while putting together an earlier post, i had to go to my all-but-defunct photobucket account and i found a lot of pictures there that i’d forgotten about entirely. they’re pictures that i posted long ago on a private journal, so friends and family have likely seen them before. for everyone else, this is exactly like those vacation slide shows that your boring aunt and uncle show at family gatherings, only with no interesting tourist crap and landmarks and people you’re related to, just chickens.
chicken numero uno. felicity was at least two years old (she was moulting) when she meandered through our backyard one evening at chore time and she’s been with us for four and a half years, which makes her a very old lady indeed. here, she’s living in a rabbit cage while i sit on a bale of hay trying to figure out what on earth to do with this frickin’ chicken. that dish to the right is a water dish, mostly filled with rock because she’d try to roost on it and knock it over. rocks are right up there in my arsenal with duct tape and baling twine. (and zip ties.)
thankfully, i had these two calf hutches on loan from a good friend. i stopped by her house one day and asked if i could modify one to keep a chicken in it and she didn’t mind. i built a door with scrap lumber and hardware cloth, then covered the other openings with hardware cloth held on with plastic zip ties. (while i generally hate using plastic anything, i’m completely addicted to zip ties.) the result was a small, warm, airy coop that was reasonable easy to move daily and was predator resistant. suitable for daytime.
felicity was moulting when she arrived, but i took an old milk crate and turned it on its side with some waste hay in it and put it in the hutch anyway. and then there were eggs! (i don’t even eat eggs, btw. i photograph them from time to time and sell them to other people in order to have money to feed the hens. they’re mostly self-sufficient that way.)
after finishing the calf hutch coop and deciding that i needed all the chickens!, i started taking a long look at the ugly little gambrel-style shed that lived in the backyard, full of junk. this photo was taken after two days of hauling out that junk. chicken coop? challenge accepted.
look, there’s still junk in there yet. this is the old door. it was big and warped slightly and drafty and ridiculous. the roof of this shed was recycled by the original builder, so it was totally full of nail holes and floppy around the edges. i used spray foam insulation to fill in the gaps and silicone caulk (hahahaha [sorry, i’m, like, twelve]) to fill in the nail holes. there were approximately a googol of them.
in addition to entry-level carpentry and heading up the plant pot relocation program, i was ordering chicks on the internet (in a non-escort service kind of way). getting a box through the US postal service containing live animals is probably the most fun box ever. unfortunately, the 6:30 am call from a crabby postal worker, screaming at you about how it stinks mitigates the fun a little bit. for the record, it didn’t smell that bad.
using my usual MO, i researched every available breed of chicken for weeks and decided to start with five heavy laying/dual purpose breeds that claimed to be cold hardy and good to excellent layers. i ordered fifteen birds and got what chicken folks call a “packing peanut”, an extra chick. peanuts are usually roosters, but all four of my barred rocks were hens. it was one of the rhode island reds that turned out to be a rooster. of all breeds, RIRs have the worst reputation for crabby roosters and i was not thrilled that the sexing error happened with this breed, but at this point in time, they’re all just little balls of fluff and i’m blissfully unaware of the red rooster in the mix. i vowed to name one of the BRs “peanut” and unloaded them into the brooder.
speaking of zip ties… the rubbermaid brooder is the best thing ever. this is an absolutely enormous one with wheels on one end. i cut out the top with a box knife, poked some holes around the edge with an awl, cut a piece of hardware cloth to size, and zip tied it on with the rough side of the hardware cloth on the inside. the brooder light (heat lamp) can go directly over the wire, outside the brooder, and lowered or raised to change the temperature in the brooder.
i also used my awl to poke a hole for a perch that was designed to clip to a parrot cage. i ended up taking it out for the first two weeks because i’d underestimated how floppy and, well, infant-y chicks would be. it became a Thing later though.
a lot of people use newspaper under their chicks, but i decided to try peat moss after reading one or two good things about it online. turns out, it’s basically my favourite chicken-keeping tool ever and i use it in my coop to this day. it’s organic material, so it’s non-binding if ingested, is a great, natural footing for ground-dwelling birds like chickens, devours wetness and odor, and makes a darn good dust bath to boot. for chicks, it has great little sticks (you can see them in the picture) which they can pick up and then run around like crazy things, screaming and flapping and trying to keep everyone else from taking it away. is toys.
poor felicity had to make way for ducklings every day in fine weather. she’d go grumpily back to her rabbit cage and the sixteen rascals would go out to pick in the grass under the calf hutch coop. i believe really strongly in raising chicks in as close to natural conditions as humanly possible, so even if they could only go out for half an hour because of the air temperature, they went out every day.
i spent completely asinine amounts of time with that first flock of chickies. with the exception of the partridge rocks, which were and are practically feral, most of the chicks were very friendly and would cheerfully roost on my arms. this pair above were absolutely pesty. you can see young bob’s little rooster comb already in this picture. peanut, who passed away earlier this year, was coming to hop up on my knee until the day she died. i’m pretty sure she thought she was people.
like all babies, these grew up too fast. in more ways than one, because i still hadn’t finished turning my storage shed into a chicken coop and these birds were getting crowded in the old rubbermaid.
finally. the ceiling insulation is still exposed to this day and i’d like to get that covered or at least tacked up in the spring. the red door is the interior door, a donation from another old shed that got torn down. the final door on our coop is a pink steel door that once belonged to our neighbour’s front entrance. their house was broken into and the door pried open, so they replaced it. i picked up the old one on the side of the road (free sign, ahoy!) and installed it later that summer with the help of my uncle.
a small piece of wood to keep the hay from falling out was key, so i took some scrap wood, cut it to size, and screwed it to the milk crates on the inside lip. the boxes are then hung in the coop from hooks. they can be quickly and easily taken down and disassembled as needed.
i had to move the girls into the coop before i had things like roosts in place, so i made a quick and dirty one out of a pine branch and some lumber scraps with decking screws holding them together.
this, however, works so much better. these run the length of one side of the coop and can hold upward of 35 birds. the 2x4s are strong, relatively easy to keep clean, and provide a stable base for large hens. also, the benefit of using 2x4s instead of smaller dimension lumber in my climate is that in winter, the birds’ feet are tucked in underneath their entire bodies and frostbite of toes becomes impossible. not that i’ve ever let it be cold enough in there to frost anyone anyway. between that pink fuffy insulation you saw above and weatherstripping around the window, i also run a heat lamp at night when it gets below freezing. this all makes me wonder why i didn’t just get the un-hardy mediterranean breeds i wanted for aesthetic reasons.
this window came from the same shed as the interior door. i was nervous about building new studs, etc. so a friend helped me install this. he also had a better saw than mine.
these first eggs came around the december holidays. it’s amazing how smug you can feel for merely finding an egg that someone else did all the work in making and laying.
and then i realized i had a “problem” as they say right before an intervention. that hatchery catalog is like crack. this batch was three gold-laced wyandottes, six blue bantam silkies (blue is one of those funny genetic colours; the babies are 33.3‾% blue, splash, and black), and three welsummers. the latter three were replacements for a bad hatch of columbian wyandottes. what a fortuitous bad hatch, because these birds are incredibly good layers. i know this because they lay dark brown eggs, which sets them apart. they moult hard, then they lay like crazy all year.
i ordered five silkie hens and one silkie rooster. inevitably, i got four hens and two roosters. the hatchery had very kindly included two blue, two splash, and two black chicks. oddly, both the blue ones were roosters.
free-ranging is fun in all seasons. in the past, my birds haven’t generally gone out in the snow (their choice, not mine). i’m not sure what these ladies were doing out that day, but if there’s anything smarter in the chicken world than australorps’ and partridge rocks, i don’t want to know about it. i certainly don’t want one in my coop.