Tag Archives: chickens

Slow Living – May 2013

5 Jun

SLOW LIVING UPDATE – May 2013

Heidi over at Lightly Crunchy has been posting these Slow Living updates each month, and I find them rather interesting. It gives you a chance to look back on the prior month with a sense of accomplishment. There are days that I feel kind of lazy, lounging around and not really getting anything done even though there are mountains of laundry to be washed and put away, dishes to be done, floors to be scrubbed. Then there are days, even weeks, where it feels like my head is spinning from all of my to-do’s! I know that I’m not right on top of posting, but figured you gotta start somewhere!

Nourish:

The month of May was an opportunity to clean out the freezer so nothing goes to waste, and save some money on groceries in the process. I didn’t do a whole lot of recipe posting, even though I was getting creative in the kitchen (those recipes will be coming soon!). I made flax bran muffins, “fried rice”, and my own Sweet Cream Coffee Creamer. I did manage to post a recipe when I whipped up a healthier alternative to mashed potatoes with a Garlic Cauliflower Mash.

Prepare:

May was spent prepping the garden for veggies, as well as some landscaping around the chicken coop. A whole day spent pulling rocks out of our creek to keep the flowers up nice and close to the coop. It helps create a little more shade, and will also make the area around the coop look nicer once the flowers grow and fill in.

flower bed

Reduce/Reuse/Repurpose/Repair:

This month was a great cleansing month at our house. During April and May, I scoured the house for things to donate to charity. I’ll never understand how 2 people can manage to end up with so much stuff. It was mostly me donating my items, but over the next month or 2, hubs is going to go through his things and part ways with duplicate and unused items. For the scheduled pickup for the VVA, I had 4 big bags of clothes, shoes, coats and purses, 2 boxes of books, and one box of miscellaneous kitchen items. I’m happy I was able to pass along so much gently used, well taken care of stuff so that someone else could enjoy it!

Green – cleaners, body products and basic herbal remedies:

I’ve slowly been using up all of our chemical laden store-bought products so that I can replace them with more earth friendly ones. I’ve been using a homemade citrus vinegar spray that smells lovely and cleans great. It cleans up the chicken coop, counters, toilets. The recipe is too simple to deserve a whole post. Basically, soak citrus peels – lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange – in white vinegar for 2-4 weeks (I did 4) strain out the peels, mix 1:1 with water, and place in a spray bottle. Green cleaner with about zero effort. The hardest part is remembering to save the peels!

Grow:

We managed to make our garden the nicest looking it’s been since we started. This is our fourth year with the garden, and hubs created nice rows for all the veggies. We – meaning I – scaled back on the amount of plants because I tend to overcrowd the garden, making it hard to harvest tomatoes before they are overly ripe. This year, that won’t be a problem. All that’s left to do now is fence it in to keep the chickens out. They enjoy tomatoes.

garden2013

Create:

I created a front porch herb garden, complete with mint, parsley, oregano, basil, pineapple sage and dill. It’s nice to look at and makes it easy to have fresh herbs on hand for recipes.

Discover:

A friend had been talking about the show Mad Men. When I realized that all but one season was on Netflix, I started watching. I’m hooked. I want Betty Draper’s clothes. We also discovered a bicycle trail near my little brother and made use of it on my birthday. We did 10 miles that day, and while the first 5 were a bit rough and all up hill, we did it and it was awesome!

image

Enhance – community:

Now that the hens are laying pretty regularly, we have a big surplus of eggs. Many more than the hubs and I can eat. So, I’ve started sharing them again with my gram, and allowing coworkers to put in an order for some. The only thing I ask for is for them to give me back the egg cartons, and to donate towards the chickens feed. It’s been working out for everyone!

eggs!

Enjoy:

The hubs and I have rediscovered our deck after it’s winter hibernation. We’ve pressure washed it, busted the cushions out of their prison tote, and entertained some family on it. I was able to share a meal with an uncle whom I had not seen for almost 20 years. We plan on spending many evenings on it, eating dinner, having an adult beverage or two, and sharing the space with family and friends.

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens, One Year Later!

26 Mar

Last week, I was looking through my day planner and realized, holy shit. It’s been a year since we got those first chicks and ducklings. It caused me to pause a moment, and think about all that I’ve learned over this year.

chickens in creek

I’ve learned that raising chicks and ducklings together is a pain in the ass. Why? Because the ducks want to try to bathe in the water, causing the litter to always be wet. Causing me to always have to change it. But I loved watching the ducklings grow into ducks, and interact with all the chicks. Nobody knew they were any different! Would I do it again? Probably not. A pair of Mallards is enough for my little backyard flock. I’m thinking when I get my next round of chicks to raise, it’ll be a little less messy.

I’ve learned that I will always have to sweep mulch back into the flower beds. When chickens are digging for bugs, they don’t really care that they are flinging mulch all over the place and making the sidewalk a mess. They don’t have very good manners.

I’ve learned that dust bathing is essential to a chicken keeping themselves clean, and that they will set up their baths wherever they damn well please.  Like beside the shed ramp, where they dug a hole that is 6 inches deep. Or in the front flower bed, against the house, where they dug a trench. Also 6 inches deep. Screw using that tub that I filled so nicely with composted wood shavings, sand, DE and wood ash.

I’ve learned that I don’t HAVE to get up at the ass crack of dawn to let the chickens out of their coop. They will be just fine if I let them out when I wake up. When we first got them I felt like I HAD to run out before the sun and open up the coop so they could get out into the run and eat, drink, and frolic like chickens do. Then I got sick and couldn’t get up at the ass crack of dawn to let them out. And guess what? They lived! Sure, they were all at the coop windows, popping their heads up peeking out, making a ruckus. And they all stormed out and it seemed like some of them gave me the stink eye. But they lived. So until we get that automatic door opener I’m dreaming about, they’ll have to deal with being let out of the coop when I get there. It’s roomy, and gets a nice supply of fresh air. So they’ll be just fine.

Francine

I’ve learned that chicken poop will be all over my 1 1/4 acre yard. Including the front porch. The cement slab to get into the basement. The deck steps. The driveway. The world is their bathroom. Which means a shoe scraper really IS an essential household tool. So is the hose. But in the garden, yard and the flower beds? It’s a great fertilizer!

I’ve learned that when my chickens (and ducks) see me, they think Hey! That’s the human that gives us food! Let’s run at her at full speed and see what she’s got for us! They also realize real quick where the scratch grains are kept, and that a cup of them being shaken is the sign to come back to the coop for tasty treats – AKA I’ll be gone until after dark and don’t want you guys to become a predator meal, so you need fenced in.

I’ve learned that my rooster, Thor, while beautiful, is a complete and total ass. Sure he protects the ladies, calls them when he finds something yummy to munch on, rounds them up when it’s time for bed. But he’s not smart enough to realize that the humans – specifically the hubs & I – aren’t predators. So he tries to attack us. Randomly of course. So I’ve taken to carrying around the snow shovel or the broom to keep him away and I’ll lunge at him every once in a while, letting him know who is the boss. I never would have guessed that I’d need to establish dominance over a chicken.

chickens

I’ve learned that chickens and ducks are possessive of their piece of land. Any birds who aren’t their coop mates get chased out of the yard, in a very showy way. Lots of wing flapping and yapping.

I’ve learned that the hens I have are super vocal about their egg laying. Announcements are made, which results in kudos calls from the other hens who are out and about.

I’ve learned that nothing beats eating an egg that came from your own back yard, from chickens you feed and care for. The taste is exceptional, and it makes me feel like I’ve done something good. Because I have. I’ve taken another step towards being responsible for my own food source. Is raising backyard chickens cheaper than buying store-bought? Hell no. But the piece of mind I’m given knowing my eggs are fresh, my chickens are healthy and happy, and truly free range? You can’t put a price on that.

eggs!

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens – The Winter Months

8 Jan

December came in like a lamb but went out like a lion. We had mild temps and a whole lot of rain for the first couple weeks. The last couple weeks of December, the temps went down (you do get a little spoiled when you are having 50 degree days in December in Western Pa!) and the snow came right after Christmas. We got over 12 inches of snow. What that meant for me was diligence about keeping the birds with water and feed, as well as making sure their run stayed dry. AND let’s not forget shoveling a path AROUND the outside of their fenced in run. Partly for me to make it easy when caring for them, mostly for the birds so that they could venture out of the run and get a little more exercise. Did you know chickens are snow blind? They also don’t like how the snow feels on their feet. I can’t say I blame them.

Hmm....I guess the driveway ends here. I have no idea how to get back!

Hmm….I guess the driveway ends here. I have no idea how to get back!

I had preplanned what I was going to do to keep the birds comfortable, well fed, exercised and happy. The true test for me, I feel, was when we got that first 8 degree morning, with temps at zero with the wind chill. I got up and went out to check on the ladies. They were all alive, and came out of the coop to have their morning feeding. Yay! I felt like a super hero.

Now, what follows is how I prepped for the birds in the winter months. I’m no expert – I have read, researched, and tested out some things and this is what works for ME. Use it as a guideline. Find what works for you. Don’t take everything you read as law. You want to research and do what’s best for your flock. The main goal is to keep them well fed, watered, and able to go somewhere dry and draft free.

Late Fall – I did a  total coop/run cleansing

Run: I start by raking out any debris in the fenced in run. This gets the run cleared of all the poop, fallen litter, poop, old dropped feed, poop, corn cobs and random buildup – wait, did I say poop? – that comes from chickens. This all gets dumped straight onto our garden patch, where it can continue to break down. The chickens help me out working it in by scratching at it for bugs and tomato seeds left behind from that years garden. I then fill in any holes the birds made while they take dust baths. They’ll take a dust bath anywhere – we have trenches dug from them right up against the house in the front yard flower bed. They dug a hole alongside the shed ramp big enough to bury two of them. They dug holes in the run, right up against the foot deep chicken wire like they want to make it easier for a predator to get in and eat them. Those in the run holes need filled. Especially before the ground freezes. Once that is done, I toss in half a bale of hay and let the hens spread it around. I try not to have too much in the run since if it sits on the wood and gets wet, it will rot the wood. No good.

We don't want to come out!

We don’t want to come out!

Coop: This is a little more in-depth task. I start by removing all of the pine shavings – and poop – all while wearing a bandana over my mouth and nose since there can be a lot of dust created. Sometimes a quick spray with the hose helps keep the dust at a minimum.

Once all the litter is removed, I wipe down the flooring with a wet rag that is dipped in a bucket of warm water with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Once that is all wiped, I spray down the roosts, floor, walls and nesting boxes with a homemade citrus vinegar cleaner and wipe everything down again with a fresh rag. (Chickens respiratory systems are very sensitive, so I use vinegar instead of bleach or other household cleaners since it doesn’t leave behind any chemical smell) I leave the back of the coop open to let the breeze in and dry it out. Once the coop is completely dry, I sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth (DE) on the flooring, in the nesting boxes and focus on the corners. This helps keep lice and mites out of the coop. On top of this goes 2 bags of fine pine shavings, and another sprinkling of the DE. It’s ready for the birds now!

I follow the deep litter method for my coop because it works for me. The deep litter method is 6 inches of shavings, stirred daily (I do every other day, sometimes every 2 days depending on how much poop is sitting on top of the litter). I add fresh pine shavings and a sprinkling of DE as well as some Sweet PDZ – a horse stall freshener that cuts down ammonia and keeps the coop smelling fresh(those sensitive chicken respiratory systems again!). Click the link for directions on using it for chickens. I chose the deep litter method because it’s essentially a working compost pile. When I clean out the litter, it’s broken down and I can either add it to the garden, or toss it on the big compost pile. In the winter, because it IS composting, it helps to create additional heat in the coop without hurting the birds.

Diet & Exercise: Once the snow hits, the birds are pretty much cut off from free ranging. The grass is dormant and covered in snow & the bugs are nowhere to be found. They have the fenced in run, which is spacious and roomy, but it’s not the same as having free run of a whole acre of land. To help substitute the greens, I fill a chicken treat toy with greens – lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, kale, spinach and carrot shavings. I will also give them a head of cabbage once per week where they basically play cabbage tether ball until nothing but a nub of the cabbage stem is left. To secure it I use a threaded eye hook, screwing it directly into the cabbage and hang it from a rope secured to the roof support. They love it. Sometimes it takes them a few days to finish it. Other times the cabbage is gone the same day.

For protein, I give them leftover roast chicken, fish, or beans (don’t cringe. they don’t know they are eating their kin!). There are chicken treats – dried mealworms – that I’ll toss around the coop for a special treat. On the cold mornings, which it seems that ALL of them are any more, I give them a bowl of hot oats, grains or plain cereal. This seems to get them going and active, and it’s amazing how quickly they’ve adapted to getting this morning time treat. All it is about 2 cups of quick cooking oatmeal, and enough hot tap water to cover it. I let it sit for a few minutes to soften and expand and then take it out to them to devour. The first time I gave it to them they stared at if for about 5 minutes before digging in. For water, I purchased a heated dog bowl to keep it from freezing. It kicks on only when temps reach a certain level, and I can set their waterer directly on it. It has worked wonderfully so far. Only had one day where there was a thin layer of ice, and that was the 8 degree day. The hens poked right through with no problem.

Enjoying some hot oats on a chilly morning

Enjoying some hot oats on a chilly morning

Additional light/heat lamps: I opted to go the first year of chicken keeping without adding any light to extend my ladies egg laying period. We get 1-3 eggs per day still, with a couple days of no eggs, and that is fine for me and the hubs. I have read too much information on how heat lamps are bad for birds because it causes too much of a temp change when they go away from it and could kill them. I have larger, cold hardy birds – Golden Laced Wyandotte & Barred Plymouth Rocks – so I’m not too worried about them being cold. The Barred Rocks are all in various stages of molt, so I know they are not currently laying because they are focusing their protein reserves on replacing those lost feathers.

Grazing on some scratch grains

Grazing on some scratch grains

The main things you want to remember for your back yard chicken keeping is that your birds should be able to access food, fresh unfrozen water, and have space to move around. They should have a dry coop to go to for warmth and to get out of the wind. Give them greens (lettuce, cabbage, kale, cucumbers) to supplement their diets from lack of free range availability. If you are an awesome pet parent like me, you’ll give them a cabbage tether ball. And you’ll give them some hot grains to get them moving in the mornings. I think we are doing

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens November Update!

30 Nov

So it seems like it’s been awhile since I talked about the chickens (and ducks) and given everyone an update. I mean hell, the last time I talked about them, I had a hen with a prolapse and it was warm outside and the plants were green. The hen healed up and is an egg laying machine, but the weather has changed and we’re now cold with sporadic bursts of snow, shit is dead or dormant, and the grass is getting a bit sad looking. It would appear that winter is upon us. Blech.

Where to start? Well Thor, that gorgeous rooster of ours decided he wanted to test his fighting skills…on me. While I had my arms full of bags and a weenie dog, that feathered rat bastard. It was a very enthusiastic jump up type of assault, complete with wing flapping and legs kicking. So I kicked at him to get him away from me. And made these really weird AAAAARRRRRGGGHHH gurgling noises in between screaming for the hubs. Hubs came out and they did their little chest puffing (hubs was trying to establish himself and the supreme being in the male population around here) and that seemed to get Thor to back off. I started carrying the broom around with me just in case and I did have to tap him on the ass another day when he puffed at me and got all “I’m gonna get you” on me. I told him that if he kept up that shit his pretty little feathered self was going to become dinner. Perhaps a nice Coq au Vin. I ate a piece of chicken in front of him as well, just to show him I meant business. It seems like he got his cock fight mentality out of his system, but I still carry the broom around when I’m in the yard. I bet that is a sight from the road.

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Ever heard of feather pulling hens? Ya, I’ve got multiple ladies missing feather. Actually, only 1 hen and the rooster have feathers on their bums. At first I thought it was some weird reverse molt, but once the feathers started growing back in and were pin feathers, a couple of days later they were gone. My newest guess? They’ve resorted to being bored with their beauty routines and like having naked chicken butts. Because they don’t have any lice or mites, they get lots of scratch grains, are laying regularly, everyone takes dust baths and is otherwise healthy, and no one can possibly be considered bored since they are out all day long, foraging around the yard for tasty greens and bugs. Lucky me, I got weird birds. I’m at a loss at what else I can do since if there are feather pullers, there is certainly more than 1. And I have never actually caught anyone pulling out any feathers, except for the one hen occasionally pulling on Thor.

Speaking of letting them run free, the hens reminded me that they are not always the smartest animals. They are smart enough to avoid the highway, move out-of-the-way when we pull into the driveway, and come running when they see me because I have scratch or perhaps some other tasty treat – yet somehow, they are not smart enough to stay on OUR side of the fence. Matilda ended up on the business side of the fence once, and I easily lured her fat ass through the gap with some scratch and back to the safety of our yard.

Then one night I came home from work to lock up the ladies for the night and Francine was missing. My heart sank. I figured she either decided she wanted to see WHY a chicken decided to cross the road and met her maker, became a meal for a hawk, fought a cat, or was stuck on the other side of the fence like her sister and had to hang out for the night since it was dark. Hubs and I looked high and low for her and couldn’t see her. He then called me in the morning to tell me he saw her roosted up on the other side of the fence in some Aborvitae trees. Let me tell you, chasing a chicken for 20 minutes is some good cardio first thing in the morning. Francine came to me easily – ran right under the fence and high tailed it to me, but then stopped and wanted to go back in. Well then. I figured she had to be thirsty and hungry, so scratch should have easily lured her to my open arms. No dice. Finally she did what chickens tend to do and cornered herself, where I was able to lunge, almost fall on my face, and grab a strong hold on ONE SINGLE FEATHER to get her to stop so I could carry her back to the safety of the run. As I wiped the sweat from brow that chilly 35 degree morning, complete with snow flurries, I decided the birds were staying in their run for the day. One AWOL hen was enough, and I didn’t want to have to commit to the same chicken chasing cardio the following morning. Hubs thinks she wants to go off and be a wild chicken. I think she was just too dumb to find her way back home and got stuck so she hung out.

With the days being colder and the sun setting earlier, the girls have slowed down on their egg production. We are still getting 4 eggs per day from the chickens, 1 from the duck, so no substantial losses. I am still buried in eggs even after all of my holiday baking so we are not feeling the eggless pinch just yet. I decided I didn’t want to give the hens any artificial light to keep their egg production at it’s peak. I wanted to have my first year of chicken keeping be a complete test run. If they continue to lay with a decline but still give us a couple eggs per day so I don’t have to buy any, then we’ll keep them on natural lighting next year as well. That just means no eggs for anyone else but us. I mean, they are our chickens after all, so we should reap the rewards of our efforts!

And for those of you that have never seen a chicken take a dust bath, I bring you Matilda, the Barred Plymouth Rock hen who is by far the friendliest of my hens and one of the funniest. Till next time….

The DIY Life: The perils of keeping chickens and the joys of those first eggs

16 Aug

It seems like forever ago that I talked the hubs into getting chickens. I can still remember him getting home with those 2 little boxes that basically looked like happy meal containers and opening them to see those little Mallard ducklings and the Golden Laced Wyandotte chicks. I was in love with their fuzziness and adorable little chirping sounds. Two weeks later we got 6 Barred Plymouth Rock chicks. I remember relocating them to the garage so that they had more room to roam and not be on top of each other. I remember how quickly they seemed to grow after that relocation and how fast it started to stink since the ducks liked to play in their water, making the litter wet and requiring it to be changed at LEAST every other day. I remember the coop getting finished enough for them to move in. Now, all these months later, it seems normal to go out daily and check their food and water supply. To hunch down and give them a quick pet on their backs. To hear Thor crowing throughout the day. To wake up early on a Saturday and Sunday to let them out of the coop into their fenced in run. Now they are trained to come running back to the coop if they are out free ranging and I need to leave by the simple shaking of a solo cup full of scratch grains or cracked corn. The only thing left to make all of these efforts worthwhile is to see the beauty of a freshly laid egg somewhere in the coop. A week ago today, I came home from work and went to check the food and water and to let the birds out to free range and immediately noticed a hen with a bulging, blood and poop stained sack hanging off her back side. I quickly let out all the other birds and kept her in the run so she was safe. All I could think to myself was oh no. I did not sign on for THIS. I should not have to deal with THIS! But deal with this I would have to. I had to try to save this wounded Wyandotte. Turns out she had suffered what is called a prolapse – this is where her insides end up outside. Sometimes it happens in early layers, or on the first egg laying, or older birds. There are no fast or hard rules, and it’s not something you can predict. For the most part it’s simply segregating the hen, cleaning her up, swabbing her prolapse with some preparation h and pushing it all back in, keeping her isolated until everything looks normal again. For this hen, it would not be that simple. See, chickens can be mean, cannibalistic creatures. The reason for all the blood? The other hens had pecked at her. It’s what they do when they see sickness of any sort. So while I rounded up an old dog crate and got it clean and filled it with soft new pine shaving to get her segregated, the hen laid an egg followed by a yolk.

Egg and yolk laid by our Wyandotte who had a prolapse

The huge bulge on her back side got instantly smaller. I thought yay! Now I just clean her up and it’s all good. Nope. Once hubs got home, I got the wounded hen out of the coop and took her into the house. Hubs wrapped her head and wings in a towel (this calms the hen) and I donned some gloves and got to work cleaning her up. It was awful looking. I had to be gentle because I wanted to cause the hen the least amount of discomfort. I got her as cleaned up as I could. Hubs had to attempt to push the prolapse in because I was at risk of passing out. (I’m not good with blood. At all. Human or animal. It blows) I was fine up until I got her cleaned up enough to apply the preparation h ointment. As soon as I saw blood on my glove, I was done. Sheesh. Can’t help it. That’s how I roll. Anyways, we got as much of the prolapse pushed back in as possible, gently put her in the dog crate with some water, draped a towel over the top and sides of the crate leaving only the front open and turned out the light. We gave her just enough food to keep her alive because you don’t want to take the risk of them laying another egg so soon after a prolapse. So minimal light, only about 3hrs per day, and small amounts of food mixed with yogurt. Two days later? I found another egg. BUT it was clean, no blood, and didn’t appear to cause any additional damage. So, the good news is that everything seems to still be working. For the past week, my morning consist of waking up and tending to my wounded Wyandotte. Cleaning her bum up, spritzing her with some iodine solution, and drying her as good as I can without making her uncomfortable. I had to cut out some of her feathers because even with daily cleanings, they were caked with chicken poop, and chicken poop is like GLUE. You have to SCRUB at it to get it off. The portion of the prolapse that was sticking out fell off last night! So our patient seems to be feeling much better. She is back to grooming herself again and she is certainly enjoying her yogurt and feed mush that I’ve been making for her. I am going to put a pen up for her to stretch out her legs and get some exercise, but still keep her segregated until at least Sunday. I don’t know how her insides are looking so I want to give her a couple more days to heal before rejoining her flock. I’m hoping that in the future, all of her eggs come out without causing her any harm. If she could lay an egg without wrecking herself again while she was in segregation, I feel hopeful she’ll be ok in the future. I would be very sad if she went through all this rehabilitation just to be wounded again the next time.

Our FIRST egg, from our wounded Wyandotte

Some more good news – it seems our other Wyandottes are laying as well! And with  no issues! Hubs never did get around to partitioning off the nesting boxes, so the ladies created their own niche for eggs in the corner. So far the ladies have given me under a dozen eggs in a few days. They are small (in the photo below the brown one is our hens eggs, the right white one an XL store-bought), but they are still figuring things out and will lay larger eggs soon. When I put the birds to bed a few nights ago I decided I wanted to see how much they moved the fresh pine shavings around since I am doing the deep litter method. Thor nests into one corner of the nesting box, our mallards in the other. And in the corner I spied those brown eggs and ran into the house like a kid who just spotted Santa for the keys to open the back of the coop and get to them.

Overall I’m happy with my choice to keep chickens (and ducks!). Their litter and droppings will provide nutrient rich soil once composted for our garden. Their eggs will keep us well fed as a food source WE control. Their antics will provide endless entertainment. And they’ll help control the bug population at our house by feasting on them in their free range time.

 

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens Series – Part 4,5,6 & 952.

12 Jul

So ya. I’ve been seriously slacking on the chicken keeping posts. Not because I’m not involved with my birds, but because well, I’ve been a busy girl! At least I feel like I’ve been busy.

So here’s the scoop on the coop, the hens, and the mallard ducks that were originally thought to both be ladies but it turns out one was masquerading as a lady and is in fact a boy. Dude looked like a lady! And now you can watch this impromptu, has zero to do with chickens video of clips from Mrs. Doubtfire to the tune of Dude looks like a lady – which does have something to do with my post!

Ok. Now that we got that out of the way, onto the topic at hand. Chickens. And female impersonator ducks. We are now down to 3 roosters from the original crew of 5. Whew. Two of our Barred Plymouth Rock boys got relocated to new homes where a roo was needed – one to help heal some hens that lost their leading man and the other to help provide some cross-bred fertilized eggs to Rhode Island Red ladies. At least that’s what they told me.  I’ve still got 1 BPR and 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte boy to find a home for, otherwise the hubs says they’re going to become freezer meat by the end of next week. gasp. Who knew it would be so hard to find homes for these beautiful boys? Everyone wants hens I guess and aren’t too keen on keeping a rooster to protect their ladies. With only 7 hens needing to be overseen by a male, we don’t have enough hen to roo ratio to keep them from fighting. No fights so far in the pecking order so that’s good news. The Wyandotte boy we are keeping has been named Thor – because he will put the hammer down! hahahaha! I’m hilarious. But seriously, that’s his name.

Thor – the mighty chicken king

They all have had their first adventures in the yard, and do in fact live up to the name chicken. They don’t go much further than the side and back of their coop. We even picked up a duck and put him right on the edge of the creek. He complained, loudly, the whole way back to the coop. Well then. So far we are letting them out of their fenced in run a few hours per week. They are always on the hunt for fresh greens, so we keep watch over them so they don’t wander into the garden thinking it’s their own personal buffet. They get fresh greens in between because any weeds I pull from the garden and flower beds go right into the run for their enjoyment. They also get all of our veggie and bread table scraps, as well as scratch. When we mow the lawn, hubs dumps one of the bags of cut grass into the run and they just go nuts! Bugs, fresh greens, stuff to kick around. Chicken bliss. The ducks have a nice little pool filled with water that I change every other day. They enjoy having bath time options and will go into it first thing in the morning. For now, it works for them.

Grazing in the yard

Speaking of ducks, we originally thought we had two ladies. I always thought that the smaller one must have been a runt or the bigger one was in fact a boy and just didn’t know it yet. Then his feathers started to change. I first noticed specks of green around his eye and though maybe he had some grass stuck. Nope, it was feathers. Hubs searched the net and found out the males are colored very similarly to the females up until about 14 weeks old. They do this to camouflage themselves from predators. I bet you didn’t know that either, so you’ve learned a new interesting fact to bust out at cocktail hours and family dinners. Woo hoo! So we have a male and female mallard. I’m so psyched.

Eddy duck – the dude who looked like a lady. He’s still molting his lady feathers, so he’s only half cross dressed right now.

Right now our chickens are 15 & 17 weeks old. They don’t start laying until 26 weeks old. Arrrrrgggggh! Needless to say, we’ll most likely have to play some tricks on them by keeping the coop warm and lighted if we want to see eggs before spring. But that’s ok. While raising chickens from chicks can be time-consuming and stressful, eventually it’ll even out. These birds know my voice and touch, and come running to the run door when I go outside. They make sweet little purring noises when I feed them scratch, will jump up to get a piece of cold crisp lettuce from my fingers, eat bugs (except lighting bugs…those apparently taste bad to them), provide nutrient rich compost for our garden, and provide much entertainment for the hubs and I, as well as our friends and family. And someday, they will provide us with eggs. Anything worth having does require some work and some effort, and I’m not against getting my hands dirty. I am glad that I have taken the step to knowing where yet another source of my food comes from – you can’t get any closer than your own back yard.

I have learned that chickens may not be the smartest animals but they do learn quickly. Bedtime starts shortly after the sun starts to set. They have shown me cucumber slices are by far the most coveted of table scrap treats. They have made it known that wearing bedazzled sandals near them is ill advised because they turn into bling chasing whores who will peck at my feet trying to lay claim to the sparkle. They will all gather at the door to listen intently while I talk sweetly to them. They have taught me to take pleasure in the simple little things.

We’ve got some finishing touches that need put on the coop, like finishing the nesting box and trimming the outside to cover the bazillion staples on the chicken wire. We are most likely going to have to put battens on the coop to match the shed since the boards shrunk in the extreme heat we’ve had these past weeks. But our birds are happy and healthy and that’s what matters most. Now give me some eggs!

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens Series, Part 4 – The Coop Scoop

23 May

So, our oldest birds are now 8 weeks old. With the days hovering in the 80’s and nights in the mid to low 50’s, it’s time for these birds to relocate from the garage to a more permanent OUTDOOR home. Add to that we can now tell we have what we THINK are 5 roosters and 7 hens. The Wyandotte roosters? They’ve started doodling. I cannot begin to even imagine the noise level if they all decide to start getting chatty in the garage. Oh the echo. Oh the horror. So Operation Habitat for Hens is well underway. The hubs built a beautiful shed for us to utilize for storage of garden/outdoor tools and what not about 2 years ago. He decided to attach the coop to the left side of the garden shed, making it look like an extension of the original shed. Sort of like it was on purpose. He ordered the red metal commercial roofing to match the shed. We lucked out and got an extra piece of roofing (they use a piece to protect the order from scratches, and ours happened to be in the same color!) so we were able to make the coop and run that much bigger!

The coop, when complete, will be enough to house all 12 of the chickens and 2 ducks. But, since we have decided to keep 1 rooster (originally, we were just going to have the hens, hubs decided he wanted a Roo to protect our ladies) We only need space for 8 total chickens and the 2 ducks. I have a sinking feeling that our lady mallards won’t stay with us, that the lure of the creek and their Mallard kin that reside in it will call to them and they will join them. Sniffle. If that happens, we will have 7 hens and 1 Roo. They will have a decent sized fenced in run to meander in that will be totally covered by a roof to provide them shade and keep them dry. It will be chicken utopia. They will be euphoric.

Hubs essentially built this from his minds eye. He’s so amazing at construction. No plans, no guide, just an image in his mind that he’s bringing to life before our eyes. I’m not good at things like measurements, and planning materials. He does is beautifully. I am in awe of his skill, and so thankful that he’s doing this pretty much for me. I wanted the chickens…he purchased them knowing he was going to have to built them a house. That’s love.

The boards that are the coop ‘siding” were free! Yep, FREE! They were once tongue & groove wood that was used as a container for construction items. The tongue & groove aspect means hubs doesn’t have to put battens on it! We decided to use a piece of linoleum for the floor of the coop to assist in making cleaning easier. That was also FREE, gifted to me by a friend.

We essentially paid for roofing, hardware, chicken wire, and the boards to frame the coop in. I think our costs are at around $300. The free wood and linoleum helped to keep our costs down immensely. We are going to end up with a good chunk of extra chicken wire, but it’s ok. We can use it for repairs if we need to. It’s not like it’s going to go bad! At this point we are at about 2 days worth of work. We’ll need probably 2 days more to complete the coop and run, and then the birds will be relocated. Hubs has given them their eviction notice. Now he just needs to finish up their home.

Stay tuned for the complete coop, as well as photos of the birds in their new home!

Enjoy!

They are saying “relocate us! We want our new house!!!”

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