Chicken Chores

01/07/2015

Sunny S.U., Meringue, Custard, Poach, Frittata and Omlet are still doing well. They haven’t slowed down their laying too much, thanks to Nashville’s mild winters. Some days we still get 6 eggs but 4 or 5 is more common. They’ve been getting smart about escaping their enclosure (or dumb, depending on how you look at it and where they end up afterward), and are now spending most of their time in the coop and run until we can patch up some gaps under the fence, clip some wings and/or build a taller partition fence. (Anyone have any experience clipping chicken wing feathers?!) On Christmas day I gave them a little feast of cabbage, cucumbers and spinach.

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My chicken chores are made more cheerful this winter thanks to the new boots Jason bought me for Christmas. My old rain boots were so worn out they were hardly repelling water. I love these new bright red ones. Might as well make a statement while you’re tromping around in chicken $&@#, right?

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The Chicken Fence

10/21/2014

A simple Saturday afternoon project gave our chickens a lot more freedom. We’d been letting them out into our whole backyard sometimes, usually when we were home to supervise, because they’ve been destroying some of our garden plants and mulch beds and pooping on our patio. The worst was when Sunny, my super friendly hen, would stand at the backdoor step to look in and peck on the window, and then eventually drop a gift on the back step for us. Gross. We decided that a portable, accordion-style fence would be a good solution to give them more yard space while still protecting the areas where we spend the most time. The girls are happy and I’m happy. It’s been a couple weeks and they’ve managed to eat all of the grass pictured here. We’ll be mulching the area in the coming weeks. If any fellow backyard chicken keepers are curious, it’s 3 feet high and we’ve only had some escapes early one. One chicken in particular got to the other side several times but then was pretty stressed out about being separated from her friends. If it continues to be a problem, I’ll add a wire across the top of the fence so they’re not able to land on it. I’m pretty sure they’re not able to clear the fence without perching on it first but I’ve never seen an escape in action.

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We have five layers now. The sixth should be starting within a month. Omlet, the Buff Orpington, is the last one to join the party but I can tell she’s close because suddenly she’s not just unafraid of me—she runs to me—and then submissively squats if I reach in her direction. Last week I got to pet her for the first time since she left the brooding box.

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We’ve been getting 1 or 2 speckled eggs everyday. This was was particularly pretty with blue specks. I think it’s my Black Star, Poach, but I’m not positive.

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Eggs!

07/24/2014

At 5 months old, our first hen started to lay eggs! Meringue the Rhode Island Red (dark brown one pictured below) is our first layer. She started on 7/7/14 while we were on vacation. We missed the thrill of finding the first one in the nest box but my mom collected them each day and saved them for us. They’re a bit small to start out so we waited until the 9th day when we had 8 eggs (before she laid the 9th) and we all enjoyed a wonderful fried egg breakfast. Meringue has laid a perfect, beautiful, small brown egg every day without fail for the past 17 days. It’s bizarre and wonderful to eat eggs that were collected from our own backyard. I joyfully discovered our first two-egg day, which was almost as exciting as the first egg. Sunny S.U. the Buff Orpington (gold one pictured below), my favorite hen, was our second layer starting on 7/19/14. I’m really proud of my chickens and I’m excited for the others to start laying, too. Within a month Poach and Custard (black and orange ones below), the Black Star and Production Red, should start laying. By the end of October we might be getting half a dozen eggs per day, which is good because our family can easily eat half a dozen eggs in one breakfast. The plan is to have plenty to share with friends and neighbors though.

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Chicken Math

06/04/2014

There’s a joke among chicken owners about how the flocks keep mysteriously growing from adding “just one more” chick to the group. It’s called chicken math. We live in a metropolitan area so we’re limited to 6 chickens—hens only. When buying from a feed store or hatchery an experienced person can tell hens (pullets) from roosters (cockerels), even at a day old. The average farmer cannot. Chicks bought unsexed are called straight run, meaning it’s a gamble. Here’s how my chicken math happened:

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• Got our first 3 pullet chicks — 1 Rhode Island Red (Meringue) and 2 Buff Orpingtons (Sunny S.U. and Scramble) in early February

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• Took a chance on 2 straight run barred Plymouth Rocks (Quiché and Souffle) a few days later

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• Scramble (injured from a fall the first week) died a week or two after the transition from brooder to coop in late March

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• Added two more 1-day old chicks — 1 RIR (Frittata) and 1 Buff Orp (Omlet) because both of our Plymouth Rock straight run chicks started crowing. Dang. End of April.

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• Found a new home for my favorite cockerel Souffle “Sue” … He’s now called Hitchcock and enjoying country life.

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• Took a spontaneous trip to Poultry Hollow and came home with two 8 week old pullets — 1 Production Red (Custard) and 1 Black Sex Link (Poach) … At that point we were at 7 chickens. Shhh… Literally, Quiché the Cockerel, stop practicing your crow!

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• A sweet family from our church kindly took our last roo after we were unable to find him a new home. Phew!

So, we’re at our legal limit with chickens now and I’m confident they’re all hens. I don’t plan on getting any more for a long time (unless something should happen to any of these 6). I didn’t realize how much extra work it would be to have chicks of three different ages. The young chicks in the brooder in the garage, the 8 week old chicks trapped in the coop by the pushy older ones, and the original two girls who have free range of the coop, run and yard when we let them out. Finally, after 3 weeks the four oldest pullets are getting comfortable with each other and I don’t have to deliver food and water to the coop hostages twice a day. I’m already dreading the transition of the two littlest ones out to the flock in mid-June. I’m definitely going to purchase some chicken peepers to reduce the pecking since it’ll be 4 against 2 this time. Chickens are not very friendly to new birds and they work out their hierarchy by pecking the new ones and keeping them away from the food and water. It’s stressful for the new girls AND for the chicken mama. Establishing pecking order is ugly work.

In case it’s not evident, I’m really enjoying the chickens. Jason tried to talk me into getting chickens for a couple of years but I wasn’t on board until we finished the fence this January and I could finally envision it. He spent many hours building that coop but he really just wants eggs. I’ve always been an animal lover but never had birds. Despite my resistance to raising farm animals in our urban backyard, I really love these birds.

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Modern Chicken Coop: Tour

04/08/2014

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Our chickens have been living outside in their new coop for 2-3 weeks now. Jason and I spent a lot of time on it and we’re quite happy with how it turned out. We haven’t had to clean it yet, so ask me again in a few months. Hopefully, we’re still happy! We’re not needing to access eggs yet. My original design was to lift the roof to access the nesting boxes but the roof turned out much heavier than I imagined. Jason is planning to add some small doors to the side to make egg retrieval easier. We’re not expecting eggs for several more months so there’s no rush to get that addition.

I’ve been asked if I could share our plans. We did a lot of scribbling drawings on construction paper, arguing about the plans in the aisle of Lowes and figuring it out as we went. I did the research and design while Jason did most of the construction—some of it with my help. We have very specific requirements because we live in metropolitan Nashville. Our property size allowed for the maximum of 6 hens. Our city requires the coop/henhouse to have 2 sq. ft. per bird and an enclosed run space of 6 sq. ft. per bird. Everything has to be completely enclosed with hardware cloth 1″ or less, and able to be locked. I started with those requirements and read the book A Chicken in Every Yard and did a lot of online research as more questions came about.

Here are some general specs:
• Our coop/henhouse is 4’x4′ with a height of 2.5′-4′. It is 2′ off of the ground.
• The coop has two vents in the back, approximately 4″x12″
• The coop roof is hinged to open for cleaning
• The roosting bar (where the hens will sit to sleep at night) is a 4′ long 2×4
• The roosting bar is about 2 or 2.5′ off the floor of the coop, with about 1.5′ of head space
• We have two nesting boxes (I hear they usually all use one, but 1 box per 4 hens is a good ratio)
• The nesting boxes are 1′ off the floor with about 1.5′ of head space; we’re using small cat litter boxes
• The run is 4’x5′ and connects to the 4’x4′ shaded spaced under the coop, for a total run of 4’x9′
• The run is 3′ high where it’s not under the coop
• The run has two doors for cleaning, letting the chickens out into the yard and accessing the food and water
• The feeder and waterer hang under the coop to stay dry
• Because the run is securely enclosed, we don’t have a closing pop door on the coop
• The entire bottom of the run and all sides are covered with 1/2″ hardware cloth to make it predator-proof. The hardware cloth is stapled to the 2×2 frame on run and then the staples are covered with another strip of wood which is nailed.
• The bottom of the run was covered with dirt and grass and then straw. The inside of the coop is lined with pine shavings.
• The paint colors and shingles are all the same as our house

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The coop is designed to match our house.

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Our girls seem to be very happy with their new home, though they also love roaming the backyard when we give them the chance. Left to right: Quiche (Plymouth Rock), Meringue (Rhode Island Red), Sunny S.U. (Buff Orpington) and Soufflé (Plymouth Rock). They’re just about 2 months old in this picture.

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Meet the New Chicks

02/10/2014

This weekend we fulfilled a lifelong dream of raising our own livestock. Just kidding. Actually, Jason has been trying to convince me for a couple of years now to get backyard hens. He got a book for Christmas on urban chicken keeping and we started planning the fence to enclose our backyard…I was finally on board. The fence is now complete. The coop and run are designed on paper. The permit from Metro Nashville has been acquired.

Within the city limits we have a lot of regulations on chicken keeping. We have a large enough yard to allow the maximum number of 6 hens. Absolutely no roosters are allowed. We wanted to start out with a minimum of 3 hens and since the chick survival rate is not 100% and we have at best a 1/10 chance of getting a rooster, we started with 5.

Meet the girls. Left to right: Sunny S.U., Soufflé, Quiche and Meringue. Scramble is in the back, not showing her face. Sunny and Scramble are Buff Orpingtons. Soufflé and Quiche are Barred Plymouth Rocks. Mer is a Rhode Island Red.

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Ali holding a chick for the first time. Isn’t it sweet? Major Mom mistake though…I should have had her sitting on the floor. She got startled right after this picture and dropped Scramble. (That’s how she got her name…) Scram isn’t doing great. She’s eating, drinking and walking but she’s kind of…crooked. She sleeps more than the others. Not sure how that’s all going to turn out yet. She’s really sweet and I’m trying not to get too attached to her in case we need to replace her. Eek. Our first chicken drama. I feel horribly guilty about poor little Scramble.

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This is Meringue. She’s smart and feisty.

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This is Sunny S.U. She’s very mellow.

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The folks we got the Plymouths from gave us a dozen eggs from their full grown girls. They said they have more eggs than they know what to do with. We celebrated with poached eggs for dinner last night.

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We still have a coop to build and a lot to learn but we’re all really excited about this new adventure.