Mission Accomplished! Our set of six one-month old chicks were finally secure in our handmade chicken tractor. As I stood back, grateful to have completed the necessary repairs, it occurred to me that there is definitely a price tag attached to the eggs that will hopefully begin to appear in the next five or six months. Is it worth it?, I contemplated...
Our chick-to-chicken odyssey began shortly after my hubby, Pat, and I, moved into our new home in the mountain community of Big Bear, CA. We were so excited as our fledgling flock of four transformed from tiny moving cotton balls into fully feathered friends. In due time, the eggs, both brown and white, showed up, sometimes in a newly discovered pile under the chicken coop, sometimes in a nest inside. We loved to spend time inside their “run,” which also housed Nubian goats and a pot belly pig named Zoe. We would each pull up a white plastic chair and sit back to enjoy the “show” as they scrambled to and fro.
Over the years, attrition took its toll until we found ourselves sans hens. With our eminent move to Hawaii we decided to wait to restock the flock until we were moved and settled.
In early 2012, after making the 2500-mile oceanic jump to the Big Island of Hawaii four months earlier, it seemed that the time had finally come to put out some feelers for chicks. Free seemed to be the best plan, due to our devastating financial situation that began in 2008 and ended four years later with the short sale of our home. We found ourselves renting our Hawaii realtor's 24' diameter yurt, complete with twelve ocean view acres and plenty of room for my 29-year old horse, Smoke, and three-year old goat, Gerdie.
One afternoon, Bernie, our nearest neighbor, presented me with seven assorted chicks, including one sporting what appeared to be a broken appendage. As Bernie carefully pulled each one out of her apron, she provided me with valuable information on how to care for them. I took it all in stride. Later that day, Pat arrived with three more tiny chicks, indicating that a friend had begged him to take them. “If you don't, the Mongoose will get them!” What else could he do?
A few days earlier, Pat had completed construction of a chicken coop in true “Gilligan's Isle” motif.
This little wonder of creativity included scavenged roadside bamboo, used chicken wire and fire hose, plus a nesting crate fashioned from particle board. Once the whole thing was tarped to protect the flock from the nightly drizzle or periodic downpour, we were set to go. But, once again, as the months flew by, we found that, try as we might, an occasional “accident” would occur and we would lose one of the “girls.” The first “accident” occurred when we tucked them in on their very first night. Somehow, one squeaked past Pat as he attempted to shut the door, and then was hopelessly lost in the tall grass just beyond the fence line! A few days later, we were forced to send the one with the broken leg off to hen heaven. Two months later, we lost two to dog attacks. Now we were down to six...
Early one morning, we woke to a strange sound emitting from the coop. I crept out in my nightgown only to discover that our two “twins,” the blackies, were actually “he's” instead of “she's.” Pat named them the DeLuz Brothers because we lived on Antone De Luz Road. Off they went to join a flock of free-range roosters about a mile away. (Having a rooster...or two...was out of the question due to Pat's need for morning sleep – the fallout of two back surgeries that force him up for hours in the middle of the night.)
Life in our rented love yurt seemed like heaven on earth as we adjusted to living off-grid, which meant no public provided utilities. We made new friends, who quickly became “ohana,” family in Hawaiian culture, and continued to work our way out of over $600,000 in accumulated debt. It was an amazing and transforming fourteen months that led to my first published book entitled, MY YEAR IN A YURT: God's Blessings While Living In 450 Not-So-Square Feet! Then, in January 2013, we moved our four remaining “girls,” along with my now 31-year-old equine, two goats and one orange tabby, onto our new, yet 1980s-built home on the other side of the knoll.
Craigs List is big here on the Big Island! During one of my on-line shopping sprees, I located and purchased a homemade chicken tractor. I had heard about chicken tractors, how easy they are to move around your pasture while allowing the chickens to hunt and peck for blades of grass as well as tasty bugs. Ours was about eight feet long, sporting a variety of creative nooks for the chickens to hang out. It seemed the perfect place for our flock to enjoy life in sunny Paauilo, located on the Hamakua Coast. And it all worked perfectly until...we brought Lehua home.
Lehua, at eight weeks old, was a beautiful yellow Labrador/Retriever mix; full of energy and possessing the ability to “play” with any and every moving target. Once she discovered the four remaining chickens, all hell broke loose. When the girls were out during the day, she would chase them all over the yard, sending them into our huge Ohia trees, under our cars, just about anywhere other than under one of her front paws. When we put them back into the chicken tractor at night, she eventually figured out that a quick swipe of one of her front paws provided access through the plastic mesh siding, creating four hysterical birds and more than a few flying feathers! Soon, all four girls had flown the coop, choosing instead to spend their time in greener and safer pastures, far away from one hyper puppy. We were crestfallen. The girls were gone, and the chicken tractor was in shreds!
At least eight months passed before we began to discuss our desire to try again. Lehua was older and we had completely secured one pasture with hog wire fencing. Surely the chicken tractor, and the chickens would be safe there! One day, while heading to the feed store for my monthly supply of Timothy hay, I noticed a sign on a parked truck. “Chicks for sale!” I quickly pulled a U-turn, parked, then casually strolled to the back of the truck to inspect the merchandise. Sure enough, about 18 or 20 tiny peepers were scrambling around inside a dog crate... one month old...$3.00 each. That worked for me! The nice young man helped me select six that were guaranteed to be future hens, packed them carefully into a USPS shipping box complete with air holes and a nice bed of shavings, accepted my personal check, and then sent me on my way. I was very excited, leaving Pat a voice mail message about the precious cargo I was bringing home.
When we pulled into the driveway, Pat was clearly NOT excited! “I thought we had agreed to wait to get the chicks until we repaired the chicken tractor!” he clucked. “Good point.” I replied. “I thought you wanted Buff Orpintons,” he said, in an exasperated tone of voice. “I did, but these were cheap and I just couldn't pass them up,” I responded. “Great. Now we have Roy Orbisons instead of Buff Orpintons,” he said with a smirk as he marched off!
After a bit of effort, we utilized a large box as temporary housing for the peepers. But, the big challenge was keeping them safe from Lehua. After spending a few days and nights in the back of Pat's truck, I knew I had to get that chicken tractor repaired. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the tractor had the ability to enclose the chicks in the raised nesting box section. That would work until I was able to fix the broken plastic mesh sides. One week later, after a 200-mile round trip to Home Depot, I had the correct siding in hand. As I stood in the pasture preparing to make the repairs, Pat offered his “suggestions,” which, interestingly enough, were not jiving with my repair plans. Somewhat exasperated, he finally left to handle his own list of to-dos. At that moment, and a bit flustered, I picked up the heavy duty staple gun to set my first staple. Paying absolutely NO attention to the bright red arrow indicating where the staple would exit the gun, I promptly sent it into the palm of my left hand. OMG! For a split second, I stared at the completely flat staple, pain registering all the way up my arm. I dropped the gun, yanked out the staple, and then made a bee-line for the house as the blood began to seep from the two tiny holes. Did I really just do that to myself? What a complete idiot, I thought. Good thing I had a Tetanus shot just two weeks earlier. No coincidences. Thank you, Jesus!
After a good washing of my hands, a bit of Neosporin and a band-aid, I was back in the pasture ready to continue the necessary repairs. It then began to drizzle! Okay, that won't stop me! Two hours later, I was finally able to raise the door separating the nesting boxes from the rest of the tractor housing, encouraging each chick to investigate her expanded world. Lehua eyeballed the entire procedure from outside the pasture. It all worked perfectly as the girls cautiously maneuvered between the containers of fresh water and chicken starter.
I finally stood back to survey the scene, thinking to myself, Is all this worth the price of eggs? Many would say, “Absolutely not! Just buy them at the grocery store!” Pat and I would have to disagree. Our animals fill the void created from moving away from family and friends to a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They provide hours of entertainment if we stop long enough to become a spectator of their antics. And, nothing beats the taste of fresh eggs - sunny side up, scrambled, or hard boiled.
You can read more about Jen McGeehan's adventure of leaving the fast lane of life in Southern California to the slower paced lifestyle of Hawaii in MY YEAR IN A YURT: God's Blessings While Living In 450 Not-So-SquareFeet! (including two really fun stories specifically about the chickens). The country-wide real estate and banking collapse of 2008 sent millions of American families into financial ruin. Many hung on for dear life, believing the market would correct itself within a year or two. By 2010, no correction was in sight. In My Year In A Yurt, author Jen McGeehan tells the true story of how she and hubby, Pat, filled a 40-foot Matson container, shipped their two vehicles, and, along with her twenty-nine year old equine and three-year old goat, flew the friendly skies in search of a simpler way of life. Their enormous debt of over $600,000.00 came as invisible baggage, as did the painful memory of handing their realtor the keys to their 3,000 square-foot home after three and a half years on the non-existent real estate market. As foreclosure and bankrupcy - additional unwanted travel companions - reared their ugly heads, Jen sent yet another urgent prayer to heaven asking for God's divine intervention...