Category Archives: Chickens

December 2008, Mead, Chicken & Repair update

The Cherry Mead stopped bubbling this week, so it took about 4 weeks to ferment completely. Any time now it can be transferred (racked) into a glass carboy and allowed to clarify. It smelled great while bubbling, so I have high hopes for it.

The chickens started laying the week before Christmas. I brought the chicks home on July 1st, so they are 5 months or about 25 weeks. Chickens need more than 12 hours of light a day to lay. I have two 250 WATT infrared lights on a timer to give them 13 hours of light and keep them warm. It appears to be working.

Sunday night I discovered that the sump pump had quit working. Actually, it was trying to work, but the pedestal that supports the motor had self destructed and the whole thing was turning. I was able to put together a splint using 1 1/2 PVC pipe and hose clamps. It should hold until I can replace the pump this weekend.

I would like to be able to pump out the sump without electricity. Lehmans has this hand powered transfer pump, which looks like it would do the trick. I may have to pick up one as a backup.

Tie down your cattle panel green house or chicken house

Chicken day houseWe built a house for the chickens a few years ago, similar to the cattle panel hoop house, except it was covered with tarps instead of clear plastic. Here in Michigan it doesn’t provide enough protection for a year round coop, but we let the chickens use it during the warmer months as a day house. They love the shade.

This winter, strong winds blew it over the fence and into the pond. Fortunately, the pond was frozen. Unfortunately, it was not frozen enough for us to go onto it.

The pond melted enough for the house to sink a few inches, then freeze again. Over a period of a few weeks, it did this a number of times. It didn’t look like it was coming out until spring.

Once the pond melted, it took three people to drag it out. It didn’t smell very good after that.

If you build cattle panel hoop house or chicken house, and live in a windy area, I suggest you use some strong ropes and tie it down.

A skunk in the chicken house

Chickens and skunks do not mix well. Not too long ago, I was surprised to find a skunk in the chicken house. It was after dark and I had my flashlight and just as I shone it into the chicken house, there he was, nosing around, looking for something to eat.

I tossed a few pieces of wood at it, and after getting hit a few times, it decided to leave. I kept the light on it, hoping that it wouldn’t be able to see me. My plan worked. I tried to follow it, to see where it was getting through the fence, but I didn’t want to get to close. I don’t really know much about skunks, and after smelling a few, I decided that there were some things I didn’t want to learn first hand. It got away from me.

The next day, I found a few places in the fence where something had been going in and out. The path was quite well worn and I and wondered how long this had been going on. I located a few wooden stakes in the wood shed and drove them through the fence and into the ground. I haven’t seen the skunk since.

Henitentiary

If you raise chickens you will quickly learn that you need an isolation space for chickens that are sick, injured or are just too aggressive.

Originally, we put together spaces as needed using straw bales and chicken wire.

We needed our isolation space often enough that I decided to make something permanent.

The henitentiary has two separate spaces. Each about 2 feet by 4 feet, complete with roost.

It is constructed from about (10) 8 foot 2x4s, chicken wire, hinges and latches.

6 of the 2x4s were cut into 4 foot lengths. Two 4 foot by 4 foot squares were constructed (top and bottom), which were then connected together with 4 foot 2x4s.

First, two 8 foot 2x4s were cut in half the long way to make the doors, roost and the board that forms the bottom of the door opening.

One 4 foot 2×4 divides the front into two halves and is used for the door latches.

Build the doors next, so you can fit them into the opening at the front. The doors need 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch clearance on each side. The doors are constructed with lap joints. Click here to look at photos of lap joints being constructed.

At this point, I installed the chicken wire from the inside and added a middle piece between the two sides. I just stapled it to the wood and wired it together. Note that the floor is open.

The boards for the roost were installed and finally the roost. I had to cut holes into the chicken wire to get the roost through.

I keep it inside a building, so it doesn’t need a roof or sides. In the Winter, I attach foam insulation, to hold in warmth.

Book Review: Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance

hen_and_the_art.jpgMy wife, the Gardening Goddess, found “Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance: Reflections on Raising Chickens” by Martin Gurdon at the local library and I just had to read it. Partly because my dad and brother were both reading “Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance” one summer and partly because Ericsprojects.com used to list “and chicken maintenance” on the top banner.

Martin and his wife take on chickens for companionship more than for eggs or the table.

His stories are light hearted and well written. There are tales of pet hens, smart hens, sick hens, run-away hens, a chicken called “Satan” and one called “baggy chicken” and various experiences with roosters, including one called “Zoro”.

While I truly enjoyed reading the book for the tales, I also found it to be full of useful information. Through Martin’s experiences, questions like “Do you need a rooster in order for the hens to lay eggs?” are answered.
Martin also learned that not only will you need space for your chickens, you will also need some place to put sick, injured or aggressive chickens. We call our isolation space “the henitentiary” (click here for pictures).

Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance by Martin Gurdon is a “must read” for anyone considering raising chickens. It’s entertaining and informative.

Slowing down

While we haven’t hit the big harvest in the garden, things are already slowing down in the chicken yard. The hens were averaging 18 eggs per day, now they are below 12.

I’m not too supprised. The sun is rising a little bit later each day and the temperature is in the 70s. With the cooler weather, the hens have started to molt. When there is less sun and when they molt, they do not lay as many eggs.

The temperature was rather dramatic. It dropped about 20 degrees in the course of a few days, and stayed that way. I think they are all chickens are molting at once. There were so many feathers on the ground that I had to rush into the hen house and count the birds. I feared that a hungry hawk or ravenous raccoon had taken one. 25. I had them all.

Between the garden and the chickens, I feel more connected with the changing seasons and what is going on outside. It’s the perfect antidote to spending a day in a cubicle…

Roto-tilling and chickens.

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We rented a roto-tiller a few weeks ago. We wanted to turn the soil over and that is what we have always done. We usually rent it late on a Saturday and return it early Monday. The rental shop only charges us the day rate, so we can take our time using it.

I had to lock the chickens out of the garden. They love to help with all our gardening projects but I didn’t think a 9 H.P. gas engine attached to rotating steel blades and chickens would mix well.

The roto-tiller is much louder than I remember and not as easy as I thought it should be. It’s gas powered and self propelled, so it should just about do the job while I sat in the shade, sipping iced-tea. I spent most of my time trying to keep up with the machine. It wasn’t long before I was out of breath. It was quite difficult to keep it going in the right direction and just about impossible to turn around. It only took about 5 minutes to realize that wasn’t the way I wanted to do that project. Unfortunately, it was about another hour before actually put the roto-tiller back on the trailer and turned it off. After I had broken the on-off switch.

Even though I only used the roto-tiller for about an hour, the rental shop wouldn’t give me a break on the rental. With the rental price, the time it took to pick up and return and the hour I used it, I had 8 hours worth of my time invested in the work that was done.

I have spent time on and off, turning the soil by hand. It is a slower process, but the chickens and I are happier with the results. I can start when I want, stop when I want and do just what I want. Since I am working by hand, I can rake out the grass and take it out of the garden, rather than just turn it back into the soil. The chickens love all the bugs that turn up. They are glad to be able to help.

I mentioned in my plant light post that we missed the opportunity to plant garlic and onions. Well, I discovered garlic and onions that had over-wintered and were doing fine. I transplanted the garlic. There are about 16 plants. I would have missed these if I was roto-tilling, or worse, I would have discovered them only after it was too late.

Now, this is the way to garden.

Feeding the chickens that feed me.

This weekend’s project was a new chicken feeder. This is our fourth feeder design. The chickens think it’s our best.

The first feeders were made 3/4 inch pine, screwed together to form a V. Boards were screwed onto the ends to form legs. These were too low to the ground and the chickens got yard dirt into them. Because of the V and being made of wood, they were hard to clean.

The second feeders were made from PVC tube with wooden end caps and wooden legs. These worked well until the wood cracked. They were too low to the ground also.

Since the home made feeders weren’t working out, we purchased 4 feeders from the feed store. They were plastic with snap on lids. The lids have holes to allow the chickens access to the food, while keeping their feet out of the food. The chickens tipped these over and had trouble eating through the lids.

I screwed the plastic feeders onto two by fours, attached feet and left the lids off. This worked pretty good until it started to snow. Then the chickens wouldn’t go out, so we moved the feeders inside.

The plastic feeders weren’t tall enough to keep straw out of them and they took up a lot of room in the chicken house.

We needed something that had enough room for all the birds, was up high to keep straw out and didn’t take up a lot of room.

I made two 42 inch troughs from 3 inch schedule 30 PVC. The PVC is cut in half, as are the end caps. The end caps are held on with #10-32 stainless steel bolts and stop nuts. I made wood hangers from 3/4 plywood. The troughs are screwed into the wood hangers. The wood hangers hook into screw eyes, attached to the wall.

When cutting and drilling the PVC, I made sure to shop-vac everything. I didn’t want any of the PVC shavings ending up in the chicken house. Chickens will eat anything!

This design gives 7 feet of feed space. The troughs are 10 inches off the ground and since they are attached to the wall, it leaves plenty of floor space for the chickens. With the hook and screw-eye setup, they are easy to remove and clean.

I eat two eggs for breakfast and so does my wife. My children don’t care for eggs, but love pancakes and waffles (which take eggs). The chickens have been providing my family with our first meal of the day for a few years now. I am glad to be feeding them.

Pasture raised vs commercial eggs

Winter Solstice. The longest night and shortest day of the year. The hens need more than 12 hours of daylight, per day, to lay eggs on a regular basis. This time of year in Michigan, they aren’t going to get it.

Our hens have only been laying about 2 to 3 eggs per day. Not very many, considering they were laying as many as 18 per day over the summer.

We have been purchasing commercial organic eggs, to make up the difference. Two of these eggs are from our hens, two are from the store. When they are compared like this it is so obvious the difference that pasture raised makes. The yolks of our eggs are just so dark and thick. I can’t wait for our hens to start laying again.

I may want to curb my egg consumption. Just how are those commercial egg producers getting so many eggs ?