Friday, October 10, 2014

Hen House Home Sweet Home

When we decided that we were going to raise hens for eggs we had to think about where we were going to keep them.  Boy, did we think long and hard on this.  We probably spent about three weeks researching online and visiting local farm and pet supply businesses.  It looked like the wave of the future was to purchase or build a stand alone coop or chicken tractor.  For those of you who have never seen or heard of a chicken tractor, I would describe it as a henhouse on wheels with an attached run.  Connected to the run is a set of wheel barrow handles.  The idea behind this is to be able to relocate the chicken tractor anywhere on your property with ease.  Chicken tractors come in all different sizes and styles.  Depending on how many chickens you plan on raising will most likely determine the size of the tractor you will need.  We decided to start with eight hens.  Therefore, the chicken tractor we were looking for had to hold at least eight hens.  I’ll admit this idea of being able to move the tractor around the yard was a sell for us.  We figured by relocating it we would be able to clean up weed areas, aerate the soil and keep the hens safe.  And besides, everyone was doing it.  Looking back, we probably should have shopped around a little longer.  Maybe we even should have checked out some permanent coop structures. 

The tractor was delivered all assembled and ready to go.  During the first year of the chicken tractor it seamed like we were moving it around the yard often.  Letting it sit for more then a couple of weeks was way too long.  The area would get filled with chicken poop and the healthy grass would die.  At this point we decided to move the tractor every four to five days and hose down the area.  Let me also remind you that our hens were free ranging all day too.  We continued to do this all summer and into the fall.  As the temperature started to plummet we decided to wheel the tractor just outside our walk out basement where it would sit on a cement slab and we could plug it in to the side of the house.  We added electric outlets inside and out after we purchased it.  This is something we did on our own and saved money doing it that way.  Now that we were settled in for a cold and snowy winter, the hens were warm and safe inside their tractor.  Let me back up a little.  They were warm, but not safe.  We wouldn’t know this right away until a nasty little snow weasel breaches the fortress!  Our kids were at home when they heard a ruckus.  They saw a white animal resembling a ferret going under the tractor.  It was able to kill one of our beautiful Australorps.  The kids chased this nasty thing until it disappeared from the property.  At this point we knew that the tractor was not closed up tight.  I would call it a flaw in its design and they all have it.  Underneath the hen house portion there are three sides that fold up and down.  Up when you wheel the tractor and down when you have it in the area you plan on leaving it in.  Well, those three sides are just about and inch to two inches short of resting flat on the ground beneath it.  Upon further inspection, the door that opened into the run portion had a half inch opening above the frame.  The kids said they saw the snow weasel go through it.  Of course we didn’t believe them.  The opening was small.  Three days later, wouldn’t you know the darn beast came back, killed two more hens and was able to get through a small opening where the sides fold up and down about a quarter of an inch.  I saw this with my own two eyes.  I chased this animal for quite some time.  Around and Around.  All’s I could think of was the Ring Around the Rosie poem we all learned as kids.  I was the monkey chasing the weasel!  It was about an hour before this animal gave up and ran off.  I was exhausted and motivated to redesign this tractor before any other breaches could happen.  We ended up pushing the tractor up onto two pallets with a piece of plywood lying on top.  This would ensure no animals could breach from the bottom.  After the sides came down, we hammered in four by fours to close up any holes.  We also screwed a board on the inside from of the door so when the door was shut it would abut the board leaving no openings.  One other thing I should mention is we had to place a patio umbrella over the open run area to keep it dry.  Having it wet was not good at all.  It would smell and draw flies causing yet another flaw in its design.

The following spring we started a new batch of chicks to add.  Adding chickens to a flock is a lot of work and we can talk about that later.  Once all the snow was gone, we relocated the tractor to the other side of the house but decided to leave it in one spot for safety reasons.  We kept it on top of the pallets and plywood.  I would not recommend a chicken tractor unless you can make sure that it is safe all around.  Inspect the design for gaps.  If you build it yourself, be sure to close up all small openings.  We figured if we could put our finger through a gap than a small animal would be able to get in.  If you have a suggestion or solution about a coop breach I would love to hear from you.  It would be great to learn from each other ways to protect the flock from hen house breaches.  Keep them safe and happy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Chickens and Young Hockey Players

I am adding a link to a gofund me page for a young gentleman who has been playing the sport of Hockey since he was 3 years old.  He is currently a senior in high school.  In order for him to dedicate himself to this sport and keep up with his academics, he is unable to work.  After graduation he plans on attending a college to study physical therapy.  Any financial help for his gofund me page is greatly appreciated.  Please check out 

Please repost the link publicly to your Facebook Page.  Thank you everyone!

Thanks for checking out my blog as well.  A new post is on it's way.  Got a little side tracked with a new chicken run design and construction.  Keeping the girls safe and happy! 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Friend and her First Chicken Disaster

I was getting ready to start a new article about the pros and cons of using a chicken tractor based on my own experience, but I felt the need to share with you this story concerning a friend of mine who has been yearning to raise backyard chickens.  This is a true story which took place this past Saturday.
Three years ago when we started this whole chicken hobby, my girlfriend remarked how cool it was to have fresh eggs everyday without having to travel to the store.  She knew the value of the fresh egg.  Not the monetary value, but rather the nutritional value.  We can talk more about that later.  Every time we saw each other she would ask about the chickens and how we were managing.  I would tell her how they would follow us around the yard and how some would even come when called by name.  I shared what kind of bugs they were eating in the yard as well as egg recipes.  She would always say that she wanted to raise chickens but wasn’t sure how to go about it.  The conversation went on like this until last week when by surprise she blurted that she ordered a chicken coop from  I was so happy for her and couldn’t wait to help her get started.

I arrived at her home Saturday morning to help put the coop together.  She had most of it complete.  Based on the picture from the internet I was expecting this coop was going to be very large and bulky.  It was a nice size coop designed to hold 4 – 6 chickens.  Personally, I think 4 chickens and maybe 2 bantams.  I knew based on my experience that she was going to have to make some modifications to it in order to keep it secure from other animals that would try to get in.  The hardware fabric that came with the coop was not a very good quality and the thickness of the mesh was not sturdy.  She knew it would need to be reinforced and this would be easy to do.  This was my only major concern with the coop design.  Everything else would work out fine.

So excited to move forward with this project we decided to make some phone calls to see if there were any feed stores in the area that would either have any chicks or be ordering any soon.  No such luck!  Springtime is when the majority of places order chicks.  Within a matter of minutes of checking some places out, she received a phone call to check out a local farm that may have them.  We got in the car and drove over to see what was there.  Luckily the farm had some baby chicks along with hundreds of full grown hens and roosters and turkeys and ducks and rabbits and guinea pigs!  (You get the picture?)  They were everywhere we looked as we walked toward the back of the property to check out the chicks.  The further we walked back the eerier things looked.  There was a rooster walking around with bumble foot.  There was a pen filled with hens that had been de beaked.  Boy did we see enough!  Let’s get the chicks and split is what we were thinking.  The owner took us to a trailer that housed doves or pigeons, I can’t be sure it was dark inside and she brought out the chicks in a small wired cage.  They had NO water!  My friend and I looked at each other and questioned the owner about the age of the birds.  She said they were about 4 weeks old.  Honestly, they looked around 2 to 3 weeks old and one was the size of my fist.  She couldn’t tell us what hatchery they came from, only that they were hens and dropped off to her farm.  You may be thinking this is the worst of this story, but wait, there is more.

Our heads were spinning!  We purchased, (rescued) 3 of the chicks and headed out.  We waited until we got in the car before speaking of the conditions we had just witnessed.  So, we got that out of our systems and then rejoiced over the fact that my friend was finally starting her chicken hobby!  She couldn’t wait to get them to their new home where they would be living a spoiled life.  On the way back to her house she was throwing out names for each of them.  Before we knew it we were back and the girls were in the coop.  So much better then a small wire cage.  They were checking out their new surroundings and rolling in the Koop Kleen.  The family’s dogs came out to check them out and smell them and see what all the fuss was in the yard.  The chicks just kept on rolling.  They were so happy in their new surroundings.  We stood there and watched and everything was ok. 

It was a long day and we decided to grab a bite to eat at the local tavern.  The food there is the best!  My friend locked up the dogs and we headed out.  We were there for about ten minutes and she decided to go back home to make sure the dogs were secure and couldn’t get out through the doggie door.  She came back and said all was well.  The next day I telephoned her to let her know that I would be stopping by to drop off a book on raising backyard chickens.  That’s when she told me that one of the dogs escaped its confines and headed to the backyard to investigate further the feathery little creatures she would be sharing her yard with.  The dog is about lab coon hound mix but relative in size to the lab.  She apparently put her paw through the very fine hardware fabric making an opening.  I think you can figure out the rest.

So upset but still determined to raise hens she got a little smarter.  Even though she introduced the chicks to the dogs, the curiosity was just too much for one of them to handle.  The first thing she did was visit the local hardware store and she purchased a heavy duty wire fabric and immediately installed it on the coop.  The second thing was she secured the entire coop to a thick piece of plywood.  This would also protect the coop from any predators that would try to burrow under the coop and make entry that way.  So far so good!  She again got on the phone and made some more phone calls to find more chicks.  We would not be returning to the other farm because of its condition.  She was able to locate a reputable chicken farm and was able to purchase 4 chicks at age 3 months.  The third thing she did was she worked with the dog and slowly introduced her to the new yard pets.  So far, everything was going well.  We did not want a repeat of the previous tragedy.

All in all I thought she was going to give up, but she didn’t.  There is a saying that says, “you don’t know, what you don’t know” and this situation was not anticipated.  This incident in my opinion may have been prevented if the manufacturer of the coop used stronger material.  It’s a tough lesson what happened but, I assured her that on her pet chicken journey she will discover ways of raising her hens that will work while others will not.  She is ready for the challenge.  Now she has a beautiful secure coop with 4 healthy happy hens in it and at this point, the dog is accepting the new hens and her curiosity is subsiding.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Against my Will, I Think

There's nothing worse than a child begging you for a pet. Better yet, a pet Chicken!  Make that plural.  Chickens.  For weeks I had to listen to all the reasons why it would be good to own chickens; from fresh eggs to joining 4-H and showing them to eating all the bugs in the yard.  Honestly, all I could envision was the amount of work that would be involved on my part.  Between my two kids and my husband, they had a plan and they convinced me to get on board.

I should mention when I was younger, (way younger) I worked on a horse farm and was involved with the daily chores of the horses, cows, goats, chickens, ducks. . . . (allot of work!)  I did own a hen that was a Rhode Island Red that the farm allowed me to keep there.  Her name was Madam.  She was pretty smart.  I could call her name from anywhere on the property and she would come running to me.  She roamed the farm with all the other chickens.

So, after all the begging and hounding I caved.  One Saturday my husband and I went chicken tractor shopping.  Yup, that’s right, no traditional barn here.  Our girls had to have the latest chicken housing craze out there.  Basically, it’s a henhouse on wheels with a run attached.  Attached to the run section are wheelbarrow handles which allow you to move the tractor anywhere in the yard.  I will talk more later about that experience.  I felt like we were purchasing a new car.  We looked at styles, sizes, colors, roof types, run sizes, electric, no electric, window types. . .   You get the picture.

We all had different thoughts on chicken breeds.  Here’s what we did.  We figured that since we are a family of four, each member would choose two from a breed of their choice.  That meant that we would be raising eight hens.  We had to make sure that our Chicken Tractor could hold eight.  Looking back, we should have bought a little bit bigger.

Winter was coming to an end and the local feed store was taking orders for baby chicks.  We placed our order and waited for the girls to be delivered.  When we picked them up they were only a day old.  We had a place to keep them inside the house until they were old enough to be on there own in the tractor.  I should mention to you that from the time they started out in the house to the time we let them in the tractor, one of my family members decided this chicken raising wasn’t for her.  That would be my eldest daughter, Conner Rose.  She said they were cute until they got older.  My husband also hung on the sidelines. I began to see where this was going.   It was me along with my youngest daughter, Jerri Marie who took over the responsibilities of raising these girls.  We have great adventures with them.

With three years behind us now, it is our hope to use this blog as a means to learn from other backyard chicken hobbyists.  We can share advice on raising chickens, talk about coop types, feed, recipes, craft ideas, things that work and things that don’t. So, Welcome to ChickenShticken!  Let's get started.