Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Eggly

It has been awhile since posting, so I guess I should try to catch up a little. I built a porta-coop as a mobile backyard unit to carry chickens here and there to fresh grazing ground in the yard. Below you see it parked off behind the main coop. (You can click on any photo to enlarge, if you like.)

The porta-coop can house six chickens comfortably. It is built as an a-frame with an elevated coop at one end. With a couple of old wagon wheels on the front end, and a pair of 'wheel barrow styled handles at the other, I can move the flock here and there in the yard. The coop is constructed from recycled plywood, and some metal flashing and used chicken wire I was able to come by. Just for fun, I splashed it with some spray paint.

Chickens have an 8'x 5' area of grass and soil to explore. By moving the coop every other day or so, the grass gets mowed slowly, but surely. The ground also gets fertilized by the nitrogen rich poop they leave behind. A ramp gives the hens access to sheltered roosting, and several nesting boxes are built in, in case they get a sudden idea to lay an egg! The ramp is on hinges so that I can lift it while moving the coop about.

A small door on one side allows me to check for eggs, and to clean out the coop and replenish with fresh straw.

My last two chicks to leave the brooder box in the house, were the first to try out the porta-coop. Lolly was a black-barred hen, and Gumdrop was a white leghorn. (They, and several other hens were given names by my grand-daughters.) Below are the last pictures of Gumdrop and Lolly enjoying the lush grass and yummy bugs in the porta-coop.


I decided to let Gumdrop and Lolly have their own quarters for awhile since, in the main coop, I have several roosters who have proven to be real bullies. (If a smaller chicken tries to get some feed, they will peck at them and chase them away. )
So, I thought I was doing Gumdrop and Lolly a favor. But, I had no idea that instead, I had left them vulnerable to a feral cat. While I did not see the gruesome act, it is the only thing I can conclude. It looked like a cat crime scene.
The chicken wire had been forced loose near the ground enough to let the critter enter, and one by one, carry Gumdrop and Lolly away. All that remained were a few scattered small feathers from each. I was heartbroken, and angry at the cat. But, I relized that it had been my thinking all along in building the coops, that I was building something a chicken could not get out of. The idea that there could be a predator strong enough to get IN, never entered my mind. The coop was chicken-proof, but not cat-proof.
I was in a distraught mood all day while repairing and improving the coop to make it a safer environment for my remaining hens. Rest in Peace: Gumdrop and Lolly

Now,here's how the other chickens have grown over the past month.

The white barred and black barred chickens are now approximately 10 weeks old. Several have proved to be roosters, and I will discuss their possible fate later. They are all quite attractive and healthy birds.

The three Rhode Island reds (I refer to them as the 'Brownie Troop'), and the White Leghorn hen (Snowdrop) are approaching 8 weeks of age.

One thing all my chickens have in common is that they seem always hungry! At present, they consume about 10 pounds of mixed grain feed in less than a month! No wonder organic eggs are more expensive!

More Chicken news soon!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

They Sure Grow Up Fast!

The juveniles in the coop have settled into their new surrounds. They like the roosts whether in the coop or in the yard. They've grown since moving in to their new digs. Most things they do, they do as a group. They all eat at the same time, or decide to go inside at the same time, or decide to come outside at the same time, or take a nap together. They are a gang. A gang of teen-aged chickens.

Click to enlarge, if you like.

The younger chicks are beginning to out-grow the heated brooder box. Last week they were just little fuzz balls, and now they are in their awkward 'tweens'. (A little bit of fuzz, and some stubby little feathers.)

It is hard to get a shot sticking my camera down into the brooder box. They begin running around everywhere. So, I made another box in which I could place them one-by-one, and tried to take their picture through a hole in the side of the box.

The White Leghorn is about 8 or 9 days old now.

The Rhode Island Red is also about 8 or 9 days old.

The Plymouth Rock Barred is almost two weeks old.

The Australorp is also almost two weeks old.

Next week, the Plymouth Rock Barred, and the Australorp will make their transition to the coop and yard. There, their older siblings will show them the ropes (where the food is, where the water is, the hide-out under the ramp for when the dog comes around, and how to go up the ramp and into the coop for the night, etc.)

In two weeks, my remaining brooder box chicks will 'graduate', and then my life can begin to settle into a simpler routine of chicken management.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Coop at Sundown

For a couple of nights I had to 'shoo' the chickens out of the yard, and into the coop to roost 'til morning. But, they were quick learners. Tonight, as the sun went down, they marched up the ramp without my persuasive pleading, and through the small door to their coop. Go girls!!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

When the chickens come home to roost...

Like our selves, chickens are creatures of habit. And the habits are formed early on. We like to settle in at night with whatever our comfortable routine may be. A movie on tv, or a book to cozy up to. Chickens don't watch tv, or read books, but, they like to roost as the sun goes down. Chickens, while they do quarrel about their pecking order, come together when all is said and done. United they stand, divided they fall, when the sun goes down. There are predators who would like to eat them. In this, they are in agreement. So, they look for higher ground. Safer quarters to catch some zzzzs. And so, they roost. A wild feral chicken running about in Key West would find a tree. It is an instinctive and simple thing they do.

So, I built roosts into my chicken project. In my brooder box of little chicks, I stuck a pole. They gravitated to this. No one had to tell them, or show them how to climb, or clumsily fly to it. It seemed a genetic given. I have roosts in my coop. I have roosts in the yard outside the coop. These chickens I am caring for sometimes seem so brainless, and yet, I admire how they seem to have their act together when the day ends. I'm not sure what this says about the rest of us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Today will be the third day since six of my chicks 'graduated' from the brooder box, and out to the coop and yard. These six were the biggest and most energetic of the twelve little ones I am currently caring for.

They like the yard a lot. And anything one of them decides to do, they all decide to do, whether it is sleep, or stroll around in the sun, or peck at the grass and spring sprouts, or chow down at the feeder.

I replaced the garbage can lid beneath the feeder with an old ranch-house skillet of a smaller diameter. This creates a smaller tray that makes it more difficult for the chickens to walk around in - and poop in - their food. The tangled wad of rusty chicken wire held down atop the feeder with a brick is my very make-shift attempt to convince the chickens they should not perch on top of the feeder. So far, it works, although it is not an aesthetically pleasing solution!

I placed a bench out behind the coop yard. This makes it easy to sit with a cup of coffee and observe teen-age chicken behavior.

Meanwhile in the brooder box in the house remain six young chicks, not quite ready for prime time in the coop. It is difficult to show you much here since it is only lit with a red heat lamp, and also, I have to stick my hand with camera under the netting atop the box in order to try to get a shot. This makes the little ones run about nervously, making it even harder to get a picture.

The black and white pullet in the picture above is an Australorp. An Australian breed that matures mostly black with streaks of green iridescence in her feathers.

Next week I hope to graduate these littlest chicks out to the big world of the coop and yard.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Backyard Chicken Update

The baby chicks (scarcely a week old) are in a small box set down inside a styrofoam cooler. Keeping them warm under the heat lamp, and free from drafts is the main agenda, along with food and water. Each day, I am inching the heat lamp further away from them, gradually acclimating them to normal temperatures. Right now, their thermometer reads 85 degrees F. Next week they will 'graduate' to the bigger box the juveniles are presently in, and the juveniles will graduate to the outdoor coop.

The two week old birds may be considered juveniles. I keep a portion of their box warmed with a heating pad placed under one corner, on low heat. I refer (fondly) to this bunch as 'the juvenile delinquents'. They are very active and noisy. They have hopped all around on the water feeder spilling it into the straw and making a mess. They jump on their food and scratch at it, sending it flying. If I hear them making a racket, and go to check on them, they suddenly stop, and look at me as though they weren't the ones raising a ruckus.

A few notes about coop and yard.

I partitioned the camper such that the coop is to the left upon entering the camper. To the right, a small area is dedicated to supplies, like straw, feed, grit, and so on. The coop currently features seven nests. It is not necessary to have as many nests as birds, since they are communal about their laying of eggs, and don't mind laying eggs on top of someone else's eggs. One nest per four or five is generally sufficient. All nests can be accessed without actually entering the coop. This creates less excitement/disturbance for the birds than invading their space.

A doorway on the back of the coop allows chickens to come and go between coop and yard. It has a hinge-down door so I can close them in during the winter, and keep out cold drafts. I also may want to confine them indoors occasionally, in order to rake out their yard. ( Straw inside the coop, and accumulating poop inside and out will need weekly clean-up/replacement. Those materials will go to the compost pile elsewhere in the back yard. Chicken manure is an excellent fertilizer but needs to be composted before using.)

Chickens like to roost. They like to perch on tree branches above the ground to sleep. It is 'safer' for them. The roost below in the coop yard, is mostly made of branches I pruned out of my over-grown privet hedge, plus some round dowels thrown in. It sits in the southwestern corner where they can 'luxuriate in the sun. Chickens preferring shade can go to the other side of the yard.

More roosting areas are provided inside the coop. A ladder-like roost leads up to a point where chickens can traverse over to more tree-like limbs.

This feeder is destined to evolve. A five gallon lard can sits upon tuna cans that sit on a trash can lid. Holes in the bottom of the lard can allow feed to fall onto the tray (trash can lid). I have two problems to work with here. One, the tray is too big. It allows room for chickens to get into it and make a mess scratching and pooping. Secondly, the flat lid on the top is too convenient a perch, and chickens going there will inevitably poop into the tray below. So, I'll have to modify this over the next few days.

Stay tuned for more chicken news in the near future!