Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Coop Update: Almost Done!

The Coop is officially finished! I strapped on their big-girl panties and placed them on their roosts for the first night alone two evenings ago.

They are still trying to figure things out since they have tons of room. We built two roosts 2' and 3' off the ground in anticipation of them reaching full size and being able to bound up there without difficulty. Currently, however, the silkies are finding the 2 footer to be still just out of their reach. With a good valiant effort of flapping their wings, they can only reach their beak to the top of the beam. They still try hard to cling to it with their beak and flap themselves on up only to flop down and start peeping with a very frustrated tone. I end up going out there and hoisting the two little 'uns onto their roost for the night. As soon as they are up there they tuck in and start trilling their sweet nighty-night notes. I love that sound. Full of happiness and content.

The first night putting them in their coop was quite the entertainment. It was well past dark and the girls were already sleepy and hunkering down for the night in their brooder. We gently picked each up and placed them on a roost in their coop. They looked around in a daze trying to figure where the heck they were then each would crane their neck downward off their roost as if to say, "whoa we are high up!"

Martha, who was on the far right of the roost, started inching her way to the left pushing the rest of the girls left and into the wall. At times she would turn herself around and try to lay on the 2 x 4 lengthwise as if she was stretching out on a couch. Her head would tuck under the belly of the bird to her left until said bird tried to crouch down to sleep and ended up sitting on Martha's head. It was silly. Poor Penny had the wall side and ended up smooshed. They had the entire 2 x4 (about 3' of it) to stretch out and roost, however, when I went out there in the morning to let them out they were squished together like an accordion on half of the bar.

We are now working on the run, which will be detachable for when it comes time to move. Today I had them out of their run for a good 2 hour free-range time. They stayed almost exclusively in our grape vines, plucking off the unripened berries and scratching up the dead leaves and twigs at their roots.

 I planted English Lavender and Sweet Basil in the flower pot. 

The Run: being built

 The inside from the large "people" door

And the girls....
 Martha: totally cracks me up

 Penny (L) and Agnes (R) standing off. They do this "monkey dance" daily trying to dominate the other. It's hilarious to watch as they bounce up and down chest bumping each other. The two are hard to tell apart unless you catch Penny's dashes of brown around her neck. She is also a little skinnier than Agnes


Agnes (also has a fluffier mohawk right now)

 Lucy and Tallula (our two very independent birds)

 Argos keeping watch ("Please Mamma let me play!) Uh, no. He requires constant supervision at the time being. He is very good with them and allows them to walk around him but as soon as they make any flighty moves he gets all excitable. 

  Ellie Mae- by far the largest bird in the flock, though Buffy is close second.


The gals in the grape vines.

I do miss their night time peeping and purring noises they make right as they are getting comfy and falling asleep but I'm glad they finally have their own place with a significant amount of room. Plus now I can start taking a cleaning rag at all the pine shaving dust which has collected on every darn thing in the laundry room from their nightly dust baths!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Diatomaceous Earth Discovery

Through my extensive research and reading up on chicken ownership, I came across several heavy recommendations for Diatomaceous Earth. I made a trip out to Murdoch's today (my new favorite store to get lost in) where the chicken expert "Kent" swooned over DE. He went out of his way to print out a packet of info and advised me on multiple uses of DE.

"I wish I could go back in time with a little traveling wagon and sell this stuff!" he exclaimed as he got a far-off glint in his eye and spread his arms out in an arc describing the magnificent signage he would adorn his wagon.

I met this guy when Cowboy and I were first gathering supplies to build our coop. He was a wealth of knowledge, laid back, and a great sense of humor with a constant sun-weathered forehead. He steered us away from pricey useless gadgets and over to the "old fashioned" farm hand tools. Diatomaceous Earth seems pretty fantastic. In terms of chickens (although there's a plethora of uses from human ingestion to internal/external parasite control in pets to a mild exfoliate in spa products) it acts as a natural de-wormer and pesticide not only for the bird itself but for the coop.

 From Wolf Creek Ranch site (highly recommended):

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is the remains of microscopic one-celled plants (phytoplankton) called diatoms that lived in the oceans and lakes that once covered the western part of the US and other parts of the world. These deposits are mined from underwater beds or from ancient dried lake bottoms thousands of years old. This means, diatomaceous earth has an unlimited shelf life provided you keep it dry. Diatoms (DE) are the grass of the oceans and lakes. Just as grass is the staple food of earth animals. Diatoms (algae) are the food of the ocean or fresh water grazers. Magnified 7000x, diatomaceous earth looks like spiney honeycombs.

Food grade diatomaceous earth makes a very effective natural insecticide. The insecticidal quality of diatomaceous earth is due to the razor sharp edges of the diatom remains. When diatomaceous earth comes in contact with the insects, the sharp edges lacerate the bugs waxy exoskeleton and then the powdery diatomaceous earth absorbs the body fluids causing death from dehydration 

They recommend sprinkling DE around food bins to prevent insects contaminating the feed. Added to the litter in their coop deodorizes and absorbs any moisture that may build up leading to less flies and diseases. Because it is mined naturally this is an all natural form of pest control. No chemicals or medications!!

I am still reading up on this stuff, but so far I am highly impressed. Note: only major cautions I could find were to wear a mask so as to avoid inhalation while spreading DE in coop and to make sure your DE is FOOD GRADE. The stuff for pools is no bueno.

One other chicky-thing I discovered that really works: electrolytes in the chicken's drinking water. With our 100+ temps lately (thankfully dry heat) our chickens were getting slightly stressed. Storey's book mentioned the electrolytes for prevention of heat stroke which encouraged me to try it out. One small packet in a gallon sized fount placed in the shade outside had the chickens pounding the "chicken gatorade". They gradually appeared more at ease and moving around the yard more instead of laying down with their wings spanned out and panting.

Besides Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, I also highly recommend the book Chick Days. Both books provide a ton of great info. Read Chick Days first to warm yourself into the thought of "ok I can do this" with fun pictures and a entertaining journal-type book of raising chickens. Then read Storey's book which gives a more in-depth idea of the trials and tribulations of owning chickens whether for eggs, meat, show, or pet. It might overwhelm the newbie if read first. I have also read several other books but these two were deemed my favorite and most helpful.

Runners up were:
A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert Litt
Raising Chickens for Dummies (this had a lot of good basic info but I felt Storey's book covered things in better and easier detail)
Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole

Many people recommended The Chicken Health Handbook but when I checked it out, I felt a) there was just way too much information crammed into a book that would just discourage me when trying to search whatever ailed my chickens at the time and b) most of the major diseases are covered in Storey's Guide. The Handbook is not something you just pick up and read cover to cover. If I really was having issues I know I can (at the moment) pick up my laptop and seek the help of the great forum members from Backyardchickens.com. I super duper recommend this website but be warned: it's highly addicting.

One slightly major let-down (read: regret) that I have on owning chickens is the inability to just pick up and get out of dodge for a few days. Chickens are pretty low maintenance once they're grown, but they still require two visits per day to let them in and out of their coop. Our plan is to ask friends and neighbors to help out with promise of keeping the chicken's bounty during their watch. This is nice but not always an option if we want to keep our friends and definitely not a "last minute" notice kind of thing. Shucks.

I also checked out farm animal "sitters" that will care for your chickens twice a day but at $12-$17 per visit, that adds up to be a pricey little option for, well, chickens.

I love love love to just pick up and go to the mountains to vacation/hike or hunker down at some crazy secluded place to camp. I've done it over the past several years and miss it terribly. The past two or so years have been very lacking in camping activities as our jobs and life have just seemed to be non-conducive to impromptu camping trips. We've had a few wonderful ones, but definitely not enough in my book.

My blood runs thick with campfires and back country exploring. At one point, when I lived much more east, I had the goal of hitting the "highest point" in as many states as I could. I accomplished quite a handful of them and have pictures to prove it! I even took a long camping trip soon after I had bilateral foot surgery and ditched my "black beauty boots" for a pair of stiff hiking boots! I woke up with ice on my sleeping bag during that trip but was snug as a bug in a rug. Fun times.

"shootin' the moon"

I've traveled a lot of awesome places and will always hold them fondly in my memory. My goal is to continue to form more wonderful memories of places I have been to share with my children and grandchildren some day.

Soooo, having chickens kind of hinders that whole dream at the moment. I have been looking into pricey automatic pop doors that are fueled by solar or battery to remedy this situation but as of the current, relying on friends on occasion may have to be where it's at. It makes me appreciate all our hardworking farmers out there that are absolutely unable to take time away from their livestock and fields to vacation.

For now, I will savor every moment of owning chickens (also a dream) and enjoy the feeling of self-sufficiency it brings me. I cannot wait to find that very first laid egg!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Coop Update

My friend's two girls came over and helped me have fun drawing on the coop's bare beams. We signed our names and added all the chicken's names also.

 This is Buffy....the vampire slaying chicken

 Army chicken

 "what a chirp looks like"


The Coop is now moved to the backyard (deemed too heavy to be a tractor at this point...though Cowboy is working on remedying this situation with a potential mini flat trailer to be added later). The first coats of paint are being put on. 

interior walls will be put up here with some small scale insulation between

 human door (for cleaning the coop etc)- pop door will be put on the long side here as well as the fenced in run

The only thing left to do (as far as the coop itself) is the nesting boxes under the big window, pop door for the chickens to enter the future run, small hatch-type windows for venting, galvanized corrugated metal roof, wire put on vents under roof, linoleum on floor, and perches for roosting. Sounds like a lot, but the way we've been working we will hopefully have it fully completed next weekend. Fingers crossed because these girls are so ready to be outdoors permanently. I take them out first thing in the morning to their run and they come in now only at dusk to sleep in their brooder box which they are outgrowing!



Buffy is our "show girl"- although we encourage handling of all our chickens as much as possible, she is the one we always pull out when people come to check out our chickens. She is looking to be the "top dog" of the pecking order (possibly in line with Lucy), however she is the most docile and friendly not to mention so incredibly soft to touch. She has won a lot of hearts here. 


 The silkies are starting to grow out their feathers and mohawks. They look absolutely ridiculous and adorable. While the big girls are working out their pecking order, the two silkies are trying to establish their own ranking system. They strut their stuff and chest bump between themselves often. I've been watching and it appears (although hard to tell) that Agnes tends to be the first to "submit" while Penny postures in front of her.


We had our very first "chicken race" yesterday. It was extremely amusing and Lucy came in first!

Martha (check out those puffy cheeks!)

Ellie Mae (we had to change her name from Mildred as we kept forgetting it!)


In all honesty, I've just been Cowboy's assistant with this whole thing. He asked me what I was looking for in a coop and I gave him a list (an ever evolving list....). He took it and ran with it! I am so proud of him and all his handy-ness. He's done an amazing job constructing this beast. We have found we work great as a team with extremely little bickering doing it. While he was cutting up wood, I stapled the wire fence, painted, and nailed up plywood as he held it in place. The air compressed tools: staple and nail gun have been a LIFESAVER (and probably a marriage saver).

Now folks, if you don't mind I have some more painting to do before the sun goes down.