2.04.2016

The Evolution of a Chicken Coop


This is our chickens' cozy home:





I am just a little in love with our coop...and I think it may be the cutest coop east of the Mississippi, because, well...I love it!


But it took quite a bit to get it into working order, because prior to us moving in, it was a neglected playhouse, that you could hardly see:






As crazy as this may seem, after we moved in our children never played in it...it gave them the heeby-jeebies.  




The first order of business was to whack down all the bushes surrounding hiding the playhouse.  



And then one weekend, the first winter we were here, Jas (and all his helpers) got to work on the inside.  










It went from having a loft and ladder...




...to NOT:




Because the chickens didn't need a loft, they needed roosting bars:

First two roosting bars installed


They also needed nesting boxes.  




Well, they don't actually need nesting boxes, but if we'd like for them to lay their eggs in the same (safe) place everyday, then they need nesting boxes. (Hint: some of our punk chickens still don't lay in there anyway.)


My smart hubby repurposed wood from the loft to make nesting boxes.
What they lack in beauty they more than make up for in PRICE!

Installing the new boxes


There are all kinds of formulas that you use to plan a coop.

The "experts" say...

- Chickens need 3 sq ft per bird in the coop.

- Chickens need 8-10in (some sources say 12 in) of space per bird on the roosting bar.

- Your coop needs one nesting box per 3-4 birds, some sources say every 5-6 birds.



We don't meet any of these guidelines.  And you know what?  Our birds are healthy and producing quite well.

We have almost the amount of roosting space we should.  But all the birds cram up together on the top two bars...totally ignoring several other bars.  So much for that rule.

And we knew from friends who keep chickens that they would gang up and only use one (or two) nesting boxes...so we didn't feel the need to have TEN.  Four has been fine.


Ta da!  The slanted roof is so they can't land up there...and poop.




The chickens get outside everyday (more on that later), but we also provide food for them inside the coop.  I have about 100 different DIY chicken feed recipes pinned, but one of our local feed stores now carries GMO-free chicken feed, so we just buy it.






This New Hampshire didn't want to wait its turn


We also hang a water bucket from the rafter inside the coop:





This is a 5 gallon bucket we repurposed to water the chickens.  Jas installed five "nipples" on the bottom.  The chickens just peck at the nipple, which pushes up on the silver part, and water dribbles out.  We add a splash of (raw) apple cider vinegar to their water. 



I'm showing this picture again because it shows the nipples closer up:




Also in the above picture you can kind of see the setup we ended up coming up with under the waterer.  The chickens were messy with a capital M with their water.  Extra water would end up under the waterer, keeping the shavings and the floor underneath soggy...not good for a wooden floor.

So Jas ended up creating a kind of platform under the waterer,  a screen (repurposed from the brooders they lived in as chicks) on a base outlined with repurposed bricks.  We had a shallow bucket under the screen catching the water for a while, but it needed to be emptied out pretty regular, and it. was. gross.  So, Jas cut a hole right in the floor of the coop, for the water to just go right through onto the ground outside.  (I though this was rather drastic, but hey it works...and hey, I certainly didn't want to clean that yuck bucket, so...go Jas!)




I don't have any pictures of this, but the playhouse was already setup with electricity.  (Yes, the original owners set up a rockin' playhouse for their daughter!)  The reason this is important is that chickens slow down or cease egg production in the winter, due to the decreased hours of sunlight.  Unless they received at least 14 hours total of sunlight in a 24-hour period, they won't produce.  You can turn on supplemental lighting in your coop to "trick" the chickens' bodies into still producing eggs.  Some people say that eggs should really be a seasonal item, and that we shouldn't "trick" their bodies...this is a natural process and they need the rest.

I would normally agree with thinking along those lines.  BUT...we just bought these chickens in May, and they were JUST starting to lay when the hours of daylight started decreasing.  These chickens needed to start giving us some eggs, by golly!  Feeding and taking care of them for 5-6 months with nary an egg got old.  Enough was enough!

So Jas has the electricity set up on a timer (approx. $3) to give the chickens the extra light they need.

And it is working!  Our record so far is 20 eggs in one day.  15-18 a day is what we're getting right now.  Just in the last couple of weeks have we gotten to the point where we don't have to buy eggs anymore.



I mentioned that the chickens get outside every day.  They were totally and completely free range for quite a while.  And I liked having them run around, and it was so cute when they would run to greet you in the backyard, expecting a treat of apple cores or such:


Running toward me

What wasn't cute?

Chickens EVERYWHERE.  And therefore, chicken poop everywhere.

They were in the frontyard, crossed the street to the pecan orchard across the street....



...and were all over our neighbor's yard also.  (They never complained, but I felt bad)

One day a school bus had to stop because of our chickens in the road:



And then we started losing chickens to predators.

And they started laying eggs, but would lay them wherever they wanted to, instead of inside the coop.  

And I got tired of chicken poop all over the driveway.  

And then....we finally understood why most chicken owners don't let their flock TOTALLY free range.  We're quick like that.


So, we did what I thought we'd never do: we built a chicken yard to confine our chickens.  Except they aren't "confined", they just now have boundaries.




Jas - and lots of helpers - installed t-posts and chicken wire out behind the coop, inside the pasture.  (The chickens have a little door that we slide open/closed to let them out back, and a ramp with grippers, but they usually just fly up and down)





A supervised all the goings-on

The chicken yard is 1,600 sq feet, so it is an ok size...and it has definitely cut down on us losing chickens.  





From the original 37 chickens, we are down to 27.  (And one is a very mean rooster, so we have 26 layers.)  

After getting some input from other chicken owners we know, we usually let the chickens out to totally free range for the last two hours every day.  They then put themselves back to bed (roost) when the sun goes down.  This gives them some time to free range, but they usually don't get too far 
afield during that window.  


Since installing the chicken yard, we haven't lost any more chickens to predators...but we have lost two chickens during this "free-ranging" time over the past 2 months.  Both of them - at different times - drowned in the cows' water trough.  

Just...yuck.



The chickens did have to get used to not being able to free range all day...and we had some escapees for a while.  To ensure the chickens didn't fly out of the chicken yard, we clipped their wings.  



Well, one wing on each bird, to be exact...so they would be lopsided if they tried to fly.




It doesn't hurt them...and doesn't take long at all.

You just fan out their wings, locate the "flight feathers" and give them a quick snip:




I have dreamed of having chickens for years.


This has been such a learning experience.  I am grateful for all we've experienced, from the fun parts....




....to the not-so-fun parts.




It feels like a special gift to me from the Lord that He has allowed us to do this.



2.02.2016

Gabriel is Four!

Gabriel has gone and turned four.





How can this be possible, given that just yesterday Jas and I held him for the first time in the hospital?









And now, our big little guy has had his first official "Slumber Party"!  





The Friday before G's actually big day, the kiddos came to us with the proposal for a slumber party. (Which equates to our oldest five kiddos sleeping on the floor in the family room...oh, and staying up way later than normal. )

But we're super cool parents, so sure!




They even brought Gabriel's little toddler bed mattress out for him to sleep on, since he has never slept on the floor before, unlike my seasoned Slumber partiers.


Gabriel had a great time at his party.  



He stayed up later than I thought he would (11p.m.-ish), but slept in until about 10:30 a.m.  the next morning and was good to go after that...no other ill-effects.  (When we all got up, we moved him to his room, where he slept until 10:30)



Then on the actual big day, Gabriel got to celebrate from morning until night.

We had some festivities before Daddy left for work...


Think he was excited?

The kiddos always get to pick the menu on their special days.



Gabriel picked pancakes, our venison smoked sausage, and Apple Celery salad.



And then G got to open a present from us.








It was a....TRASH TRUCK:




Complete with its own little blue trash can:




Because G?  Is obsessed with trash cans right now.  Like, he has to go out with the older boys every week when they wheel the trash cans to the end of our driveway.  He follows along beside them and stares (bent over the whole time) at the wheels the whole way to the street.  And he talks about them quite a bit.  In fact, when asked what he wanted for Christmas, he said "trash cans."  Turns out he meant big, real ones.  Aunt Susu did get him these (little) trash cans for Christmas...and he loves them.  So, an actual (albeit little) trash truck was the logical next step.  


Other items he is currently obsessed with:

- Basketball

- Drumming

- Alligators




Knowing Gabriel's obsession with basketball (Papa started it by buying G a basketball goal), Papa was thrilled to find a great basketball book for them to look through together: 









Gabriel also received from LaoLao and Papa some....

Money!






It was so funny because it was the first time he really was aware what money was...and was excited about getting some!



When we asked him what he wanted to buy with his money, G was so thrilled to reply, "Groceries!"  Specifically, bananas.

I promise I feed him.  



Then G got to open (homemade) cards from each of his siblings.  



I love that they do this for one another.





So sweet!










G was not - however - quite so thrilled with the two books that daddy and I gave him.



He was not rude...just very....clear about his lack of enthusiasm.


(We had a little talk about how you should act when receiving gifts, whether you are excited about them...or not.)


But the last gift we gave him, I intentionally saved it for last - I knew he'd be excited about:



It is "Peter" from Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  Gabriel loves this book, and knows it by heart.  (But he insists that we say "Gabriel" instead of "Peter" whenever we say the little boys' name as we are reading through!)





Gabriel has slept with Peter snugged up against him every night since he got him.


Another new snuggy he received is an alligator of Daniel's that G loves!




It was so kind of Daniel to share this stuffed animal that he loves.





Gabriel said he wanted "cake and ice cream" that night...so got a pan of Elisabeth's brownies (that looked a whole lot like cake....and they are far yummier than any cake I've ever tasted, grain free or not)...and some homemade ice cream.  



It was a wonderful day celebrating this precious boy we all love so very much.






It is hard to imagine/remember that there was ever a time that Gabriel wasn't here with us.




We are thankful for this little guy.


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