Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘chicken coop

Making Modifications

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Our three surviving adult hens were presented with a big change in their sleeping and nesting quarters yesterday. In preparation for moving the new chicks out of the brooder in the coming weeks, we gave the coop a thorough cleaning and then installed some temporary barriers to subdivide it.

We opted for netting up above to allow the young chicks and adult hens to become familiar with each other behind protected space that will allow the youngsters to stay out of reach of aggressive gestures.

So the thinking goes, anyway.

Cyndie was reading to me yesterday from a multitude of internet sources on raising backyard chickens and introducing new birds to an existing batch of hens. There were very few where we meet all the precautions and instructions described, but I sense they were written with an overabundance of caution in mind.

Real-world situations are never as precise as the theoretical instructions convey. We are taking the information as a rough guide and will rely on good old trial and error to learn what works for us.

I will always remember the effort of yesterday as being burdened by the tropical dewpoint temperature and the looming threat of thunderstorm (that in the end barely slipped past to the south of us) which complicated my tasks and hurried several steps, capped with my getting attacked by a hornet as I rushed to put things away.

My shirt was plastered against my skin, saturated thoroughly with sweat, and my arms were ridiculously full with tools and equipment I was rushing to return to the shop when the angry beast of an insect unleashed its burning venom as I stepped out of the barn. I screamed into the thundery dark sky and frantically contorted in attempt to pull my shirt loose from my skin to eject the attacker.

After failing twice as the burning increased, I dropped something and finally got a grip of slippery fabric behind my neck and yanked violently. That’s when I caught a glimpse of the almost humming bird-sized monster as it instantly found a second perch on my bare forearm. At that point, everything I was holding went flying in every direction, and flailing of arms and wailing of curse words dwarfing the ominous weather in ferocity were unleashed.

As quickly as possible, while ducking the continued threat of the hornet, I grabbed everything I could find and ran to the shop to lay down on my back on the cold concrete in hopes of soothing the fire raging in the flesh of my back.

That grand finish will always be my memory of fixing up the chicken coop for the soon to be mixed batch of our free-range backyard chickens.

Today’s project will involve mitigation, and hopefully, removal of stinging insect nests near the barn.

Oh, joy.

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Written by johnwhays

August 9, 2020 at 10:22 am

TwentyTwo Days

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I’m happy to report that the chicks are all progressing wonderfully in their daily race to maturity. In fact, they are beginning to seem a little crowded in our water-trough brooder.

When I had the cover askew yesterday while cleanng out the waterer for a poop-free version, one of the New Hampshire chicks made a leap for the lip of the water-trough and achieved a perfect pin-point landing. She seemed entirely pleased with herself over the accomplishment.

I didn’t give her a moment to enjoy it, reacting instantly to snatch her in avoidance of further escapades. The two New Hampshire chicks appear to be the boldest and bossiest of the twelve, although the others will all push back when getting picked (pecked) on.

The one Barnevelder chick that was lagging in development continues to hold her own against all the others who take every opportunity to make sure she knows she is at the bottom of the pecking order. I figured she would remain half their size as they weren’t going to stop growing to allow her to catch up, but it is getting harder to instantly spot her among the brood of active chicks.

It is normal for chickens to always want what another bird has picked up in its beak but the littlest chick didn’t shy away once last night when a rival repeatedly pecked at the very spot where the first one was eating. In fact, she even alternated to pecking one slot closer toward the rival in a perfect tit-for-tat response.

“You take one of mine, I’ll take one of yours.”

I’m gaining confidence that she will do just fine as they all grow into the phase of full feathered “pullets” in a few more weeks.

I sure hope I have the coop subdivision completed by then. (Maybe I should actually start on that project.) The three adult hens are about to lose some square footage and will soon have to deal with a dozen rambunctious new neighbors.

I’m sure they will be just thrilled about it.

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Written by johnwhays

August 7, 2020 at 6:00 am

Close One

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That was a close one. Yesterday afternoon, our crew of one, Matthew, who is brushing on a fresh coat of sealant on the logs of our house, was taking a break for lunch when he spotted what he calls our “yardbirds.” He was watching our three chickens moseying their way through the trees between the house and the barn.

Then, he caught sight of a fox!

The report I received was that he rushed toward it and started screaming like a madman. Cyndie said he came to the house to tell her there was a fox in our trees. When she arrived on the scene, all she found were the black feathers of our last Australorp. A LOT of black feathers, spread across a significant distance.

About that time, I received a text message indicating we had lost a hen to a fox.

A couple of hours later, my phone rang with a call from Cyndie with a correction to the previous message. The Black Australorp was still alive!

She had returned to the coop where Cyndie found her nestled into one of the nest boxes. Given the near-death experience, Cyndie granted the hen a free pass to stay in the box for as long as she wanted. There were no visible signs of trauma.

Much later, at dusk, I checked on the three chickens while closing the coop for the night. Much to our surprise, I found the Australorp perched on the roost beside her trusty companions, looking fit as a fiddle.

In addition, I found she had laid an egg while recovering her wits in the nest box.

That’s one tough hen.

Logic tells us that fox will return, so we may need to confine the birds to quarters for a while until we figure out some kind of plan.

We were already intending to install a fenced-in run area outside one of the coop doors in preparation for the new chicks. They are due to arrive today and will spend their first month or so in the brooder with supplemental heat, so we thought we had some time before needing to reconfigure the coop.

That schedule will change now that the fox is paying visits in broad daylight. Free-ranging may need to be curtailed for a while until we build a protected space where they can do some not-as-free-ranging.

Meanwhile, we have returned to arguing with ourselves over whether to get a rooster for protecting the hens, or not. That is an unlikely solution for us, but we occasionally revisit the idea to make sure we still feel the same way.

Our precious layers deserve some support in terms of protection, so if not from a rooster, we’d like to figure out a viable alternative.

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Written by johnwhays

July 17, 2020 at 6:00 am

Dramatic Downpour

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Holy cow, did we ever get a dose of dramatic weather last night. The rain came down so fast and hard we had over 3-inches within about 45-minutes, much of it during the time when the weather service had declared a Tornado Warning for our county.

Cyndie’s garden went from being a little too dry to a lot too wet.

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We ate home-grown peas from the garden for lunch yesterday! No pesticides, no chemicals, no shipping required. Just pick, wash, and eat.

Everything in the garden got washed last night. The path from the house down to the chicken coop became a river.

Cyndie went out to close the chicken door when it seemed like there might be a break in the downpour intensity, but the hens weren’t in yet. They were huddled underneath the coop and didn’t want to move. The pause in the rainfall rate was short-lived. By the time she got geared up to make her dash, it was already picking up speed again.

When she eventually returned to the house, there was standing water in her boots and she was soaked through all the way to her underwear.

That was definitely one heck of a downpour.

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Written by johnwhays

June 29, 2020 at 6:00 am

Officially Summer

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We have reached the longest day of 2020. It’s the latest hour when we tuck the chickens to bed in the coop for the night. Our fraction of a flock who have survived free-ranging among the wildlife that roams our countryside look a little lonesome snuggled up on one end of the roost.

Nonetheless, they seem happy as ever with their lot in life and explore a broad swath around the barn and their coop, heroically controlling the fly and tick population. Their egg production is enough to keep Cyndie’s and my demand covered. We just have less home-laid eggs to share with others.

Cyndie’s garden(s) are growing by leaps and bounds. With her away for the weekend, I fear the leafy things may be a chaos of excess by the time she returns tonight.

Summer would normally mean I am on a bike trip or we were going up to the lake a lot, but this year is anything but normal. At the same time, life at home is about as normal as can be. The weather has been on an amazingly even keel, perfectly balanced between hot and cool days with a mix of sunny, breezy, reasonable thunderstorms, gentle soaking rain, and calm dry days.

At the solstice, we are in the middle of this summer-ness. We can enjoy more of this for a few weeks and then begin the slow slide to earlier minutes when the hens return to the coop.

I’m willing myself to soak this time up in the fullest sense possible, in hopes of storing the memories as complete as possible for reference during the opposite time period six months from now. For those days when we go close the chicken door to the coop around 4:00 p.m.

Those days when they don’t bother laying any eggs.

Here’s to all these hours of summer sunlight!

Happy Father’s Day all you dads and children of dads! And moms who put up with the dads.

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Written by johnwhays

June 21, 2020 at 9:35 am

Coop Sprucing

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Yesterday, I finally got around to attaching the summer window awnings on the coop. During the winter we install plexiglass panels over the hardware mesh openings, but in the summer it’s wide open to the weather. For a little protection from wind-blown rain, I add some window-well covers.

Last year, one of the plastic covers was bashed full of holes by a hail storm. Luckily, I had a spare.

While I was tending to the coop, I also added some cross-beams to the chicken ramp because Cyndie felt the chickens needed better footing going up and down.

The Buff Orpington that had been inside laying an egg when I first showed up to work, came out to test the ramp after all the drilling and hammering stopped.

Initially, she seemed hesitant about even coming all the way out the door, but eventually scampered down the ramp without delay. I think she likes it.

After Cyndie came in from tucking the hens in and shutting the chicken door later in the evening, I asked her if she noticed the ramp improvements.

“Nope.”

“Well, did you see the window covers?”

“Nope.”

She had been at her parent’s house while I was sprucing up the coop and I hadn’t mentioned anything about it after she got home.

I guess this demonstrates the changes weren’t overly ostentatious, since she didn’t even notice a thing.

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Written by johnwhays

June 19, 2020 at 6:00 am

Newest Ramp

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Chicken ramp is now up to version three. I’ve given up on the cutesy woven willow branch ramps because they don’t hold up to the abuse of the elements and the apparent urges of critters and/or chickens to pull them apart.

It feels a little sad to be getting around to fixing this just days after the loss of five hens, but there are still three birds who are going in and out of the coop and I have decided to remedy the design flaw of passing through the drop zone for snow sliding off the slanted roof.

The new design approaches the chicken access door from the side, keeping it just inside the drip line off the roof.

Cyndie said the first chicken to exit the coop this morning after the door was opened had to stop abruptly to figure out the turn, but then walked right down.

I watched the Wyandotte who is becoming broody approach the new ramp from the ground yesterday, driven by her strong urge to get back inside and park in an empty nest box. She stopped where the bottom of the old ramp would have been and stretched her neck up as tall as she could with a look of incredulity as she inspected the strange alteration.

Then she flapped her wings and hopped halfway up from the side and scrambled up through the opening.

I’m anxious to see if the snow will drop just beyond this new ramp since that is the primary reason I changed to the side entry, but hopefully, that test won’t happen for many months.

Seven years ago today, the first spring after we had moved here, we received 18-inches of wet snow that wreaked havoc on trees and branches. I will always remember the sound of snapping limbs that resembled rifle reports cracking all around me within the otherwise sound-deadened thick blanket of white.

It was very distressing.

I will happily wait until next winter to see how the newest version of the chicken ramp works when melting snow drops off the roof overhang. By then, we should have round three of purchased chickens established, as Cyndie has already placed an order for all new breeds. Delivery is much delayed and breed selection was rather limited due to very high demand.

I guess a lot of people are in the market for the comfort of having their own source of eggs at a time when going out in public is being discouraged.

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Written by johnwhays

May 2, 2020 at 8:35 am

Clean Driveway

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One of the really great features of a spring snowstorm is when the snow melts on the driveway as fast as it falls. When Delilah and I set out on our first walk after I got home from work yesterday, there was no snow falling. After circling the majority of our acres, I parked her in the barn while I tended to chores at the chicken coop.

While I was down with a couple of egg-laying hens, the sky opened up and poured out a downburst of snow. It quickly became a mini-blizzard with little spinning snow-tornadoes that made my trek back to the barn into a heroic expedition. From the barn, Delilah and I hustled our way up to the protection of the house and turned our focus toward each of our respective dinners.

The next time I looked out the window, the cloudburst had ended. It went from everything to nothing in about ten minutes time.

But it wasn’t done yet.

Before dinner was over, flakes started flying again. This time, it lasted much longer. So long, in fact, I started to wonder if I was going to need to shovel. Delilah started getting antsy to make her obligatory after-dinner outing, but I kept delaying her in hope of waiting long enough for the snow to stop falling.

Not only did my plan succeed, but we were subsequently gifted with an outbreak of sunshine! The icing on the cake of this whole mini-drama was stepping out to the sight of a clean driveway. It was downright photogenic.

Take that, winter snowstorms…

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Written by johnwhays

April 14, 2020 at 6:00 am

Gettin’ Out

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It is very easy to be out and about on 20 acres while maintaining appropriate social distance from other people, especially when our property is surrounded by fields and forest. Yesterday afternoon when the sun warmed things up a bit, I took a crack at a few chores in the great outdoors.

My first order of business was to do something about the increasingly dilapidated ramp to the chicken door. I don’t know whether the main culprit is the hens or some other critter, but somebody doesn’t like my weaving of willow branches.

I tried monitoring the ramp with the trail cam, but there is so much chicken activity that I get a couple of hundred photos during the day while capturing nothing after dark. I haven’t had the patience to keep trying long enough to see what animals are nosing around during the nighttime.

I think part of me doesn’t want to know and part of me doesn’t really care. My fix will be the same, regardless of whoever is messing with it.

I had collected a bag full of downed branches beneath the willow tree with a plan to redo the bad parts of the ramp but ended up having a change of heart. I decided to try cutting some finger-sized trees from our forest to weave bigger green wood through the existing frame.

A lot of the willow branches I originally used were dead, so they just dried out more and got brittle, making them easy to break. I think the thicker and greener sticks will stand up much better to abuse.

Around the shop garage, I chopped down the dried shoots of tall ornamental grass, pulled out the failed sheet of plastic water barrier that was supposed to redirect drainage, and then detangled the broken cedar post and bird feeder from the cage of vines that covered it.

It felt a lot like warm weather yard work, which was strange just a day and a half after the blast of snow we had received. At the same time, it was a glorious distraction from the mindset of sheltering in place and the unending gloom and doom news that is the other hard to avoid attention-getter of the moment.

My health is still good, my hands are washed, and I’m physically isolated all weekend at home. Today, I return to the day-job and will strive to avoid infectious invisible droplets.

I hope you all find an opportunity to get out wherever you are to spend some time beneath the open sky. It’s good medicine for long-term in-place sheltering.

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Written by johnwhays

April 6, 2020 at 6:00 am

Not Level

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This isn’t the first year I’ve had the impression that the chicken coop is leaning away from level, but it’s now become more obvious than I am able to ignore. Every time I walk past it, I fight an urge to walk over and push it back to level, but I’m the one who buried those six posts 3-feet deep each. A little push on the side of the structure won’t do anything to press the far posts back down to where they started.

Part of me wants to think it’s just an optical illusion given the relative reference of the surrounding ground. The view from the other side doesn’t look all that bad.

If I’d bother to walk up to the shop to get the level there would be no questioning it, but the issue is an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” level concern and has yet to warrant the intentional hike in order to verify my instinct. Wouldn’t really make any difference, anyway. There is nothing I would do about it either way.

Actually, I don’t need the level. If you didn’t already spot it, go back and look at that first image. There is an easy reference line –two actually– revealing a straight verticle in the items hanging on the outside wall. Based on those lines being straight up and down, the horizontal boards are definitely not square to that.

The frost heave that occurs in the ground is in charge of the angle of this structure. The legs of the coop were not installed like footings for structures that must meet building codes.

Luckily, our hens don’t seem to give a cluck about it.

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Written by johnwhays

March 5, 2020 at 7:00 am