A finished, underground chicken coop

Here it is friends! In all it’s glory. The finished product, a hidden coop. The house hides most of it. Landscaping, that we planted long before we wanted chickens, covers both sides. The back is for now, open to the back neighbor. In time, landscaping will help hide it. We could put up a privacy fence if we need to, but that’s expensive and I’m not doing it yet. The “bench” is actually a run from the coop area to their ranging area. Simple chicken wire fences them in and netting on top ensures they won’t fly out and nothing will fly in! The girls are about 10 weeks old now. This gives them about 2 months to get fat and happy for egg laying!

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Bye-bye Chicken Fry

It was a sad day last Wednesday as we had to say good-bye to one of our girls. She had me confused from the day we brought her home. I have to admit, being that these are our first hens I was so caught up in the cuteness of it I didn’t really pay attention to what each chicks’ breed was. I did know that we bought 4 different breeds from the feed store, all sexed to 90% accuracy. We should have gotten a gold sex link, a silver duckwing leghorn, a cuckoo marans and a plymouth rock. The sex link was obvious, as was the silver leghorn. Even as chicks they’re easily identified. The cuckoo marans and plymouth rock actually  look almost identical (to a novice like me). I did not know that. As they grew I could tell one was getting a comb much quicker than the rest. Not a good sign. They change daily when they’re chicks and this one I just couldn’t identify. She wasn’t a marans or a plymouth rock. She didn’t look like a silver leghorn pullet…and then it hit me, she wasn’t a leghorn pullet…she was a leghorn cockerel. Crap, she’s a he! He had to go. We aren’t even supposed to have hens! If he started crowing it would be all over for the entire flock! So we brought him to a local feed store and they adopted him out in no time. He was a nice looking bird w/ a great personality. So here’s to Chicken Fry, it was nice while it lasted! As a side note, the day after we got rid of him I heard a rooster crowing to beat all. Turns out two houses down from us they have chickens too…and 1 big, loud rooster!

In Memory of Andrew Wordes – The Chicken Man

This was a long drawn out story that ended in the death of a kind and gentle man. I first met Andrew last year when folks in our city were fighting to get backyard hens legalized. He was a constant source of information, always answering my emails and helping us put everything together for the city council. All the time he had his own battle on his hands. The media covered only parts of his story. In the end he was portrayed as a whack job who fought the law and the law won. In actuality it was the worst case of a city tormenting someone that I have ever witnessed. I’m not going into detail here, as it’s a long drawn out saga and I’m weary from talking and writing about it. I just want to pay tribute to a fine man who was beat down and destroyed by hateful, mean people. Shame on them.

On the wings of angels Chicken Man, I’ll see you on the other side.

 

6 Weeks In…

This is a small coop for just 4 hens. The coop itself is no bigger than a doghouse. It has 2 roosts inside and an egg box. While they’re still pullets there’s plenty of room to roam. Today we did a cleaning, added soil because they do scratch the dirt away from the corners. When we finished we threw in a piece of sod for good measure, they love it! We use pine shavings under the coop for odor control and it gives them something to scratch in. Powdered it all w/ DE before I let them back in.

The hedge view is approaching the coop from the yard. We use our natural landscaping to conceal it. You can’t see or hear the girls until you get to the entrance to the garden. Even then, it’s just quiet chirping. The bottom line is the only way anyone would know we actually have chickens is if they saw them. You can’t smell them, you can’t hear them. If you were to walk directly up to the coop to  see them, well you’d hear them chirp. They smell like pine chips. While we cleaned the coop today what we heard were wild birds and neighborhood dogs. Please take the “they smell and they’re noisey” rant and forget it. It’s a non issue w/ 4 hens.

The learning curve

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Being new to raising chickens, we’ve learned a lot in trial and error. For those of you who haven’t started your own flock yet I thought I’d share some of what we learned along the way.

Starting with the coop all I can say is that it helps that my husband is an avid carpenter. Some people buy a prefab type coop, which is what we did. Some start from scratch with their own materials. Either way it’s inevitable that in the end you’ll have to make some modifications. For us it was moving some doors around on the run area to make it more accessable. We also had to reinforce some areas with more chicken wire as something is digging around the run area at night (armadillo?).

One of the girls was showing some blood in her stool so I did some research and found it was likely to be coccidia. Coccidia live in the ground all the time and the young and sick are succeptable to it. I ordered Sumlet online (probably could have gotten it at the feed store) added it to their water and within a day things were fine.

My husband made an automatic feeder from old gutters, it turned out great! He still needs to put up some kind of roof over the run to keep the food dry but the girls took to it right away. Food for 4 pullets has lasted 4 days now. We will install automatic watering system eventually but for now we purchased some chicken nipples, yes folks that is what they’re called, and used a 2 liter bottle inverted with the nipple in the lid part. It works amazingly! FYI, you must poke a vent hole in the bottom (once installed it’s actually the top) of the bottle or else no water will come out. The learning curve, remember! The one problem I have with a complete watering system, one hooked up to our spicket, is that I won’t be able to medicate them through their water. I think with 4 hens we can probably use two 2 liter bottles and it will be plenty of water for several days.

Getting them used to their coop didn’t take long. We started by just putting them in the run area on sunny days and opening the coop door. They ignored the coop and the ramp and just scratched around all day. Then we moved on to putting them in the coop first and opening the door. They’d run and fly as fast as they could out the door and down the ramp. Eventually they explored the ramp and within 2 days they were using the coop. Phew!

The girls will be 5 weeks in two more days. The weather is easy now and as long as another cold front doesn’t come through they should be in the coop full-time tonight or tomorrow.

On the stealth end, so far no one even knows they exist. So much for smelly, loud birds annoying the neighbors and fowling up the city. On the other hand the barking dog tied up in the neighbor’s back yard is driving me crazy!

Feathering Out

This is what they look like at 2 weeks…

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In order of appearance and @ 2 pics each we have Vanilla, golden sex link, Chicken Fry, silver leghorn, Poppy, Cuckoo Maran and Lola, Partridge Plymouth Rock. The girls are still in the brooder at night, but the days are easy here so they’re in the coop from about 11 a.m to about 4 p.m. We’ll get some shots of them in the coop over the weekend.

Bringing home the chicks

We finally got our chicks! There’s a wonderful feed store about 45 miles from here…remember chickens aren’t allowed in our city therefore we have to travel a bit to get them! We set up the brooder the night before. It’s very basic, a large rubbermaid container, heat lamp, some pvc for the stand, bedding feeder and waterer. The girls took to the water right away. I gently touched each chicks beak to the water and they immediately started drinking. They found the food on their own! Now it’s just a matter of keeping them happy and healthy. They change daily. At first I though 2 of them were the same breed but not so sure now. The feed store had silver leghorns, marans, Plymouth rocks and gold sex links. I believe we got one of each. Eventually, we’ll find out exactly who’s who, just need a little time.

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Review on the eco-concepts coop

The reviews on this coop are mixed. While the  material it’s made of is just fine, sturdy, resistant to weather issues and termites the run was not so great. In his typical carpenter ways, my husband is currently in the process of building our own run. The one that came with it is just too small. Way to small and we only want 4 hens max. Inside the coop leaves just enough room for them to sleep, but I see us adding another nesting box in the future. For those who want to open the box, assemble and be ready to go I don’t think this is for you. If you don’t mind doing a little customizing, it’s just fine. In fact, I really love it. We’ll be putting in an automatic watering system later. My husband also built a platform for the coop so the hens can roam under it, in the shade. So far it’s exactly what we wanted, small, subtle and not obvious that there are chickens around. The aviary is being built as I type, by next weekend I’ll post those pics. I’d give this coop 3 out of 5 stars. The reason being the run was so small and there were broken hinges on 1 door, though no biggie to fix for some people it makes things difficult. For what we need it’s just perfect!

The New Coop

We finally decided on a coop. Delivered stealthy…in 2 huge boxes with pictures of the coop and chickens to boot! I think the UPS guy is onto us. Now don’t shun us because we bought a pre fab coop. I really wanted to build something totally cute, like the kind I find on the web. But there are a few things to consider: 1) My husband’s job is very physical. Although he’s an amazing carpenter/builder I just didn’t want to ask him to make me a coop from scratch. 2) I have neither the time or patience to search through all of the plans available to find just the right coop. 3) Breaking out the saw, saw horses, lumber and nail gun tends to attract the neighbor’s attention. We’re trying to avoid that!

We bought an eco concepts coop and run, from ebay but it’s sold in other places too. It’s made of a plastic/wood polymer. It shouldn’t rot and is resistant to termites. Very important here! I also liked that it’s low to the ground, no higher than our fence. My husband trumped that idea though, he’s building a platform for it to set on so the birds can go under the coop as well as in the run. So much for stealth….The reviews on this coop aren’t great but from what I’ve seen anything in our price range didn’t get great reviews. They’re all pre fab, mostly thin wood, not the sturdiest. No problem for us, anything that goes wrong the hubby can take care of. He’s just that good!

We took some of it out of the box and I must say, we were impressed. It’s much sturdier than the reviews led us to believe. It’s a neutral color (light beige?) and can be painted or stained. The run is fairly small but we’ll add on to that. It states it can hold up to 4 hens…we shall see. We’ll set it up this weekend as well as the brooder. Pics to follow!

Which coop to choose…

Coop style is the issue of the moment. Going stealth means our coop shouldn’t really look like one. So I could go with one of these, but I don’t think so. Actually the gypsy dog house is adorable, but not what we’re going for. The goal is for no one to see it at all, which means strategic landscaping. We already have a fence so putting up a privacy fence isn’t going to happen. Fortunately, we started planting along our fence line years ago so we have a pretty good natural barrier. The coop we chose is low to the ground and can be painted to match the house. By the time its built you’d really have to stand at the fence and look in or perhaps on a neighbor’s roof. Anyone that determined to catch us in the act should just knock on the front door and I’ll give you the grand tour.