My friend (and adorable flower child at our wedding) Riley told me that I should make a blog about my chicken coop. Riley is really smart; taking her advice is probably always a good idea. I'm taking the opportunity to cover all things backyard chicken-y.
It's been five months since I spontaneously brought three little chicks home from the feed store. Since then Starfox violently "played" with Savannah, our plucky little escape chicken, and killed him (Savannah turned out to be a rooster). They say that one of the rules of having chickens is that at least one will die a horrific death, and we had ours. It was a sad day, but I am thankful for the lesson. We have better secured the chicken area from the rest of our yard, and I am glad that, because roosters are not allowed in my city, Starfox saved me the inner turmoil over sending Savannah (Savannoh?) to chicken heaven.
Vidalia and Fern
Anyway, onto gloriously positive things: our other two chickens are still alive! Vidalia and Fernandina have gotten crazy big. They look like real chickens now and less like creepy dinosaurs, although I am now weirded out by chicken combs (they are super sketch! I guess I'll get used to them).
Vidalia and Fern are definitely best friends--they take dirt baths together, stand guard while the other is laying, and cuddle up together at night. Vidalia runs up to me when I come into chickenland and chases after me when I leave--Fern is a bit more of a scaredy-hen, but she is always a few steps behind Vidalia wherever she goes. They both like to be pet and are mostly ok with being held--Fern can be a real meanie sometimes about it, and usually at the exact moment I am trying to take a picture of a friend holding Fern she throws a fit. Camera-shy, she always tries to weasel her way behind Vidalia in pictures (I had to take so many photos to finally get one of her in the front).
Our First Eggs
Vidalia and Fernandina laid their first eggs at the beginning of July. Fern's breed (Black Jersey Giant) usually starts laying much later in development than Vidalia's breed (Rhode Island Red), but only one week after Vidalia started popping out eggs, Fern laid her first as well. Their eggs are so pretty--Vidalia lays brown eggs with little white speckles all over them, and Fern lays pale brown eggs. The eggs are still very small--they will get larger over time and should peak with Vidalia laying "large" eggs and Fern laying "jumbo" eggs. Vidalia lays about 6 eggs a week so far, and Fern is laying 4 a week.
Gathering eggs each morning is such a pleasure--it seems like such magic that these birds can produce a new, darling, complex egg every day. My perspective on eggs and on food in general is shifting as I eat more of them; these eggs have a deep sense of value about them. I know what it took to bring those little baby chicks to henhood. I watch them run around the yard and cuddle each other and snatch veggie treats out of the compost every day. This is how eggs were meant to be created: out of the butts of happy chickens.
The Extra Crop: Feathers
While the birds were doubling in size every week, each hen dropped at least two feathers a day. Feathers are more scarcely dropped now that the girls are of laying age; one resource has been traded for another. I occasionally use feathers in my artwork and other handiwork.
Building My Own Coop from Trash
Now for the part Riley advised: my chicken coop! It is a bit underwhelming, but it does the job.
I wanted to build a chicken coop out of a bunch of wood I saved from the trash, and I really liked the look of this "Kippen House" coop design--it was nice and open with lots of ventilation and perfect for 1-4 chickens. It also seemed like something I could easily do with my limited carpentry skills. I made a sort-of-Kippen-esque coop, but there had turned out to be a few problems:
- While the open hardware cloth panels do help keep the coop well-ventilated and protected from wind, they let too much rain on really stormy days. It's like a mud market in there. Ew.
- My flat roof solution is miserable. I need to re-do the whole roof. It leaks and it is ugly. FAILURE.
-All of the wood swells when it gets wet, making it very difficult to open the doors right after a storm.
I didn't feel like I had the carpentry skills/knowledge to pull off that sweet garden roof in the Kippen House (plus wouldn't the chickens just jump up there and eat everything?), so I raised the roof to make the coop easier to crawl in for cleaning out purposes.
The chickens seem to really like their home--every morning I prop the back door of the coop open with a big rock and let the girls run around for most of the day. The coop is located in a fully-fenced side-yard, so the chickens are free to peck around in the dirt eating bugs and taking dirt baths. They love to hop up onto the windowsill and look into the living room while I am reading on the couch. They also love to peck loudly at the window when I listen to the Beatles.
The coop has a cozy nest box, and after a few errant eggs in their early days of laying, both hens now consistently lay in the nest box.
I'm pretty much super ready to get a bunch more chickens. I have the fever. Chicken fever.