Chicken Math – Blessing or Curse? July 25, 2014 3 Comments

Chicken math: it’s sort of an inside joke with chicken keepers. It goes something like this:You get approval from your significant other to get just a small flock–maybe five chickens, tops! How do you get to five?

Well, first you need two chocolate layers.

Black Copper Marans eggs

Marans eggs: because who doesn’t want eggs that looks so gorgeous?

Then you need two blue layersSo far so good.

CreamLegbar

A couple Cream Legbars should provide some lovely blue eggs.

But you notice that the almost-impossible-to-get olive eggers are available on your targeted hatch day, so you add one. Okay, and maybe a Favaucana just for a different shade of green. How many is that; it can’t be more than five, right?

Then, you remember that your  daughter needs a Silkie as her special pet lap chicken.

Little girl and juvenile silkie

Chicken Math means the silkie you get your daughter doesn’t count against your flock total.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chicken Care Automation Part 2: DIY Chicken Project July 20, 2014 No Comments

Several weeks ago, I blogged about how great our automatic chicken door is… but it’s not by a long shot the only accommodation we’ve made to ensure our chickens are happy, safe, and provided for when we travel.  We also engaged in a DIY chicken project or two. Along with our automatic chicken door, we adore the trough feeder and heated waterer we built ourselves. If you’re the kind of chicken keeper who’s willing to put in a little elbow grease, a DIY chicken project might be up your alley.

Your chickens (like Chloe here) will thank you.

Your chickens (like Chloe here) will thank you.

DIY Chicken Project #1: PVC Pipe Feeder

The PVC feeder we constructed holds enough food for ten chickens for about three days. Read the rest of this entry »

Hen stone – Chicken Rorschach Test July 18, 2014 No Comments

Traci recently found a stone at the beach. “It looks exactly like a hen!” she said. A hen stone.

The hen stone

Bawk-bawk-bagawk

I saw the hen in the stone immediately, a bearded hen like a Faverolles. WOW! ”That’s crazy,” I said. “I can even see her beak and eyes!”

We marveled together. “She looks bearded to me,” I pointed out.

Huh? Beard?

… it was a few minutes before we realized we were seeing two completely different chickens in the hen stone. Read the rest of this entry »

4 Point Daily Coop Damage Inspection July 11, 2014 No Comments

It’s the one thing most people forget, but it’s also something that should be done daily make sure your flock is safe! It doesn’t take long; it will probably take 2 minutes or less. What is it? A daily coop damage inspection should be a part of your regular maintenance routine! 

Having a predator-secure coop is not enough. The truth is, if you have determined predators, they can do enough coop damage that they can break into any coop over a period of days, so it’s up to you to catch the coop damage in time to take steps. 

  How to do a 4 Point Daily Coop Damage Inspection

  1. Look for splintered wood near doors and windows could mean something has been trying to strong-arm its way into your coop—pry open a door or window, break a lock, or just pull out screws. Make sure to check locks and latches every day, and replace weak wood with strong, or reinforce with metal. Read the rest of this entry »

Silly Chickens and Mud Puddles June 27, 2014 6 Comments

Silly chickens. Chickens can be contrary.

  • You can provide them with the most fabulous coop, and some will want to roost in a nearby tree in the rain.
  • You can give them huge, roomy nests filled with soft, clean nesting material in a secure place, and they want to lay eggs in the dirt under your porch.
  • You can give them a dust bath you built yourself, and filled with the good stuff: diatomaceous earth, wood ash, sand and so on… and they want to dust bathe on your flower beds.
Silly chickens

You can also grow them fresh “chicken salad” greens, and they’ll still want to eat your petunias!

There are ways to deal with each of the above problems. For the first two, it helps to leave the chickens “cooped up” for a few days, so they learn to regard their coop as home (again), a safe place to lay (again). Chickens are creatures of habit, after all–you just need to get them into a new habit, or in some cases, a new old habit. You can also, with a little effort, keep them out of your landscaping and garden beds with a combination of fencing and netting.

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Read more about how to keep your chickens from scattering the mulch at this link.

There’s one thing I haven’t been able to come up with a solution for, though: how do I convince the chickens to drink from their clean waterer rather than from mud puddles? Silly chickens.

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Don’t you know you have fresh clean water inside the coop?!

Addressing the habit thing really doesn’t seem to help in this case. Keeping them cooped up inside for a few days means they drink from their waterer during that time, but as soon as they’re let out, the mud puddle habit re-establishes itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Right to Farm – Your garden and backyard flock June 13, 2014 3 Comments

On Facebook yesterday, we shared a story from Michigan. Michigan residents have just lost their Right to Farm protections. There was a variety of response to this distressing news.With the responses were a few misconceptions. For instance, some were panicked, seemingly under the mistaken impression that backyard chickens have been expressly outlawed. That’s not the case, although that doesn’t mean this news isn’t bad.

right to farm egg bounty

Take the time to love your eggs today.

Others were not panicked; they were quite unconcerned. We saw comments like this one: “the ruling just gives local councils the right to set their own ordinances regarding ‘nuisance’ farms in areas that were rural and are now more built up. I have a permit from my city to keep my poultry and it’s always been on the understanding that if they become a ‘nuisance’ there will be issues.”

These are reasonable comments, but I think it’s worthwhile to look at why losing Right to Farm protections is such a big deal. What’s a nuisance, for example? Is it the same for everyone?

right to farm - nuisance

One person’s nuisance is another person’s paradise.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Hesitant Spouse Coming to Love Chickens June 6, 2014 4 Comments

When we first got chickens so many years ago, my husband was not especially enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong. He was never against backyard chickens. Theoretically, he liked the idea of being able to produce our own eggs. Plus real eggs are fabulous even before cracking—not boring like store eggs!

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Browns and greens and blues and speckles.

Even better, we had a wonderful friend, David, who had kept chickens for decades, and who shared his delicious eggs with us occasionally, so we already knew how delicious real eggs are.

Coming to love chickens for their eggs

Delicious breakfast: scrambled eggs and cheddar served with spicy herbed tilapia in butter, baked beans, and garlic biscuits.

But… meh. Despite all that, he didn’t know much about keeping chickens—and he wasn’t that interested in finding out. Chicken knowledge would be my job. I was happy with that. So was he. He’d still get to enjoy the “hen fruits” of our labors. And I thought he’d eventually he’d be coming to love chickens—at least a little! Skip ahead the intervening years, past the “okay, baby chicks are pretty adorable” stage, where he realized that he did enjoy watching the babies and holding them (who wouldn’t?). Read the rest of this entry »

Crested chickens – When to Ignore the Cons May 30, 2014 2 Comments

Crested chickens: To keep, or not to keep? That is the question—whether ’tis nobler in the, er, flock to suffer the obscured vision of an outrageous crest, or to keep other breeds, and by consumer choice, avoid them…

crested chicken3

Why would you want to avoid crested breeds?

There are a few good reasons to avoid crested breeds—but there are also some compelling arguments that those reasons shouldn’t automatically rule out crested chickens in your situation.

Splash silkie - crested chickens

Everyone should keep a silkie, right?

So, et’s look at the cons–and discuss when those cons don’t matter!

THE CONS OF CRESTED CHICKENS

Con # 1. Crested chickens tend to get picked on more often by other birds in the flock, because they can’t see a peck coming to avoid it!

When doesn’t that matter? Read the rest of this entry »

Chicken Care Automation Part 1: Automatic Chicken Door May 28, 2014 7 Comments

I love to travel. I don’t get to do it nearly as much as I would like, but when the opportunity comes my way I’m determined not to miss out. Usually our jaunts are a night or two at my in-laws’ cabin in Massachusetts (living in New England, you either suffer through the cold, hunkering in front of the wood stove sipping hot tea—or embrace it and go skiing. I do plenty of both). In the summer months we like to go camping and boating off Long Island sound.  We don’t go very far and we don’t go very often, but when we want to go, we go. A huge issue for anyone is what to do with the animals in your care. Our dog Ruby almost always accompanies us, and we leave her with trusted friends if we’re not going somewhere pet-friendly. Our avian pets however, are a different matter. I’ve tried to drop them off along with Ruby, but my dog-sitting friends were surprisingly averse to the idea of chicken-sitting. I’m just joking of course. Our coop is not at all mobile, and frankly, our friends are just not interested in cruising across town to tend our chickens twice a day.  In the past we have enlisted the help of neighbors, which is a great solution if it’s convenient for anyone near you. Many people will happily care for your birds in exchange for getting to keep the gorgeous and delicious eggs they’ll gather.

Neighbors are happy to help out collecting eggs,  but appreciate making fewer visits.

Neighbors are happy to help out collecting eggs, but appreciate making fewer visits.

However, where we currently live, I don’t feel comfortable asking someone to trek all the way to my coop at least two times a day, especially in the winter months when our steep driveway gets treacherous after even the slightest snow. So we’ve set up our coop and run so we can go away for an overnight or even two without requiring anyone’s attention. We usually ask a neighbor to come now and again to collect the prize eggs (and this they do happily) during peak laying seasons, but our helpers are not forced to come twice a day, and there’s no added stress of coming to close up the girls before the hellions of the predator world creep out after dark. What has made this carefree lifestyle (with chickens) a possibility? An automatic feeder, a high volume, heated waterer, and yeah, you guessed it: the automatic chicken door. We purchased a guillotine style door about a year ago, and for us, it has made all the difference. The benefits of an automatic chicken door abound. Read the rest of this entry »

Refusing to Roost in the Coop – Top 5 Solutions May 23, 2014 1 Comment

When your chickens are refusing to roost in the coop, it can be a big problem.

Rooster refusing to roost in the coop

This is not a safe place to sleep

A group of cats is called a glaring, which well describes the look cats give you if you try to herd them. This look is often bestowed from above, as out of reach as possible… or from beneath the couch or some other more or less unreachable place. Chickens do not care for being herded, either. They are much like cats in that way. In our book, we call herding chickens about “the goofiest thing you’ll ever do.” We say that with good reason.

refusing to roost in the coop

This is really not what you want to be doing every night. Herding chickens is NOT one of the top 5 solutions!

Chicken owners know you don’t normally need to herd your chickens. Chickens instinctually come home to roost on their own—most of the time. But there are some situations where refusing to roost is what makes sense to your chickens. If that happens, you’ll be reduced to herding them.

I’d suggest that the world needs a new group noun for chickens when they’re being herded. Your chickens are no longer a convenient flock. Perhaps they are a “drift” of chickens, arrayed in small, haphazard groups in low branches. Or–more akin to the descriptive “glaring” of cats—a “gawking” of chickens, or a “complaint” of chickens. If your chickens are refusing to roost in their coop at night, you’ll want to take care of the issue in short order; you wan’t want to have to try to herd them every night.

Here are the top 5 solutions for when your chickens are refusing to roost in their coop.

1. They haven’t learned where “home” is, yet.

Of course, we as humans know we have prepared a lovely coop for our pet chickens. We have food, water, nests, roosts, and perhaps even chicken toys. But when you move your young chickens from the brooder to the coop, they won’t automatically understand that they have a new home. To your young chickens, 5 or 6 weeks old when you move them, it’s not that they’re refusing to roost in their home. It’s that they think of the brooder as their home.

Solution? Show your chickens where their new home is. Keep them enclosed in their coop or 3 or 4 days before letting them out into the run or yard. Be sure, of course, that you do this in reasonable weather–you don’t want to keep them shut up inside a coop  during the heat of summer if the inside of the coop is going to get as hot as a car interior!  But once they get used to sleeping inside the coop, it will become home, and you won’t have errant hens looking to return to a brooder that has been sanitized and packed away.

2. Your coop needs cleaned.

Another reason your chickens may be refusing to roost in the coop at night is if you’re not keeping the coop clean enough. Despite the reputation of chickens as “dirty” birds, they are not stupid and will not willingly stay in an unhealthy environment. Don’t get me wrong; they don’t understand whether their nests or roosts are sanitized, of course. But when droppings build up without being cleaned out, they can produce ammonia. And yuck. If you smell it, your chickens—much lower to the ground and closer to the source—will have been suffering a long time. They’ll be refusing to roost in the coop when they can’t breathe in there!

Solution? Duh! Clean out the coop. And make a garden, while you’re at it. Chicken manure makes great compost.

3. Your hen is broody.

Whether we want them to or not, occasionally a hen will want to hatch her eggs. Even if you don’t have any roosters (and thus the eggs aren’t fertile and can never successfully be incubated into chicks), some hens will go broody. It’s a hormonal condition. Some breeds are more prone to this than others. Silkies and Orpingtons, particularly, are known for frequent broodiness. Normally, a hen will go broody in a nest in the coop, but occasionally you’ll have a hen who wants to hide beneath your porch or some other place that is not necessarily secure from predators.

Solution? Well, sorry. This one is rough. She is instinctually drawn to go back to the area she’s designated as her safe nest. You’ll just have to carry her back to the coop. Or failing that, you might decide to keep all your chickens in the coop for a few days until such time as your hen gets used to nesting inside, or your hen’s broodiness is broken.

4. There is tension in the flock.

If there have been pecking order disputes in your flock, sometimes the girl or girls lowest in the pecking order will prefer to stay outside the coop. Generally speaking, there will be little tension in an established flock that has enough room in the coop, and plenty of space at feeders and waterers. If you keep roosters, you also want to make sure you have enough hens per rooster so the hens don’t get overbred and the roosters don’t tussle. Otherwise, you may find you have a hen or two who wants to hide in the trees.

roosting tree

Come and get me–I DARE you!

Solution? Make sure you give your flock—or gawking—of chickens plenty of room. Expand your coop, or run, or reduce the size of your flock. In some cases, they may have plenty of everything, but you keep aggressive breeds, or one of your birds is just, well, a jerk. If there is one troublemaker, you may consider rehoming him or her, or housing that bird separately.

5. There are predators or pests bothering them in the coop

If most or all of your flock suddenly refuses to retire to the coop, it’s possible they’ve been visited by a predator at night while they’re trying to sleep. Another possibility is that the coop is infested with mites or some other pest. Some types come out at night to feed on your birds while they’re trying to rest. It would be like trying to sleep in a lice-ridden bed. You wouldn’t want to do that either! You might choose to pitch a tent in the yard, instead.

Solution? Make sure your coop is secure from predators, and treat for any pest problem.

chickens refusing to roost in the coop

You don’t want your chickens sleeping outdoors where they are vulnerable to predators–and you don’t want them sleeping INDOORS, if they are vulnerable to predators there, either.

One final note: after you’ve dealt with whatever issue is causing your birds to dislike roosting in the coop, you may need to ALSO follow up with solution #1, too: keep them enclosed for a few days. Chickens are creatures of habit, and they may have to relearn where home is, so they’ll know where to return to roost.