Sunday, November 24, 2013

First egg!

First egg!

We've been waiting for our first egg for a while now. One of the Plymouth Barred Rocks, who we've started calling Scarlet, has had a bright red comb and been squatting when we pet her (she's the only one who lets us), both signs of sexual maturity, for more than a week. Eldest has been checking for eggs several times a day and I ask him every day when I see them at lunch.

Scarlet started acting a bit oddly today. It's been very cold this weekend (it went down to -13C last night and didn't get up past -7C this afternoon) and yesterday they refused to leave their run when we opened their gate for some free ranging. Today we again opened the gate and they weren't particularly keen to go out, but eventually they all got our and found a sun spot by the house to cuddle up in. But Scarlet was wandering off on her own. Usually they wander as a group or at least with a friend or too. She went into the coop and came out. Then she flew up on the roof!

She didn't stay up long but it was weird. She paced back and forth in front of the run, as if she couldn't remember to go around the corner and into the gate. She went into the coop and came out. I was doing a bit of work nearby during one of her entries to the coop, and I could hear her scratching in a nest box.

I've heard that the first egg is a bit distressing for hens. They don't know what's happening, and I imagine it's a bit like being in labour and giving birth. Every day. I'm sure they get used to it after a while though. Anyways, her odd behaviour made me wonder if today might be the day. But I'd also heard that sometimes they act oddly for a couple of days, so I didn't want to dwell on it too much. A little later, I was sitting on the couch when suddenly I heard the egg song! (I admit to some considerable googling over the last few weeks on the subject.)


How exciting! We had just had eggs for lunch, so we haven't eaten it yet. But tomorrow!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

it's the simple things

(not our hens' eggs - nobody's started laying yet)

I really miss being at home most of the time. I never get to all the things I want to. I didn't roast a pumpkin or make granola. I didn't finish clearing up the laundry room so we use it as a pseudo-mudroom, didn't clean up Eldest's room so he and Youngest can experiment with sleeping together. I could go on. But I won't. For all the domestic work I'm not doing, I am being pretty productive with my photography and my husband is managing the domestic realm pretty decently, so I can hardly complain.

But I am human, and I certainly do have negative, woe-is-me moments.

Today was miserable, weather-wise. The wind blew loud and fast, and the rain came cold and sharp. It was a day made for books and fires and soup. But my two-year-old is too loud for much book-reading during his waking hours and our fireplace is covered with boxes to prevent the same two-year-old from having another fall of the hearth like when he was 14 months old and went unconscious after what seemed like a seizure. (He was ok, although that spell caused me to see the dietician who diagnosed his severe anemia.)

And besides that, I hadn't finished tucking in my garden plots for the winter. I'd spread chicken compost from my friends who also provided our chickens and still provide us eggs. But I had read that I needed to mulch the beds to prevent the compost nutrients from just running off over the winter. So this afternoon, with much grumbling and self-pity and questioning of this dumb attempt to learn how to grow food and outsource less, I drove out of town and bought some straw bales. I had half-expected the farmer not to be there, so I hadn't thought as far ahead as to where I would put the straw. Really, the only logical place was to spread it on the garden and be done with the thing for this year.

All the way to the garden I grumbled and felt sorry for myself that I wasn't curled up reading in my warm house. But something great happened when we finally got there. It was still cold and windy as all get-out, but the rain stopped and my two-year-old actually heeded my request that he not step on the beds and he stayed in safe areas and did safe things. He even got into helping. So the three of us spread the straw over our three beds, and I found myself enjoying the work and the frosty nips on my cheeks.


I expected to feel satisfied with the task done, but I also just felt good, physically, too. Once again, I intrinsically enjoyed a task that felt like an obligation.

Increasingly, I'm finding my joy in simple moments. This morning, it was when my husband turned on some music while he did the dishes and I chipped away at Mount Foldmore, and the kids sort of helped me (by which I mean Eldest helped and Youngest didn't unfold). I'd put a stewing hen on (not one of ours) to make soup for tonight with some sage and peppercorns and bay leaves and already the house was smelling like the best chicken soup. It just felt really good.

The soup wasn't the best ever but it was pretty damn good.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

coop tour

When we decided to build a chicken coop, we had to figure out a plan pretty quickly, with no previous knowledge of what chickens actually need. So we did a lot of research, fast. There's so much conflicting information out there, ultimately every decision came down to gut feel, personal preference or some other subjective method. For the person who comes looking for chicken coop design ideas, here is what we did.


So this is where we started. We chose the dimensions for simplicity, based on plywood sheets of 4 feet by 8 feet. We adjusted the design a bit. The low wall is four feet and the higher wall of the coop is 5 feet tall.

And here it is the day after Halloween. (How happy are we to have our jack o'lantern get eaten? SO happy!)

We would have liked to build nest boxes out from the main part of the building, but my dad was only here for two days, so it just seemed more complicated than it was worth. Plus we could always upgrade in the future. For now, the nest boxes are in the main part, just behind the bottom of the Baker St. sign, and we access them through the human door on the east wall.
This picture shows you our roost ladder. Mostly the ladies all crowd onto the top bar, but I think they still have a fair amount of growing to do, so eventually I imagine they won't be able to fit. I read that the roosts should allow 12 inches for each bird's width and we spaced the boards about 14 inches apart from each other I think, to prevent higher birds from pooping on lower birds.

We changed the placement of the windows. Originally I was planning for just one, but we decided to do the two we had in the shed, with one of the east side for morning light, and one that opens on the west side for summer breezes. (The prevailing winds come from the northwest. I was hoping the house would shelter the coop heavy winds, but it does not.)

We were very concerned about ventilation, as we read somewhere that you need one square foot of ventilation per hen, even in winter. We ended up not putting in a vent on the north side like in the drawing because we figured it would be too windy. So we left the spaces between the rafters open, and created a vent on the south wall. Since then we have filled the rafter spaces with styrofoam sheets of insulation, which we'll take out in the summer. We've also covered the vent, which is right over their roosts.

You can see the big vent here: thanksgiving-8842

You can also see the other thing on the right-hand wall that I'm very proud of: the poop pit door. It wasn't my idea, but all the best artists are the best thieves. Apparently chickens poop most of their poop at night, when they're roosting. We chicken wired under the roost ladder so the birds can't walk around in their poop, and we made a sort of trap door, so we can just open the door and scrape out the poop. We can do it daily if we want. And the rest of the coop stays pretty clean, since they're mostly outside or sleeping.

Here it is open, with some shavings spread to absorb some of the moisture and odour:

And here are the nest boxes with the first curtains I've ever 'made': thanksgiving-8830

We read somewhere that hens like their nest boxes dark and private, so I thought the curtains would help. I've been holding onto our old rice bags for ages, because they're so beautiful, but I haven't known what to do with them. This seemed a perfect use. We nailed a small board along the floor so that the eggs won't roll out.

The downside of the poop pit is that it significantly reduces the square footage available for the hens to hang out in during the day if they want. I had read to give hens 4 square feet of floor space each, and at 4 feet by 8 feet, ours was big enough for 8 hens. And I pretty much cut that in half with the poop pit. Given that our run is roofed, I'm not too worried as they really don't spend a lot of time in the coop (so far, anyways), but I'm very aware that we're really at max. capacity with our 9 hens. So we will be making some hard decisions for at least some of them when they stop laying eggs.

The last thing to show you is my husband's ingenious mechanism for opening and closing and locking the chicken's pop door. I will confess that at the time I thought he was overcomplicating things, but I let him go ahead because he was so clearly enjoying it. But I have to say, now, I'm pretty impressed.


We can open and close it without going into the run, which is nice because we usually do it in semi-darkness at either end of the day. Our run is predator-proof enough that we could just leave it open but I figure when it's cold it's nice to shut them cosy and even safer. Plus we have recently seen raccoon footprints around a few spots where they've tried digging under the fence. (Thank goodness my husband didn't listen to me when I suggested we take the 'easy' way out and just fence down to the ground to avoid all the digging required to bury the fence!)

Back to the door. So my husband rigged up a pulley system that takes the cord up to the roof and outside the run.

He rigged up a neat little thingie to hold the door open. _DSC8740

Here the little arrow/handle hanging when the door is closed. _DSC8748

He had to add a weight to the door so it would close most of the way on its own. _DSC8743

He also built the bits to hold the rod in place, and he made the end of the rod angled on one side so it would go over the door while closing it the rest of the way tight. _DSC8755

He even made his own handles for the rod from some pruned branches. _DSC8739

So I think that's just about it. We've also done tons of research and a few amendments for helping the hens manage the cold, but I'll save that for another post.