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Chickens on a snow day

Posted by on Monday 21 January 2013 in chickens | 3 comments

We’ve had some snow a week now but the “proper snow” only arrived last night. We woke up to nearly six inches on the ground – and on the greenhouse, the flower beds, the steps — on the everywhere really ;) It’s still snowing now, not a blizzard but a steady fast flow.

The trees are the heaviest I’ve ever seen them, with some branches bent right over under the weight of their cold blanket. Every now and then – actually, specifically right then when I was writing the first half of that sentence – one reaches its limit and drops its load, or it flicks the snow back into the parent tree and more falls to the ground. It’s painfully pretty.

The chicken wire roof of our chicken run has slowly grown its own snowy coating too. I thought it would be very dark under there – that the (automatic, light triggered) pop hole door wouldn’t have opened and our girls would be grumpy, trapped in the coop without food or drink, but it is surprisingly light. I cleared the snow off the section nearest the path before realising about the lightness but will leave the rest for now – it’s keeping the falling snow out of the run. The structure is more than strong enough to hold up for now, though I will keep an eye on it if the snow keeps falling.

The birds are holding up well. Our three old girls were around for the harsh 2010-11 winter: if they were humans, they’d probably be going around in flip flops and t-shirts, and bragging to the new ones “cold? cold? it’s not cold! It’s tropical compared to when I was a pullet.” (Humans say that, right?) Thankfully though, none of them is actually being tested in that way – their moults feel like ages ago now and they’re all feathered up again. As if on cue: fluffy bottoms ahoy!

I’m making sure they’re kept well fed to counter the extra energy they’re putting into keeping warm – I’ve got a stash of their layers pellets in the house for making up a warm porridge as-and-when. Their drinkers were freezing last week but they’ve been ok for the last couple of days. And they’re returning the well fed gesture – we had a 100% lay rate yesterday and today — really good going! I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow is a little lower though.

As ever, Lily-dog is carefully supervising my care of the girls – insisting on accompanying me into the garden at every opportunity and checking out the wider area around the run for ALL THE SMELLS. The cats though are happy to just watch from the window.

Is it snowy where you are? If you’ve got birds, how are they doing?

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Things I’d change about my chicken coop/run set-up

Posted by on Friday 26 October 2012 in chickens | 8 comments

This is probably more a pensive “avoid this next time” post than an actual to-do list, though I am going to try to come up with solutions in case I actually get enough energy to act.

The “lips” of the frame around the body of the coop and nest box

Our coop (which we bought flat-packed) is built around frames, if that makes sense, which means we have a 3cm lip around the bottom of the coop’s floor. If it was flat, without the raised lip, I could simply sweep the woodshavings off the edge into a bucket, but because of how its built, I have to shovel everything out instead. I think it would be easier to clean if I could sweep them straight out.

The problem is exacerbated in the nest boxes because not only has the lip being built up further, I don’t have space in which to maneouvre a shovel or brush. I line the nest boxes with newspaper before adding straw to make them easier to clean out but again, I think it would be easier to get properly clean if there wasn’t the lip.

Possible solutions
For the last couple of winters, I’ve been talking about fitting a fake floor in the main body of the coop, which would rest on the lip and have a layer of insulation under neither. I still might do this: I doubt it would be that much work and would have other benefits too (see below).

The nest boxes are a tougher problem to solve since there isn’t enough head room to add a fake floor. Not sure how I could solve that one.

Grooved flooring

The “frames” are covered with tongue-and-groove type wood, rather than flat single pieces of wood. It looks nice but the grooves in the floor collect a lot of dust and again, are a bit of a pain to clean out.

Possible solution
If I was fitting a fake floor as mentioned above, I’d use something smooth for the top/actual floor so it would be groove-free. If I don’t fit a fake floor, I could just fit a sheet of heavy-duty plastic over it instead.

Coop is really a bit big for the chickens we have/want

When we got our girls, we wanted flexibility so went for a slightly bigger coop than we thought we’d need. This coop officially can house about twelve birds, but I think ten would be pushing it. We don’t have enough room in the run for that many though, so our max is about eight, though we’re choosing to keep it at six for now. Having extra room in the coop isn’t a bad thing most of the time, and because it’s raised off the ground, it’s not taking up floor space (and is providing good shelter), but in winter, I think they’d benefit from it being a bit easier to keep cosy.

Possible solutions
The suspended floor would reduce the size a tiny bit. I could also add a fake ceiling underneath the peak of the coop (although still ensuring there is adequate ventilation). I think it’s fine for six though: if we were going to keep less than six, I think it might just be easier to replace the whole thing.

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Ickle egg

Posted by on Wednesday 17 October 2012 in chickens | 0 comments

We had our first egg from the new chickens yesterday – not bad for day two!

I’ve paired it up with one of today’s lays. As you can see, it’s smaller than the eggs we normally get – a pullet egg rather than a fully grown up hen’s one – but otherwise it’s perfect. It was laid in the main section of the coop rather than a nest box – there wasn’t another one there this morning but I’ll check again shortly, in case she’s not an early layer yet.

The new trio are settling in well. There are still some pecking order disputes to settle – snap at combs and pulling on neck or bum feathers – but it doesn’t seem too vicious when I’m down there, and there is no visible evidence of blood being drawn (from the combs) or feathers pulled out. I will keep an eye on them, of course, and I’ve added extra feeding/drinking stations so there is less contention around those places.

They’re getting used to me as well as their coop mates. They’re getting more comfortable with me holding them, and stroking them, and they’ve started following the older girls’ lead of eating seeds out of my hands. (It took our original girls about a week to get brave enough to do that.)

My big goal for the moment is getting them all to go to bed inside the coop, of their own accord. The older ones slept outside for most of the summer as they have done in previous years so they’ve needed some reminding of it too but they seem to be getting the hang of it again, and leading the new girls in too. Up until now, I’ve been having to lift them off the outside perches and place them inside (if they’re already snoozy), or push them in through the pop hole before dusk if they’re more awake. With the colder nights drawing in, I’d much prefer them to do that themselves – hopefully it’ll only take a couple more days of training.

Once that’s sorted, they have to get used to the furry members of the household – they keep freezing when they see Lily-dog in the garden at the moment but she very much wants to make friends!

Do you have any chicken “settling in” tips to share? Any early egg anecdotes?

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New chickens!

Posted by on Monday 15 October 2012 in chickens | 1 comment

We finally restocked the platoon at Fort Chicken yesterday.

We’d been meaning to get some more feathered friends for a couple of months. After we lost three of our girls to a mink (we think) attack in June, we’d wanted to wait a little bit to check the new fortifications were satisfaction and then I wanted to wait until we’d get point-of-lay “spring chickens” (which would have been available from mid-August-ish onwards). Since then though, we’ve just been dithering. Anyway, we finally got ourselves together last week – only to find the farmer on holiday. Thankfully he was back at his post over the weekend though, and we drove out to pick up our new girls yesterday morning.

We get them, like all our others, from Edward Boothman in Silsden. We’ve had a few different types – hybrids and pure breeds – from him but our favourites have been the boring ISA Browns, a bog-standard little red hen (apparently) made by crossing Rhode Island Reds & Rhode Island Whites. They’ve got pretty dull plumage and they lay samey brown eggs but they’ve been consistently reliable and friendly – amusingly inquisitive but also docile enough that they don’t get their vents in a twist if I need to pick them up. For most things in life, we prefer the practical to pretty option – and they meet that criteria for us.

Another thing in their favour – once we decided to restock with them, there was no other dithering about breed or colour/markings. “Three ISA Browns, please”, we said and two minutes later, we were driving away with them in the car. For indecisive people like us, this is a huge boon! ;) Two of the new girls look quite alike but the third has considerably less white in her neck feathers, so she’s the first to get a name: “Little Redneck”. I imagine the other two will follow in the ways of our original four ISAs – named after the coloured rings on their legs (as soon as I find my ring stash!).

When we’ve got new birds in the past, we’ve done so in the late afternoon/early evening so just put them straight into the coop when they’re all – old and new – a bit sleepy. This time though, since we got them in the morning, I had to put a bit more work into introducing them. I popped the new girls into our little portable run which I placed inside the big normal run, so they could meet each other through wire first. The old girls got rather noisy so after half an hour or so of listening to their bwarking, I kicked them out into the garden and let the new ones look around the rest of the run/coop by themselves. (Picture of bwarking in action. I now know the chicken equivalent of Daily Mail-style “bloomin’ immigrants!” rants! ;) )

Eventually, a couple of hours later, I called the old ones back into the run and with some weeds and seeds to bond over, let them all meet properly. There was some pecking order disputes (more flap than anything else), some more noise and a committee meeting called for the long standing residents of Fort Chicken on one of the perches (below) but nothing too worrying so I left them to it for the rest of the afternoon, before popping them all into the coop together before sunset.

They’d all been up for a few hours before I went down this morning but everything seemed to be still fine – Little Redneck was perched out of the way, stumpy tail held a little low, but she was happy to peck around my feet with the others when I started throwing corn around. When the older ones started to get a bit grumpy again, I stroked them – to make them submissive – while reminding them that I’m the top chicken around here, bwark! I also stroked one of the misc new ones and Little Redneck too – their still new “all growed up” feathers are super, super soft!

I’m hoping we start to see some eggs from them soon – because the older ones will be due to moult/are slowing down anyway, and also because I don’t want it to get cold before they start producing. I also hope they like their new home :)

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Horrid way to start the day – bbye Lime, Blue and Blacksy

Posted by on Tuesday 26 June 2012 in chickens | 4 comments

Just three days shy of our red chickens second “gotcha” anniversary, we’ve lost three hens – Lime, Blue & Blacksy – in a mink (we think) attack this morning.

We woke up to hear chicken kerfuffling – that’s not uncommon, them bwarking about laying an egg – but it was different to normal and when John looked out of the bedroom with the binoculars, he saw feathers all over the run. We ran down to see what was happening – I thought perhaps someone had prolapsed and the others were attacking – but no. There were three dead chickens on the ground and even though we were stood there, a little nose peeked out of a hole in the ground twice before running away.

Ginger (the Black Rock) and one of the reds were high up on perches in the run when we got in there, and the other red was in the coop’s nest box so I didn’t immediately know which of the reds had died but once we knew that the mink or whatever it was had gone away, it was time to figure out who was gone. I identified our girls with a heavy-heart. Blacksy was easy to identify as she was our only fully black one (another Black Rock) but the reds needed closer inspection. I know it’s awful but I was really hoping that they were the other two red (Ms Mauve & Green), not my favourites Lime & Blue – they all look very similar but I soon found Blue’s blue ring (the only one of them still wearing a leg ring) and Lime’s black flecks in her neck feathers. Sigh.

We buried them in the woods and John’s dad is now around, helping to re-secure the run. It was designed to be fox-proof as we thought they’d be our main threat but despite seeing foxes in and around the garden on a number of occasions (and hearing them barking at night quite regularly), we’ve not had any trouble from them. From the cold winter in 2010-2011, we’ve had ratty residents digging tunnels but as they didn’t seem to bother the chickens, we weren’t too obsessive about filling them in ASAP – we didn’t think anything that could fit through them would be enough of a threat. Sighhhhhh.

The other three chickens are currently locked in their (safe, well off the ground) coop but I’m going to let them have some closely supervised garden time soon. It will be sad garden time though, without my cheeky compadres Lime & Blue constantly getting in the way.

Personalities (chicken-alities?) aside, all three were good layers and their yolky offerings will be missed.

(Pictures: Lime Chicken eating my Swiss Chard last year, Blues investigating the greenhouse a couple of months ago, and Blacksy posing in the run last year)

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