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Yard birds ‘say’ rural
JOHN GIBBS is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

GAYS MILLS - For over two years now, we have had four free range chickens. I call them yard- birds and really enjoy having them around. They were mature and laying eggs regularly when we got them. They are now over three years old,  the flow of eggs has slowed down to a trickle, but they stay on for other reasons.

Nothing says ‘rural’ like a few chickens roaming around the premises. They are a comforting presence for most of the year, visible out on their daily rounds. 

Part of the year, they stay cooped up, just like the rest of us, but they do stand colder weather better than I thought they would. They are car smart and eagle eyed, active and alert to what goes on around here. Step outside the kitchen door and they will most likely wander over to see what’s up. They are good about staying near the house and away from the highway. In this hot weather, they’ve been staying cool under our wooden deck.

Usually, there are three of the birds wandering around together. One hen is broody and stays on the nest, I guess out of instinct. Maybe she’s just lazy. I had to shoo her out last week, when I cleaned the coop, and she was not happy about that.

We tend to spoil the hens. This summer, I have introduced them to watermelon. I think they like watermelon as much as I do and I leave a healthy layer of red on the rinds which they seem to relish. 

When I have them to share, I crack black walnuts for the little flock. I don’t have to call them for that treat. I get out the equipment: the one-foot high end of a plastic barrel, a block of 2x6 and the sledge hammer, and they magically appear. They can pick out nutmeats faster than you can imagine, in a matter of seconds, and they pick the shells clean.

We had a little excitement earlier this summer. A high wind came up and I was out in the yard watching the trees whip around and hoping they would hold up. The trees held up, but all at once the chicken coop blew over right in front of me, with the hens inside. Luckily the high, narrow coop, only blew over to a 45-degree angle, stopped by a utility trailer parked next to it. Some windows broke, some feed and water was spilled, but the chickens emerged unscathed and immediately started scratching the bare ground, where the coop had stood moments before.

The height of the coop makes it safe against predators.  It’s made from an old children’s swing set that had a tower on each end. The birds roost way up in the top of the unit near the roof about six to seven feet off the ground. But since it’s only two-feet wide, it does catch quite a bit of wind which makes it susceptible to the occasional high wind.

One of our favorite things about the chickens, which are Buff Orpingtons, a large, golden-brown breed, is that they are friendly and talkative. They follow us around, come when called and keep up a steady stream of gentle clucking all day long. All in all, yard birds are great companions.