Sunday, October 25, 2015

A fairy tale coop

I'm an artist. And a builder. Unfortunately these two talents, well, clash at times. I spend more time designing and thinking, than I do cutting and nailing.  I'm still designing, in my head, the perfect coop.  But that's another story. What I have built is this little lovely-

It started out to be just a nesting house.  The girls could go there and have their private time, and it would be cleaner than having the nesting box in the coop.  

 The dimensions are 4'x4'x 2' high on the side walls.  The back has double doors, that are in inset, to prevent prying paws of raccoons or other predators. Having no gaps is important, too, to prevent weasels, mink, and, in some areas, rats from getting into coops.  I made the house out of solid pine, even the roofing boards (I don't like to build with plywood or particle board.)  The solid wood construction made it quite a bit heavier, so I made the roof removable.  The ridge cap just sits on the top, and screws can be removed to release the two roof sections.


The proper hardware is essential for a chicken coop. I recommend barrel bolts.  The doors on the back overlap, and are held with this barrel bolt.  Since I wanted the front to look good, I used a more decorative slide bolt. 
 The vent above the overhang has both screen and hardware cloth.  There's glass in the windows, and the overhang helps keep out the weather.  Being raised up on the blocks allows for air circulation and ease of cleaning.  The floor and the side walls are insulated.
 Here's Abigail, my Ameraucana. She immediately
went in to lay her beautiful blue egg, when I let her out of the coop. She's a good girl. 
Well, I started noticing that my four Barred Rock ladies (they are 5 1/2 years old) were getting grief from Francois the rooster when they tried to go in the coop.  He wasn't hurting them, he just prevented them from entering. The next night they also seemed hesitant to go in, when he wasn't bothering them.  They are molting now, and it's uncomfortable for them.  They like their space.

Here are my Barred Rocks enjoying a butternut squash.
 I then decided to turn the quaint nesting house into a special coop as well, just for my Barred Rock ladies. They are very special to me, since they are four of the first chickens that I every raised.   I will always favor them. They will live out their entire life with me, no matter how long they continue to lay (and they were currently laying up until molt, at 5 1/2 years old.) 
Originally, the tray on top was going to have hay for nesting as well. I modified that with a wider board for roosting, and lined the tray with pine bedding.  
 Good morning, girls. This was their second night in the coop. 

Chickens are creatures of habit.  The ladies have only spent two nights in the coop, and both nights I had to put them in there.  I'm sure though, that they will soon be going in on their own.  I can't imagine that they wouldn't prefer this to living in the other coop with the youngsters.  My chickens aren't very spoiled, are they.   

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Abandoned, not broken

 I adopted Murphy from a shelter in 2006. I'd lost my dog Riley within a matter of days of his cancer diagnosis. I was devastated, and needed to fill that horrible empty void.

Riley was a Chow Chow mix that I'd adopted from a shelter. 
He was an amazing dog, and I'll bet would he would have been good with chickens.

Murphy had been a stray, found at a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation facility.  It would  have been an easy place for someone to dump a dog after hours, without being seen.   It took them several days to catch him. I suppose he was waiting for what he thought were his people to come back and get him. surely it must have been a mistake that they left him there.
                                                This was his picture that was on Petfinder.

Being that he was a stray, we knew nothing of his background; nothing about his temperament, nothing about his training or his behavior. When my ex-husband and I first met him, he was in the back of the kennel, contentedly chewing on a rawhide. He'd been a stray.  He'd been hungry.  Getting two squares a day and a bed was better than being on the street. When I spoke to him, he came to the door and tossed the chew to me to throw. LOL! I should have known what I was in for. He loves to play fetch. It was guessed that he is a German Shepherd/Chow Chow mix. He was full grown, and estimated to be just under a year old.

                He also loves to swim. He's competed in 
                 dock jumping, and has won many ribbons. 

The introduction to my ex's Bloodhound went well, and we headed home.  I honestly don't think he'd ever been in a house, because he put the four footed brake stance on the first time he came in.   He was excellent about the house training.  The first time we left him alone in the cabin, he opened the kitchen cupboard door, took out a jar of peanut butter, and managed to unscrew the lid. LOLOL! I still am amused by that one.
After my divorce, Murphy, my two cats, and I moved into a cabin that needed a complete renovation. Then, three years after, in 2010, I got the crazy idea to raise chickens. My first hens came through the USPS as tiny day old chicks.  I wasn't sure how Murphy would react, so I was very careful with them at first.

                                        This is one of the Barred Rocks, back in 2010. 
                                 What a patient soul. 

Well, turns out, I had nothing to worry about.  He has been amazing with the chickens from the beginning, and continues to be so.  He keeps predators away, even hawks and owls.  I couldn't ask for a better livestock guardian.  
 Murphy is a perfect example of how shelter dogs are not damaged, or broken. Shelter dogs don't all have behavior issues, or aggression.  He's also proof that it's not necessary to get a puppy so that it will bond with you, or so that it can be trained properly to live with in harmony with livestock.  It is important to consider the breed when adopting, and do plenty of research.  Spend time at a shelter, and get to know the dogs. Many shelters offer the option of fostering before adopting.  Please do consider adopting a shelter dog. You'll be saving a life.
                                          Murphy with my older Barred Rock hens

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Now that makes sense!

There are so many common chicken sayings, expressions, idioms, what have you, in everyday language, that I don't think most people give much thought to what they mean. I've really become familiar with these comparisons to poultry since I've been raising chickens. Here are just a few of the chicken sayings, and my thoughts and interpretations. 
                                                          COOPED UP
Stir crazy, cabin fever. They all pretty much mean the same thing. I suppose it applies more to the poor frustrated chickens that never get out of a building.  But,after a long NY State winter, even my hens that have the option to go outside everyday I'm sure are rather irritated, and feel the need to get out of the hen house more. 
 My Barred Rock Ladies a few years ago

Well, if you have all your eggs in one vessel, you risk dropping it, and losing all of them. This is pretty much directed at investing money- diversify your portfolio. However, I would like to add my own egg saying- Don't put your eggs in your pocket. I've gone to the coop, found an egg or two, stuck it in my pocket, and forgot about it.  It's definitely not my recommended method for gathering eggs.  Not only does it reduce the egg count for the day, but it really makes a horrible mess since I usually ended up crushing the egg in my pocket.
The spectrum of colors my new chickens lay!

Where as I haven't hatched any eggs yet, whether it be by broody hen or incubator, this is where this saying came from. Generally fertility rate isn't 100%, so not all the eggs will hatch.  Probably should add a line to this saying as well- And sure as heck don't count on getting all hens in the hatch!
While this isn't a saying, I know now what THE CHICKEN DANCE was patterned after. If you've ever watched a chicken foraging, they "perform" the back and forth scratching movement that countless numbers of humans have shamelessly performed at weddings.
Some of my brood foraging in the yard
I will leave you with my reference to the over used WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD joke.  Well, my answer is- To give me grey hair!  I have at least sixty feet of gravel driveway, and just over five acres of woods and yard, but the cheeky chickens insist on going out into the town road!  I'm working on solutions to try to prevent this.  I'll keep you posted on how that is working. Do any of you have issues with your brood getting in the road, and do you have any suggestions (aside from putting them in a pen), how to prevent it?
These breeds, I have 2 of each, are the worst offenders for getting in the road. The Mottled Java (front,) and the Golden Campine in the back. And the Campine is the worse between the two breeds.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

No longer just a hen house

I never thought I wanted a rooster. When I first started raising chickens, five years ago, I ordered my Barred Rock chicks guaranteed sexed as females (I think it is something like an 85% guarantee.)  As it turned out, they were all females.  So I was good to go. 
Here's Murphy with the Barred Rock Hens

Well, this spring, the nesting instinct (LOL, that's what I call the urge to get baby chickens) took hold of me, and I bought chicks.  Several of the breeds I bought sexed as females. Two of the breeds, the French Black Copper Marans, and the Blue Splash Ameraucana, I bought, what is referred to, as "straight run", or not sexed as male or female. 
The French Black Copper Marans chicks
The Blue Splash Ameraucana chick 

Well, as luck would have it (not sure if it was good or bad,) I ended up with ALL FOUR of the straight run chicks being roosters!  Nothing like batting 1000, or would it be zero... Not ever having had a rooster before, I wasn't really sure what to expect.  The Maran's roosters started crowing in the brooder, and honestly, looked like males at only several weeks old. So I knew I had those three. It was the funniest little sounds, their crows.  The Ameraucana rooster, well, he was sneakier about his maleness!  It wasn't until a week or so ago, at 20 plus weeks old, that I realized that he was a rooster. I was still waiting for a lovely colored egg from her, or him rather.  And today was the first day that he let out his first high pitched crow.  So cute. 

At first it really bothered me when the the roosters would grab a pullet, and she would squeal. But, quite honestly, if one pullet grabs another, they squeal the same way (just like kids pinching each other, LOL!)  I will also admit I didn't know quite that much about chicken reproduction.  Frankly I'd never really thought much about it, but I did think that roosters had an internal male organ, much like ducks do. Not true. Here is a good article on chicken mating- how chickens reproduce.
Once I learned the basics of chicken sex (yes, at my age), I felt better that the pullets weren't being, um, violated frequently. So I decided to keep at least two of the roosters. Christian is the head rooster. (he is named after a dear Facebook friend from France.  I had told Christiane that I would name my three French hens after her, and her two daughters. LOL! At least her name could be translated to a male name.)  He really keeps on top of things. If one of the other roosters makes a hen squeal, Christian steps right in, and puts a stop to it.  The others know not to mess with him, and are rather fearful of him.  Jean Pierre is the second French Black Copper Marans that I will be keeping.  He has much better leg feathering than Christian, and I may sell hatching eggs, or hatch chicks that he "fathered" in the spring. And, then there is Francois.  Since I don't need three FBCM roos, he is up for sale.  All three seem to be docile. They don't really care to be picked up, but they aren't aggressive.  They all respect Murphy, and don't charge or attack him either.  I think they know how beneficial he is.
Then there is Abraham Yoder, the Blue Splash Ameraucana.  He's really starting to mature, and has beautiful feathering. While he is not aggressive, as in charging or attacking me, he will bite when I pick him up.  We have to work on that.  I live in the country, where there are no ordinances for chickens.  I do wonder if the neighbors can hear the boys. LOL!
So, I no longer have just a hen house. It's been very interesting so far, and I'm sure it will continue to be so.  What fun would life be without a bit of change.  Has anyone else changed their stance on keeping a rooster, whether it be to get one, or get rid of one?