Friday, July 25, 2014

The Great Chicken Exodus

On the day after their 4-week mark, the chickens were moved to the outside world. Although my research suggested 6 weeks indoors, the average temperature outside and the crowded conditions inside prompted us to move up our eviction date. That, and we really wanted to put our newly completed chicken condo to use.

I moved the feeders and water jugs first, placing one of each into the coop and then the run. I also scattered a layer of pine shavings on the floor of the coop so the little chicken feet would have something soft to walk on. Hubby opened the hatch leading to the run, and we were ready.

The chickens, quite vociferous due to their buffet removal, were the next to go. Hubby and I carefully toted the first bin across the yard and out to the coop. The birds had suddenly become strangely quiet. First exposure to sunlight evidently quells the need to complain over lack of vittles. We placed the bin on the floor of the coop, shut the door, and waited.

The previous premises!
Nothing. Our silent tenants blinked at each other, most likely waiting for somebody to take charge of the situation. After a minute or so of this avian indecision, Hubby and I began lifting the confused birds out of the bin and turning them loose on the floor. Chaos! After weeks of standing room only in the 2x3 tote, the chickens now had 160 square feet of space, and what do they do? Smash themselves into a corner and wonder what the heck just happened.

Baffled birdies.

We repeated the procedure with the remaining tub of birds, with the same results. We watched the two groups of birds get reacquainted, and after a few moments, slipped quietly out the door.

I returned a while later, to make sure there were no casualties due to the trauma of the move. I found myself a seat next to the yard and watched and waited. At last, one of the chickens peeked out of the hatch and realized there was even more to this new world than the enormous new building.

Sneaking a peek.

Slowly, more chickens made their way to the opening, all too scared to venture outside. After what seemed like forever, a couple of them stepped onto the ramp, and when they weren't immediately struck dead, hopped down into the yard itself.

Hubby joined me after a while, as the birds explored their territory, darting frantically from one end of the yard to the other. We watched as they flapped and ran and cavorted now that they finally had the room to do so. Once we were sure they were all right, we left them to their own devices, confident that they would learn how to "chicken" without our interference.

If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’  Numbers 14:8

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chicken Condo!

Well, while our chicks were growing, (and eating and pooping and bickering) hubby and I got to work on the chicken coop. We converted a cedar shed that came with the property. How very convenient.

First off, the floor got sealed with a couple coats of waterproof paint. Because chickens are notorious for spilling their beer when things get rowdy. Of course, every condo needs furniture, so hubby built and installed eight nesting boxes, for the eggs we are counting on these girls to produce. Next, he built two perches along the opposite wall for roosting. He drilled ventilation holes under the eaves, and built a chicken-sized hatch in the side for access to the run.

We fenced in the run with poles sunk three feet into the ground, thanks to a monstrous motorized post-hole digger we rented over the weekend. We leveled and braced the vertical posts. Hubby mounted brackets and ran two-by-fours horizontally around the enclosure. In order to bury the wire fencing I dug a 60-foot trench, a foot deep, around the perimeter swinging that heavy mattock like Thor with his mighty hammer. I was amazing.

After the framework was complete and the gate built and installed, we enclosed the whole thing with chicken wire with some extra metal fencing around the bottom for extra security. The rolls came in widths or about four feet, so the edges needed to be sewn together. Sewing over one's head with a length of wire takes longer than one might imagine. But once the "roof" seams were complete, the perimeter seams went pretty quickly.

All that was left at this point was to fill in my beautifully dug trenches and line the base with rocks. After roughly four weeks of labor, give or take a few days for rainy weather, the coop was ready for some birds. And we were ready for some cold drinks.

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Baby Chicks!

Back in April, Jeff and I went in to the local feed store and bought 24 Barred Rock chicks. We chose this breed for their egg-laying prowess and their cold-hardiness. I began scooping up the little fluffballs, two at a time in each hand, in to the three boxes the sales associate provided for transport. I rode home with the precious cargo in my lap, as it was still too cold to let them ride in the truck bed. The little darlings spent the next half hour pecking at my jeans through the air holes.

Baby girls!
For the brooder, we set up a large Rubbermaid bin just outside the kitchen, where we new it wouldn't get too cold. I filled it with pine shavings (which smelled wonderful at first), then I set the food tray and water jug into the bin. Next came the baby birds. I lifted them, one at a time, out of their cardboard boxes, dipped their wee beaks into the water supply, and turned them loose in their new domicile.
We positioned a warming lamp over the brooder to keep things nice and toasty. A word to the wise - those things suck up a lot of electricity. You will notice.

Brooder full of babies.
The following morning we were relieved to find that all 24 chicks survived the night, and were adjusting well to their new environment. Success! With stars in our eyes, we began planning the outdoor chicken coop for our mature flock. We were old pros at this whole chicken thing.

Well, not exactly. After a week or two, the birds had nearly doubled in size. We had to set up a second brooder with another Rubbermaid bin. Not long after that, I discovered one of the chicks had jumped onto the top of the water jug and was surveying the living room. When I tried to catch it it flew onto the lip of the bin and made a break for it. With much scrambling and praying to Jesus I was able to thwart the attempt at escape. Some hastily trimmed window screening and lumber scraps provided a couple of makeshift lids, but we realized we were going to have to hustle on getting their new digs set up.

Two weeks old
Nobody warned me they would grow so fast! Time to get crackin' on that chicken condo...

I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. Psalms 50:11