Today was a big day at Mucky Boots: the chickies went outside!
This required some planning and preparation, since the chicks are only three weeks old. We needed to keep them warm but not too warm, and safe from anything that might like to eat them, like the resident eagles. Kim has been thinking about this for a while with her builder's thinking cap on, and a couple of days ago we started building a chicken tractor.
I don't know how chicken tractors got their name, but they are a kind of moveable coop for chickens. The idea is that you move the tractor to a different spot of grass every couple of days, giving the chickens the benefit of grass and bugs. In fixed coops, the chicken yard tends to turn into a dust yard, and fresh greens and bugs are good for chickens and result in more nutritious and tastier eggs. Some people just let their chickens roam free, but with a dog, two cats and a resident family of eagles, that isn't an option for us.
We built the tractor for about $60. It is screened with chicken wire on three sides, and has a plywood wall with a hobbit door on the fourth side. Half of it is covered with plastic, to provide more shelter from wind and rain, and half of it is open to the sky. It has a heat lamp to help keep the chickies warm for the next week or two until their feathers are more fully developed, and a waterer and a feeder. Everything a chickie could want.
We finished construction this morning, and by about 11:00 it had warmed up enough we decided it was time to bring the chickies out. They were very hesitant at first, sticking close together and doing a lot of goose-necking. But pretty quickly they started to explore, pecking and scratching at the grass and even catching and eating some bugs - good little chickies!
They're back indoors now, in their plastic crates in the bathroom - sleeping, the last time I checked in on them. Tuckered out after their big adventure.
It will be another week or so until they make the big move out of the house and into the chicken coop. They'll have lots of fun exploring the yard attached to the coop, but we'll continue to use the tractor, too.
I have to say, these little chickies are not at their most attractive these days. Kim says they're at "the dinosaur stage." They remind me of myself when I was thirteen: gawky, big feet, funny hair. I turned out alright, and I expect these chickies will, too.