In Gainesville Fl Spring is literally in the air. Pollen showers down from the oak trees like fine yellow snow. New leaves burst from the branches and push out the old leaves that had clung on all winter. From the leaf and pollen strewn earth new grass shoots up like tiny green swords. The azalea, salvia and dogwood are bursting with flowers, and the orange tree is sweet with blooms. Peaches grow slowly fatter and pinker on the branches of the young peach tree every day.
Three weeks ago I brought home seven tiny speckled sussex chicks from the feed store.
I settled their little cardboard box into the car seat next to me, feeling the exhilaration and anxiety of new chicken motherhood. They considered me, chirping loudly, demanding and unafraid.
At home I put them into a tupperware with a warmer, water and food. They ate like gluttons and slept all afternoon.
Every day of their first week and a half I settled at a table under the oak tree with my computer and coffee, their warmer, food and water next to me.
The chicks pecked around the yard between naps under the heater. They climbed mountainous stumps in the woodstack and exploring fern jungles. Meanwhile I typed away, my hands and coffee slowly becoming dusted yellow with pollen. The chicks wandered into the bog garden and pecked enthusiastically around the edges of the pond. Periodically they panicked thinking that they had gone too far and came flapping and falling back to me and their heater, peeping frantically.
If I go inside for a moment they peep loudly and desperately. I can see them from the windows, peeping as though their hearts would break, peering with their strangely long necks.
When I come outside, they come running to me, flapping ridiculously. They perch on my fuzzy boots, which I wear to protect my freckles from their insistent pecks. How could you not fall in love?
They grow quickly. On their first day they fell over trying to stretch their awkward wings which were not yet grown in. By day three their wing feathers were in and they could not only stretch but use their wings to flap over obstacles. They had first dust bathes and first flights.
Within a week they had outgrown their tupperware and Justin and I moved them into their coop. For the first few days I called them up the little ramp and into the roost box, where I boarded them in for the night with a water dispenser and their heater.
They came hesitanly at first, worried about entering the dark box. I opened the air vents in the nest box to encourage them and called them with my head and shoulders plunged ridiculously inside the roost box.
By the fourth night in their coop they went into the roost box by themselves. I could hear them peeping frantically each evening as some went in and called the others up to roost. When all went quiet I would board them up for the night.
When they had spent a week in their coop they burst through the coardboard barrier to get down in the morning and I knew it was time to stop boarding them up.
They are miniature chickens now, able to fly to their roosting bars and sleeping in their box at night, but we will leave the heater until their adult feathers have all come in.
For some time they are contained to their coop, so that they can learn where their roosting place is and outgrow the gaps in the chain link fence. As tiny chicks they stayed close to me and the heater, but the older they get the more adventerous they become.
After they are big enough to not go through the chain link we let them wander the yard again. They grow bigger every day, pecking away at the bugs in the garden, and making us laugh with their attempts to get into the house.