October 28, 2012

Getting Ready For The Cold…


Seasons usually get dumped on us overnight, which isn't always bad, but the unpredictability of them finally settling in can be frustrating

As usual, our cold weather snuck up on us quickly. My focus, when building the coop, was how to keep it cool, as I sweated through the Memphis summer. Now, here it is the last week in October and we are seeing nights dropping into the upper 30's. I know for a lot of folks that temp is not bad at all but it will get frigid here.

When we were researching information about coops I saw a few folks were putting ceramic heaters or other sources of heat in their coop. In the back of my mind I was thinking that I would be getting one about this time.  Friday night Liz and I sat down at the computer to see what other coops were using, and really investigate ceramic heaters versus the deep litter method.

The old saying goes "the more you learn the more you find out what you don't know". It seems that the best heater to get is no heater at all. The message was clear and simple mainly from the coop owners up north. Provide a good shelter, draft-free (not too air tight), deep litter and let the girls snuggle and generate their own heat.
What you don't want them to do is go in and out of hot to cold environments and catch cold.

Let them adjust to the environment.  After all, they do have their own high-end, top quality down-filled coats

There's a duck!

When I was a kid I had ducks. From what I remember, we had a small fenced in area for them and a small shelter. I know we had these ducks for a few years before we gave them away to live on a farm. Winter seemed to not be a problem. One year we had a  record snow around Christmas. Daffy, pictured above, loved the snow.

This weekend we took care of a few open gaps on the side boards of the coop and added a lot more litter than we had been using. In the coop we mainly used straw. In the run, we used a combination of straw, wood chips and leaves. The girls had a blast when they returned to the run from their daily outing in the yard. They where like kids jumping into a pile of hay. In a matter of minutes, they had spread out the piles and created little nest to take their naps in. In the late  afternoons we will throw in some cracked corn and crushed oyster shells for a boost of nutrition and to help their digestive system do its part in keeping their bodies warm.

So again, we are new to all this, are not experts and encourage you to also research the topic. We also welcome your comments on chickens in the winter.


As I get ready to publish this post I'm thinking about the East coast,  getting blasted with a little bit of everything. Hopefully everyone has had time to get prepared for whatever comes. Stay Safe!


October 24, 2012

Chickens, Their Water, And Trouble

FACT: Chickens drink a lot of water. A lot! They need water to live and thrive, that's a given. They need even more water if they are laying.  Chickens need a constant source of clean water. Flock owners take care of their chickens' water needs in different ways. Some have a automatic flow of clean water that comes from a pump, well or hose hookup. The styles of water containers are endless. Owners choose what fits their needs best at that time. We are using one of the gallon-size plastic hanging 'tube' water containers. We will be switching over to a different style soon...before winter sets in.

The point of this post though,  is not how the chickens get their water but what goes on behind the scene when you're not there. Unless you have a very unusual breed of 'calm' chickens they can cause a lot of chaos. Our chickens are a six-ring circus...they have been from the day they were delivered to our door. To new chicken keepers,  the amount of 'trouble' they get into is astonishing. I'm not trying to talk anyone out of getting chickens just trying to warn in a positive way. Ours have been worth every bit of 'trouble' they get into (and they haven't even started laying yet)!

What trouble?

Not long after they were living full time in the hen house I went out and found their water container completely dry because it was tipped sideways. I knew I didn't hang it like that...and I didn't know how long they had been without water! Hmmm, chickens to smart for their own good.

So I am frequently checking their water container...cleaning, changing or adding water as needed. They must swing from the water container like it's a trapeze. They have learned how to get it tipped and hanging sideways from the hook. That will drain the water out in no time. Another trick is constantly flapping their wings near it - that will make it swing back and forth and if they do it enough most the water will slosh out. They get above it and poop in the water, not good. They also manage, somehow, to put food in it. The type of food that's floating in it can make the water rancid and slimy.

I am NOT overly obsessed with their water, I'm just aware of what chickens can do in the name of fun and entertianment. This is just heads-up for new chicken keepers!


October 22, 2012

How To Get Warm On A Chilly Morning

A bowl of warm oatmeal works well, especially when you stand in it.

Warm feet
I  made oatmeal and served it to the girls with a few marigold petals sprinkled on top. They did their usual viewing and discussion of who was going to go in and test it first.  Julie was the first one in ...literally. After they took turns pecking and checking they all went in...again literally.

Another warm treat they love is cabbage. I slice it in half and loosen some of the layers. I put it in a bowl and fill halfway with water and WARM in the microwave.  I cook it till it's a bit more tender than raw, but not mushy (if it's warm, but still holding it's cabbage-head shape then it's just right). A  few minutes is all it takes. Serve it to them with the water that's left from cooking. Safety Warning: Since some microwaves cook very unevenly check for hot-spots! You can go ahead and slice it for them if you like but mine like to attack it whole!

Our summers are miserably hot. Even though it's officially Fall we haven't had that many chilly days yet. The weather alternates with more hot/warm days and a few cooler ones thrown in. There are a lot of false alarms for our season changes. The don't go gently from one into the other.  Leaving for work in the morning you might have a coat on and car heater turned on. Heading home you have the air conditioning blasting and have removed every layer of clothing you can legally can.  We go through this yoyo-ing for quite a while before we can finally say 'Hey I think Fall is here, finally'. This morning the wind is blowing strong and the leaves are falling like crazy but a high of 83 is predicted.  We'll have a few weeks of true Fall weather then Winter gets dumped on us like a bomb.

Looking it over

Standing over it

I think it's okay...
Let's eat!

For now, we are enjoying the 'cooler' days and not having to stress the triple-digit temps of summer.The chickens love free-ranging on the nice days- unless the wind is blowing. That's a whole 'nother post!


October 19, 2012

Why City Kids And Chickens Need Each Other!

Children growing up with animals is especially important in today's world. There are so many life-lessons to be learned. Loving, caring and responsibility are a priority. Watching your kids and grand kids interact with animals is not just a great photo-op but a chance to jump into a real conversation with them. His article also covers our beliefs  and efforts in our Recycle Cycle!

-Written by Morgan Emrich  and borrowed from thegardencoop.com

Growing up with chickens: 5 things city kids learn by keeping a backyard flock

If you frequent Coop Thoughts, chances are you caught this recent coop-building story by Morgan Emrich. I love his take on things, so I invited him to author a post about his experience keeping chickens. Here it is. . .

Kids, Meet Chickens

Girl holding a chicken in her backyard chicken coopI would love to raise my kids on a farm. For a lot of reasons, that’s not going to happen. Like the majority of Americans I’m tethered to the city. But that doesn’t mean my children (9, 7, and 5 years old) can’t learn some of the lessons that farm kids take for granted.
Enter chickens.
Turns out a small flock of hens in the backyard can go a long way towards exposing children to things most city dwellers only get to read about in books. The concepts of natural cycles, environmental stewardship, biology, and our place in nature are no longer abstractions for my kids. Thanks to a small coop and a few chickens, these types of things have become concrete realities.
         In particular, their feathered teachers have taught them five key lessons:

1. Where Their Food Really Comes From

Last spring, we had a young hen that hadn’t yet laid an egg. My younger daughter picked her up at the exact moment she decided to produce an egg. The egg settled in the crook of her arm. It’s possible for a kid to believe that eggs come from the back of grocery stores, but watching an egg come out the backside of chicken makes it pretty hard to hold onto that belief.
This morning, my seven-year-old son asked where bacon comes from. I told him what a pork belly is and how it’s cured and smoked. He shrugged and chewed away. It’s no shock to him that food comes from animals. When a chicken goes in the crockpot he knows what it is. He understands that dinner used to be walking around, pecking away, and crowing or laying eggs. He also knows that we want that animal to have been treated humanely when it was alive.

2. Natural Cycles

When you care for chickens, it’s hard to ignore some basic natural laws; namely, that nature operates in a cyclical fashion, and everything is connected. City life leads many kids to believe that food appears in big trucks from faraway places, it gets eaten, and its remains get hauled away. No more consideration on the subject is needed.
With the help of our chickens, what comes into our household, stays in our household (Vegas wishes it had it so good!). Our kids bring our table scraps out to the coop and exchange them for some fresh eggs. And even after we eat those eggs, the cycle keeps spinning — the shells go into the compost, releasing their minerals to the soil, the vegetables, then to us or our hens.
Of course, it’s possible to learn this same lesson with simply a compost pile, but composting isn’t nearly as fun to watch as a group of hungry hens tearing into last night’s dinner.

3. Our Dependence on the Countryside

Child holds a pet chook outside her chicken coopFact is, backyard chickens or not, cities depend on the surrounding countryside for their survival. We all depend on a healthy farm economy. We depend on a healthy ecosystem and people working the land for our way of life to continue. Obvious maybe, but hard to actually see in daily life.
A trip to the country feed store to pick up chicks offers a peek into a different world. Agricultural tools, supplies, animals aplenty. My children have visited small farms and country folk to buy pullets, straw, and feed — not to mention countless trips to u-pick farms. More than once, we’ve left with live hens in one arm and frozen rabbits or meat in the other, all the while developing relationships with people who make a living off the land.

4. How to Treat Each Other

Joel Salatin raises cows, chickens, and hogs on his world-famous Polyface Farm in Virginia. His animals live mainly outside. They breathe fresh air, eat grass and bugs, and generally live splendid lives. He rails against confined animal operations that have become the norm across our country. While Salatin has empathy for the animals, his main concern is more far-reaching, more about humanity than about the individual animals. Salatin says that when a culture treats animals with disregard, it’s easy to extend that same disregard to our fellow humans. We risk becoming more callous toward life in general and less sensitive to the pain we inflict on others.
When we’re building coops, buying feed, and fencing off areas of the yard, my kids and I have conversations about the choices we are making. Will this be enough room to keep them happy? Is there enough calcium in the feed for egg production? Do you think that they’ll be protected from the wind in this kind of coop? Is there enough sunshine in this spot?
To answer these questions correctly — heck, to ask them in the first place — we need to assume a relationship exists between the hens and us. If we can keep them happy and provide for some very basic needs, we’ll benefit by getting yummy, healthy eggs. It’s a reciprocal relationship where we both benefit. If we keep the hens happy, they’ll help keep us fed. If we treat them poorly, they’ll suffer from ill health, maybe even death, and we’ll suffer from a loss of eggs, at the very least.
It’s hard to imagine a better model for how we should treat each other: look out for one another, lend a hand, and don’t demand too much in return.

5. Life and Death

Girl holds a her pet chicken in city backyardFor something to live, something else has to die. Raising hens gives children a glimpse into this existential truth. Keep chickens long enough and your kids will be witness to the death of an animal.
My children have seen baby chicks die for unknown reasons. A neighbor’s dog got into the yard recently and killed two hens. My daughter held a wake, kind words were spoken, and the beloved ladies were buried in the backyard, deep beneath where our new hens now poke around.
Last summer, a farmer skillfully butchered a few of our older hens as we watched. My kids know that life literally goes on — and they understand it in a way that other kids (cousins, friends) do not. It might be overly dramatic to say that our chickens gave their lives so that we could learn these things, but it’s true in a sense, and I’m grateful to them for that.

A More Natural Life

It’s entirely possible to teach my kids about ecology, animal rights, and the cycles of life by using books, videos, and lectures. Parents and teachers attempt it all the time. Possible. But I have my doubts that any of it really sticks. There’s very little that is life-affirming about those methods. Nothing replaces feeding, caring for, and protecting an actual living being. An animal that your kids can partner with to make, in some small way, a more natural life.

Morgan Emrich is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, and caretaker of a Leghorn and an Araucana, a.k.a.”South American Rumpless” (a good name if there ever was one). He lives in Portland, Oregon.
What lessons, big or small, have you or your children learned by caring for chickens?  

October 11, 2012

Beau Coop vs. Flying Egg Farm

By now almost everyone has seen or heard about the Beau Coop From Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, 2012 Fantasy Gifts.

Beau Coop
"Dawn breaks. The hens descend from their bespoke Versailles-inspired Le Petit Trianon house to their playground below for a morning wing stretch. Slipping on your wellies, you start for the coop and are greeted by the pleasant clucking of your specially chosen flock and the site of the poshest hen house ever imagined. Your custom-made multilevel dwelling features a nesting area, a "living room" for nighttime roosting, a broody room, a library filled with chicken and gardening books for visitors of the human kind, and, of course, an elegant chandelier. The environment suits them well as you notice the fresh eggs awaiting morning collection. Nearby, you pick fresh vegetables or herbs from your custom-built raised gardens. You've always fancied yourself a farmer—now thanks to Heritage Hen Farm, you're doing it in the fanciest way possible!"  
         Heritage Mini Farm
        Price      $100,000

 For every Heritage Hen Mini Farm purchase, NM will donate $3,000 to    The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy  a nonprofit organization that protects genetic diversity through the conservation and promotion of endangered breeds.

Reality from our kitchen window:

Dawn. I stand at the window in our brightly lit kitchen looking out at the hen house. The early dawn  makes it easy for the chickens to see me from their run. I hold up my cup of coffee and do a little wave. Having know idea what I'm really doing they just know that's a signal I will be out soon. Carmen's silhouette is easy to make out because of her crest and light coloring. The other five chickens are lined up alongside her but their individuality is harder to make out...just five fluffy shadows. Yes, I know you're waiting.  I can almost telepathically hear them calling me to come out (or maybe it's their loud squawking I'm actually hearing). I'm coming, I'm coming!

Okay, on go the boots (NOT Wellies) and jacket. I grab a bucket and food and whatever else I might need. Just to get out the back door I have to herd two big, goofy dogs into the house (they want to help me with the chickens) and that makes  pretty interesting morning entertainment! Once past the dogs and other obstacles I head across the yard to the hen house. The chickens have run around to the side where the door is and they're clucking and looking at me like I'm delivering the worlds largest slices of watermelon!  Nope ladies just feed and water. Treats later...maybe.

Great Playground
 I think they are pretty happy in their made-from-love coop!

Carmen Miranda

I just won't tell them about the N M Beau Coop.

I let them out to forage while I change water, add feed and do various other chicken related chores. They have a nice area to stay in while I work. Not a huge area, but safe, and when I'm through with my chores I can sit and watch them. For a few minutes my 'pretend' reality is that they're are running around in a huge grassy area and I can sit there watching for as long as I want!

I'm learning  that chickens, ours anyway, are a 'flocking' bunch (can't think of a better term). It makes me feel good to see them keep their eyes on each other.  They may try to slip past me and get into the rest of the yard but they don't go far before looking back at me and the others to see who is following. I've also noticed when they try to make a big escape into the rest of the yard they're not hard for me to catch and carry back to the others. You can almost see the mental fight between pride and safety...run, show-off, maybe get swooped up by a hawk or let her catch me and take me back to safety.

Living in the city presents different sets of predators and we are on the look-out for all. The chickens have their own cluck or squawk if they see or hear something that might present danger. This is great until it comes to airplanes flying over. So how do you explain planes to them? We don't live anywhere near the airport. We are in a corridor if airspace that's used depending on the weather. We are also a hub for  FedEx.  When we do have air traffic it's disconcerting for the chickens - they're looking or some huge prehistoric monster hawk in the sky. The have a goofy dance they do and it's the same dance for every plane that comes over. They're on guard till absolutely every plane engine sound is gone. Same thing when sanitation trucks come down the street. They don't do a dance for the trucks but they definitely grumble and cluck and do weird noises back and for to each other. I don't know if they will ever get used to these city noises. Do any of you have unusual sights or sounds your chickens have to deal with?


Safe to come out now?

October 6, 2012

A Little Fun While Keeping Their Feet Dry

Does everyone have their stumps and logs ready in the run for winter ? It's a great way for the chickens to get up out of the snow and slush, as well as the mud the rest of the year.

 Photo from Fresh Eggs Daily

The above photo and comment from Fresh Eggs Daily Facebook page  (thank you) was a great reminder for me (and others, hopefully) about all he different uses for stumps and logs!

We are new chicken-keepers and this will be our first winter with them. To give them a dry place to jump up on when the run is wet (and for playtime when it's not) we stocked up on logs and stumps last summer! They were free...another good thing, as 'Martha Stewart' would say!

My husband's brother and his wife have a place in the country with acres and acres of woods. They had to have several huge trees taken down last summer and we were the lucky recipients of as much wood as we could haul away. We brought home a few logs/stumps in different sizes and shapes  (still have to go back and get wood for our fireplace though).

At that time the chickens were smaller younger and funnier and the stumps/logs were great entertainment for them and us.  I think I've mentioned that our chickens remind me of a six-ring circus...I've come to the conclusion that they are going to carry on their circus act for a long time! We had stars in our eyes just thinking about the great 'playground' the chicks were gong to get! Once we got home with the wood though, we realized that it could be dangerous -at least till the chickens got a lot bigger.

There were suddenly dangers we'd never thought of and we needed to do a test run. We put a log, upright, in the run and we watched the chickens play with it for a bit.  Okay, so two of them fighting to sit on top of this log could actually make it fall over...bad news if there was a chicken looking for bugs at the base.  We turned the log over on its side and felt that way was much safer for them. All six wanted to sit on the log together and since it was on its side there was plenty of room. They could peck at the bark, look for bugs around the bottom...and being chickens they all wanted to do them same thing at the same time. Next we added a shorter, wider, much, safer stump...to wide and bottom heavy to tump over. They love the logs. We go out and move them around frequently and there are always fresh bugs and other goodies under them.

Now that they have gotten somewhat bigger we are going to add two more logs, upright, that they can stand on. We can keep moving them around for entertainment, etc.,  (all I have to do is  go out there and roll a log over and it is a brand new playground)!

Their run is covered but it does get wet from blowing rain. We don't get a lot of snow through the winter but ice seems to be a constant. They also have some other perches to hangout on during the day. They all will have plenty of higher ground for keeping their feet dry!

This might be over-mothering a bit, but while the chickens are young make sure the logs/stumps you collect are smooth, do not have weird stuff growing on the bark and that they won't tump over easily.