A few weeks ago, a thread popped up on our local community Facebook bulletin board in which Carole asked if someone had experience with crossbeak in chickens. I am the resident chicken person on my small island, Gabriola (pop. 4400) so wasn’t surprised to see a couple of people had tagged me. I contacted her and we arranged a time to meet later in the week for me to check out their pullet. I’ve only had one bird born with a crossbeak and sadly, he was taken out by a hawk before I had found him a permanent home. I have also written about beak abnormalities and was familiar with particular issues of caring for them.
Carole met me at their front gate and led me back into the house to meet her husband, Al, and the pullet in question, Bernie. I trimmed back a bit of her misaligned beak and asked if the couple had time to sit down for an interview.
They are part of a recent wave of newcomers over the past half-decade and the mini-tsunami spurred on by Covid 19: the folks leaving cities in search of a quieter, less expensive lifestyle with some opportunities for greater self-sufficiency. Louise is an accountant and Al worked in set construction, stage rentals and building scenery for films, conventions and music tours. His company was preparing for a large Microsoft convention when the pandemic hit, which required him to pivot to manufacturing plexiglass barriers, safety gear and masks. They changed directions once again and opted to take early retirement.
Carole and Al had been living in Vancouver and were looking for a Gulf Island property where they could have animals and grow food and sail on their time off. They spotted their property on the realty listing, came over to view it and put in an offer on the spot. It’s a 10-acre parcel, zoned agricultural land, where they hope to grow vegetables and flowers and have chickens, horses and goats. Carole’s grandparents had a ranch and she grew up riding horses on their dairy farm.
The couple live in a area of small acreages, many with animals including chickens. They purchased some eggs from a roadside stand and upon returning the carton slipped in a note asking about chickens. Their neighbours were happy to comply, giving them a tour of their place and some advice along the way.
Their property is fenced and well-equipped with outbuildings: a carpentry shop, machine shed and a small livestock barn with an attached meshed aviary. It’s that structure they have converted into a coop. The aviary was built on a concrete pad with timber framing, which Al enclosed by sandwiching the original hardware cloth between the siding and interior walls. When I first stopped by it was mostly finished and the groundwork for the run was marked out. They had dug a 32’x11’ perimeter trench and buried hardware cloth 18” deep to predator proof the pen.
There was a push to get the building completed so the chicks they’d been raising in two of Al’s handmade brooders could be moved out of their spare bedroom. Three Opal Legbars were in one brooder and a slightly younger group of sexed pullets were in another: Speckled Sussex, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Olive Egger and Barnevelder. On order are a couple of Easter Eggers, Swedish Flower and both Black and Blue Copper Marans. That diverse flock will produce dark and medium brown, blue and olive eggs.
We talked about coop construction and the potential for it to be a sideline for Al. I’ve seen photos of a spaceship-style coop and asked if he could build one. No problem – it turns out he worked on the television program Battleship Galactica making seats for the cockpits. One of his skills, and a useful one when planning to sell coops off island, is the ability to make structures with many components that can be taken apart for transport and then easily reassembled.
Five weeks later, I stopped by their place to admire their handiwork since I’d first visited. The pullets from both brooders had been combined and moved out to the coop, which had now been clad on two sides, painted and wired with lighting – both inside and out. The run was complete with predator proof wire on all sides, including the top and was constructed by attaching separate panels together, which is a brilliant idea. Each panel can be unscrewed for repair, but also reconfigured to enlarge it or add a gate in the future for free-ranging time in the orchard.
The livestock barn next door, which will be painted to match the coop, is slated for new residents – Nigerian Dwarf goats, whose milk they’ll use to make butter and cheese. A recently acquired horse will arrive this week.
The couple has only been here since the fall but seem to be settling in. Carole doesn’t miss accounting and is looking forward to working on gardens and getting more chickens. They, like so many of us, find that raising chickens is unexpectedly fun. Al’s brother has chickens and posts about them on Instagram. If they continue to catch the ‘chicken bug’, it may not be long before we’ll see Carole and Al’s flock making their social media debut.
Thanks to Carole & Al for sharing their story and supplying additional photos.