Free range (sort of)

Gigi (foreground) Loretta and Nellie forage the yard.

Gigi (foreground) Loretta and Nellie forage the yard.

Today the girls got a taste of free range life, sort of.

As Matt worked on the yard, I opened the door the coop and let the chickens come and go as they pleased.

The first thing they did was explore the yucca bushes in front of the coop. The bush’s long green leaves held in lots of dried leaves, which the chickens quickly foraged looking for bugs and worms.

Soon they became braver, walking behind the coop, and under a tall bush. Before I knew it they were across the yard, eating grass under an old oak tree.

For a few hours, the girls were able to run around the yard, hopping on bugs, clucking upon each new discovery. I looked to the sky, checking for flying predators. The back part of the yard is sheltered by large trees, but still, I worried about a hawk perching high above and setting eyes on a chicken. I felt like a young mother taking a child to the park for the first time. I repeatedly did a head count, doing my best to watch their every move.

Not exactly free range, I know. But I doubt they noticed. They were busy not being in the coop!

Hopefully these little white fences will keep our dog Charlie out of the new grass seed.

Hopefully these little white fences will keep our dog Charlie out of the new grass seed.

Meanwhile, Matt patched in the bare spots in our yard, adding new topsoil and handfuls of grass seed. He also set up a stone border for a flower garden behind the house, and did a ton of weeding in what will become our first garden.

Matt worked up a sweat, especially while moving some mammoth rocks. He would point out that I was completely composed, not a stitch of dirt on me. I would counter that chicken sitting is serious business. Who else is going to chase Gigi when she has a piece of plastic in her beak?

We eventually used a wagon to move the mini boulders across the yard, and even that was a chore. Did I mention that gardens are a lot of work? And we haven’t even planted a seed yet.

Now that the chickens are all settled in, we’re setting our sights on a large garden. In the next week or two, Matt plans to put in an herb garden. We also have seeds for corn, climbing beans, sunflowers and carrots. We’ll probably go to Eastern Market in Detroit to pick up a few tomato plants and a some other veggies.

We will install a simple fence around the garden area to keep the chickens out of the area. Especially with young plants, it will be important to keep the girls out of the garden to prevent them from scratching up the roots.

Matt found this morel in our front yard.

Matt found this morel in our front yard.

Amid this busy work, Matt managed to find two more morel mushrooms. I still can’t believe our luck. In the 10 years I’ve lived in my house, I always fantasized about morels in my yard, but always settled for driving three hours away to search for them in forests. To find them at home is such a delight!

In the meantime, the chickens already are contributing to the garden’s health. I have been composting their poop, to use as fertilizer.

It’s good to know they are earning their keep!

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