Tag Archives: coop

Coop training II

The answer (to how many went in the coop on their own tonight):

One.

Mom.  She probably remembers well living in a wooden box, and is right at home. 

Chick roundup night two went better, the last Silkie chick (different one) left running around found its own way in quite rapidly.

All the Chanticleers were piled in the cardboard broody box with “their” mom, who’s trying to work on the next batch.  They aren’t so sure about this coop business.

 

 

Oreos and the Cobra mom

The only time to see the wild Oreos up close is evening time in the coop.  They are handsome looking now, and not so much filling as cookie these days – they´re turning out raven black, with the blackest glossy legs.

 

 

 

The guinea hen is definitely setting.

This is early on – is she or isn´t she?

Later on she scraped up all the hay in the coop, and made a lovely, perfectly round nest with high walls.  When she flattens out and dozes, you can barely see comb over the sides of her nest.

No idea how many eggs she´s got.  Easily 20.  Perhaps a chicken egg got in there too.  In fact, she could be due any day.  I don´t know about guinea terms, but she´s got to be close.

And since there´s only three birds walking about yet, I suspect those three are the boys, and the other hen has found her own nest site somewhere in the woods. May she walk out healthy one day with a trail of chicks.

While I´m delighted that she´s pleased enough with the coop I made them to brood in it, there are some things that I did not consider.  Such as, what happens when they hatch?

She hasn´t lifted off that nest for a moment, so I´m thinking as soon as they hatch she´ll be ready for a snack.  And then day old guinea chicks will start pouring out of the coop, six feet off the ground?  If they do bounce, then, how about when mom goes back to bed?  If I lift in the chicks, she´ll come blazing out, the chicks will follow her out…this is a circular vision.

I decided to put a screen door on the coop so I can keep them all in there a couple of days, or something.

Applying the screen door was fine.  When I set a dish of food and water inside the door, however, whoooweee!

She is terrifying!  She opens her mouth like a cobra, spreads her wings wide and full, so she looks like a flat feather wall, and stares.  Then one piercing squawk, and wham! cobra strike.  She gave me a good chomp.  Same when I refilled the water, after she tugged the dishes in close to the circle around her nest.  Then I had to reach in even closer to her.  I didn´t risk the food dish.

Yikes.

And then four hens decided to hang out in the woodshed, even though it wasn´t raining.

Guinea house finally outside

The guineas are out.  I had to tip their house over and drag it out to fit it out the greenhouse door.

The birds adjusted well.  No problems finding it.

They piled up on the roof per usual, two of them utilizing the perches.

Surely they´ll go in the house when it rains?

No, no they won´t.

They huddle grimly on the top of the house in the wind and rain, only one hen perching up against the entrance, somewhat sheltered by the overhang of the roof.

What a bunch.

Finally finished the Guinea house

There can no longer be more procrastinating;  the guinea house has to be moved out of the greenhouse, so I have to finish it.  It needs a roof.

The guineas have been faithfully roosting on top of it since I built it, and I gave up completely on plan A of training the birds to go in at night.  For them, there is no in, only the highest possible perching point.

Well, that´s over now.  I put a roof on it.  I made an extra door perch, so they hopefully they will learn to creep into the house from the perch.

I had some help from carpenter chicken:

I´m totally helping.  Can I poop on this for you?

Can´t put things down for a second.

Then, dusk fell, and the guineas came home to find that their house had been reno´d while they were gone.  Extreme Makeover:  Guinea Coop.

 

 

They went straight to the top; sat on the roof.

I hope they decide a roof is a pretty great idea once they are outside, and it rains.

He’s gone to bed!

(Short post)

He’s really gone to bed!  Another month behind the ladies; months since moving here … this boy‘s set a new record for resistance to bedtime.

It doesn’t reflect well on his intellect.

He might have been finally convinced by the hard freeze we’re having.  He was cold out on the roof alone and relented, tucking himself in with the ladies.

Took him long enough!

Silkies being odd.

I had a persistent little guest in  the layer coop the other day.  I was cleaning it out – bagging up the thick accumulated layer of hay and crap for relocation to the garden (my chicken mulch cycle), and along came Granny.

img_5402I lifted her out a couple of times, because she was definitely in the way, but she came right back in.  She was determined to do something, but it wasn’t clear what.  She just sort of dottered around, and I had to relocate her to work around her.  I think she might be losing her vision.

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All the contents removed from mesh floor
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Oh, is that the goal? A good nest box?

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Ahhhh. I stay here now.

Then, for more bizarre behavior, along came a Silkie rooster, who got all worked up scratching and wiggling down in the clean hay in a corner, gurgling and clucking for all the world like a hen that’s very pleased with finding an awesome place to lay an egg.  He was just giddy with his burrowing.  WTH?  There’s hay all over to wriggle in.  He was really excited about this corner, though.

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What a weirdo!img_5414

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Granny’s all What the heck are you doing over there?
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Now here comes a hen: I live here! That’s my nest box, and what’s with the dude in the corner?

By Golly, they like it!

Ever since I constructed elaborate toad mansions under my parents’ back deck for the itinerant toads of Ontario as a child, there is little that pleases me more than an animal inspecting something I made for them, deciding This is alright, and using it!  Sometimes there would be a toad using the pool, or the planter pot “cave”.  Yessss.

One night!  And the guineas have decided they live on their coop!  I’m so pleased.  All of them, lined up on the rim.  It’s probably only because it’s about 2 inches higher than the header of the door (by design), but I’ll take it.  On vs in – close enough.  We’ll work up to “in”.

All of them went up there on their own.  They started out on the roof, but after dark, there they were.

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They’re all there.  Facing out.

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Look up, look way up, it’s the new guinea coop

I’m starting to worry about the guineas sleeping out “loose” in the greenhouse.  The hens are all secured at night in their respective coops, but the guineas are not safe, should a weasel come in, and now the GH is breached with multiple tunnels, one easily could.

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@#$% squirrel

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The guineas have a collective mind of their own though, choosing different places to sleep every night.  They used to like snuggling between the hay bales and the plastic, or perching on the top of the open screen door, which is funny.  They’ve just moved up one better though, and are roosting on the top of the door header.

img_4661It’s funny, approaching the GH and seeing their little shadowy silhouettes above the door in the dusk.  There were only four the first night!  I went in to shut the coops wondering if one was lost (a constant fear).  She was fine.  She was pacing along the roof’s edge of the layers’ coop, the nearest high point, trying and failing to muster up the bird courage to flap up and join the others.

I waited awhile, as it got darker, before I intervened.  I walked right up to her, smoothly reached out and grabbed her by the legs.  How well this went surprised both of us.  She eep-ed once and wobbled a little to get her balance as I readjusted her to stand on my palm, and I lifted her up almost level with the others (I’m a bird elevator).  She stood there for many seconds before she took the 6 inch hop.  After that night she’s made it up on her own.  We take the opportunity to pet them at night, which they do not love, shuffling nervously and squeezing together.  But I think it’s good for them.

So I built them a house.

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Hardware cloth floor
Hardware cloth floor

I put it on top of the straw bales for their examination (the layer hens are the most curious and adventurous of the bunch).

And then I put it on legs.

img_4646Knowing they want to be at the highest point in the room, it’s up in the air.  In fact, I won’t be able to take it out of the GH without taking the legs off, so…it’s either going to stay in the GH forever, or dismantling it is, to move their coop outside.

My big idea is to get them to roost IN the coop every night, and then in the summer they will continue to sleep in the coop, instead of the trees, where I can shut the door and they will be safe.

That’s my big idea.  Chances are good that the guineas have other ideas.

The first night, HW moved them from the header to the coop.  They were unimpressed and jumped up to perch on the top edge.  That’s ok with me.  Sleeping on their coop is a good start.  Maybe when it gets colder they’ll have more interest in huddling.

It has a protruding stick so that they can fly to it and then shuffle inside.  The roof is partial because I don’t have a piece of plywood the right size handy, so I set some scrap on it.  No door yet either.  That can come after they sleep in it.

Coop infiltration continued

A couple of days before we moved the Silkie coop into the greenhouse, I got paranoid about the Silkie moms sleeping on the ground, and I popped the two moms and their chicks into the layer hen coop after dark, using the less favored nest boxes.  They seemed happy. The one hen was already laying in there, after all.  Then the third night, oh no.

One hen, the mom of two, had three chicks under her (sleepover!).  The other (less intelligent) six were huddled in the box where their mom had taken to sleeping.  No mom.  I put them all away and start sweeping the greenhouse with a light.  Uhoh.  UhohUhohUhoh.  She’s not there.

Finally it occurs to me to check the coop, and there she is!  She’s lined up on the rail with the big red birds, head down.  In fact, I could hardly see her because they’re all so much bigger.   She’s done with chicks and moving on up with her life.

She’s big for a Silkie hen, but still!  Who does she think she is?  I can’t believe they tolerate her.

One of these is not like the other
One of these is not like the other

Chickens.  They never cease to amuse.

 

Broody hen egg poachers

Today I open the coop to this mess.

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I’m helping!

How exactly did they get an egg in the fount?

The fount is in there for the determined broody who was settled in.  I thought I’d try out letting her set in the coop.  It’s not going well.

My Silkies are trying.  Very trying.

The last of my originals are the good rooster and the little white hen, who is smaller all the time (shrinking)- a little wraith of a chicken- but still feisty, cranky, and laying.  The other hens are all former chicks, hatched last year, who are now trying to figure out how to become mother hens, but are rather bad at it and do not accept instruction.

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First they all went broody one after the other, in March.  A little early, Missy’s, but, if you must…  They decided to pile up together right at the top of their ramp, a small-brained decision.  Eggs roll, after all.  And the roosters would step on them on their way into the coop.

Then, the egg-thieving began.  These Slkies are champion egg thieves.  It’s an ongoing problem.  At first, the let-no-egg-go-untended ethos seemed good, as when any of the sisters left for a drink or a quick bite, her eggs were promptly grabbed and tucked under a hot furry chicken breast.

Curious how they moved eggs around as they obviously, frequently do, I’d wondered about their egg-rolling methods until I saw them do it, right under my hands.  It turns out the beak and the egg are perfectly adapted to each other when it comes to rolling.  I was shuffling irritated hens around to see what was under them, an egg came into sight, and whisk!  The hen (in my hands) stretched out her beak and flick-rolled that egg into her own collection as fast as a blink.  OK, then!

So these broody sisters were playing egg-snatchers, and sometimes a hen would have no eggs, another would have too many.  The egg arms race.

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“Chicken Gatorade”- poultry multivitamin

I tried to move three of the most committed birds into a shared broody box (still in the coop), but they were having none of it. Two escaped the box and returned to their original precarious choice (top of the ramp), leaving one heroically topping a mound of abandoned eggs.

I was reluctant to take any of them out of the coop because it seems cold to be away from the familial body heat.

I let them have it their way.  It did not go well.  Eggs vanished.  One hen decided to set a clutch way too big for her under the ramp, and when I culled her holdings she restored her stock from who-knows-where.

Eventually all the hens but one gave up and moved on with another phase in their lives.  That one, so determined, sat and sat.  She’s a classy polite little brown lady, like her mom the first brown hen. When it went far too long for anything to be alive under her, I took and broke her eggs, and sadly, half of them were almost finished before they died.  I don’t know why; there must have been some event.  The others were horribly rotten, gah!

She’s so fixed though (I’m hatching a damn egg if it’s the last thing I do!), that I gave her four new eggs, and, worried for her body weight, her own snack bar, which I think she ignores but the other hens polish off.  20160522_073507

A few days later, I was tucking fresh hay around her and peeked- seven eggs!  Sigh, here we go.  I suppose she’s taking them from the other side of the coop where the other ladies are laying and leaving these days.  I have to watch these little birds, but they do not make it easy to help them.

(just after this I resorted to sequestering each hen with about seven eggs in a box of her own in the greenhouse, and the Silkie population is now burgeoning)

Boy did I learn my lesson.

Do NOT move the chicken coop during the day.

ONLY move the chicken coop when the birds are in it.  If they don’t wake up in it, then they don’t know where it is.  Is magic!  No coop!

I went out to close the coop last night.  We moved it midday and the birds were happily milling around and under it all afternoon.

But in the evening, I went out to close them in, and what do I find?

Every single bird standing around in a confused cluster where the coop HAD BEEN.  When I arrived, they were quick to tell me all about it, too.

You’ll never believe it!  Our house is gone!  Is mystery!  Just gone! We found our way back here, like good chickens, even though there was this fence in the way, but there’s no house anymore!  Is disappeared!  We are very confused.

First of all, they had to make an effort to escape to the former location of the coop.  It probably involved climbing up on the coop in order to fly over the fence.  I was kind of impressed that every single bird was out.

Second, the coop is in plain sight, no obstructions (except the fence they crossed on the way out), about fifteen feet away.

I knocked down the fence, crouched down, and tried to slowly herd them towards the coop.  Surely they would go Oh, there it is, and go in.

They ran around me and returned to the vacant spot.  They were starting to slump down into chicken rest, too, getting dopey.

I opened the feed bucket by the coop.  They came running to the sound, but then seemed to forget why they were there and drifted back to the missing coop.  Sleeeepyyyy.  No coop.  Doesn’t matter….

I started scooping up chickens and stuffing them onto the top of their ramp.  Now the chickens got agitated and started scattering and hiding in the brush.  One of the chickens ran back out of the coop to rejoin the flock.  The rooster attacked me for the first time ever; I must have grabbed one of his favorites.  I’m glad he has it in him, but it was a shock (just scratches).

Get H.W.

H.W. is all business about chicken snatching and rapidly got the remaining birds stuffed into the coop.  Oh, here it is!!  Even the rooster; not so tough once you grab him.

Beak count, and…one missing.  Of course.  Now it’s totally dark.  I kept hunting, getting chowed on by mosquitoes.   Eventually I found her, and the chicken catastrophe came to a close.

Lesson learned.

How chickens can make their own bed (ding).

I love my Chicken Mulch Cycle!

The chicken make the straw for their bedding, add fertilizer, and their bedding becomes mulch.  Zero cost.

Hardworking little haymakers

First, cast the feed in the grass for the hens to eat.  Maybe 2-3 days in the same place.  They scratch it all up, and then it looks like this:

Rake it up.

The only sorta laborious part

I rake it into feed sacks, because we have lots of feed sacks.

My full feed sacks in the greenhouse for no particular reason (it's dry)
My full feed sacks in the greenhouse for no particular reason (it’s dry)

The chickens produce far far more hay than could ever be needed in their coop.  They could probably keep me in enough straw for all my gardening mulch needs if I raked assiduously enough.

Fill the coop with the straw.  I find it’s nice fluffy straw, too, like angel hair.  Maybe that’s the grass, not the chicken effect.

Today the poopy coop is getting emptied, not layered up.

Chickens poop on it.  Every day I cover the poop with another light layer of straw, to keep chicken feet and chicken eggs nice and clean.

When the straw mat comes up to the perches, it’s time to clean out the coop.

I find I can just roll up the straw/poop cinnamon bun

and put it in the wheelbarrow.

This is the dog’s favorite part, because dogs are disgusting,  and equal-opportunity turd-eaters (let no turd go untasted).  Usually the chickens want to inspect the process at this point too.

Everything else we do around here and you want us to make hay too?

Then the coop gets a thorough raking out and a new starter blanket of straw.  I used to sprinkle some diatomaceous earth around at this point too, but am desisting in this season because DE is deadly toxic to all bees.  The birds are at their healthiest now, anyways- unconfined, with lots of bathing options, so the DE stays stowed during the summer.

With my dozen chickens, I clean the coop every 3-4 weeks.

Then the wheelbarrow goes a-mulching trees and the garden, completing the cycle.  I think of it as a slow release nitrogen dose.

Box upgrade for the Brown Brood

Still in small box, new big box at the ready.
Still in small box, new big box at the ready.

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She gets a big roomy box, too, for all that family.  They will stay in here together for a few days, and then the In’s and Out’s will begin again with her.  Now the white hen’s chicks have it all figured out- I can count on them to get in and out of the coop without assistance- I get a short reprieve before it begins again, this time with SIX chicks.

Moving mama.
Moving mama.

It’s nice they are all the same age, too, since she did it right.  I can barely tell the youngest chick, the late hatcher, but there is one a tiny bit smaller.

Two!
Two!
Four!
Four!
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You can see their tiny eggteeth.
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It amazes me that they are so tiny, a third or less the size of a “normal” chick, and yet, there are any number of songbirds that are no larger as adults. A hummingbird egg must be the size of my pinkie fingernail.
Six!  Look at those little wings!
Six! Look at those little wings!

I’ve given them a lovely first meal – quinoa with ground sun and flax seeds, finely grated (zested?) carrot and cucumber.  It was a big hit with the white hen’s chicks, also with chopped apple.  I couldn’t believe how much of it the four of them would consume in a day.  They are only tiny, but they’d polish off a cupful twice a day.  Quinoa is fast becoming the number one choice of bird food around here.

Settling in.
Settling in.

It seems to me that once hatched, the chicks spend at least 24 hours under mom, adjusting or something, before they come out and begin to eat or drink.  It’s not like they just can survive 72 hours on the energy supply from the egg, but that it’s natural for them to have a long transition from egg to outer world.  Even once they were all hatched, it seemed with both hens that it was two days before the chicks started to come spilling out and express interest in what’s beyond mom’s feathers.

Chicken Mom / The In’s and Out’s.

Sure enough, the first night out, they did not go back into the coop.  Dusk fell, and the rooster finally retired, leaving the hen downstairs, under the coop, settled into her chick-warming shape.  She’d been doing this most of the day, as the chicks could only handle a few minutes scurrying around before running under mom for a warming.

The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds.
The Silkies have been fortress-ized with hardware cloth for the weasel and bird netting for predator birds. The whole thing is portable, in two parts.  As HW says, it’s more like a chicken mobile home than a chicken tractor.  “In theory, you can move it, but it’s no fun”. 

Ok, I thought, when I realized she was committed for the night, I’m gonna have to crawl in there.  Since the Silkie fortress is much more robust, it’s also a lot harder for me to access.  I have to climb over at the end by the pine tree, and crabwalk under the bird netting.

I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress
I incorporated their favorite pine tree, and anthill, into the fortress.  The Silkies are so low impact and perfectly happy with a small area, this is very spacious for them.

I take the hen and put her up on the ramp.  She comes flying back down, wings out, on the attack, mad! I scoop up chicks and pass them into the coop as quickly as I can, getting pecked and pinched.  The cheeping is desperate from over my head, and the the rooster is making his excited sounds.  Then I have to grab mom and toss her up on the ramp, and her squawking instantly changes to clucking when she sees her young (How’d they get up here?) and she strolls up into the coop and settles down.  I crabwalk out of the chicken run, hoping this doesn’t go on for weeks like last year.

Evening two:
Almost an exact repeat.  This time I go for the chicks first and deposit them at the top of the ramp.  Then the hen hops up on the ramp and goes up herself.

Evening three:
Yep, same.  Hen settled in under the henhouse, most responsibly keeping her chicks warm.  The chicks are getting faster, but the process of putting them upstairs is smooth now.

Evening four:
That’s what I was afraid of!  The hen’s in the coop, tucked in most comfortably, and all the chicks are huddled under the henhouse, crouching pathetically against the food dish.  I guess three days grace was all they get before…what? They get left to their own devices?  I crawl in and start grabbing the chicks.  Uhoh!  At the sounds of distress, mom comes rocketing down the ramp, on a rampage!  Flying attack beak!  She’s battling me so fiercely, I have to protect the chicks I’m trying to grab with one hand from stabbing beak with the other hand.  I should mention that being attacked by a two-pound hen, even giving all she’s got, is not all that threatening, even while crouched awkwardly in the small space under the coop.  I got, like, one little scratch.

However, when I put the chicks up at the top of the ramp tonight, because they are cold, and mom is at the bottom of the ramp waging war, they come skittering back down, to her, crying.  I may as well be putting marbles on top of the ramp.  Mayhem.

Now here comes the rooster, roused from bed. Finally I toss the chicks into the straw in the coop behind him and their way is mostly blocked by the rooster, and as soon as I get them all up there at once, the hen runs right back up, purring.  Sigh.

Evening five: Exact repeat of evening four.

Evening six:  What’s this?  They are all, magically, in the coop together!  They figured it out!

2015-07-31 19.10.04 2015-07-31 19.10.24So much for the In’s.

But can they get out in the morning?

Morning one:  No, they can’t.  I see the hen patiently going up and down on the ramp, talking to them (she’s such a good mom), but they don’t all figure it out.  Surprisingly, the diminutive white chick makes it down and the brown chicks are left upstairs, confused.  I nudge them down on the ramp and they run down, relieved.

Morning two:  This time one brown chick is left behind.

Morning three:   Interesting.  The white chick is upstairs.  Didn’t she already pass this test?

Morning four:  Yay!  They’re all out!

Morning five:  Not so fast.  Two brown chicks left behind again, confused.  Weird.  They’ve all managed it at least once.

There’s no physical challenge negotiating the ramp.  They seem to have a problem with the visual barrier.  Once the hen goes down the ramp, they can’t see her, and so she must have disappeared.  They can hear her, because she’s right underneath them, but since they can’t see her, they don’t move. If I put them onto the top of the ramp, they don’t drift down the ramp, they just hop back into the straw, unless they catch a glimpse of her.  Then they scamper down like lightning for a warming.   You’re alive! Maybe their little chicken brains just need to develop past the peekaboo stage, where one understands that just because you cannot see it, it does not cease to exist.

Now the brown hen has been placed in her broody box.  The brown hen is a little duchess compared to a cranky fishwife.  The white hen is fierce- irritable, feisty and spitting.  The brown hen is prim and quiet, hunching firmly over her eggs and protesting, but politely, when you touch her.

First day out for the chicks!

Unfortunately, I lost my phone in the woods, so I lost all the pictures of the first day of freedom for the chicks, a lovely sunny day.

2015-07-30 16.03.09By the time these were taken, the chicks were several days older and taller.

I split the (dirty, beat up) broody box open so that the hen could lead the way out, and make her way down the ramp on her own time.  She completely ignored the opening, although the chicks were interested, and quickly began scampering around the rest of the coop.  They move like water bugs.

Ten, twenty minutes later, they’re all still in the box.  I’m hoping to capture wondrous, triumphant first excursion from the coop, first time ever for the chicks, first sunlight in a month for the hen.

An hour later, she’s still in the box.

Two hours.

In the afternoon, HW comments offhand that he sees the chickens are outside.  What chickens?

All the chicks, and mom, are outside, and I missed it all!

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Phew, I get to throw out the dirty broody box they’ve all lived in for a week.

Now, how bad will the daily bedtime return-to-the-coop drama be this year?

New hens-integration

Well, the new hens have been here two weeks.  They are not treated very well by the old hens, who seem hugely irritated with them, and outcompete them for food.  So, we scatter food all over, and give the young hens more food in the afternoon after the big ones have sailed off to forage outdoors.

I was hoping for the rooster to adopt them and take care of them a bit better, but after great initial attraction, he has decided his old girlfriends hold his interest better.

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At least they have each other.

They sit forlornly under the coop, like they don’t know what else to do.  I don’t know if they’ve never been outside before. They have cute, skinny profiles, with perky upright tails.  Sadly, their beaks are clipped, so they look damaged, injured.

These new chickens are like little waifs, with no life skills.  They are bad at scratching and foraging.  They are bad at leaving the greenhouse.

They very quickly mastered trailing around after me and whining. They are great at flying, perhaps because they aren’t big Zeppelins yet.

They are especially bad at sleeping.IMGP0240On the first night, as we expected to have to do, we collected them from all over the greenhouse, and put them in the coop.  One of them left a little muddy egg behind.

I divided the coop with some hardware cloth so they could have a safe section, but begin to learn that they live in the coop, and the old birds could suck it up and deal.

In the morning, I went and released them, and then prodded them out and down the ramp.

IMGP0266The next night, strewn around the greenhouse again.

The third night, I took the barrier out of the coop, and wow!  One of the new hens went to bed by herself!

IMGP0238She’s roosted up in the corner that had been fenced off, and the old hens are all grouped up on their side in disgust.

The other new hens got a bit more creative.  They were still piled up on the Tupperware lid, usually four of them there, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find MJ.  Finally I went looking on the Silkie side, and found this:

IMGP0242What the heck?  I wasn’t even sure what was going on here at first, but

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I’m cozy here.

she was jammed between the feed sack and the plastic.

Tired of getting scooped up from the ground, or else having the concept of roosting take hold a tiny bit, they started to take to the air.

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I about died laughing at this. Seriously? You’re comfortable there?

I don’t know how she managed it, but she was perched up on the divider fabric, sound asleep.  It must have swung wildly when she first landed on it.

A few more started to get into the coop at night, but there were two persistent Tupperware sleepers who insisted on roosting on the lid, for days.  It was a big night when there was only one holdout sleeping on the lid.

Meanwhile, other birds got closer to the coop.

Are we doing it right?

We're on the coop!
We’re on the coop!

No, in the coop, in… two or three on the coop, night after night.

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Finally!  OMG, all in the coop! (the old hens are still disgusted).

Coop Management

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In addition to the chicken making mulch cycle, I have a coop bedding strategy that works really well for me, and takes next to no time.  The birds are in a pretty small coop, and they sleep all clustered together, so the night’s prodigious pooping gets concentrated.
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The birds like to perch to sleep on the edge of the nesting boxes, and depending on which way they point, they might poop in the box.  They avoid laying in the dirty boxes, but rarely foul more than one a night.

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Every day when I collect eggs I toss any poop or soiled nest box bedding onto the main floor, and that tends to cover the night’s mess.  If they get low I put in a couple handfuls of new grass, ripped from the ground nearby.  Easy.  Clean feet means clean eggs, so it’s important to keep the coop well-tended so the birds aren’t wading through their own poop on the way to the box.

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Every few days, I cut down some of the tall field weeds (a few seconds with the scythe), and pile it in on the floor of the coop into a soft, clean, green springy bed.  It smells wonderful, especially if I get a stray sprig of mint.  Any handfuls of finer stuff will top up the nest boxes.

The bedding weeds dry out and shrivel up, becoming a poop and carbon lasagna.

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Periodically, like once a month, I take out the whole black composting floor mat and take it to the garden in the wheelbarrow.  It’s so mat-like I can practically roll it up.  Anything remaining falls through the mesh that forms the floor of the coop.  I add a layer of fresh green weeds and begin again.

To recap, I put clean grass into the nest boxes and  throw dirty nest box grass onto the floor of the coop, covering the daily poop.  Every week I put a serious thick layer of fresh weeds that really spruces it up in there.  Monthly I remove the composting result to the garden.

clean Silkie coop
clean Silkie coop

I’m not sure what we’ll keep it going with in the winter.  Perhaps I’ll just scythe down half the field before the snow flies.  True deep bedding method means allowing the bedding to compost for months and shovelling it out in the spring.  The bedding generates heat through decomposition, which is not a summer concern.  My adaptation is just a super easy way of keeping the coop clean.

Chickens, continued

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Day 3

Their going to bed by themselves is going to have to be close enough.  I’m not sure how they’re getting out, but they have announced their readiness to free-range by a mass breakout.  I let them to it, intending to keep an eye on them.

Uhoh.  A couple hours later I go to look in on them, and there’s not a chicken in sight.  Crickets.  I start walking around the field, down the driveway, where I’d expect them to go, into the cool trees.  See and hear nothing.  No chickens, anywhere.  I find them right behind the barn demo site, in a grassy depression just out of sight.  Phew.

Now they are free, what really strikes me is how far they readily range.  I guess I imagined how much the Silkies range, only proportionally increased.  So, 5-6x as far.  No, much farther.  They are roaming farther, faster, than I expected.  They were nearly across the field, and I headed them off, uncertain how an encounter with the resident puny poultry would go.

A little later:

What are you guys doing out here?  Two hens were sailing far away from the group, in the long grass together.
What are you guys doing out here? Two hens were sailing far away from the group, in the long grass together.

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The rest of the hens are back at the barn, rooting and bathing at the sandy edge of the barn rubble.

Why, why must you play in the rubble?
Why, why must you play in the rubble?

Bedtime.  Hens are gathering in the vicinity of the coop, that’s great.  After a little longer, they were all under the coop, so I closed the sides.  Oh wait, not all.  Bet I know which two are missing.

There they are, under the lift gate of the truck.
There they are, under the lift gate of the truck.

These two were wandering around all day together, which worries me.  That’s cool they’re besties, but if every day is girl’s day out, they could get picked off.  HW read over what I wrote about picking them out and choosing “a couple outliers” –  ohhhh.  Yeah, that’s them. The other four are super attached to the rooster, and go everywhere with him.

If I herd the rooster, then all the hens come boinging along, in a line behind, which is funny.
If I herd the rooster, then all the hens come boinging along, in a line behind, which is funny.

I chase the rooster, and he bleats, and the hens all come running behind me down the path.
Five eggs today.

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Day 4

The chickens are fascinated by the rubble, and that is not ok.  There’s a mountain of broken glass and styrofoam beads everywhere.  I was working cleaning it up and the hens all gathered around, and then crept in closer on me, very excited about what I was exposing by raking.  HW noticed fresh peckmarks on some chunks of foam, and then the rooster was trying to pick something out of his foot, so we tried to chase them away from the barn.  They went into the garden.

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Scratching vigourously in the garden, awesome.
Scratching vigourously in the garden, awesome.

They are not yet into the greenery (what there is of it), but they are very excited about the mulch, and need to shift it all to eat what’s underneath.  Chased them from there.  They like to follow our paths, and many paths lead to the garden.

They’re back at the barn.  There’s a huge field of salad to explore, but they’re all over our work zones. H.W. says they are definitely lively chickens, and it’s nice that they’re so interested in being around people.  It’s true, I love curious chickens, but the barn is a hazmat zone.  We decided to tarp the barn area, to cover everything dangerous.  The chickens were getting determined, sneaking from behind to get the “good stuff” while I was running others off in the other direction.  The loner girls are integrating better today, which means more sneakers on the scene.

I had the area more than half covered when one hen ran in on a mission to gobble on a a piece of styrofoam, beads flying.  I chased her off, yelling, and she was off in the grass again with the others, totally busy.  I walked the 50’ to the house for more plastic and come back- gone about a single minute, and there she is in the middle of the heap again, maniacally attacking the foam.  Nooo!  Why is white styrofoam chicken crack?  It much be the crunchy, popcorn texture.

Tarping the whole area works, and the chickens are safe again (in the woodpiles, under the truck, around the house).
Four eggs today.  Each hen is laying 3 eggs every four days.

At night we go out to get three more hens from the same place.   It’s dark and they are sleepy and come home in the tub again.   I pick the third hen of the former trio of “outliers”, and we take two more from the same perching spot as before, hoping they are more of our rooster’s hens.  The “third hen” is a sorry critter.  She’s moulting or pecked so her whole back and shoulders of her wings are bald, and she’s got a horrible sunburn.  As bad as the one H.W. came back from his bike ride with. I’m hoping she will recover and do better in the smaller flock.

This is nine hens now.

We deposit the new chickens into the coop, after slathering aloe vera on the sunburned chicken, despite H.W.’s protests: “You are not going to put aloe on a chicken…I am not participating in that…I don’t believe this….you better not tell anyone about this”.   Her bumpy chicken back is dry and hot, and the aloe must feel good for her, like anyone with a sunburn.  Oddly, none of the chickens are roosting now.  They are all settled down on the floor of the coop, and in the nest boxes.  Weird.  They look comfortable though, and there is still a load of space.

Day 5

Assuming the reunited flock would be managed by the rooster and the new arrivals would follow the example of the others, I let them all loose in the am.  Never assume.  Midmorning screaming from the rooster and I find it’s because the flock is dispersed.  Three hens missing, surprise surprise.  Two hens are by the downed trees and I herd them towards the path to the coop.  As soon as they’re on the path, they break out in a run and haul chicken butt back to the flock, and the rooster greeted them and went quiet.  Turns out it’s the same imminent danger call for a lost hen as a threat to the flock.  BaBWOCK, BaBWOCK!  BaBWOCK! and the hens join in too, hollering.   Last time that alarm went off the Silkies were being menaced by the tabby cat that used to come around here.

I take off looking for the sunburned hen, and find her deep in the woods.  She’s cunning and it’s a long, scratchy chase through the undergrowth with her little tail disappearing far ahead of me, to get her back up to our civilized area and back to the flock.
An hour later, she’s gone again, and I can’t find her.  I launch a massive henhunt in the afternoon, and find all kinds of interesting things but not her.  Perhaps she is dying of shame with her naked back or is unwanted by the flock due to her wretched looks.   Perhaps, H.W. says, “she thinks you’re going to put aloe on her again.”  Finally I wrote her off, thinking maybe she’ll be fine – there’s a great many places to hide out here, and maybe she’ll find her way back in a couple days, or when her feathers grow back.  I thought heavily of the dreaming hen.  I’m also thinking, she’d better not turn out to be a few feet from the coop all day and make a fool of me.  Clearly, she’s the low bird, and she’s determined to leave, deliberately getting lost.  I’m sad though; once lost, however deliberate, she might not be able to find her way back is she changes her mind.

Now there are nine hens, I’m hoping for 7-8 eggs a day.  Hmmm, only five in the boxes.

A couple hens and the rooster are suspiciously interested in a patch of tall grass, and there’s a lot of purring going on.  I suspect egg-laying might happen there.

Yes, it does.
Yes, it does.

Today the chickens find their way into the garden several times, and H.W. chases them out, hollering and throwing his hat at them.  This puts the fear of god into them so he only has to appear, yelling, and they flee, guilty and squawking from the garden.  We need a fence, asap.  The two loner hens follow much more closely to the others now, and the two that got lost in the morning are careful not to get lost again.

Night time, I go to put them to bed.  At first glance, all appear to be upstairs on their own, except for one:

Ha!  Close, but not quite.
Ha! Close, but not quite.

She jumps away when I go to grab her and runs into the grass nest where I found an egg today.

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Except, there’s another hen already in there, all bedded down.
Except, there’s another hen already in there, all bedded down.
And there’s another one, out of nowhere, headed into the coop.
And there’s another one, out of nowhere, headed into the coop.

How many birds are still out?  Hey, there’s the naked chicken!  She made it back!  H.W. comes out to help after he hears squawking.  The sunburned chicken is very resistant to getting in the coop and runs all over the place before I catch her.  Her sunburn is looking a bit better.  Nice that it’s a run of cloudy, rainy days.  We get them all in and do a beak count.  Each nest has a hen sleeping in it.

Then, we find the day’s seventh egg in the grass, glowing like a pearl in the light of our headlamps.  Ohoh, we don’t want to have an Easter egg hunt every day.  I’ll try keeping them under the coop a bit longer in the mornings.

Happy shady chickens

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Clearly a cooler atmosphere is what the hairy little Silkies were missing in life.  They now have shade or dappled sunlight most of the day, and they are obviously very happy.  It’s nice and cool where they are, right into the hot afternoon.  They get much more privacy now too, farther from our work zones (nearer camper).  It’s fun to go check on them, see what they’re up to at various times, just doing their chicken thing.  They don’t work very hard.  Graze a little, writhe a little in the dust.  High-stepping adventuring around, just a few feet from the coop.  Lots of dozy low nestling in various places, making for a Where’s Waldo chicken hunt in the grass, for little tufty heads.  They have nearly zero impact on their surroundings, being so small.  They hardly eat any feed when they eat veg all day.  Low cost.  Very low maintenance.  And low compensation.  So they better be low cost, the little freeloaders.

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Day 2 – Layers

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Five eggs by 10 am!  Yay!  We are in the egg game.

It’s funny to lift the lid when there’s a hen settled in the box.  It’s kinda like walking in on someone in the bathroom.  Oh, sorry.  This time, she was just keeping a plastic egg warm.  They all lay in the  corner box now.
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The hens let themselves out to range today.  All the hens.  I made an ersatz coop extension so they could have a bit more shade and entertainment.  It hasn’t worked in the past, but I did it again anyways, propping and wiring up some window screens.
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Late afternoon I found all of them out, scattered about, very, very happy in the long grass.  I wish I could leave them out already, but I don’t trust them to return to the coop at night, and they are not allowed to camp out with unsavoury characters around.  The rooster was the only one remaining inside, not thrilled about it.  Luckily.   I opened one side of the coop, gave him some falafel, and he gave it good reviews; the hens came running.  The ones that went to the wrong side (revealing wherethey’d gotten out), I pursued around the coop until they went in the opening.

Except for one (there’s always one), who lost interest and walked away.  Trouble was, there’s only one path there, which I wanted to use too, and she was on it, and I was between her and the coop.

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Scared at me trying to edge past her, she ran into the tall grass (waist high), which was really funny, as you could see where she was going by the disturbance on the surface, like she was submarining.  She popped out of the jungle by the coop and went back in.  Phew, uneventful recapture.

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Will they go to bed on their own, earning their daytime freedom?

7:30pm.  Silkies all abed, one big hen is roosting. I produce the stick, and it spontaneously occurs to two more hens to go to bed.  I decide on a staged approach tonight, and give them breaks between stick persuasion events
8:30  Show the stick again.  Another hen goes up, and one goes to the top of the ramp and turns around, blocking the ramp.
9:00  Clearly she was not convinced it was bedtime.  Two hens and the rooster still down.  Bet it’s the same two holdouts as yesterday.  Gentle nudging persuades each hen to head up the ramp on first attempt.  Rooster frets and dithers and head butts stick, but two steps onto the ramp and he’s on his way.

Ahhhhh, so much better.  These hens are no problem.

I do not have too much confidence in this rooster.  Not the brightest.  I wonder what the Silkie rooster would make of these hens that are bigger than he is?

First day with real chickens

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After finishing  last night’s new chicken installation   in the wee hours, stumbling tired and bitten all over, the crowing came awfully early.  Uhoh.  I was afraid of the duelling banjos effect.

I let the little chickens out for the day and the rooster (I’ll have to call him his name, Snowball, now that there are three cocks around) was quite worked up, puffing and kicking and strutting, trying to crane over the field to see the source of the new crower on the block.  There were a few little anxiety noises out of the coop- things must be a bit unfamiliar in there, but the coop switch seems to have gone off ok.  It’s going back in at night that will really tell:  the ramp is a lower slope, and mirror image – do these things perturb birds?  They’ll have to turn left at the top now instead of right…are they ambi-turners?  I didn’t put any mesh around the bottom of the new coop- it’s superfluous except for confining them in, which we haven’t done since the first week.

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For a few loud hours the cocks just went at it, back and forth.  The (full-size, conventional, red?) new rooster has a kind of strangled, uncertain crow.  Like he’s not used to it.  I suspect that means he was a subordinate rooster.  That’s nice; low roosters are quieter and often quite gentle and mellow after being promoted.  Also, I thought the Silkies were quiet, but standing right next to the new cock, Snowball is louder, from across the field, which is something.  Unless he was really putting it on today.

They worked it out (finally, blessed silence).  Sounds to me like Snowball won the yelling match.

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Zombie tired, I went to put the hardware cloth back on the base of the big coop to let the big birds out.  Today they must be confined, to learn that they live here now.  Maybe I’ll let them loose as soon as  tomorrow.  Through the porthole, I could see three still perching and four walking around inside, and eating.  I tacked all the mesh on and dropped the ramp.  By the time I put the stapler away, there were three hens and a pair of feet down the ramp!  Very impressive.  But then, these are intrepid free-range chickens already, used to a big world of independence.  How long did that small step for chickenkind take for the purse chickens? Which, by the way, I think would be hilarious, to go around with one of these chickens in a bejeweled purse.  Too bad I’m not really into the right sort of purse, and I don’t think any of these hens would be into the purse either.  It would be a great bit of performance art or social experiment though.  I wonder how many people would even notice the beak.  It’s kind of subtle in all that fur.  H.W. regularly describes them: “Just picture a Shitzu.  With a beak.”

Midmorning:

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Well, that was fast. All cozied in.
And that was even faster!
And that was even faster!

Noon:
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Slackers!  You’re lucky you’re cute!
Slackers! You’re lucky you’re cute!

These girls miss no beats!  The box on the end is the most popular; I’d pick that one too.  The Silkies never went in that one.  The (new) rooster appears to have not gone downstairs yet, and he gets very upset when I open the lid.  Hens are all relaxed and unruffled when I approach, or open lid, or talk to them.  That’s nice; better for my self-esteem.

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The roosters talked to each other a couple of times during the day.  The new rooster seems to be getting his voice sorted out; he doesn’t always say the same thing.  I thought the tone of the afternoon exchanges was different than the morning’s rap battle; more casual, conversational.  I’m a rooster!  I’m a rooster too!  I hear you over there, we’re roosters!  Yeah, roosters!  Uh… yeah, roosters!  Roosters!  Ok, nothing more to say!

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The teacup chickens not only found their way up the ramp to roost in the afternoon, but when I merely opened the peephole they took off down the ramp immediately.  Oh. Busted. We were just leaving!  They were outside for their longest day since the first week, still out and about when I went for the first time to stow them, then put themselves to bed nice and proper, in late evening.  Yay!  Effortless coop swap.  The first time anything’s been effortless with them.  They seem to like it better too – at least, they jump off the perches now without a second thought.  It used to take minutes, hours worth of thoughts, sometimes.

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I was a bit too optimistic about the new chickens finding their way up the ramp they found their way down so easily.  I checked on them about five times, “What? Still up?”, and left them to it in case they were used to staying up late, until it was really, imminently getting dark, and they were obviously getting dopey and sleepy.  Time for the stick.  They reacted totally differently to the stick than the Silkies, looking offended by it, pecking back at it.  Fuck you, stick.  One hen went up the ramp and thump, I heard her jump to the perch.  The rest, arrrgh.  Maddening.   They clustered, jamming themselves in a corner, backs to the ramp.  I blocked off the bottom of the ramp and then ensued a long, frustrating period of poking them towards the ramp.  They’d go right to the top and then when there was only barely enough room to poke their heads back down, they’d turn around or squeeze out and jump off the side. It was like they didn’t think there was anything in the dark space at the top of the ramp, but when they got their head up there, you could see the sudden relaxation, in their feet.  Ohhh, this is exactly where I want to be.  Then the going to bed was an inevitability.  Thump.  A couple more went up without too much trouble, thump thump, and at the last there were two stubborn ones and a big galoot of a rooster.  My patience drained in inverse proportion to the number of mousquito bites I sustained.  There was cursing.   Over and over the hens would run to the rooster, who wouldn’t go near the ramp.  Finally I got those two hens up.  Just the naughty rooster left, making me crazy.  He was spazzing out,  and when I finally shoved him indelicately up the ramp, he went sideways with his head down, squalling about it.  It was like he perceived an overhead hazard, until his head got up there high enough, and just like the hens, Oh. I see.  I don’t think they got too distressed (enough to matter to eggs), on the whole.  Not as distressed as I did (dozens of bites).  They were already getting sleepy when the fiasco started, and as soon as they were up they were cashed out. The rooster was the only one who got fairly worked up, enough to squawk about it.

Well, too bad.  They aren’t allowed out until they can find their way up to bed at night.

A four-egg first day:  WOW.  I’m very excited for when H.W. rolls up and proper chickens have materialized!  “Whaattt?  Eggs!?”

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Respectable chickens

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Is this a case of if you build it they will come?  Or ask and you shall receive?

On my way home from a long Thursday of internetting and errands, I stopped in on a lady I’d bought excellent eggs from before.  I’d left a note on her door earlier in the day, saying I wouldn’t knock late at night, but I’d stop to look for eggs left by the door.  The last time we’d spoke she’d expressed the intention to downsize her flock in the fall, and we were obviously hoping to take some of her healthy, happy, friendly free-range birds off her hands when the time came.

No eggs at the door, but I dawdled in the driveway because I could see her tv on, and yes, she saw me and hollered out the door.  No eggs today.  She’s letting her birds go now though, she’s got them on Kijiji (!).  I’ll come tomorrow!  Tomorrow won’t work.  Saturday not great…nothing working, because the best time to catch them is at night.  I seized the evening.

“What about right now?”

“Well sure!” she says, “I’d be glad to reduce the flock right this minute.  I’ll get some bug spray on.  What’ve you got to put them in?”

Good question.  It just so happened I bought a 75 gallon rubber waterer (stock tank) this very day.  And I’d done laundry, so I had a sheet I could throw over them.

We picked out birds in the barn and shuttled them into the tub in the back of the truck one at a time.  I stroked their necks as I walked with them and they made quizzical noises.  It’s a difficult thing, choosing birds out of a big flock.  In five minutes or less, you are Fate, completely changing the course of their lives, and choosing their new social network for them.  Such an arbitrary thing.  Will the ones you don’t choose die miserable in an overcrowded cage elsewhere?  Are you picking out two sworn enemies and forcing them to be irritated together for the rest of their lives?  I took the probable best girlfriend of the rooster that came with me, who was perched next to him, a couple more from that lineup, and then a couple of outliers.  She choose a couple as well.  She also stopped me from taking one I said I liked.  “Oh you don’t want Henrietta.  She’s a real hag!”  Close one.  We plopped them into the tub and they squawked and flapped minimally.  Only one attempted escape.

Oh, and then she mildly resisted taking any money for them!  I forced $20 on her, a bargain.

The birds snoozed on the way home while I was consumed by one big question.  How am I going to move that coop alone?

H.W. was gone on a 3-4 day bike tour around the southwestern third of the province’s coast.  Just before he left, we moved the just-finished mini coop to the treeline and set it right next to the original coop.  I hadn’t even thought about how to transfer the little chickens into the new coop, but it wasn’t an urgent matter.  However, with a half dozen full-sized cluckers aboard, it was suddenly very urgent.  There was no way I could deposit new birds immediately next door to the tiny Silkies.  Even if I kept either group confined, it would be incredibly stressful.  I had to transfer the Silkies into the mini coop, and then I had to move the big coop as far away from the Silkies as was reasonable.  At least across the field.  That heavy coop was made to carry like a litter with two people – and not easily at that.  In light of the poser of how to accomplish moving that behemoth alone, transferring the little hens seemed hardly an issue.

And it wasn’t.  I got home and prepared the mini coop with fresh green bedding and stocked it with their familiar feeders.  I opened both coops and with a red headlamp on, plucked each bird off the roost and gently placed it onto the roosting branch in the other coop, starting with the cocks.  Protest was pretty minimal.  It’s nice to touch them.  They look so irresistibly touchable, and indeed, they feel as soft as they look.  When fully conscious though, they want no part of being touched.  One rooster fell or jumped off, but the others stayed where I put them.  I budged them closer to each other for warmth and they shuffled together on their perch.  Done.

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Now for the hard part.  Vaguely hoping I could do something with the garden cart, I got the cart (full of firewood, other side of woods) and pulled up to the big coop.  Phew, the cart was taller than the legs of the coop.  I figured if I could get the cart under the coop I could probably get it across the field.  It worked.  The worst part was the landing leg of the cart, which bound up constantly on grass.  If I lifted it high enough to snag the grass less, I lost the coop off the back.  Not gonna lie, it was one hell of a wrestle, a few feet at a time, by headlamp, all the while attacked by mousquitoes.  It’s just not right that they can bite through denim. I was dripping with sweat and stumbling by the time I got the coop set by the apple trees. This is well after midnight by now. Definitely time to actualize idea of putting an axle and wheels on “just in case” one of us ever has to move it alone.  However, the trip across the field was ultimately faster and easier than I expected.  Yay.  The coyotes were fulsome in ominous song, and the moon full.  Fruition. (Finally, respectable chickens on the farm).

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After that, carrying the tub full of birds up the driveway was child’s play, with only a couple of rest stops; very grateful though that I got the 75 gallon, not the 100.  Driving home I wasn’t even sure how many birds I had.  The number of trips barn to truck was unclear now.  Was it a half dozen birds?  Or six hens plus the rooster?  I peeked in on them squatting and dozing in the tub: seven heads!

Big black bucketful of birds, under a black sheet.
Big black bucketful of birds, under a black sheet.

After a bit of rest to settle from the jostling they got on the walk up, I put them in the coop, placing each one on the roost.  These are robust birds.  They’re plump, and heavy, and hot with feathery chicken warmth, and you can feel the strength in their muscles.  They seem HUGE after handling the Silkies.  Like housecats compared to gerbils.  Not petite housecats, either.  The cock is a magnificent showy rooster, with a long tail.  They fit perfectly in the coop, exactly like I imagined.  I think it can hold some more still, more than comfortably.  They stayed where I put them, barely even noticing the transfer, I think.  What must that be like?  Go to sleep, wake up in an entirely new environment?

Mini Coop’r

IMGP7159I’d been holding out for getting some steel to put a roof on the mini coop because I really wanted to make the roof/access significantly lighter.  No more heavy lifting.  But then, Arthur came through, and the first coop endured the storm without a hint of difficulty or damage.  Yay, sturdy and heavy – did not blow open or over.   I decided that weight is great, and put the same lead roof on the mini: wood, flat asphalt, and shakes.  Materials at hand win out again.  The whole coop is a little lighter because smaller and the lid is easier to open because it’s hinged at the low side of the slope.  Even though I slapped this one together more carelessly, it looks a bit nicer.  It certainly went together much faster – building a second version usually does.  I like the design- simple, secure, portable, does what it needs to.  How we are going to swap the birds into this coop is what could get a bit interesting.

(Mini coop complete, with shakes, not pictured)

Chicken Journal

The first month.  In which, difficulties “training” chickens to utilize new accommodations emerge.

 

Day 1
Crowing.  Early, loud, and continuous.

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We peeked at them, all perched inside but the white hen still in the cardboard box.  There are two cocks (white) and three hens, which are white, brown (“red”), and black, which makes it very easy to describe all of them without names.  We have a “little red hen”!  Emphasis on the little.  They’re small.

IMGP6734We had to staple on some mesh to create a “downstairs” compartment to contain them in the morning before we opened the ramp, so we worked around the base of the coop.

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The downstairs mesh is for their containment, not their protection! Coop is only secure when the ramp is shut.

Dead silence from inside while we worked.  Except when we were chatting with some passing biologists, right next to the coop, and suddenly a big cock-a-doodle-do issues from the box.   We finished our little fence, dropped the ramp and waited for the first explorer to peek out.  They didn’t.  Left them to it.

Silence.

An hour later. Crowing!  Does that mean?  Yes, The big rooster was down, crowing about his accomplishment.  We watched him discover the joys of vegetation.  Exploratory peck- hmmm.  Hmm!  More pecking.  Vigorous plant consumption.  We waited for the others to follow him down the ramp.  Nothing.  Thought ramp might be too steep for these tiny birds and made temporary adjustments.

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An hour later.  Anxious clucking alerted me and I caught HW trying to chivvy the other birds down with a stick.  He got the angry wife face.  I said let them find their own way down!  He got the red hen down though and she was instantly enjoying herself, and he confidently predicted that one hen down would make the others come.

Not true.  Another hour later.  No more birds down the ramp and red hen and rooster enthusiastically decimating the veg on their own.  I peeked inside to see if there was progress and they were all roosting!  I initiated chivvying with a stick.

Didn’t work.  Nooo!  We dread the ramp!  Escalated to us grabbing the birds – BLOODY MURDER!! – and thrusting them down the hole where they stumbled down the ramp and immediately began purring and pecking.  Oh.  It’s nice down here.  I had a sinking feeling that this tableau might repeat in reverse in the evening to get them back in.

Peace, for the rest of the day.  Cute little chickens.

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We watched them some and decided they’re very gentle.  Not one peck on each other.  Also very small.  The roosters are twice as big as the hens, like a different breed. H.W. said “the hens look like they’re crouching down, but they’re not, they’re just that small.”  The roosters are very handsome, with purple combs so dark they’re almost black.  One is smaller than the other, with different facial flesh, and never crows.  The one who does is missing one syllable from his cock-a-doodle-do, so it’s more like it’s the DAY here.  Or on some days, it’s a DOWNpour.   Other than the obvious rooster supremacy, it’s hard to determine any order among them.

Alarmingly, we never catch them drinking, and I worry they’re weirded out by the unfamiliar water fount. Provide a variety of water vessels.

H.W. also says “They’re like city chickens.  First day in the country,” because they aren’t too energetic, and not much into scratching.  Very calm. Not used to grass.  Never seen a ramp before.  He thinks they’ll figure it out, though.

Near the evening we were watching and they seemed much more relaxed.  Too relaxed.  Hey!  I think they’re settling for the night.  Definitely, hunkering down in the corner for keeps.

Chivvying with a stick…

The afternoon performance, luckily, was not as dramatic and traumatic as the morning.  Poking towards ramp – ok, we’ll hide under the ramp.  Underramp blocked off with cardboard.  One inch at a time, up the ramp, protesting.  Jump off the ramp, start over.  The red and black hens, halfway up, settled down comfortably I’ll just stay here for the night.  No, really, I’m good here.  See, dozing.  Finally had to reach in and put them up by hand.  No panic or outrage though.
Shut the ramp.  Look at each other.  This better not happen every day.

Day 2
Drop the ramp.  High hopes for a better beginning than yesterday.  Now they know what it’s like downstairs, and that’s where the food is, surely…

Half hour later I peek and all the birds are clustered around the hatch.  Much better.

Crowing!  First rooster down; proud of it.

An hour later.  What happened to the rest of you guys … hey, what, you’re roosting!?!

Get the stick.

Anything but the ramp!  We’d rather starve than go down the ramp! Roost to the death!   This time I opened the lid too far and the second rooster escaped.  He was so horrified with his freedom OMG, now what do I do!?  Get back in.  CAN’T!  he promptly ran into the long grass and sank down to hide, where I threw my shirt over him and calmly picked him up and deposited him on lower level.  Slowly, patiently, with a long stick, persuaded all the hens to go down the ramp by themselves. Oh, happy place! So all but the second cock made their own way downstairs, however reluctantly.  Really, this better not happen every day.

About this time H.W. started speculating that they may not be the smartest breed in the species.

Peace for the day.

Adorable.  Little head poufs, fuzzy little bodies, low to the ground.  Their feathers are fine like hair, so they resemble long haired cats, especially the cocks with their luxurious manes.  Except entirely the wrong shape to be cats, obvs.  They are very calm outside of times of upramp-downramp transitions.  And quiet.  The cock rarely crows during the day.  Before dawn, however…  Still no crows from the second rooster.

I made a temporary coop extension so that they could get a little farther away from me while I made some refinements and permanent ramp adaptations.  First design definitely too steep.  They quickly accepted me and the drill sounds and stretched out in the sun in a feathery pile.  Was pleased that they had the sense to make themselves dust baths, at least, which looks like they’re burying themselves, flattening down in, squabbling over the deep spot  my turn.  Still worried that I never see them drinking, but they’re doing plenty of eating.

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Evening.

Noticed they were making weird sounds like a baby crying and sat down to watch for a bit.  Feared dehydration was causing painful wailing.  But it was the roosters making the sounds.  Could it be, bedtime noises? Head count, double take, hey wait, where’s the white hen?  Peeked up hatch and she was sitting inside, looking down the ramp.  Yay!  One of them has sense!

Sat to watch the process.  Will they do it on their own?

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Edging towards ramp.  Crowding on first step of ramp.  Everyone wants to be only on the first step of the ramp.  First cock steps over the crowd and walks slowly but surely upstairs.  Yay! Two of them up, no, wait…  White feet coming down the ramp.  Oh no!  It’s the white hen, followed by the first rooster!

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Backsliding.  Second rooster passes everyone to go up, then comes back down.  Not done eating.  Red and black hens creep to halfway up the ramp.  White hen goes up (all of these advances and retreats at molasses speed), passes red and black hens on their way back down.  They go back to eating.  First rooster up.  Two up, three down.  Second rooster and black and red hens have a second wind and renew foraging.  Hens make pathetic attempts to get on the ramp from the side, hurling themselves at it.  No matter, resume eating.  Second rooster goes up to stay; first rooster comes down.  Does some more eating, thoughtfully sneaks up on black hen and pounces on her.  Amorous attempt thwarted.  Waits for black and red hens to sort themselves out on the base of the ramp and begin their tentative, glacial progress up it.  Going, going, oh, second thoughts… first cock distinctly gives red hen a push with his head.  Going, gone!

Success.  7:06 pm

Close the ramp.   Well, can count on them for half the process.  Dare I hope for the morning?

Day 3
Opened ramp at dawn.

Replete with faith that they would surely show themselves out today, and sure that the crowing after a period of quiet meant they had done so, I left them alone for a couple hours.

Check on them.  Are you kidding me?  No chickens downstairs.

Stick.  First rooster immediately bounces downstairs.  Rest of the birds jam themselves into the other three corners and mount a determined resistance with a great deal of flapping.

They’re all still alive, so they must be getting enough to drink, but I wonder why they’re so private about it.

With little miniature chickens, everything is miniature.  I make dispensers out of pop bottles; a little scoop of food is all they need.  They’re so tiny.  The taller roosters have mostly naked legs with a feather accent on their feet, but the ladies apparently have feathers all the way down their legs.  It gives the impression that they’re wearing little feather clown pants.  That and the puffball on the head-they are very funny looking chickens.  Super cute, though, little and soft, funny looking and adorable.
What the heck? Mid afternoon, three of the birds are upstairs?  Are they thinking about laying?  Second cock and white hen positively snuggling in a corner.  I leave them to it and provide water.

Other two content.  Black hen maybe more than content; posted up in front of the new feeder, scarfing.  They go up by evening.

Day 4
Opened ramp.  First rooster down before I walk out of sight.  A new record.

Will they or won’t they?

They won’t.  Bring on the sticks.

This time all the birds quietly and reluctantly, but with painful slowness, approach the ramp and walk themselves down it as though they meant to, albeit coerced in that direction.  Major progress.

10 am, all but the first cock are back upstairs.  This is ridiculous.  It’s like kids- you have to go play outside.  Introduce stick – rooster immed. comes upstairs to see what the ruckus is about.  They all troop down relatively cooperatively in a line.  I observe that the biggest psychological barrier seems to be the hop off the perch, even though it’s only a few inches high.  They bob their heads and think about that step for a while.

Phew- witness rooster drinking.  Ok.

Now you see them, now you don’t.  Little pompom heads all go to bed while we’re not looking around 6 pm.

Day 5
Opened ramp.  An instant of silence, then happy clucking and thump, rooster hops off perch, emerges, and crows about it.
I still have optimism.

Completely unfounded.  An hour later, all the rest still perching.

H.W.: “Ok, at this point it’s just annoying.”

Brandish stick and all of them hop down and make their way out in a line as though they were waiting for stick time, except red hen, who watches exodus interestedly and exhibits some anxiety once everyone’s gone but recovers and settles in to stay. Encourage with stick and she goes.

A couple hours later, notice all of them are back upstairs.  Why?  We leave for a few hours and they’re still in there when we get back.  Chase them out with a stick and they quite obediently trot downstairs and eat.  Go to bed at 7.

How long will this go on?  Only the rooster seems to think going down for a bite to eat and a drink is an idea worth taking the initiative to do.  Why are they not normal?

Day 6
A breakthrough!  Not in the morning though- had to chase them out, per usual.  At the appearance of the stick they file out and down the ramp obediently.

But midday, the brown hen was upstairs, then, she was down again!  Later, the white one did the same!  Yay, now we know that the ramp is known as a passage that functions in two directions, for three of the birds.  If they go upstairs early, we know they know how to come back down should they get hungry or thirsty.  They are now scratching and scuffing in a more typical chicken way, churning up the floor of the coop like you’d expect chickens to.  It’s almost like they had to learn or remember how to do that.

 

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Day 7
Rooster bounds out as soon as the ramp drops, and he has also learned the sounds of food.  When he’s upstairs in the day and I approach and open the sides, he knows that means that I’m throwing some more food in.  He starts chirruping even before -thump– he hops off the perch and runs down the ramp.  He’s not always joined by the ladies, though, even though he clearly announces feasting time.

Today we decided to open up the downstairs and let them loose, since we were going to work on the garden right next to them.  Our nearness would protect them from aerial predators.  I opened one side wide.  The rooster was looking hard, sorta skeptically.  Something is different here.  Eventually, he slowly stepped out, then stepped a little faster, then called the rest, and they were off.  The red hen had retired already after a breakfast browse, and no sooner did H.W. say “the red hen’s upstairs, she’s gonna miss out!” that her brown feathered feet appeared at the top of the ramp.  She peeked out over her feet.  ???  What!? Grass party?  Then trundled down hastily to join in.  Very funny.  All of them walked in a line behind the rooster out into the tall grass, taller than them.  I’d expected them to stick more closely to the coop, but they were off.  Chicken safari!

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They toddled off in a big loop, and I thought the rooster might lead them to the shade of the trees- we’d have to head them off – but he got cold feet or else was upset that the hens had lost interest in single file and started to disperse.  Oh, tasty, oh and this over here is tasty too…  He turned around and both roosters worked quickly together to group up the hens again, then they returned to the shady side of the coop,  not the side they’d left from.  How do we get back in?  I opened the other sides for them (3 sides of the coop have mesh “doors” that can be peeled open for throwing in snacks, or changing the water).  I left them open and the birds all roamed freely in and out and stayed nearby for the rest of their free time.  The second rooster made a spectacle of himself stretching and lounging in the dust bowl with his feet sticking out in the air, and the white hen posted up over her anthill.  She has discovered ants.  A couple days ago I uncovered an anthill in their coop and the birds walked vaguely around it, over it; the ants walked over their feet and feathers.  Sigh.  The white hen has figured it out, though, and clearly loves the ants.  She spends ages standing on the anthill, her attention completely fixed.  They all seemed much more relaxed with us; not sure if they’re getting used to us or if they were more comfortable with the doors open because they weren’t confined.

H.W. was chucking worms to them from the garden and the rooster figured out very quickly who was the purveyor of worms and started watching H.W. like a hawk for the next toss, edging out towards us.  I’m impressed with the first rooster.  Smart, aware, taking care of the ladies.  It’s nice that the two roosters get along so well, and cooperate at times.  Never dispute.  I’m not sure how the second rooster feels about his total subordination, but it’s pleasant for everyone that he doesn’t squawk about it, literally.

Why are they glowing?  I don't know why they're glowing
Why are they glowing? I don’t know why they’re glowing

These chickens are adorable.  Fluffy, cute, very sweet, gentle and quiet chickens, slow, in more ways than one.   They border very closely on lazy.  It’s nice to not worry about aggression.  They never peck each other, and rarely get worked up at all.   I can see why they’re a maternal breed. The black hen seems like the dimmest, but she also seems like the first cock’s favourite.  Maybe she just needs the extra attention.

So, when will we get an egg?

Day 8
Rooster decided to help plant potatoes and unexpectedly came up in our zone to do a little strutting on top of the mounded potato bed.  Also witnessed first squabble between white and black hen (white won).  May have been over ants.  New coop location means new excavations, and they’ve been drilling little holes like wells. White hen has made one her whole head fits in.

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Day 9
No stick!  All the hens follow the rooster down slowly and talkatively, black hen in the lead (a surprise), and red hen lingering straggler (not a surprise).  But was it really on their own?  I did tire of waiting and opened the lid, which is usually closely followed by the stick, so were they really responding to the opening lid?

Day 10
What the heck?

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These are egg falsies, put in the nests as a inspiration and reassurance to layers in a new place, that this is where eggs go.  The ‘what the heck’ is that two are in one box (I “seeded” one in each).  So somehow, without thumbs, one or more of these chickens moved a fake egg over the wall between the nests!  Even crazier is that it would have been much easier to bump it out the lower front of the nest box, but no, they knew it belongs in a box.  How?  When?  How long did that take?  Where’s the chicken cam when you need it?

Day 11
Still need to open the lid in the morning to provoke the exit downramp, but don’t need the stick. Ok, ok, we’re going.
Also standard to roust them out mid afternoon and chase them downstairs to eat some more.  It can’t be right for them all to go to roost as early as noon.  H.W.:  “Get downstairs and do something if you’re not going to lay eggs up here!  What a lazy bunch of perch potatoes!”

Today was a cool, foggy, damp day, with the moisture in the air making all the spider net webs visible on the shrubs and soaking our pant legs in the grass.  The chickens roamed much farther during their supervised free range time while we dug garden beds, maybe because it was cool. I love the chicken soundtrack while we dig.   They were obviously loving it, burrowing in the grass and simultaneously eating and rolling around, which is the funniest- upside down writhing chicken pausing to peck, peck, resume wriggling.IMGP6913  They were hilariously entertaining, scattering around away from the coop (making the rooster nervous), disappearing in the greenery, eating grass blades like spaghetti, digging little holes to writhe in, and getting themselves wet and dirty, making their little head feathers all punk rock spiky.  How small they are is all too obvious once they get out in the grass, and make no impact on it at all.  We really need another fleet of (full-sized) chickens to scratch and fertilize (and lay eggs) in a meaningful way.  H.W. was teasing me about my fluffy little toy chickens.  But then he announces he’s named them all.  Pardon?  So he loves them too.  They are a not very useful bunch of tiny toy chickens, but they’re a start.

Heavy metal hairdos. Wet day.
Heavy metal hairdos. Wet day.

Day 15
All of the birds come and go freely, up and down.  Mostly up, though.  Especially the red hen loves a siesta.  An all-day siesta.  They eat and rummage around in the grass for a few hours, or maybe just one, then it gets hot and they go upstairs.  To perch, not to sit promisingly in a nest box, despite earlier evidence of someone using a box.  Or it’s cool and wet and they go upstairs.  Or they get bored and go upstairs.  Or they’re all narcoleptic.   Is this the expression of their extra-broody Silkie nature?  The hens retire sooner than the roosters, but they too follow the ladies upstairs far too early.  It’s become routine to chase them all back downstairs in the afternoon for another round of eating and foraging.

IMGP6937Day 16
White hen was avoiding the attentions of the rooster and ran into the tall grass and held still, invisible but for her poofy puffball of a head poking up on the lookout.  Bright white Q-tip in the grass.  It is funny that most weeds are bigger than they are.

Day 18
H.W., frustrated with the birds’ continued non-productivity and also concerned they aren’t spending enough time down to properly feed themselves, chased them back downstairs three times before lunch.  “What are ya doin’ upstairs again already, ya roost russets?”  All this accomplished was making the three hens roost on the ramp in a line, uncertainly hunkering down in no-mans-land, which was very amusing.  So chickens can be trained.  They were tempted off the ramp later by some fresh scraps, then promptly went upstairs for the night.  What’s up with them?  They “range” barely a few feet from the coop, eat enthusiastically but not for long, and only occasionally enjoy a long ant feast or sunsprawl/dust bath.  Most often they slip upstairs after a short snack, and may or may not come out again in the afternoon on their own.  How are they getting enough to eat or drink that way?  And what does it take to get eggs out of them?  They are the most relaxed, laid-back chickens I’ve ever seen, so I think they’re content enough..?

Day 25

Black hen hiding
Black hen hiding

The presence of two roosters is so far impeding any budding love in the henyard, or at least any consummation.  Regularly the main rooster picks out a hen and stalks her meaningfully.  Usually the girls scurry away squawking and hide themselves in the weeds, but if he’s lucky enough to get up on her, then the second rooster in a smooth flanking manoeuvre strolls up to the proceedings and –Pop!  plucks a feather out of the amorous rooster’s tail.  That ends things instantly, as the randy rooster lifts straight into the air with a surprised squawk and the hen escapes.  The tail-puller is already gliding away, snacking nonchalantly. Seen this cock-blocking happen like it’s scripted, three times now.  Hilarious!   H.W. even narrates: “- Hey! Get offa her!  – You! Are not helping! – Whatever might you be talking about?”   But it lessens my confidence in a future of fertilized eggs.  We’ll have to lock up one of them when we need viable eggs.

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Day 30
Successful mating also happens.  That’s good to know.  I guess you win some you lose some.  Rooster walks right up to me when I come with food.  He’s on the ball, always watching.  One of us regularly boots them back outside in the afternoon and they come out, eat and explore good-naturedly for awhile.  They move a little farther from the coop than they used to, and are obviously very comfortable with their new free-range identity, grazing and lounging in the long grass, sunning and scratching in the short grass.  No eggs yet.  Their cost so far: $9 hardware cloth (extra on the bottom of the coop not necessary); $5 food (consumed).  I guess that’s only about 4 dozen eggs (not yet laid), but not too big a deficit for them.  Total expenditures include grit and oyster shell $10.15, which it will take them months to eat, a $32 bag of organic feed, who knows how long that will take to eat, and more hardware cloth than was reasonable to buy, but makes it easy to build more coops.  I recommend knowing exactly how much hardware cloth you need before going to the store and being put on the spot at the cash register.  It comes in 2, 3, and 4’ widths.

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Coop II, the Mini Coop’r

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Thinking about it… thinking some more…

Hatched a plan to make a smaller coop for the silkies.  Coop I is cavernously too spacious for them and they don’t like the big drop from the perch to the floor, a scary 6”(!).

 

So I scaled everything down and reproduced the coop in a 3 x 4’ model, which will be plenty for a silkie flock of a dozen, should they ever get it together to reproduce.  Eggs would be a good start.

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Two down
One down
One down

Some small changes – I made the nest boxes  on the high side instead of the low, over the ramp, which is the whole length of the box to create a very friendly low slope and also make it easier to latch.  I hope smaller boxes with smaller openings that the rooster may not even fit in, higher than the perching area, will be cozier and more appealing to the tiny hens.  The roof will hinge on the low side this time so access is over the boxes for that dreamed-of egg collection.
I added a chicken-spying window so we can peek in at them without lifting the lid.

I retrofit one on the original coop too.

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H.W. loves it.  “Hey in there!  Whatcha doing?  Roosting?  That’s right, I see you!”

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Ha!  We're not in there!
Ha! We’re not in there!

Chicken arrival

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We picked up chickens from some nice people with an impressive menagerie of exotic pheasants, peacocks, and chickens (their amazing place is for sale, too, if anyone is into birds in a big way).  After a mad shrieking (the chickens, not us) scramble to catch the right birds and stuff them (all five together) into a box, we spent some time there visiting, then drove almost an hour home.  They were mostly quiet on the way, just some scuffling and disgruntled noises on some curves in the road.

Evening was coming on fast when we got home, and we were bringing hardware cloth for the coop home at the same time as the occupants, that we had to install before we could put the birds in for the night.  We quickly tacked the mesh on the bottom, creating the secure “upstairs” interior, and used plumbing strap to put on the poles for carrying it.  Then we tipped the coop back upright and moved it to the garden area where we want them scratching.

Yep, heavy.  H.W. :“Yeah, I feel like an Egyptian slave, carrying the king on a litter.”  IMGP6727

All ready to release the birds into their new home!

IMGP6729Excited, we carried the box of birds up from the car and put it on the floor inside the coop.  IMGP6730

Reached in to open the flaps, waiting for the heads to pop up, and… nothing.  All the birds were burrowed down on the floor of the box, in a very awkward-looking pile, heads down.

Peeked in on them later, and they hadn’t moved.  Spending the night in the box, then.

Coop style

The size differential between the smallest one and the largest two is still shocking.

 

New procedure for the chicken coop:  I’ve stopped mucking it out, and I’ve added a thick layer of fresh grass clippings.  Now I’m going to just add grass and leaves and whatever and let the henhouse floor build up.

The birds seem to love it.  It’s soft and much cleaner and attractive; they look bright and colourful springing around on their new emerald green floor, and they like lying down on it too.  It gives them more to scratch around in.  They pick out single blades of grass and eat them whole like a strand of spaghetti.