Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the tag “Chicken coop”

May Day and beyond

Another two weeks have flown by.  It’s been an extra productive two weeks, with another to follow this week.  First of all, the fence is completely in, and it’s wonderful!  They did a great job especially considering some of the terrain and conditions and it’s a work of beauty; it is so nice to let Farley out the door at night and in the mornings before work without having to leash walk him.  The clearing alone was a job, never mind planting all the fence posts and putting up 1400 feet of field fence with two gates.  I still haven’t figured out how much this adds up to, with regard to how much is left unfenced, but will get out and do the math at some point.  I need to know how much of this is pasture, too, so when I get the critters I plan to get I’ll have an idea what it can support.  I’ll buy hay as needed, but the plan is to have the goats/sheep keep the property cleared and thrive on what grows here rather than import fodder grown elsewhere. 

I moved the hens into the coop last weekend, and they’ve bonded nicely with their new home.  I put up a small (tiny) makeshift pen until I can get to making a nice sized run.  As ridiculously small as the pen is, it’s still larger than their tractor’s space.  I didn’t let them out of  their coop/pen for the first five days, then opened up the door one evening and kept my fingers crossed.  Normally they’ll return to their home at dusk – I just wasn’t sure if they’d see the tractor and think they needed to get in that!  Nope, they returned to their castle and egg laying, such as it is, has continued without a hitch.  Right now I’m using a cardboard box for a nest box, mainly because I haven’t figured out where I want to put the next boxes permanently, though the hens are also improvising and making nests in various places.  The straw bedding  is several inches thick, so they’ve picked a few quiet corners and done their own thing, which is so nice for them.  They love their roosts, and most nights all but a couple are perched on the top roost, about four feet off the ground.  Life is good. 

The chicks continue to grow and are now outgrowing their box in the garage.  They’re nearly ready to move outside – there are four of them that still haven’t feathered out sufficiently to go outside full time (nights), but they’re enjoying the days in the sunshine. 

We’ve had four days of fantastic weather after a week of subnormal temps.  It dipped into the 30s several nights at the end of April and into May and set a few low temperature records.  Combined with the rain coming down in buckets, I was glad I hadn’t switched out of my winter parka yet.  It’s sunny and warm now though, and the nights have been clear and cool-ish, just like May is supposed to be.  And unlike last May’s July heat.  I’m glad it’s back to normal.

Slow and steady as the days fly by

I just took the dogs out for a late night potty run and didn’t want to come back inside.  It’s nearing midnight on a rainy April evening, and it’s gorgeous.  The scent of spring is so invigorating, and a boost to the spirit.  The apple trees are blooming out front – the cherry and plum trees finished earlier this month, and the Northwest spring riot of growth is underway for real.  It’s been cold for much of the month, except when it’s not.  When we get a sunny day it’s everything you could want after a long dark winter.  Warm and almost prematurely sultry, as it was on Sunday, and it’s all I can do to stay on track with my stuff.  And I have a lot of stuff lately.

I can barely believe it’s the end of April already!  I swore I’d stay more up to date, and post at least once per week.  Foosh!  Where did three weeks go?  I have been keeping busy, even though it seems things aren’t happening, and the time is just flying by, really I’m getting a lot accomplished.  I’m bouncing all over the place with my to do list and projects, and am loving every minute of it.  I am so happy here and it’s made me realize how not happy I was in the other places.  Not unhappy so much as just, well, not happy. 

First of all, I got some chicks.  At long last, I have babies in the house again!  Well, in the garage anyway.  It’s been four years since I last raised babies, and it feels so great to get back on track with some new hens (babies yet, but the future flock).   I got ten, and had to control myself not to get more.  The feed store in Monroe – Monroe Farm & Feed – has an amazing array of chicks; not only are the sheer numbers staggering, but the variety is nearly overwhelming.  I got two each of five different breeds, and could easily have gotten ten more the same way.  Then there are the ducklings and goslings.  Must. Resist.  Until next year, anway.  The chicks are radioactively cute, of course.  I got them Easter weekend, so by now they’re already into the gangly, half-feathered awkwardness of early adolescence.  And they are covering the entire garage with chick dust, a phenomenon of raising chicks.  The only thing worse is sheet rock dust when you’re sanding the tape and mud stages.  But they’re growing fast and healthy.  The goofy thing is the Jersey Giants are the smallest and slowest growing.  Once they mature though, I guess they’ll make up for it . 

The adults hens are still in their chicken tractor, but not for long!  I let them out every evening when I get home from work and most of the day on the weekends, and they’ve been rewarding me with lots of eggs.  I’m getting an average of three or four eggs a day, and considering their age and housing sitch it’s amazing (there are eight hens of varying ages, none younger than four).  I think they like it here too, despite the tiny housing right now.  This little place has good energy and we’re all thriving on it.  When I let them out they roam the entire property, ranging down the driveway under the maple (lots of leaf litter from last fall, with easy pickins), out back behind the garage and up on the hill behind the house.  And of course, even with the entire property to roam, they still empty the flower beds by the front porch EVERY time they’re out.  Argh!  But they’ve been fearless about ranging the property, and hopefully we’ll stay safe.  Of course they’re only out when I’m home, which means there’s activity on the property with me and the dogs, which hopefully keeps predators at bay.  And, by the end of this week the property will be fenced!!!! 

I am ridiculously thrilled about this latest development.  Well, maybe not ridiculous – considering Farley’s been off the property at least four times, including twice out on the busy road out front – the angels, or luck, were with us both times.  The fence posts are all in, now it’s just a matter of putting up the gates and wire.  I ended up not fencing the entire property, as I don’t exactly know where the back corners are.  It’s pretty rough going back there, too, wooded and steep with plenty of underbrush (some healthy groves of devils club) and downed limbs and trees.  Cottonwoods, the majority of the trees back there (yes, it’s wet), are messy trees, and between them and the alders, there’s a lot of brush to clean up.  Eventually.  So for now I’m just cutting midway across the back and putting in a small gate so I can get out to the upper portion as needed.  We’ll have all four sides fenced, encompassing the bulk of the property (I’m going to ask the fence guy what the area is), with a nice gate across the driveway, so the bird dog will be able run around to his heart’s content.  Safely. 

And, ta da, I also have a chicken coop built and ready for the hens.  The only hold up right now is the pen, or chicken run.  As I mentioned, they aren’t allowed to run loose unless I’m home, so I need a secure pen for them with the coop.  I have the materials: treated 2x4s and chicken wire, I just need to pull it all together.  The coop is a lovely little 8×10 shed-style built by my nephew Brendan and his buddy, Robert, of Redwood Contracting.  It’s solid and well built (of course); I got the roosts in last weekend, and finished painting now it so it’s super cute.  My hens deserve it after the past two years of makeshift coops in two separate homes.  They’ve been in their tractor (or ark) for almost three months now, and I can’t wait to get them into their new, spacious coop. They’ve been out there in their ramblings, and when they first saw it they seemed to know it was for them, trying out their door and christening the floor.   Ahh.  Life is good. 

It seemed like a good idea at the time

And it still is/was the best temporary solution I had in a hurry.  But it’s time for a permanent solution – a real chicken coop, that is. 

When I moved here at the end of January, it was another of my ark moves.  First the movers took the furniture and household items.  Then I went back for another load and one set of the furry ones. The dogs were squished into the car with as much stuff as I could safely fit and still see to drive.  After a long, exhausting day, I had the first stage done.  The next day I made two or three trips. One carload was the three cats, unhappy in their carriers, the turtles, stoic in their glass home, and the budgies, shrouded in the front seat in their cage.  It was a week before I got the chickens out of there, and I had to pinch hit for housing for them.  I scoured Craigslist and found an ad for a chicken tractor.  It said it was large enough for 10 birds, was a reasonable price, and the seller agreed to deliver it to my house.  Sweet!  Even after the hens were in a coop, a chicken tractor would be a great item to have, and would work until I got a coop and pen built.  (A chicken tractor is a portable chicken run and coop; if you’ve ever had a few hens out in your newly planted flower bed or vegetable garden you know why it’s called a chicken tractor – they’re little dirt moving machines!)

I should have had a clue when he brought it by on a flatbed truck and unloaded it with a bit of effort.  It is well built – treated 2 x 4’s and good plywood, the chicken wire well attached and the coop portion with two nice roosts and some nest boxes.  It was a little smaller than I would have liked for them, but heck, they’d be getting new ground every day. 

I thanked Sonny (a great guy – check out www.premiumbarns.com for his products and services) and after he left, I went and got the hens from my former home.  They packed up pretty easy – maybe they’re getting old, or maybe I’m getting wiser, but catching the nine of them went quickly and easily.  I stuffed them into two large dog crates in the car, packed up their food and waterers, and zoomed back to the new home. 

They did well and took to the new place with a minimum of stress.  The only problem is they stood around in the tractor looking like they didn’t know what to do.  I had about twice as many birds in there as would be ideal (sq. ft. to bird ratio), but it was only temporary.  And I could move them to a fresh patch of grass every day.  It was all good in theory until I tried to move the chicken tractor. 

I’ve already mentioned how well built the tractor is – solid and sturdy and guaranteed to keep the hens safe from potential predators.  It also weighs a ton.  Especially when it’s been out in the rain for a few days.  And I think I’ve mentioned that the property is on a hillside.  There are level areas, and there are more sloped areas.  The chicken tractor was on a gentle slope in the front, by the fruit trees.  The ground is uneven and soft (lots of mole action), and the grass is thick and overgrown.  And I can barely lift the front up to roll it – if it would roll (there are wheels on the back) on this soft, uneven ground.  So I’ve been doing a lot of pivoting.  And the whole thing is slowly working it’s way down the hill, since I can’t pull it uphill.  I put a 2 x 4 across the front (stripped out all the phillips tip wood screws with my power drill as I did so – someday I hope I’ll be able to do this without stripping every one out) which helped, as I’m not tall enough (long enough arms) to reach the two side handles and pull. 

Lately I’ve been crouching under the handle and standing up, using my back to lift it.  This works nicely to put a 5 gallon bucket under the front, and the hens can run around the property while I’m home.  Until I lifted it one day and staggered to the side, the tractor coming down with a whump!  I steadied myself and looked over to see one of the hens pinned under the side.  She was too surprised to squawk, and I hoped I hadn’t just killed her.

I lifted it up again, this time securing the bucket under the front.  She got up gingerly and wasn’t using one leg well.  She hobbled to the coop door and struggled up into the dark safety (the rest of the hens had run out to freedom gleefully once I got the bucket in place).  I checked on her throughout the day, praying she’d be okay.  I’m happy to report that after about 24 hours she seemed fine, a little sore for a few days, but back to running with the flock.

So I’ve learned to put stops behind the wheels so that when I lift it it doesn’t roll back or move too much.  The hens oblige nicely by going back into the little box at dusk, and I lower the whole thing back down so they are secure for the night and the next day.  Due to concern for predators (coyotes and stray dogs) I only let them out when I’m home and not going anywhere before dusk – some weekend days they get out almost the whole day.  They’re doing well, and I’m even getting a few eggs now.  April is egg month – usually the most prolific month of the year for these old gals (the youngest are five  years old now).  A new coop is in the works, though, and I can hardly wait to move them to a full sized coop and pen. 

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