Good Easter morning! If you celebrate that sort of thing. If not, Good regular morning! I hope you have a full mug of coffee (or tea!) and a comfortable place to cozy up in. I hope that this Sunday finds you relaxed and content. Maybe you have a large family feast to put together for tonight. Or perhaps it’s just like any other Sunday, with the added benefit of a long weekend. However you find yourself, you’re reading this and I hope you enjoy.
I know I dangled the tales of ginger bug making in front of you last week, and I promise to give you the details on that, but I thought it would be a fitting day to tell you about my new chickens, being Easter and all. How each day begins with a sort of egg hunt. Of course these eggs are not chocolate, and they aren’t exactly hidden and with the lowest record ever of sunny hours in March, they’ve been a while coming!
It all started about a month ago when we had a rogue chicken making a home for herself in one of the barns where we live. This wanderer had escaped from the neighbors and began roosting in the rafters right over top of a stored Ford Mustang. I’m not sure if you know how much chickens poop while they roost but I can assure you it’s a lot. More then you think even. Well this pretty girl was pooping all over this Mustang and that was a problem. So my fella and I got it in our heads to take her. The neighbors were moving and had told us not to bother with returning chickens to them. We started planning a coop out of materials found around the yard and I named our first chicken Pepper.
We weren’t ready to have her by that evening so we planned to bring her to our yard the following day. Well poor Pepper didn’t make the night! All we found of her the following morning was a pile of feathers. I was sad but also excited as the neighbors had already agreed to supply us with a couple more hens. We were getting chickens!
Curtis and I dubbed the build our ” ghetto chicken palace”. I built the coop out of stackable wood crate sides I had stored up with the intention of doing garden boxes. I placed those on top of a pallet I had kept for a “project” I’d never get around to and all of this went on top of an IKEA coffee table that was destined for the dump. A couple pieces of plywood on top, removable for ease of access and a walkway up inside. Ta da! A chicken coop! But we also read a lot about predators and the determination they can have when they know a chicken dinner is near by. With that in mind we dug a 12″ deep trench around the perimeter of the coop to run the chicken wire down into the ground. Ok. So “let’s put together a chicken coop!” was a little more work then we anticipated and to be honest, at this point my knowledge on raising chickens was pretty minimal.
I know they need to roost so we put two branches that we found around the yard, at different heights in the run, making the lower removable to make cleaning easy. We bought a waterer and a feeder, having know idea what size to buy because how much do chickens eat and drink? I think in hindsight we went a little too large but that’s better then too small. We bought a bag of layer pellets, crushed oyster shells (for egg shell strength), and a bag of grit (to aid in breaking down the snacks they get). I put the oyster shells and grit in separate containers under the IKEA table. I read they will only take what they need of both of these. We hung the feeder up from the roof and put the waterer on a wood block to prevent poop getting in them. Apparently this is why a lot of birds get sick. Poopy water. Makes sense. I had found a milk crate kicking around that I put in the coop for a nest box. Lined it with straw and spread the floor of the coop with pine shavings. It all came together nicely!
While we had picked up our chicken coop supplies we had also grocery shopped so I found myself in the house putting groceries away when my cell phone rings. It’s Curtis. He’s out in the yard. Why the heck is he calling me? Moments after answering it all made sense. Curtis had gone in the chicken coop and one of the dogs (we were dog sitting) had hit the door closed. Curtis was stuck in the coop!! This made my day and gave me a great chuckle. We agreed a rope needed to go on that latch and I let him out. Then both of us happened to be in the coop shortly after, dealing with hanging the feeder and a gust of wind blew the door closed. We hadn’t tied the rope to the latch yet. Oh no…. We were going to have to call the neighbors to let us out! How embarrassing! Thankfully the latch hadn’t clicked and we could rescue ourselves. The rope was tied moments later.
With all the work finished and all the forums and blogs read, I called Devonne, our neighbor, and asked if we could come collect our chickens. We went over and came home with two big, healthy Barred Rocks in a box. They slowly came out and began to explore their new home. I wasn’t sure how we were going to tell them apart until I noticed one of them has deformed feet. She became Attila the Hen and her matching sister was named Princess Layer. My first chickens! I was a proud mama but I didn’t feel completely satisfied. We needed one more.
Curtis was so reluctant to get another one but I knew we had to. What if something happened to one? That would leave the other all on her own. It wasn’t right. We needed three to complete our flock. I let Devonne know we wanted to take the white hen off her hands as well. With them moving away they were looking to get rid of them anyways and this way they knew they were going to a good home.
With the three of us in Devonne’s barn we were prepared for a tricky catch. This bird was feisty and had some experience surviving on her own after running away from home and returning a week later. Miraculously Devonne caught her mid flight, one of the greatest chicken catches I have ever seen. We got her in the box and walked her home. This one did not cautiously come out of the box to see where we’d brought her. She came exploding out. A flutter of wings and squawks. As she flew and jumped and yelled her way around the coop I named her Annie Yolkley. My wild child. Our flock was complete and we spent our first moments as backyard chicken farmers.
It was interesting to see the pecking order established and watch how the girls relaxed and adjusted to their new palace. Annie surprisingly became the bottom hen with Princess reigning as queen and Attila gladly settling in as her handmaid. Getting used to their personalities and what they like for snacks and where they like to roost has been fascinating.
We designed the ghetto chicken palace for them to roost in the outer area and as I learned more about raising chickens I began to realize that while this isn’t necessarily a bad set up most chickens like to roost inside a coop. So back into the yard to figure out how to make an interior, removable roost for the girls to use should they choose to. Using two “V” shaped branches screwed to the walls and cutting a 3″ diameter branch to fit inside, the ladies now had an interior roost. We were set up. Done and done.
Now it was just the daily poop scoop of the pen, arranging morning snack packs of food scraps and getting to know our girls. I had read about fermenting food for chickens and the health benefits and cost savings involved. And me being me had to try this. Apparently they will eat less because the fermented food goes further and they get more out of it nutrient wise from the fermenting process. It can be done with any chicken feed and as I do want to get to a point where I’m making their food from scratch, I am fermenting their pellets for now.
The first batch was on day three when I went to give it the nightly stir and noticed the coffee filter I’d secured on top looked wet and brown. Oh no! It had fermented over the edge! Well luckily it hadn’t spilled over but it had certainly soaked the filter and left some of the solids stuck to it. As I didn’t know enough about this I didn’t want to risk feeding the hens bad food. I threw it out. Obviously I had gone too big for the jar I selected. Round two would not have the same issue. I stirred together a smaller batch of pellets and water and began the process again.
The secret to successfully fermenting chicken feed is to keep the feed submerged under water at all times. Then there is no opportunity for mold to grow. Stir the contents at least twice a day, if not more, and after a couple of days it will begin to bubble and can be fed to the chickens.
The fermenting has been ongoing successfully. I did change from one large jar of feed, where I’d add fresh pellets and water as I removed and fed daily, to four smaller jars that the girls would get the entirety of. Each day I start a new jar and after a four day ferment I give them the whole jar. Water and all. Then I clean the jar, add fresh food and water and put it at the back of the line. I wasn’t a big fan of the big, messy jar and trying to strain feed out daily. I am also not a fan of the smell of chicken feed. Stick your head in a bag and give it a whiff. See what you think. I had to know the smell so I could monitor the ferment. It smells like a sour version of the dried pellets. Yuck! But the girls love it so I’m going to continue on. Hopefully the daily jar change and clean will help.
When we decided to get the chickens there was no question about free ranging or not. We would only have free range hens. But it’s important they understand where home is and where to nest. I have read stories of people finding little caches of eggs in some pretty crazy places. One that felt like I would be relating to was under a persons deck. They had to use a rake to get them out. No thanks! Talk about egg hunt! So far Annie has left us eggs. But she also ate one of them. This is concerning as it can easily become a habit. To curb this, and also teach Attila and Princess where to lay, I put a ping pong ball in the nest. Hopefully they all get to laying soon so they can come out and explore!
As it goes with free ranging, predators will be an issue. I’m dreading the day when we suffer a loss but am prepared that it is a factor of owning chickens. Fortunately, Q is excellent with other animals so there is no concern of the old guy harming them. For now, I’m not going to worry about the what if’s. I’m going to enjoy the hens, enjoy the eggs and enjoy my new hobby as a backyard chicken farmer.