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:
• Got our first 3 pullet chicks — 1 Rhode Island Red (Meringue) and 2 Buff Orpingtons (Sunny S.U. and Scramble) in early February
• Took a chance on 2 straight run barred Plymouth Rocks (Quiché and Souffle) a few days later
• Scramble (injured from a fall the first week) died a week or two after the transition from brooder to coop in late March
• 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.
• Found a new home for my favorite cockerel Souffle “Sue” … He’s now called Hitchcock and enjoying country life.
• 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!
• 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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Posted by mahlbrandt
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
The coop is designed to match our house.
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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Posted by mahlbrandt
I have to admit, I’m enjoying these birds a lot more than I thought I would.
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Posted by mahlbrandt
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.
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.
This is Meringue. She’s smart and feisty.
This is Sunny S.U. She’s very mellow.
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.
We still have a coop to build and a lot to learn but we’re all really excited about this new adventure.
1 Comment | Family, Family: Chickens | Tagged: backyard chickens, chickens, chicks, hens, pullets, urban chickens | Permalink
Posted by mahlbrandt