Tommy Gets a New House
It was almost completely dark out and bedtime for the chickens. As usual, I went into their covered run with a tiny rake and herded each group towards their own coop. There are 4 coops, plus a maternity ward (used almost exclusively by MummyBird to raise her 3 broods). Each coop had a rooster who reigned over a harem of hens.
The first coop was a sturdy, older red & white painted garden shed that we had retrofitted as a coop for Buttercup and our original flock.
The next coop was called the Taj MaCoop, (in reference to the Taj Mahal) a new 7 X 7 ft building with one large window and a set of 3 smaller horse barn windows. LeRoy Brown, our Cream Legbar rooster, and his hens lived in this house.
The next coop was the Cuckoo High Rise, a house built by local craftsmen. It had originally been built for Tommy so we had lifted the roof and increased the internal footage. Our Cuckoo Bluebar hens lived there with Pocahontas, a crazy Gold-Laced Polish rooster.
Sandwiched between Buttercups’ house and the Taj MaCoop was Tommy’s Cottage, a small, but sturdy, cottage with thick walls and a Dutch door which opened in halves rather than having a traditional pop door. Tommy could stand up inside, but it didn’t have a window or a light like the other houses.
I was used to putting all the chickens to bed first and then I’d herd Tommy up the ramp to his cottage. Tommy would look wistfully through the other coop doors at the warm interiors, each with a light and flat panel heater and a food and water dish. And then I’d put him into bed with his chicken warming pad.
About 2 weeks earlier, I and our farmhand had been discussing moving the birds in the High Rise to the Taj MaCoop and giving Tommy the High Rise. It was winter and very cold in Maine and I thought he’d like a house with heat, a light, water and food better.
Tommy had been patient, but for the past three nights he had avoided his cottage and run to the High Rise and gone part way up the ramp as if to say, “OK, it’s time to move – what’s taking so long!”
So, that next weekend we cleaned out all the coops as usual and herded the High Rise hens into the Taj MaCoop and closed the pop doors. I turned and looked at Tommy and herded him towards the Cuckoo High Rise. He seemed startled and off-balance. He reached the top of the ramp which had been made especially wide to accommodate his big feet. At the door, he popped his head inside looking up in awe, like Dorothy in Oz. I checked in on him several times that night and he seemed comfortable.
The next morning, I made my way through the coops opening each pop door to an excited little crowd of chickens, chattering wildly as they exited excitedly into the sunlit run. I bent to peer through the frosted window of Tommy’s new High Rise. He was sitting on the perch and suddenly he saw the shadow of my head in the window and he turned and ran towards the far wall, whimpering as he went. I called out to let him know it was just me and he calmed once he saw my face at the door.
He was like a little boy who was scared of the Boogey Man and it made me realize that they really are like our children. Living in a protected environment, served breakfast every morning, and having their rooms cleaned for them with special little touches like sweet grass in their nesting boxes, vitamins in their water, plenty of space to run and clean houses.
I never realized that he could be scared, but in that one moment, I realized that he could be.