This summer my sister and I stayed at my dad and stepmom’s lake house for a week while they went camping with our children. It was delightful. I have been a city girl for a long time now, so I relished my time in the “country.”
Since the grandparents had all the kids, my sister and I generously did a few chores during our week off. We watered the plants, tidied the house, fed the cat, did all the laundry we could find, even went through old canned goods and got rid of the ones that were seriously expired.
But no one had said anything about the chickens. And clearly living creatures needed to be looked after. So… how much do you feed chickens? How often? We didn’t want to bother our stepmother, the main chicken keeper, and we really didn’t want them to come home early with all the kids, so the internet was our friend. At no point did we pause to realize that our extremely competent stepmother probably did not leave her beloved chickens to starve while she was gone.
Once we’d finished our basic research about chicken feeding, I let myself into the coop, confident that I could handle this chore. As I entered, I noticed that the top of the wire mesh roof was covered in rotting leaves, and I decided to clear the leaves as an extra bonus to my super-daughter work. I started poking and pushing at the decaying debris and, of course, it rained down all over my head, into my eyes, onto my shoulders, and right down into my bra because, of course, I was wearing sundress. As I stood there, covered in itchy, smelly leaf rot, the thought “I am not stupid. Why did I do this?” ran through my head.
I probably should have just left the coop then, but I was worried about those chickens, so I brushed off what leaf pieces I could and continued with my mission. It turned out that the chickens had a feeder, so I assumed they had enough food, but what about water? I looked around the coop – my stepmother is no slouch: these chickens have multiple rooms – and eventually found a small water bottle. It honestly looked like something I’d put on a hamster cage, not nearly big enough for four chickens, but I filled it anyway. Still, I continued to worry: there was no way that was enough water. I noticed the chickens milling around a white bucket precariously perched on some cement blocks. A water bucket! When I looked in to check the water level, I noticed lots of green mold growing inside, so… I decided to continue my super-daughter act and clean it. I was still wearing my cute sundress.
How hard can it be to clean a water bucket for chickens? I looked up at the mess of hoses attached to the garage spigot. There were at least five along with some sort of crazy thing that you move around to make water flow out of one hose or another according to your needs. But, they were just hoses, how hard could it be? About five minutes later, after some curses and some water spraying in unexpected directions, I finally managed to get water into the bucket. The mold did not come off. I made the hose spray harder. The water rebounded out of the bucket and all over me, but the mold held on.
At this point my city thinking clicked in, and I went inside, got a kitchen sponge to clean the bucket, noticed the dish soap, and grabbed that, too. And, voila!, my city solution worked: the bucket was clean. Hooray! I stood back to look proudly at my handiwork and had a terrible thought: Are chickens sensitive to dish soap? I had no idea. I did a very thorough rinse of the bucket.
This process took at least 15 minutes, and the chickens glared accusingly from their coop the entire time. They knew that I had no idea what I was doing. I had taken their water and was clearly incompetent. They clustered around the door, watching, waiting, judging.
Triumphantly returning the chickens’ glares, I returned to the cage and placed the now-clean, thoroughly rinsed, and completely refilled water bucket on the uneven cement blocks. And it leaked. A lot. Water went everywhere. The chickens were visibly delighted, clucking and pecking at the wet ground, at the stream of water, at my toes. I repositioned the bucket. No dice. I fiddled with the spouty-bit that was supposed to let the water out only when they pecked at it. More water flowed, and the coop turned into a muddy mess.
Finally, soaked, rotten leaf debris still in my hair and bra, sweat running down my back and cleavage, and flip-flops covered in mud from the mess I’d made in the coop, I gave up. My stepmother was returning tomorrow. I would just have to ask how to take care of chickens.
P.S. She had left the coop completely prepared for her absence, and I had broken the water bucket beyond repair. She made a new one and I haven’t been in that coop since.