Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Case of the Curious chicken

The door motor arrived and The Man decided to install it while I was in town shopping for major groceries. He thought it would be a good idea to do it today since it was raining because he could work inside. Being the mother hen that I am I warned  him the chicks were still too young to go outside in the rain. They don't have all their feathers yet and they will catch a chill unless of course he wants to dry each one with my hair dryer when he gets finished. I also warned him that they would be gathering around his feet while he worked and I didn't want to come home to any crunched chicks. So his solution was to shoo them all over to the other side of the coup and temporarily tack up a piece of plywood to keep them there while he worked. Ya right.

First off they have discovered the out of doors and every time one of us walks into the coup they all run to the door wanting to go outside.They are very insistent about this especially the one I call Rose. Rose is a New Hampshire Red named after another chicken I had years ago. The original Rose was my gardening buddy. Always ready to help me in the garden she would scratch and dig right where I was digging or weeding and I would have to be careful not to cut off her feet with my shovel or step on her.

The new Rose is the one that was the first out the door when I opened it to let the chicks out for the first time. She is also the first one that wants to know what you are doing when you come within view. Apparently she has imprinted on humans because now she is a little pest. (See last post) Pictured at right.
So getting back to The Man and the door opener, he shooed the chicks over and put up the plywood and turned to start working on the door. When he turned back around there were 4 or 5 chicks sitting on the edge of the plywood "wall" watching him and Rose was standing next to his feet. This was great entertainment for house bound chickens on a rainy day. Having no other option he went ahead and finished the job of putting in the timer and automatic door opener being careful not to step on anyone. As usual the door required a test run when he was done. As soon as the door opened out went Rose. I believed he used the words greased lightening. The rest weren't as fast and he was able to shut the door before they escaped. Rose is just an opportunist. I wish I could have seen him trying to catch her when he was finished with the job.

For those who are interested I just discovered that Whidbey has a 4-H club that is sponsoring the first annual chicken coop tour. I am probably too late to enter the Palace in the tour but it has potential for a fun thing to do on a weekend and you get to support 4-H in the process. If you want to check it out here is the link.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chopping Block in the Hen House

You may remember a reference in an earlier blog about The Man installing an automatic chicken door in the Palace.  He loves gadgets and is always trying to "build a better mouse trap". He has never built a chicken coup before so asked me questions like "How big does this door need to be?". I have explained how it needs to open and how the chickens will need a ramp to walk down etc. Usually you would make a simple door that consist of a rectangle of wood that slides up and down in two tracks and has a rope that you pull to raise and lower the door. Simple, right? Not for him.
Sitting in my kitchen watching me make dinner one night he spied my plastic cutting board. You know the kind. White plastic about 12"x 18" with a handle on one end.  "That would make a perfect chicken door" he said. I thought he was kidding or nuts. I should have known better. He bought a new one and next day this is what I had in the side of the coup. He has ordered an electric motor to arrive here sometime next week. It is actually a motor that is used to raise and lower blinds on a window and has a timer so you can set the door to open at the crack of dawn and close after dark when the little darlings are roosting for the night. You can find the whole design and article at 

The other thing that he decided the ladies were going to need was a covered run. We wouldn't want our chickens to be house bound in the rain or snow now would we? Heaven forbid they should get wet while digging for bugs and worms out in the yard. Over the back area of the coup and above the automatic chicken door and porch we now have a 12 ft. x 6ft clear rigid plastic roof with a 2 ft. overhang to make sure rain doesn't blow in. (Also he just didn't want to cut the plastic roofing).  Clear because everybody knows chickens need all the light they can get in order to keep up the egg production. Sort of a chicken greenhouse. So does this mean eggs are going the way of hot house tomatoes?
The porch, located out side the chicken door, has a small swinging gate that allows me to direct the chickens to one side or the other of the two runs so I can rotate them on and off pasture and give the grass a chance to grow. Are they spoiled or what?

We let the wee ones outside for the first time the other day. At first they all acted as if something was going to eat them. The "outside" was so huge! But after about 5 minutes some of the bigger chicks started pecking and scratching while the smaller bantams just kept looking out the door and refusing to come out. Some walked down the gang plank and others just did a quick dismount hoping to get a 10 from the judges.(See pix on left)
 I finally had to go in and physically shove them out the door and into the world. For those of you familiar with boomerang kids or just adult children that wont leave home this should sound familiar. It is still a little chilly and the chicks don't have mothers' wing to dart under to warm up so they didn't stay out long. I have one New Hampshire Red that wandered around peeping until it saw me sitting on the ground. She decided I looked motherly enough so jumped up on my knee and slid under my arm to get warm. Hopefully the weather warms up more and I will be able to leave them out on their own without worrying about them getting chilled. In the mean time there is tons of stuff to do around here and I better get to it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Another Case of Spring Fever

Apparently I am not the only one affected by spring fever. My oldest, married daughter who lives in Boise, Idaho has started her garden seeds in her house even though the last frost date for Idaho isn't until May. The seedlings have already grown to the point of having to be transplanted. I think she is going to have a jungle in her house before she gets a chance to plant them. She also e-mailed a picture to me this morning of snow in her front yard. I advised her that if she were to get chicks she would want to do so as soon as possible in order to get eggs before the darkness of winter set in again and cut into egg production. Apparently for her that translated into gardening as well. So wanting to join in the fun she has had her husband build her a portable chicken coup, much smaller than mine and just the right size for three chickens. This is a perfect size for anyone wanting to keep a few chickens in a small back yard. City chickens are becoming very popular. I read an article not too long ago about someone in San Francisco that had a small flock. Check your zoning laws and you may be surprised. Lots of cities allow a few hens (not roosters usually) in towns such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Boise Idaho. This coup is not quite finished. It will have a trap door in the floor with a ramp that the birds can walk down. The underside of the coup will be enclosed with chicken wire, have a detachable run and has handles on the coup like a stretcher so they can move it around the yard for the purpose of grazing the birds and fertilizing the yard or garden. The inside has a perch as of the posting of this blog and she tells me that her three chicks (older than mine by two weeks) like to sit there and look out the window. Can you say CHICKEN CONDO anyone?

Speaking of my chicks, I seem to have inherited 2 more since my last post. A friend of a friend of my youngest teen ended up with two chicks from the feed store (you know the routine. "oh mom they're so cute") and then didn't know what to do with them. I now have two Dominiques which is fine since they are a rare breed and I don't have any of them. They seem to have integrated nicely with the older, larger chicks. They are even joining in the chicken games. Yes I said games. Chicks are like any other baby. They get bored. They play and they make up games. The favorite one seems to be "Lets fly across the box and smack into the wall" game. Another is fly across the box, knock over a few fellow nursery mates, and land in front of the one that is a suspected rooster. Then both jump up and down in front of each other in a faux cock fight. They both walk away to find another game. How about king of the perch? Chicken version of king of the mountain. Eventually, overcome with exhaustion and the warmth of the brooder lamp they take a little power nap falling asleep on their faces into the chips in the bottom of the box. More siblings pile on making a fuzzy pile or spreading tiny winglets out to catch the rays from the lamp looking almost dead but happy. Here is one pix of  my "teen age" chicks. Who said chickens were stupid. These are all faces of intelligent chickens.

As much fun as it is being a surrogate chicken mom, I am looking forward to these chicks, once grown, raising their own families. Most chickens have that instinct bred out of them but I know from experience that the bantams are ferocious mothers and will raise anything they can get their butts on. It is a whole different experience and one worth doing.