed, freshen the water, open the coop door, and another day starts anew. Sex in the morning (the roosters want it, the hens run away until caught and thrashed upon — I have yet to see the rooster penis) and as soon as I open the gates to the other side of the fence, the chickens take to the pine trees for another day in the life of the flock.