Monday, July 29, 2013

Chicken Bedtime

In the evening between 7:30 and 8:00, the four chickens start glancing at the round door into the coop.  They continue to scratch and peck.  They continue to eat and drink and even squawk now and then.  But over and over again they will look towards to the coop door.  Like children, they seem to know it is bedtime, but want to avoid it.  Then instinct takes over.  The sky is darkening and they can't see so well.  That's when they drag their weary birdbrain selves up the little ladder towards the coop door.  Sometimes they will go up and down the little ladder a few times before entering the coop.  Finally, they will enter their nighttime abode and jump up to their roosts.  Fitz and Bill on the top and Lou and Bruiser on the bottom. 

Fitz is still standing on two feet fluffing up her wings.  The others are hunkered down on the roost ready to start counting sheep.  Or whatever chickens count.  Worms?   

Inside the Coop

Have you been wondering about the mysteries that lay (ha ha) inside the coop?  To learn about what happens on roosts and in nesting boxes, you must enter the coop.
There it is, the mysterious back door.  You can see the two latches that help keep our chickens safe.
Unlock the latches, open the door, and there you can see two roosts.  It's not chicken bedtime yet though, so I can't show you how the birds line up at night to sleep (stay tuned).  And yes, they sleep perched on roosts just as they would sleep on the branches of trees if they were in the wild, off the ground where it is safe.  Did you know that chickens can't see in the dark?  Once the lights are out, they are helpless and that is one of the reasons they stay locked up tight at night on their roosts.  Safety. 
Here's another view of the roosts, the round door to the chicken run, and a little blue glass window. 
Here are the two nesting boxes that the chickens share.  Those are not eggs in the nesting boxes, but golf balls, two per nest.  That's a little trick we learned that helps remind our hens where to put the goods.  Each morning when we fetch eggs, we find them in a tight little circle with the golf balls.
  That's Lou, coming to see what I'm making such a big fuss about.
And there's the boss, Fitz, making sure that Lou isn't causing any chicken trouble. 

Who's In Charge?

Chickens live by a strict hierarchy.  It's called the *pecking* order.  In our coop, Fitz is in charge and Bill is second in command.  I believe that Bruiser is third and Lou is fourth in line, but Bruiser and Lou, being the young ones, seem to switch back and forth.  In the coop, the birds hang out mostly in pairs, Fitz and Bill on one side and Bruiser and Lou on the other.  There are those special times when they are all together, for example, when grapes are tossed into the coop.
Here's the mama hen holding the True Mama Hen, Fitz.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cabbage on a Chain

We are so grateful to all the other folks out there who have chickens and share what they know on the Internet.  Besides all the books we've read and one class taken at our local Botanic Gardens, we've relied on the Internet for ideas and solutions to various chicken-rearing issues.  One of the things we've learned is that chickens need to stay occupied.  Just like kids, or adults for that matter, chickens need to keep busy to stay out of trouble!  That's why we introduced our birds to Cabbage on a Chain.
See the cabbage?  It's on a chain at a height that the chickens can peck at for a good snack.  Bill and Fitz are full from a little in-coop cabbage festival. 
Ditto Lou and Bruiser.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chickens Love Grapes

Sometimes I accidentally call the girls "he" because of the confusion we created by giving them all dudes' names.  Not to worry, we have no roosters.  All hens.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Monster Egg

Remember the monster egg that Fitz laid the other day?
The one on the left that's taller than all the rest?  Well, we fried it up tonight.


Remember When

Another look at the farm in 1935.  You may notice a few chickens!

Food and Water

What do chickens eat? 
Chicken feed (not sure what's in it but it makes for good eggs!)
Scratch (a mix of seeds)
Meal worms (a favorite protein-packed snacked fully approved by the Atkins diet people)
Fruits and vegetables (most but not all) 
They are not picky.  Four chickens is not many to feed, but we have three feeders to keep all four personalities in-check and comfortable.  The pecking order really comes alive around the feeders.  Our feeders are all different.
I consider this the main feeder because it is the biggest. 
The chickens favor this tiny feeder.  We put a dish underneath because they love to spill the food and eat it out of the dish or off the gravel. 
That's the third feeder on the left.  It's a small size normally used for chicks, but it works fine for our chickens and is a good place to go when one of them is kicked off one of the two others.  Keeping it in a dish and in another dish keeps it standing upright.  The birds love to knock it over!  Next to the third feeder is one of the waterers, a basic trough style.
The hanging waterer is the across from the main feeder.  We've been putting the blue basin of water out during the hot weather for a little extra.  Like most creatures, chickens need lots of water, especially in hot weather. 

Now for the birds.
Bill and Fitz.
Bruiser and Lou.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Water Bubbler.

Lou and Bruiser.


Predators are all over the place and they'd love to get their little paws and jaws around our chickens, if they could.  We've seen coyote, fox, and raccoons in our neighborhood.  There are hawks flying overhead.  Less threatening to the chickens, but still present, are squirrels and skunks.  We have to take precautions to protect the girls.  As mentioned in another post, we have wire cloth buried one foot under the chicken run, and it wraps around the entire thing.  Red Door Coop is a mesh box reinforced by a variety of wood and screws.  Not to mention the latches, carabiners, and long nails to secure every door. 
Each of the two main doors has two latches that look like this.  At night we secure them with a carabiner and a long nail.  It can be tedious to lock and unlock them, but it is worth it to protect our chickens.  See Bill right there?  Adorable. 
Under the coop, a favorite spot for the chickens in the heat of the day, is a secure and shady place to rest.  The wire cloth that is buried underground wraps up and is stapled to the bottom of the coop and then reinforced with a piece of wood over the seam.  You can just see Fitz and Bill under there.
On a recent weekend we caged Fitz and Bill (Lou and Bruiser hadn't joined the family yet) in the yard while we did some landscaping around the coop, assuming that they would not like the roto-tiller running right next to their faces!  We put them in a much less secure spot than their coop. Since we were there to supervise, it was all good.

*A side note about predators---yesterday while we were out for a run, we spotted a young deer with  nice velvety antlers munching up a garden.  Well, the deer saw us and decided it wanted to go for a run and began chasing us!  We finally lost it by hiding up the steps and in the entryway of a neighborhood church.  It was a fitness-minded predator.* 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sun and Shade

Chickens need lots of daylight and sunshine to grow good eggs.  What they don't need is to be beat down by the hot sun and high temperatures that we are having right now.  Chickens have a hard time keeping cool with their layers of feathers.  Did you know that chickens pant like dogs when they are hot?  It's true.  I did not know that until last week!  To give the birds a break from the sun, we hung tarps on the East and West sides of the chicken run.  They don't look pretty, but they do the trick! 
The person you see standing there had the great idea to cut out little windows for light and ventilation!
Fitz, Bill, Lou, and Bruiser are fun to watch!
That's the other side of the coop next to our raised garden beds.  Can you see the big letter N on the side of the coop?  That's the door we open to collect eggs from the nesting boxes. 

And there's Bill in one of the nesting boxes.

The Young Ones

We think that Bruiser, a Black Star, will be the biggest of all four chickens when she is full grown.  She is the one with the black body and golden feathered head.  Lou is a smaller breed than the others, a White Leghorn, but the most reliable layer in all seasons, when she starts laying.
In this picture they are getting ready for a good old dustbath-a hysterical sight to see! 

All in the Family

We were delighted to learn that being chicken farmers runs in the family. 
That's Great Grandmother in rural Illinois.  And if you didn't notice, she is surrounded by chickens.  I can't even imagine how many eggs she got a day.  We are getting two a day right now and they sure add up quickly in the fridge.  When we are getting four a day, there will be many to share.
This is the first egg that Bill laid after she arrive at Red Door Coop.  The scale was a gift from our antique-collecting family.  We use it every day!
Go ahead and compare that egg to the WHOPPER that Fitz laid today.  We still can't believe it! 
The egg she laid today is on the left.  All the other eggs are Fitz and Bill's normal sized eggs.  What would Great Grandmother say about this one?  Perhaps today's enormous egg will be kept as an heirloom for future Red Door Coopsters.  HA! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Building Red Door Coop

We had some help getting started. A local woman uses reclaimed wood and shipping crates to build and sell coops. We saw her on Craigslist and then found out that friends purchased a coop from her. We met with her and picked out a style and it was ready in two weeks.  The coop she built is on the opposite side of the chicken run from the Red Door.  Do you see it?  The coop is where the chickens sleep at night on their roost and lay their eggs in the nesting boxes.  The large screened in area in front of that is the chicken run where the chickens spend most of their time.  Making the run was a huge undertaking.  Want to see?
We plotted an area measuring 6' by 10' and started digging.
We dug one foot down.  It was hard work!  The next step was to line the rectangle with 1/2' hardcloth (wire mesh).  After we laid the mesh we lined the edge of the hole with cinder blocks.  These early stages of building the chicken run are important because they are key in keeping the predators out and allowing me to call this coop "Alcatraz." 
We filled in the hole and cinderblocks with dirt.  Then 2'x6' redwood boards went on top of the cinderblocks and were secured with TapCon concrete anchors. 
My favorite part of the process was when the 2.5 tons of gravel was delivered at 7am on a Saturday morning.  I'm sure our neighbors thought it was awesome too!  I was under the weather that weekend and my husband had the pleasure of shoveling all that gravel into the hole that we had lined with weed tarp.  This made his back sore.  Did I even need to tell you that? 
We, meaning my husband, built panels for the sides and top of the coop. That's him, hard at work. 
Building the door.

This blog makes it look so easy, but it took several weekends to build Red Door Coop.  We had to wait out rainstorms and snowstorms and 'deal' with the fact that we both work full-time and can't dedicate every second to projects. 

Let me leave you with this...
Fitz and Bill.


Two Humans, Four Hens

The chicken coop and chicken run are all finished.  There are feeders, waterers, and roosts.  There are pine shavings, straw, layer feed, scratch, grit, and mealworms.  What's missing?  The chickens!  And lucky us, over the last two weeks, four hens have joined us at Red Door Coop. 

That's Fitz on the left and Bill on the right.  They are on their way to Red Door Coop.

That's Lou on the left and Bruiser on the right.  They made their way to Red Door Coop a week after Fitz and Bill. 

A little bit about the birds: Fitz and Bill grew up together.  They are 1.5 years old and already laying eggs like Rockstars.  According to our antique egg weighing scale, Fitz lays extra-large eggs and Bill lays large eggs.  Lou and Bruiser also grew up together, but on a different farm.  They are a young 20 weeks of age and haven't started laying yet.  They are still growing their combs and waddles and getting to know what it is chickens do.  The birds are all fast learners.  One thing the young girls (Lou and Bruiser) have learned is to stay out of the way of Fitz.  She is large and in charge! 

Don't worry, there will be many more pictures of the birds!