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I'm not a birdwatcher but I've always enjoyed being around birds. I had a parakeet growing up. When I was 18 and 19, I was a volunteer animal care assistant at the Sacramento Science Center. There, I worked with raptors: red tailed hawks, great horned owls, a barn owl, a turkey vulture (my favorite), and a golden eagle.
After meeting Norma in 2006, I got a chance to see the farm where she grew up. They had polled hereford cattle and several Rhode Island Red egg laying hens. Needless to say, I liked the chickens much more than the cows. I enjoyed going out to the coop to retrieve eggs.
Eventually, I became an egg dealer. But I was just the middleman. The eggs came from the farm and I sold them at work for $2.50 a dozen as of 2013. I made no profit...all the money went straight to the farmer. I came to be known as the Eggman.
There are many reasons to have chickens. They are fun and entertaining. But unlike a typical pet, they also provide food. For me, this was the primary incentive, as I suspect it is for many people.
Many people in urban environments are seeking to raise chickens to assert control over their food. This may be in reaction to increasing reports of how large industrial farms raise chickens in abusive and unsanitary settings - settings that not only are unhealthy for the chickens but negatively affect the health of people who live near such farms, as well as anyone who eats the eggs or meat from those chickens .
Over the last several years, farmer's markets have really become popular in urban settings. People have become conscious of eating "locally grown" produce for both its health and environmental benefits. Raising your own food is what I call "super-locally grown" and eggs from your backyard chickens definitely fall into that category.
There are many different foods that you can grow yourself. Many are high in vitamins, fiber, and carbohydrates. But unless you have enough land to raise your own livestock, little of what you grow will be packed with good, high quality protein. Eggs are the exception. When it comes to rounding out your super-locally grown diet, look no further than backyard chickens.
I really developed an appreciation for the nutritional value of eggs when I was competing in bodybuilding back in 2001 and 2002.
Eggs contain some of the highest quality protein available, giving them a reputation as a “nearly perfect” food, according to “The Condensed Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.” The primary source of the high-quality protein in eggs is the ovalbumin, or white of the egg, which earns a PER rating of 2.8. Although it was once used extensively in protein supplements, egg white concentrate is used less today because it is relatively expensive compared with whey and other high-quality proteins .
If you have an objection to eating meat because of ethical or health reasons, then raising your own chickens and eating their eggs is a great way to get your protein and ensure your food source is being treated well.
If you have chickens, then there is a good chance you also have a garden. And if you have a garden, then you know the importance of good soil. Chickens are the ultimate recycler. They turn food scraps and lawn clippings into eggs and fertlizer. You use the fertilizer on your garden to grow more food for your own consumption and then give the scraps back to the chickens. It is the circle of life.
Many of my home improvement costs are oriented towards saving energy and being "green." Backyard chickens are indeed green for the same reason that buying any locally grown food is good for the environment. But do chickens have a return on investment (ROI) like my solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling system? That remains to be seen but I am guessing not.
Although some have argued that raising backyard chickens will save money that would have been used to buy eggs over time, this claim is dubious. It would take many years to recoup [no pun intended] the cost of the chickens, the chicken feed, and the coops .
But I plan to track expenditures and payback so I can interpolate the ROI.
Chickens aren't as cuddly as cats and dogs and they don't make good indoor pets. They certainly aren't as smart as dogs but one could argue that in some ways they are smarter than cats. Can your cat pick out colors/shapes, or walk in a pattern and then change that pattern when given a cue? This chicken at Farm Animal Protection Campaign can. And the next time you think your kid is smart, ask yourself how hold he/she was before he/she could feed himself/herself. My girls did so at 3 days old. And I don't mean that a mother hen fed them. I showed them their food and water and they did the rest on their own.
Norma and I bought our house in December 2009. At first, I had no desire to have chickens. But over time, we found ourselves becoming more self sufficient and in touch with our food sources.
I invested in solar photovoltaic panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and solar thermal hot water heating. I also installed rain barrels to reduce water runoff and soil erosion.
Norma spent much of her time growing her own vegetables. It became a common thing for her to start dinner by going out to the garden, picking what was ripe, cleaning it off, cutting it, then adding meat from the farm. We were becoming less dependent on the grocery store. It is a good feeling to have control over what you eat.
Having this control only made me want to have more. I wanted my own egg laying hens. I looked into this in December 2010. I asked Cindy Hamilton, Chief of Zoning for Howard County about this. She replied that for our R-12 zoned property,
The location of the structure housing the chickens (the coop) must be compliant with Section 128.A.4 of the Regulations. That section requires that the structure be located at least 200 feet of an existing dwelling on any of the vicinal lots.
I posted something on the forums page of Backyard Chickens.com, seeing if there was anyone else in the county interested trying to change the zoning laws to make it easier for residents to own chickens. A year or two passed but in January 2013, I heard from Molly F., who lived in Howard County and was also interested in owning chickens. After a few e-mails, we met and put together a rough plan for how we could make the county a better place by making it "chicken friendly."
Molly and I later learned that there was someone, Cathy H., who had already made great strides in the direction we were heading. Cathy maintains Chickens in Howard County. Rather than start from chicken scratch, we decided it was best to align ourselves with Cathy. Cathy worked with Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty in writing an amendment of the relevant zoning law to make it easier for residents to own backyard chickens. The original zoning amendment concerning this topic appears in the "Howard County Zoning Regulations" from August 2007, "Section 128: Supplementary Zoning District Regulations." This mentions
4. In all districts where farming is a permitted use, the following shall not be allowed within 200 feet of an existing dwelling on a different lot:
a. An animal shelter including a building, shed, roofed structure or movable shelter that houses or provides protection for animals other than household pets, except for apiaries which meet the requirements of subsection O; or [Council Bill 55-2010 (ZRA-117) Effective April 13, 2011]
b. The storage of manure.
Bees (apiaries) once fell under these restrictions but thanks to concerned citizens and cooperative councilmembers (in particular, Mary Kay Sigaty), the zoning regulations were relaxed, making it easier for the average resident to keep apiaries. Many of us felt it was time for the chickens to follow the bees.
The bee movement started a few years ago. The following appeared in a February 7, 2011 Columbia Flier article titled "Howard County eases restrictions on beekeepers,"
Until the council changed the zoning law, apiaries (a cluster of beehives) fell under the zoning regulations for farming, which require animal shelters to be set back at least 200 feet from neighboring properties.
The zoning regulation amendment the council passed Monday creates specific provisions for apiaries, allowing them as long as they as they are set back 25 feet from neighboring properties, or 10 feet in cases where a six-foot-tall fence or barrier surrounds the apiary.
A big part of the change of attitude regarding bees was simply educating the public. There are some negative stereotypes about bees that are simply born out of ignorance and fear. But by telling people the truth and writing the law in a way that gives apiary owners their freedom while protecting the rights of their neighbors, a win-win situation can be achieved. That is exactly what I wanted for the residential chicken effort.
Would setback requirements be eased, as it was with bees, to make it easier for residents to more easily own backyard chickens? Only time would tell. But a few "outlaw chicken owners" had already built their coops and bought their chickens. For them, their battle cry was, "When chickens are outlawed, only outlaws will have chickens." I contemplated walking down that same path but wanted to try and do thing legally first.
I did some work with the Savage Community Association to try to influence both the zoning board and the county council to reject a proposal to develop woodlands in our historic town. See Conservation and Preservation of the Appalachian Snaketail Dragonfly and 2013 County Council Presentation - Appalachian Snaketail Dragonfly. That gave me a little insight in seeing how the county government works. I knew that if our "pro-chicken" movement was to influence the council, we needed to voice our opinions in writing. I wrote and submitted Residential Chicken Keeping to the council. Then I urged some of my neighbors and co-workers to do the same.
On July 25, 2013, the county council met in the evening and voted on several issues. Around 2200, the residential chicken keeping zoning amendment came up. Councilwoman Sigaty spoke about it and then a vote was taken. The amendment was passed 4 to 1.
To see a poor quality video that I took of the council discussion and voting for this amendment, click on July 25, 2013 Howard County Council voting on residential chicken zoning amendment.
The following chicken zoning regulation is taken from Howard County Zoning Regulations, October 6, 2013. Doing a Google search on this text should get you a link to the official Howard County document. Mine is a copy.
Residential Chicken Keeping
Only in residential districts where it is enumerated as an accessory use, the keeping of hens is permitted provided it is in compliance with the criteria below.
a. The lot size shall be 10,000 square feet or larger.
b. The lot shall be improved with a single-family detached dwelling which is occupied as a residence.
c. The maximum number of chickens is eight hens. Roosters are prohibited.
d. A hen house/chicken coop shall be provided. This shelter shall be located in the rear
yard and shall be located 15 feet from all lot lines at a minimum, except if the
property is within the Planned Service Area the shelter shall be at least 15 feet from
all lot lines, 50 feet from a neighboring dwelling and shall not create a nuisance. This
minimum distance cannot be reduced through variance procedures. This hen house
shall allow adequate air circulation to prevent the concentration of odors. Any chicken
coop that has not been actively used to house chickens for a year must be taken down
and removed from the property.
e. The area in which the chickens forage on the property and in which the shelter is
located shall be fenced in such a manner that the chickens are confined to the
property. This fence shall comply with all requirements for fences as noted elsewhere
in Section 128.0.
f. The owner(s) shall conduct proper litter management practices within the shelter so
that odors are not detectable from adjoining properties.
g. Chickens kept in accordance with this regulation must also be registered with the
Maryland Department of Agriculture as required by section 3-804 of the Agriculture
Article of the Maryland Code.
- from Section 128.0.D.9: Residential Chicken Keeping, "Howard County Zoning Regulations" pages 339 and 340
Chicken Keeping, Residential: The care and raising of eight or fewer hens, on a residential parcel or lot improved with a single-family detached dwelling. This term does not apply to any other fowl animal, including but not limited to, ducks, geese, peafowl and turkeys. Roosters are not permitted.
- from Section 103.0: Definitions, "Howard County Zoning Regulations" page 23
This historic event [at least in my mind] was described in the Ellicott City Patch:
The new regulations allow county residents to add up to eight hens and a chicken coop on lots larger than 10,000 square feet as long as the coop sits 15 feet from a neighboring lot line and at least 50 feet from all neighboring dwellings inside the Planned Service Area, or most of eastern Howard County. The legislation also requires that the coop doesn’t create a nuisance.
The county requires that coops be kept odor free and that if a coop is no longer used it be taken down in less than a year.
- from Cluck, Cluck! County Approves Chicken Keeping Measure.
Prior to buying chickens, our approximately 0.4 acre back yard was surrounded by a 4 foot high chain link fence. Our back yard borders Savage Park, where numerous deer live. I added a 4 foot extension to the fence that borders the park. It was made out of PVC conduit and clothes line. That kept the deer out for about a year until they learned that they just needed to hop over to the neighbor's property then over to ours. I could have put up the 4 foot extension around our entire back yard but it wasn't pretty and I didn't want to subject our neighbors to such an eye sore.
Norma had tried various things to keep the deer out but nothing worked reliably. Just one visit from a deer can undo weeks of hard work. I felt the best solution was to put up a 6 foot privacy fence.
While deer can jump over 6 feet, the idea is that they would not be so inclined to jump over a fence if they can't see what is on the other side. Our fence would not have gaps so they wouldn't be able to see through it.
The primary purpose for getting the fence was to protect Norma's garden. But I also wanted it to protect our chickens. I also wanted them to feel at ease, rather than have our neighbor's dog barking at them. I also wanted them to be sheltered from the wind. If and when we get bees, they too will benefit from the fence.
I interviewed three companies, all of which have A+ ratings with the Better Business Bureau. To be perfectly honest, I think any one of these companies would have done a fine job. In the end, price was the biggest factor.
Hercules Fence: Rob S. quoted me $10,800. I like to help out local businessmen and these guys are as local as they get but unfortunately, they were also the most expensive.
Tri County Fence and Decks: Chuck B. quoted me $10,485.
Fence and Deck Connection: Tracy O. made some suggestions to help reduce costs. He proposed a lift-off panel rather than a vehicle gate. His company's cost was $9884. I chose them.
Fence and Deck Connection started installing the fence on November 12, 2013. It was a 3 or 4 man crew led by Travis that did the work. I met with Travis before they commenced to go over the plan. My biggest concern was the post hole digging around where the geothermal heat pump line was buried. This line is supposedly 4 feet deep and fence posts are typically dug 3 feet deep. Travis understood my concern and assured me that they would dig that area by hand.
After the geothermal line, my next concern was the area near the spring. The ground is very soft there. I installed chain link fence posts there a few years ago and I could not dig because the holes just filled up with water. So instead I just hammered in a very long post and added a diagonal brace. Tracy was aware of all this and was confident the crew could handle the job.
The crew finished their work on November 15. They did a very good job and I would recommend Fence and Deck Connection to others. My only critiques were the lift-off panels.
Exterior drywall screws were primarily used though there were a few cases where non-exterior screws were used.
I was not able to remove the lift-off panels without having to remove a few nails. I replaced these nails with exterior drywall screws. In my opinion, lift-off panels should be removable with just a screwdriver.
After the fence was complete, there was still one section that had to be controlled to keep the chickens from getting out. It was the area between the house and the garage. We wanted to have a lift-off gate so I used pintle hinges. I made my own lattice to keep the look light and airy. I also chose a black post latch. Finally, I stained it using Olympic Maximum Stain and Sealant in One, 4 year protection, Toner - Cedar Natural tone purchased at Lowe's to match our deck. I completed this in the spring of 2014.
In October 2014, Norma borrowed a paint sprayer and stained our fence to also match our deck. Using a paint sprayer is definitely the way to go although there was still a little brush work that needed to be done. Be sure to cover anything you don't want to be painted/stained because those sprayers really put out a lot.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Prior to construction, I considered several options and got ideas from the following:
Build This Predator-Proof, Portable Chicken Coop for Your Backyard
Calibex: Chicken Coops
Chicken Coop Mart: Link no longer exists.
Ebay: Coop Plans
Free Chicken Coop Plans
Hayneedle: Chicken Coops
The City Chicken - Hen House of the Month
Kokoiki Natural Farm chicken tractor
Pawhut Large Chicken Coop
Rooster Hill Farms: Henpen
Snaplock Chicken Coops
Chicken Coop Plans, two sets! (Up to 10 chickens)
"Daisy" Coop w/ Run Building Plans (12 chickens): This coop has sufficient space for 8 chickens but not 12. My observations indicate that like tents and rafts, if a coop says it is sufficient for N number of chickens, it is really better suited for 0.75 * N.
Ware Premium Chick-N-Lodge
Home and Garden Plans: This is the most awesome coop page I have ever seen
I really liked the coop I saw at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania on September 21, 2013. See first photo.
I was considering building my own coop, incorporating the ideas of others. And in my typical blogging fashion, I figured I could share some of what I learned with others. But it was hard to find specific information to use as a basis for building my Ultimate Howard County Coop. But digging deep (really deep), I found what I was looking for.
Read on for my coop notes.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.
My dream is to have an off the grid "smart coop." That doesn't mean I won't check up on the ladies at least once a day...it just means I don't have to rush home to close up the coop, wake up early to let them out at sunrise, or worry about them getting too hot or too cold.
In addition to a power source, I'll need certain chicken geek products to make this work. Here are some things I've looked into.
Arduino: A single-board microcontroller to make using electronics in multidisciplinary projects more accessible. See Arduino Chicken Coop by Roger Reed. Roger was generous enough to include his source code. Also see Arduino Chicken Coop Controller by Robot-Chicken and Hay River Software - Chicken Coop Controls.
SOlar Data AcQuisition (SODAQ): a multi-feature microprocessor board that lets you connect sensors and devices to the internet, quickly and with no fuss. It’s designed for connecting things efficiently, running off-grid with built-in, ready-to-go solar power. I like the "SODAQ Moja complete."
Chicken Coop Mechanical Engineering
AirPi: An inexpensive pollution and weather monitor.
The standard width of the door is 10 inches while the length is 13 inches .
12" x 12" opening-bottom should be a couple inches above floor. Hinged door - optional if coop is within secure area or connected to a run .
If you want to automate the opening and closing of the door, consider the following:
Amico DC 12V Digital LCD Power Programmable Timer
Chicken Coop Motor by Add-a-Motor: Automate your door. Note that the timer is not included.
Outside, chickens hollow out a depression in dry ground and dust-bathe in it. Inside, they use the driest parts of the litter for bathing. But in case they have no other access to dust bathing - during a rainy spell, or when the litter is not fine enough - it's a good idea to furnish them a dustbox.
My dustboxes are simple edge-nailed plywood boxes, 24 inches square on the bottom, 16 inches deep, with 2-inch plywood strips around the top edges as a lip.
Fill with 4 inches or so of any dusty, nontoxic material, renewing it as needed. Sphagnum peat moss is excellent .
If you adjust the height of the feed basin to match their chest level and purchase a feeder with a rim that rolls inward, you can prevent the costly habit known as billing out .
Food attracts predators and pests such as mice and rats. While predators may not be successful getting to the feed, they can still cause property damage and stress the chickens trying .
Should one keep food in the coop, in the run, or both? What about water? I actually address water in a separate section but since the two are so related, I'll mention it briefly here as well. The simple answer is there is no simple answer. If you look at the forum pages, you'll see that lots of people try lots of different things and get good results. If you have a chicken tractor, then you might want to keep the food and water outside the coop to offer your chickens additional space in the coop, which I suspect will be in high demand. You might also want to remove the food and water before moving the coop to avoid spillage and reduce the weight.
One of the best answers I've seen regarding where to keep the food and water is from a forum:
I keep the food in the coop and water in the run. When I let them out in the morning they hightail it to the water and give me dirty looks. They have free entry in and out during the day .
My plan is to either do as the above or keep both the food and water outside when the days are long. Once I start giving the hens more than an hour of supplemental light, I'll probably put a small, additional feeder inside. I'm not so concerned about water when the days are short since they won't be in so much danger of dehydration.
I like the idea of having a wood floor that can slide out for cleaning (i.e. droppings board). I've heard various sources say it should be made waterproof, which makes sense and is a requirement in some county zoning laws. I found some extra vinyl flooring material that I used to make the floor waterproof and easier to clean.
Begin a freshly cleaned coop with 4 inches of litter, adding an inch of fresh litter when the litter has lost its ability to absorb smell, becomes trampled down, or is noticeably soiled .
If you plan to use the deep litter method, then make sure you can slide out your droppings board even if it has 10 inches of bedding on top of it. Or be prepared to remove most of the bedding before sliding out the board.
The deep litter method is one sustainable method of managing chicken litter in the chicken coop that many small farmers use. In the deep litter method, you're basically forming a compost pile of your chicken's poop right on the floor of the coop. You simply add enough shavings to keep the floor composting nicely, and the chickens do the aeration for you with their scratching behavior. Scattering corn on the coop floor encourages them. The litter has beneficial microbes - think of it as probiotics for your hens.
Once or twice a year or less, you clean the coop out.
If you have a wood or other floor...you'll have to compost the litter when you clean it out before using it, because the earth supplies the moisture and culture to start the composting process .
Based on my readings, it sound like the deep litter method works best over an earth floor.
If you are going to build from scratch, my strong recommendation is to leave an earth floor in the coop. Not only will you save the expense of framing and installing a floor, but you will be ready to create the conditions for best manure management .
Deep litter insulates chickens in the winter and lets them keep cool by burrowing in on hot summer days. Start young birds on a bedding a minimum of 4 inches deep and work up to 8 inches by the time they are mature.
Under droppings boards, after each cleaning spread at least 2 inches of litter beneath the boards to absorb moisture from manure and make it easier to scoop up .
A very good source for additional information about the deep litter method is the "Composting Litter" section in the "Routine Management" chapter in .
How much litter does one need?
Shavings = 9 pounds per cubic foot
Need 6 cubic feet to cover 24 square foot floor 3 inches deep .
This equates to one cubic foot of shavings to cover 4 square feet of floor. I'll have a 32 square foot floor so that means 8 cubic feet or 72 pounds to cover it 3 inches deep.
Shavings absorb 2 pounds (1 quart) of water per 1 pound of bedding .
That means the 3 inch deep bedding covering 32 square feet will weight 72 + (72 x 2) = 216 pounds. If we use the deep litter method and let this get up to 8 inches deep, then we're looking at 8/3 x 216 = 576 pounds! My chicken tractor just keeps getting heavier and heavier. Maybe I should rethink using the deep litter method for such a large chicken tractor.
For henhouse flooring, use
3/4" exterior-grade plywood or concrete [and]
3" deep absorbent litter .
Three or four inches of litter or nesting material, changed regularly, keeps the area clean and odor free .
Heating and Cooling
In harsh winter climates, a heat lamp may be placed above the roosting area to prevent frostbite to the chickens' combs and wattles. It needs only to be used when temps drop below 15 degrees or so .
If you are expecting temperatures just a little below freezing, you probably won't need to take any special precautions for your flock. The exception would be bantams or other small breeds. Because of their smaller body size, these birds should be provided with supplemental heat at temperatures or wind chills of 32 degrees or below. Other breeds should be hardy to about 20 degrees, plus or minus depending on wind, coop quality, and number of birds in a coop .
At the other extreme,
All breeds need supplementary heat if temperatures drop below 60 degrees Fahrenheit .
However, this same source later contradicts itself.
Add a heat lamp or small heater over the roosting area when temperatures dip below 45 degrees Fahrenheit .
Combs and toes are most susceptible to frostbite in extreme cold. Having a roost that is sufficiently wide allows feathers to more easily cover the feet. For the comb,
a coating of petroleum jelly in extreme conditions...[helps] conserve moisture and heat and prevent[s] cracking .
Our 2013/2014 winter was really harsh. I didn't have any chickens then but I did ask some people I know in the Baltimore area if they were providing supplemental heat for their chickens. I got mixed answers. Despite how cold our Baltimore winter is (lows under 5 degrees, without wind chill factored in), places like Michigan are much colder. Yet Shannon Cole claims
We do not use heat lamps or any type of coop heater with the exception of a heated waterer .
While cold is a danger, moisture and cold is a greater concern. Rebecca Nickols writes
...my flock enjoyed free-ranging in a 40°F drizzling rain and returned to the coop that evening with their feathers soaking wet. That night the temperature took a dramatic drop to 7°F! It was the moisture, added to the freezing temperature and lack of acclimation to the cold, that increased the chance of frostbite .
The optimum temperature for chickens is between 45 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit .
Minimize coop space for wintered chickens, add insulation, and keep the area draft-free to cut down costs .
A simple way of protecting your birds from chilling overnight is to send them to bed with a full crop .
Contrary to what I originally thought, chickens are more prone to having problems with heat than cold.
To keep the shelter from getting too hot, treat the roof and walls with insulation, such as 1.5 inch Styrofoam sheets, particularly on the south and west sides. Cover the insulation with plywood or other material your chickens can't pick to pieces.
Using a heater for mature chickens won't do them any favors. In a properly constructed shelter, chickens can keep sufficiently warm if they aren't wet or sitting in a draft .
Insulating the roof and walls also reduces summer heat gain and moisture accumulation .
When temperatures climb into the high 70s, air will need to move freely and regularly through the coop .
Chickens aren't capable of sweating and can go downhill pretty quickly in temperatures over 95 degrees. You'll know they are too hot if you see them panting .
A wall-mounted fan sucks stale air out, causing fresh air to be drawn in. The fan, rated in cubic feet per minute, or cfm, should move 5 cubic feet of air per minute per bird.
A barn fan or agricultural fan is recommended since
a fan designed for use in your home won't last long in the dust and humidity generated in the normal chicken shelter .
A chicken's body operates most efficiently at an effective ambient temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. In cold weather, they eat more to obtain the additional energy they need to stay warm. Hot weather is more problematic.
Egg production may rise slightly, but eggs become smaller and have thinner shells. When the temperature exceeds 95 degrees, birds may die .
What about heat lamps?
DON'T use heat lamps inside the coop. There is no way to use a heat lamp safely inside a chicken coop. Any chicken can fly into a heat lamp, catch its feathers on fire and incinerate the entire flock and coop. If you cannot be persuaded that chickens do not need supplemental heat inside a properly managed chicken coop in the winter, find a safe heat source such as a flat panel radiant heater that brings the temperatures up just a few degrees. There should not be an extreme difference in heat between outside temperatures and temperatures inside the coop .
In regions with strong winds, keep the coop less than 4 feet high and stake it well .
I'm guessing much of this depends on the shape of the coop and the size of the base. An A-frame coop should withstand winds much better than some other designs. I would want my coop to be bottom-heavy and/or at least have a base that covers more ground than the height.
According to the "Henhouse for 6 Birds" slide at , the henhouse below the roof can be 5'6" high with 4' allowed for the interior of the coop and 17" allowed for a feeding and watering area below the coop. Personally, I'd prefer maybe 3' for the lowest height of the interior of the coop and 2' for the feeding and watering area below so I could hang a feeder and fount.
Without a light bulb in the coop, chickens will stop or slow down laying when daylight drops below 14 hours a day .
Maximize production with 14-16 hours of "daylight." Provide two (one is a spare) 15-25 watt light bulbs on timer .
This slide does not mention the size of the space that this lighting serves but other slides often reference a residential coop for 6 chickens.
For peak laying productivity, augmentation should start when daylight falls below 15 hours per day, usually in September.
If you forget to turn the lights on for even one day, your hens may go into a molt and stop laying .
The avian reproductive cycle, which is how a hen produces eggs, is stimulated in poultry by increasing day length. As day length approaches 14 hours per day during early spring, chickens begin laying eggs, gradually increasing their production as the day length increases. They will reach their maximum egg laying potential when the day-light reaches approximately 16 hours per day. Nature utilizes this characteristic so that chicks will hatch in the spring and have the warmer months of summer and fall to mature before the harsher winter season arrives. By providing artificial light, growers can manipulate this natural cycle to their advantage and increase the egg laying potential of their flocks.
As mentioned above, approximately 14 hours of light per day is required to stimulate a hen to lay an egg. Anything below that will cause her reproductive cycle to shut down, triggering the hen to cease egg production until spring when the natural day length will increase to sufficient levels once again. Any supplemental light should be added during the morning hours, as sudden darkness can cause chickens to panic and pile up in a corner, which can consequently cause them to suffocate each other. By applying extra light in the morning rather than the evening, chickens will naturally go to roost with the setting of the sun .
Although a light-day of 11 to 12 hours will initiate egg production, this amount of light is not sufficient for sustained, high production. Poultry keepers who had great expectations regarding fresh eggs for the table become disillusioned. When natural day length falls below 15 hours per day, this is the time for the lights to come on!
Regardless of which lighting system was used during the growing period, pullets should be on a schedule of increasing light by the time they are 20 weeks of age. For the heritage breeds it may be preferable to wait until 22 weeks of age. When you provide artificial light, do it in an orderly manner. Don’t confuse your birds by changing their day length from 10 hours of light to 13 hours of light all in one day. Birds can be given an increase of 15 minutes each week (some authorities recommend 30 minutes per week) until they reach 14 to 16 hours a day. Some breeders suggest a total of 16 to 17 hours daily. Please note that light periods longer than 17 to 18 hours may actually depress production.
You can set your timer so that birds receive light in early morning until sunrise, and then again in the afternoon at sunset. This will save a bit in electricity costs. On the other hand, an advantage to adding all artificial light during morning hours is that it allows the birds to naturally go to roost with the setting of the sun.
Laying birds must never see a drop in day length. If you are flicking the switch by hand and forget to turn on lights for just one day you may see a drop in production. If the power is out for two days or more the birds may go into a molt, which can affect production for up to six weeks.
If birds seem nervous and flighty, try reducing the level of light by using a smaller bulb size. Nervous birds may resort to cannibalism and egg eating. Tossing them a handful of scratch grains or birdseed in late afternoon helps to keep down boredom and helps to keep the litter stirred. Make an arrangement with your local market to obtain their discarded vegetables and add a few chopped greens such as chard, lettuce or spinach. These items not only reduce boredom but they make for nice dark yellow yolks .
I checked to see when daylight falls below 15 hours per day in Baltimore. The answer depends on how you define "daylight" since one can pick the time between sunrise and sunset, astronomical twilight, nautical twilight, and civil twilight. I'm going to choose the latter:
Civil twilight is defined to begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities .
The time between sunrise and sunset is shorter than civil twilight hours while astronomical and nautical twilight hours are longer. Chickens don't have good night vision so I figure they should be in the coop once civil twilight is over.
But going back to what I was originally describing, in Baltimore, we get less than 15 hours of civil twilight from August 7, 2014 to May 5, 2015, inclusive . So if you want optimum egg production, you'll need to turn on a light to provide supplemental lighting during these dates.
All light bulbs are not the same.
You can use either incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are less expensive to run and, since they use less power, are more eco-friendly, but be sure that you get the ones labeled "soft white." Counterintuitively, fluorescent bulbs labeled "daylight," imitating the appearance of sunlight, have a cooler color temperature and will not stimulate a chicken's reproductive system .
Should the choice be made to use a fluorescent fixture, a “warm” wavelength bulb (appears as orange or reddish light) must be used since the “cool” wavelength bulbs, which are commonly used in offices and households, will not stimulate the hen’s reproductive cycle. Light fixtures in the coop should be placed above feeders and waterers, and care should be taken to avoid having areas in the chicken house that are shaded from light .
Although incandescent bulbs have long been used in lighting for poultry, there is an increasing use of fluorescent bulbs, just as in household use.When using fluorescent fixtures, choose “warm” wavelength bulbs, which emit more rays at the red-orange wavelength. The “cool” bulbs commonly used in homes and offices are less stimulating. If you are depending on just one bulb, be sure to check it daily and replace it immediately if it should burn out. Keep in mind that the shadows cast by equipment, cages, and dropping boards will cut down on light efficiency. In addition, dusty bulbs can cause a real decrease in intensity.
One 60-watt incandescentbulb with reflector, 7 feet off the floor in the center of a 12- x 12-foot pen, provides 2 to 3 foot candles (fc) of light, in the absence of any natural daylight. A 25-watt bulb in the same location should provide 0.5 fc of light. The conventional industry level is about 0.5 fc or less, similar to a moonlit night. However, most small-scale producers would prefer a somewhat higher level of light — a 60 to 75-watt bulb. .
The wrong bulb can kill your chickens!
Some of these bulbs may be labeled Teflon-coated, Tefcoat, Rough Surface, Protective Coated, Safety Coated, etc. The coating helps make them shatter resistant. The problem is when Teflon is heated it creates a toxic gas. PTFE is also associated with the brand names Teflon®, Rulon®, Chemfluor® .
Plan on one nesting box for every 4-5 hens .
One box per four hens is plenty and one per 2-3 hens is bordering on excessive .
The henhouse should contain some simple nest boxes, ideally one for every three laying birds you intend to keep .
Nesting boxes can be placed anywhere in the coop. They should be at least 18" square .
We suggest you provide one next box for every three hens. They should be about 12 inches high, 12 inches wide, and 12 inches deep .
Chicken nests should have a depth of 13 inches, a width of 12 inches and a length of 15 inches .
Each box should measure 12 inches square and be around 14 inches high .
Provide one nest for every 4-5 hens.
12"x12" in size.
Place on west or east wall for south facing coop .
To improve egg production, the nesting boxes should have a width of 12 inches. The height of these amenities should be nine inches while the depth should be 12 inches. These dimensions are helpful in preventing undesirable behaviors of the animals such as fouling the boxes as well as scratching the materials inside the nests. The entrance should be nine inches wide and six inches high. Having small entrances is cost efficient since the light inside the boxes is lessened, which is very good for egg production. Additionally, small entrances hold straw in place and ensure that the eggs will not roll out. Above all, small boxes reduce the chances of having pecked and cracked eggs .
Windows and doors [I suppose nesting boxes too] need to be secured with latches or locked clasps. We have found the most useful type of latch to be the spring-loaded hook-and-eye design. Whatever you choose, select something that is unlikely to be opened by a lucky swipe of a paw or snout. As a general rule, use something you need thumbs to operate .
See Stanley-National Hardware 2 in. Safety Gate Hook
A rail just below the entrance to the nest gives hens a place to land before entering. For most chickens the rail should be no closer than 8 inches from the edge of the nest .
If bird droppings are befouling the effs, it's likely that the rails the hens roost on are too close to the next itself, causing their droppings to land smack dab on the eggs. Alleviate this problem by making sure the rail is no closer than 8 inches from the nest edge .
A 4 inch sill along the bottom edge of each nest prevents eggs from rolling out and holds in nesting material .
One can use hay or straw in the nest boxes .
The boxes should be placed just off the ground and in the darkest part of the house (usually under the windows), as chickens prefer a quiet, dim place in which to lay their eggs. Straw or hay make a good liner, but it will need to be cleaned out regularly and dusted with louse powder .
At the other extreme,
A height of 2 feet from the floor might be easiest for the hens .
...and nest boxes
should be located 18-30 inches from the floor. You can figure 7 hens per nest .
Somewhere in between I got this answer:
Place nests on the ground until your pullets get accustomed to using them, then raise the nests 18 to 20 inches off the ground by setting them on a platform or firmly attaching them to the wall .
How should the coop be aligned?
The below mentions that orientation should be set to take advantage of prevailing winds to maximize ventilation. But keep in mind that this was written for poultry houses in Oklahoma, which is roughly on the same latitude as North Carolina (i.e. much further south than Maryland).
The prevailing wind direction is also important from
another standpoint. In order to maximize benefit from natural
ventilation the poultry houses should be oriented with the long
side exposed to the wind. In Oklahoma that means the house
should be oriented east-west. This directional orientation has
another benefit, it minimizes the amount of sunlight which
enters the house in the summer months. In contrast, during
the winter months when the sun is lower on the horizon,
sunlight through the windows can help warm the house.
Information about specific prevailing wind directions can be
obtained from the National Weather Service. In some locations topography dictates the direction of the house, but if
choices exist the east-west orientation is suggested .
In the Baltimore area, prevailing winds generally come from west by northwest.
January wind from WNW at 10 mph
February wind from NW at 10 mph
March wind from WNW at 11 mph
April wind from WNW at 11 mph
May wind from W at 9 mph
June wind from WNW at 8 mph
July wind from W at 8 mph
August wind from W at 8 mph
September wind from S at 8 mph
October wind from NW at 9 mph
November wind from WNW at 9 mph
December wind from WNW at 9 mph
When it comes to location of the coop, there are certain characteristics one should look for in most situations:
Shade during the hottest part of summer days
Maximize winter sunlight
Regarding nesting boxes, one should
Place on west or east wall for south facing coop .
The quality of the paint wasn't something I considered too heavily until I realized that a chicken tractor made for 8 hens can get quite heavy. To reduce weight, I decided to use 2x3 lumber instead of 2x4. The problem is that I have not seen 2x3 pressure treated lumber for sale...only untreated. I won't have the 2x3s touching the ground but they will be exposed to the rain so it is very important they be protected. That is where a good paint comes in.
At Home Depot, I was told the best paint they have for outdoor use is the Behr Marquee. It supposedly has exceptional resistance to dirt and fading. It is a paint and primer in one, which makes about as much sense to me as having shampoo and conditioner in one (i.e. I don't understand). At $48 or $49 per gallon, it is quite expensive. If you go that route, I think the "Reddest Red QU-06" is as close as you'll get to barn red. I've heard that one should not use Behr paint in a sprayer.
In the past, I've used Valspar 15 year Severe Weather exterior latex semi-gloss white 47531. Both our garage and shed are painted with it. It is an extremely easy paint to work with.
Chat rooms seem to indicate Sherman Williams is the best but I don't have any experience with their products.
I ended up going with Valspar Duramax from Lowe's which is about $10 cheaper per gallon than the Behr Marquee. Plus is has a lifetime (not 15 year) warranty. My choice of color? Semi-gloss cabin red (uses 336704 Magenta base) for the exterior with white trim and white (77418) for the interior.
I had a harder time finding info on building the ramp that goes from the ground to the coop door. But my source at  provided some detailed blueprints. Using the inverse tangent function, I determined that the angle of this ramp is 27.76 degrees which is very good. The lower the angle, the easier it is on your chickens. One blogger tells me anything under 45 degrees is fine, another says 35-40 is good. In , each step is placed 5 inches apart and each step is 1 inch high by 2 inches deep (a 1" x 2" furring strip).
One of the coop designs shown on a site related to  shows 2" x 2" steps placed 7.6" apart. Another shows 2" x 2" placed 7" apart.
Another source suggests using 1" x 2" lumber spaced 4-6" apart.
Attach 1-by-2-inch pieces of lumber to the inside of the door with 1 1/4-inch screws. These pieces serve as treads to provide the chickens with additional traction as they go up the ramp. Place a tread every four to six inches along the ramp. Place the treads so the ends are at least one inch from the edge of the door on both sides .
It turns out that the hardware store sells 1" x 2" furring strips but these are actually 0.75" x 1.5". This is what I used. I spaced them 6" apart and made the ramp 60" long. Later, I made an extension. The 60" long ramp is fine if the landing is on the same level as the coop. But what if it is lower? Then a longer ramp is needed. Rather than make a new ramp, I made an extension about 2 feet long. It attaches with some reinforced plywood that slides into aluminum rails. When attached, it is not obvious that the ramp is comprised of more than a single piece. The rails were attached by glue but I found it to be insufficient in supporting any pressure. So I ended up securing it with drywall screws. It isn't as smooth of a fit anymore but at least now it works.
Roost poles should start at 24" above the floor, 12" for silkies. You can lay them all out like a bed, or stagger them to form a ladder, rising to the top of the coop. Poles should be made from 1" square lumber, with the top edges rounded off. Too small, or too round can cause the birds foot problems. Something slippery, like PVC pipe can cause problems. Black iron pipe will freeze their feet in the winter. You should allow one square foot of roosting space for each bird. That means they should have one linear foot of pole per bird, with the poles spaced on one foot centers .
At least 8 inches of perching space should be allocated to each bird .
Unless you are keeping long-tailed breeds (which require a higher roosting point), around 2 feet off the floor is about as high as you should go, although for some of the heavier breeds such as Croad Langshans, one foot is perfect. If you use a droppings board, set it at around the heights recommended above for perches and then construct the perch about 6 inches above .
I assume with that last sentence, if one were to use the deep litter method, then quite a bit of stuff could build up on the droppings board so instead of building a roost up to 2 feet above the floor, you can go 2 and a half feet.
Roosts are easy to provide by securing a 2-inch closet dowel horizontally 1 to 3 feet above the floor of your coop. Some coop builders prefer to use flat or slightly rounded-edge boards for roosting. The theory is that a flatter roost allows the birds' feet to be flat instead of curled around a round perch. This may allow them to more effectively protect their feet with their warm feathers in cold weather. Provide 8 to 12 inches of roost length per bird .
If you need more than one perch, position the dowels or pieces of wood in a stair-step fashion with levels at least 12 to 18 inches apart. Position roosts 2 to 4 feet off the ground and 18 inches from the closest parallel wall .
If you need to install more than one perch, be sure to keep them at the same height or the birds will all try to roost on the higher one .
This stands contradictory to what I typically see in most coops with multiple roosts.
Various sources at  use a 2x4 for a roosting pole with the wide side facing up. One person suggested using a railing 2x4 because it has more rounded edges. I am inclined to agree. I measured the feet of a typical Rhode Island hybrid hen at my in-law's farm. It was 3.5 inches long, not including the toenails.
Large birds [not bantams] require...around 3 inches wide and perhaps 2 inches thick .
...place them 2 feet above the floor and at least 18 inches from the nearest parallel wall and space them 18 inches apart. If floor space is limited, install roosts in stair-step fashion 12 inches apart vertically and horizontally, so chickens can easily hop from lower to higher rungs.
Furnish one nest for every 4 to 5 hens in your flock. A good size for Leghorn-size layers is 12 inches wide by 14 inches high by 12 inches deep. For heavier breeds, make nests 14 inches wide by 14 inches high by 12 inches deep .
Allow 8" to 9" of roost space per bird.
Space roosts 12-14" apart.
1 1/2" dowels or 2x2" lumber works well .
The chicken tractor will not be near the house. Nor will it be near any electrical outlets. So unless I want to run a line out to it, I'll need to have it run off the grid if I want to use any electrical devices...and I do. In order to be off the grid, I can either go solar or use wind. Our back yard is fairly sheltered from the wind so that wasn't an option. So I went solar.
In addition to the panel, one needs a battery, charge controller to prevent overcharging, and an inverter if using AC power. Since most electrical devices I would want to use are set up for AC power, I decided an inverter kept my options open.
I ended up purchasing the following:
NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit with Stand, Charge Controller and Inverter - 80 Watts, 12 Volt: It was a little hard to find detailed information about this but I found a very similar product (Sundance Solar - 80 Watt Do-It-Yourself Solar Energy Kit) that I used to calculate how much energy I can expect to get. If I can get 5 hours of direct sunlight daily, I can expect an average of 277 watt hours of electricity each day.
12v 55 ah 22NF Deep Cycle AGM Solar Battery: One source says that for the NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit, I should have a 50 amp-hour 12 volt Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) sealed battery. The Sundance Solar panels include a 55 amp-hour 12 volt AGM sealed battery. Since it is important to know the effects of the weather when using batteries, you should familiarize yourself with Deep Cycle Battery FAQ - Temperature Effects on Batteries.
G3500 NOCO -3.5A (3500mA) Genius Smart Charger: The company recommended this charger for the battery I purchased. In the event my chickens need power but the sun isn't shining for multiple days, I can always charge the battery with AC. Hopefully that won't happen often but you never know. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Xantrex Freedom SW GFCI Outlet Option Kit: The Freedom SW 2000 Inverter/Charger is offered with the GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) option to enable you to plug electronics directly on the inverter/charger. I'm still thinking about buying this.
One of my inspirations for choosing to have a coop that is off the grid is The First LEED Certified Backyard Chicken Coop.
No less than 3 to 5 square feet per bird. 10 square feet per bird would be better .
Of the cities that have promulgated shelter requirements specific to chickens, nine of them mandate that each chicken be given a specific amount of space. Of these cities, the average amount of space per chicken is five square feet .
In the model ordinance written by Jaime M. Bouvier, a coop should
allow at least two square feet per hen .
Regarding space requirements for chickens,
the mainstream answer is 4 square feet indoor and 10 square feet of run for each bird  .
One person says this specification is mentioned in Storey's Guide for Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.
A layer hen occupies two square feet inside the coop and eight square feet outside. The rooms where the chickens stay should have a distance of three square feet from each other. This means that if ten layer hens will be kept in the building, the coop should have at least 47 square feet inside and 80 square feet outdoor run. A bantam chicken occupy a square foot inside the building and four square inches outside. A large chicken should have at least two square feet space inside and ten square feet outdoor run .
Each adult bird will need 3-4 square feet of space .
How much vertical space is required in a coop is something that isn't discussed so often. 18" above the roost seems to be the standard answer . Another source says
A height of 24" is adequate; add another 6" for roosts .
A coop must be well ventilated.
Well ventilated means that there must be a good exchange of fresh air to dry the droppings and keep the ammonia smell down. If a pen is too tight [i.e. doesn't breathe], the ammonia from droppings can cause your birds to develop respiratory problems, and can blind them. A coop does not need to be insulated, but if it is, the insulation needs to be inside walls, otherwise chickens will pick it to shreds .
DON'T seal up the chicken coop and make it air-tight in the winter. While drafts are bad, lots of ventilation for constant air exchange is absolutely necessary to a healthy winter coop environment. Moisture must be removed from the coop even if it means losing some heat .
Chickens need access to water at all times and will consume one to two cups of water per day each .
Do they really need access to water at all times? I get up at night to get a drink but do chickens? During cold nights, one source suggests bringing the fount indoors.
Don't worry about your chickens getting thirsty at night - they are so sedate and immobilized in the dark, they wont even notice that their water is missing .
Where should water be kept?
Chickens are notorious for drinking with food in their mouths and kicking litter into the trough. Alleviate both problems by moving founts away from feeders and raising them off the floor to the chickens' chest level .
DON'T keep waterers inside the coop. Moisture is the winter enemy inside the chicken coop. Keep water in the run .
Be aware of water freezing. You may want to invest in a water heater.
A chicken tractor is just a regular coop unless it is moveable. There are many choices for wheels but there are a few that I found particularly promising.
Ultra-Tow Marine Swivel Bolt-On Jack
Approximately one-fifth of the available wall space should be given over to windows .
Provide at least one square foot of window for each 10 square feet of floor space. They should be fitted with screens of 1/2 or 3/4 inch hardware cloth .
I plan to have 72 square feet of wall space (including windows), 32 square feet of floor space, and 17 square feet of windows space. This easily meets both of the above requirements.
The next question is where to place the windows. Anyone who has studied energy efficient home construction can tell you that positioning the windows relative to the roof overhang will help ensure sun shines through in the winter, mornings, and evenings when the sun is low but not during the hottest part of a summer day when it is hot.
Cold climates (with more than 6,000 Heating Degree Days, base 65°F/18°C): use the June 21 sun angle, and locate the overhang shadow line at mid-window.
Temperate climates (below 6,000 Heating Degree Days, base 65°F/18°C, and below 2,600 Cooling Degree Days, base 75°F/22°C): use the June 21 sun angle, and locate the overhang shadow line at the window sill [bottom part of window].
Hot climates (above 2,600 Cooling Degree Days, base 75°F/22°C): use the March 21 sun angle, and locate the shadow line at the window sill .
Here in the Baltimore area, we get about 4750 heating degree days and 1000 cooling degree days, making us a temperate climate . Of course, one must ask if the chickens think we live in a temperate climate. I mentioned earlier that
The optimum temperature for chickens is between 45 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit .
In the Baltimore area, we have 4 months out of the year where the average high temperature is above 80 degrees and 5 months out of the ear where the average low is below 45 degrees . Additionally,
Since 1871, the mean temperature for Baltimore has been 54.6 degrees Fahrenheit .
So I think it is safe to assume that the chickens might agree that we live in a temperate climate.
Going back to the original question of where to place the windows, we need to consider the June 21 sun angle. For June 21, 2014 (the summer solstice), the sun angle is 74.18 degrees at noon . This means the window must be placed in a position relative to the overhang of the roof so that the entire window is shaded when the sun is highest on the longest day of the year.
One might argue that we should build for a hot climate since chickens do better in cold weather than us wimpy humans. If we do that, then we consider the spring equinox sun angle which for March 20, 2014 is 50.72 degrees at noon . This means the window must be placed in a position relative to the overhang of the roof so that the entire window is shaded when the sun is highest on the first day of spring.
Realistically, I think anywhere between the solstice and equinox choices is reasonable. I ended up going with about 54 degrees.
Use pressure-treated lumber for wood in contact with ground .
Most people do in fact use treated wood when building a coop or run for their chickens. To date, no harmful effects have been reported. Home studies, as well as those done by professionals including the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Service, have shown that the compounds used in pressure-treated lumber are unlikely to leach into the soil, even after a prolonged period of exposure to the elements. In 2003, the EPA ruled that no wood-treater or manufacturer could treat wood with CCA (a chemical wood preservative containing chromium, copper and arsenic) for home use. Thus, the lumber available for building today is safer than that used in years past .
This is very good since our raised garden beds are also made of pressure treated wood.
The one drawback to using pressure treated wood is that you can't call your eggs "organic."
Did you know that in order to sell eggs with the word "organic" on them the chickens can't have any access to treated lumber, or be on ground which has come into contact with treated lumber for three years? That means any posts for fences, or posts for your coop or your deck or any out buildings cannot have any treated lumber exposed to the chickens or the ground they walk on, including the pastures they walk in .
I looked around for inexpensive lumber, windows, wheels, and other building materials. Second hand building supplies can be found at
Second Chance: Baltimore City. This place is HUGE! They have a lot of vintage stuff that probably came from the older sections of the city. If weight were of no concern (i.e. if I were not building a chicken tractor), then I might have some use for this stuff but everything looked pretty heavy.
ReStore: Columbia, Howard County. This place is pretty small. They have a good selection of cabinets and full size doors but nothing I could use for a coop.
The Loading Dock: Baltimore City.
Community Forklift: Edmonston, Prince George's County.
I ended up deciding to use a lot of 2x3 beams for the frame. They would be a lot lighter than 2x4s. I couldn't find any of this at the above stores so I just shopped at Home Depot. Unfortunately, there were no pressure treated 2x3s so I made sure to use good exterior paint to protect it.
Ultimate Howard County Coop
First of all, I am not saying that I built the ultimate Howard County coop. That is my goal. I have no doubt I failed in this attempt but I think I made a pretty good effort worthy of honorable mention.
In my opinion, the ultimate coop for Howard County should accommodate eight chickens, provide extra ventilation during the summer, and provide heating on cold winter days. For eight birds, I want to provide 80 square feet in the run, 32 square feet in the coop, 8 feet of 2x4 railing for roosting poles with each pole at least one foot apart, and 3 nesting boxes. I am not counting the nesting box space as coop space. A coop that is 4'x8' with a run below and attached with dimensions 8'x10' would be sufficient. This Fast Framer Universal Storage Shed Framing Kit provides the hardware for constructing a 7'x8' shed. I'm thinking that with this kit, I can make a coop and small run that resemble Grande Large Chicken Coop/Hutch/Rabbit and T100 and have a separate and larger run attachment that resembles Ware HD Chick-N-Rabbit Pen.
First photo: The frame for the coop. I made this mostly out of non-pressure treated 2x3s. To provide protection from the elements, each was given a coat of primer and two coats of exterior paint. I chose this over 2x4s to keep the weight down so it would be easier to move. I was not able to find pressure treated 2x3s.
Second photo: The roof. I used shingles left over from when I got my garage roof redone. These were attached to 11/32" non-pressure treated plywood. The pressure treated plywood at the hardware store wasn't in such good shape and there weren't as many selections in terms of thickness. 11/32" was suitable in terms of thickness though I wouldn't recommend going any thinner than this. Like the frame, all wood was given one coat of primer and two coats of exterior paint. The paint is white to reflect light. Tar paper was stapled on all exposed plywood. To prevent any unnecessary strain on the plywood, all roofer nails were pre-drilled prior to hammering. Once the shingles were attached, I flipped the entire thing over (with help) and then hammered the pointy ends of the nails to lie flat. I don't want any of my chickens flying up to the roof and getting impaled. Then, all bent nails sticking out the plywood were covered with caulk and given two more coats of paint. It looked like someone stuck chewing gum on the roof. I chose not to go with a vented ridge cap because I wanted to be able to control the amount of ventilation and prevent drafts.
Third photo: Nesting box, outside view. I used the same leftover shingles as I did for the roof. 2"x2" lumber was used for the frame and 11/32" non-pressure treated plywood was used for the exterior. The roof lifts up so I can get the eggs. At the high part of the roof, I attached some rubber baseboard (the kind you see in office buildings, not residential homes). This is flexible, weather resistant, and wide enough to keep water from getting into the opening at the hinge where the roof lifts up. The baseboard is held in place by a strip of aluminum which allows me to replace the baseboard easily if it starts to wear out.
Fourth photo: Nesting box, outside view with roof lifted. The height of the nesting box with the roof lifted is ideal for someone my size to easily get to the eggs. There is a latch that I secure with a carabiner. It doesn't need to lock but it does need to be secure enough so that anything without thumbs cannot access it. The inside is painted black because chickens like dark places for egg laying. I suppose that makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. They would be quite vulnerable to predators when laying or sitting on eggs so they would want to be hidden.
Fifth photo: Nesting box, inside view. I used leftover linoleum flooring from our kitchen to make the floor of the nesting box. It was glued in place and then the edges were given a coat of silicone.
Sixth photo: Nexting box, outside view from inside coop. From inside the coop, this is what the nesting box looks like.
Seventh photo: The door wall panel is the most complex part of the coop. I designed it to be modular so it could fit on 3 of the 4 walls. The door is either white on a red wall (outer view) or red on a white wall (inner view). This makes it so that the chickens will know easily if the door is open or not as well as which wall the door is actually on since it may be moved around. To keep the door moving smoothly, it slides on aluminum 'U' shaped rails that are glued in place. In this photo, I am using clamps and weights to ensure that these rails are properly aligned while the glue sets.
One of the challenges was choosing a location for the coop. I wanted a location that was shaded in the summer, sunny in the winter, got morning sun, was protected from the north wind, and has good drainage. Also, it must be legal. That means it must be in the back yard and at least 15 feet from our neighbor's property line. In the end, we picked a location 15 feet from the north edge of our lot. Our privacy fence will help shield some of the north wind. An oak tree to the southwest will provide shade in the summer but once it loses its leaves it will let sunlight through. It isn't the best location for morning sun but hey, we can't have everything.
Eighth photo: On the right is the oak tree that will provide shade in the summer. The boards forming the square show where I'll lay the foundation for the coop. The board just below the top part of the square is aligned east/west. The board below that is aligned west by northwest, which is the prevailing wind direction. Photo taken 1221 on March 8, 2014.
Ninth photo: I used pressure treated 2"x12" pine boards for creating the edge of the foundation. I chose such wide boards because the place I will put the coop on is not flat so I need the west end of the square to be high and the east end to be low in order for things to be even. I flattened out the dirt and used a level placed on an 8 foot long board rotated in various directions to ensure things were indeed level. Photo taken 1628 on March 11, 2014.
Tenth photo: I used 35 bags of drainage rock (about 1400 pounds) to create a depth of about 2.5 inches. The foundation is 9'x9'. It is a foot wider than the longest edge of the base of the coop. That is so I can rotate the coop in various directions. Photo taken 1701 on March 11, 2014.
Once the foundation was finished, I got a few neighbors and co-workers to help me move the coop on March 15, 2014. I figured that if there were 6 of us, we would be fine. Eight would be better. But in the end, we had 12! It is nice to know there are so many people willing to give me a helping hand when I need it.
The first thing we did was remove the lift-off panel from the privacy fence. The pedestrian gate is too narrow. Then we were ready to get the move on.
Eleventh photo: The slide-out floor gets slid out from the coop and carried separately.
Twelfth photo: Twelve foot long boards are slid through the coop to make carrying easier. Notice our deadlift grip. These boards will later be used to create the run.
Thirteenth photo: Norma took this photo from the kitchen. She was hard at work preparing food.
Fourteenth photo: At our destination, we carefully position the coop on the foundation.
Fifteenth photo: I think we look too fresh. We're ready for more work.
Sixteenth photo: The roof was moved separately.
Seventeenth photo: I make sure the roof is centered. Yes, the fellow to my right is as tall as I am short.
Eighteenth photo: I use screws to fix the roof in place.
Nineteenth photo: The floor is put back in place.
Twentieth photo: Voila! The move is done.
Twenty-first photo: Different angle.
It took all of one hour to remove the lift-off panel, move the coop, put the roof in place, and replace the lift-off panel. Afterwards, Norma served brunch to our hungry worker bees.
Over the next several days, I worked on the walls of the coop and the run.
On April 10, 2014, the coop was all done...the structural components, that is. I still have to do work with the solar panel, lights, and Arduino. But it is complete enough to show it off at the Howard County Conservancy "Coop-to-Coop Tour."
Ever think about keeping chickens? Dreaming of fresh eggs that taste so much better than store-bought? Wondering about beautiful green, blue, pink-tan, and brown egg colors? Just curious about the surge of interest in backyard chickens and the number of people who wax ecstatic about “their girls?” Do a self-guided driving tour of a wide variety of coop and run styles, ranging from a delivered match-your-home coop, to fenced open free range with shelter options, to home-designed and built moveable chicken-tractors, to a jokingly referred to Taj Mahal coop and run – hosted by enthusiastic Howard Countians who work at living sustainably.
- from Howard County Conservancy website
Here is the finished product...that is, finished as of April 10, 2014.
Twenty-second photo: Looking west.
Twenty-third photo: Looking east.
I was hoping I could save money by building my own coop. But this was not the case. The coop, in its form as shown on the April 12, 2014 "Coop-to-Coop Tour" cost $1795 to build. That includes the foundation and run.
If I had to do it all again, I would consider a few options.
I didn't want one of the $300 mail-order coops because I felt they were too small for 8 hens. But I could buy 2 of them and attach them together. There are a lot of good options locally at Myers Mini Barns.
Giving everything a coat of primer and 2 coats of paint took a VERY long time. If mobility and weight were not an issue, I could just make everything out of pressure treated pine and stain it all once it is complete.
I could buy a small shed and modify it to make it into a coop. Sheds aren't cheap but neither is building a coop from scratch.
Making the door panel modular is a novel idea but that certainly makes it difficult to get into the coop. I'm not sure if using carriage bolts to secure the panels is the best option. I suspect that eventually I will just use 1/4" hex head screws. If I could start all over again, slide-out panels in aluminum rails would probably be my choice.
Connecting the run to the coop took about half a day. That is because the hardware cloth needs to be custom fitted and secured. Chain mail would probably be easier to work with because it is so flexible. It is also very strong. I suspect it is expensive but if we're only talking about a couple of connecting pieces, then it might be within reason.
Shingles look very nice but they are also extremely heavy. Without them, my coop might be portable. Corrugated fiberglass roofing panels might be a better option.
In mid-October 2014, I started testing the NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit with Stand, Charge Controller and Inverter - 80 Watts, 12 Volt. It worked fine except for the SunForce 200 watt modified sine wave inverter which arrived with a cracked face. There were no signs of damage during shipping. I contacted the seller who directed me to the manufacturer since it had been awhile since I actually purchased the item. The manufacturer asked me to send him a photo of the damage. I did that and he promptly sent me a new one.
On October 25-26, 2014, I dug a 70 foot long trench (twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth photos) and added electrical conduit and a 12 gauge wire so that the coop could have power (twenth-seventh photo). Previously, I had just been running an extension cord to the coop. The other end runs to the garage where it can be plugged into the inverter for the solar panel or a regular outlet for when I need more wattage than the inverter will provide. I mounted the solar panel on the southwest side of the garage in a very sunny location. See twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth photos. The 12v 55 ah 22NF Deep Cycle AGM Solar Battery, charge controller, and inverter are in the garage where they are protected from the elements. See thirtieth photo.
At first, I was concerned that running electricity over such a long distance would significantly weaken the voltage. So I checked out Voltage Drop Calculator where I learned that using a 12 gauge copper wire with 120 volts and 2 amps would weaken the power by 0.54 volts (0.45%) over a distance of 85 feet. So the power loss is trivial.
Regarding space requirements for chickens,
the mainstream answer is 4 square feet indoor and 10 square feet of run for each bird  .
One person says this specification is mentioned in Storey's Guide for Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow.
What about fencing material?
A hungry and determined predator,including but not limited to raccoons and some dogs, can tear through chicken wire with relative ease. It is not recommended as fencing for chicken coops and runs.
Hardware cloth is wire mesh that consists of either woven or welded wires in a square or rectangular grid that is available in galvanized, stainless steel and bare steel. It is manufactured from a stronger gauge metal than chicken wire, (the smaller the gauge, the stronger the mesh) making it a much better choice for flock protection. 1/2" to 1/4" galvanized hardware cloth is typically recommended for coops and chicken runs.
Secure hardware cloth with screws and washers. Staples are easily defeated by pushing or pulling .
At first, I wasn't convinced so I ran a test. I used 2 long staples to secure some wire to a piece of wood. Then I used the wire to lift a 65 pound dumbell. The staples popped right out very easily.
Seal all openings larger than one inch with hardware cloth. Minks and weasels can squeeze through very small openings and kill many chickens in a very short period of time .
Interestingly, the same author also says
Cover any opening in the coop and around the run that is greater than 1/4 inch with hardware cloth. .
Mormino says not to attach the hardware cloth with staples but all staples are not created equally. While staples from a staple gun are not recommended, one can
attach it to your frame or posts with 3/4 inch galvanized poultry fencing staples. .
Based on what I've read from other sources, racoons can stick their paws through 1" openings. A lot of people use 1/2" openings. Some sources say 3/4" is sufficient. I've never heard anyone say to use anything bigger than 3/4". However, some people just use the hardware cloth on the lower part of a run. I guess the idea is that even if a predator can climb up on a run, he'll have to reach down into it to grab a chicken if the lower part is tightly secured. Standard (not bantam) chickens tend to get about 18 inches tall. I did a search to find out how much reach a racoon has and found nothing. I'm guessing 6 inches is a reasonable estimate. So my thought is that if you have 1/2" hardware cloth on the lower 18 + 6 = 24 inches of your run, you'll be fine. I've heard that chicken wiare (or better yet, rabbit wire) will keep raptors out and that it is generally o.k. for a daytime run though it won't keep out rodents which may be attracted to the feed.
Chicken wire could work fine as a fence for a daytime yard, where you can keep a watchful eye on your chickens. Some people use this on the upper parts of their coops/enclosed runs to save money. Just keep in mind that if a rodent climbs up there, it too can get through the openings. .
Most sources seem to recommend half inch hardware cloth.
This is the best material for enclosing a chicken coop or enclosed run. In particular, you want 1/2 inch galvanized hardware cloth (usually 19 gauge). Smaller openings could be too brittle, and larger openings will not deter against rats or snakes. .
How tall should a run be?
The fence should be at least 4 feet high, higher if you keep a lightweight breed that likes to fly. Bantams and young chickens of all breeds are especially fond of flying .
One should ensure predators can't easily dig under a the run fence.
Bury wire fencing 6-12" deep in ground .
Of course a chicken tractor is a different thing and can't have a run fence that is partially buried.
For our property, it is a good thing if the run can fit under the low branches of our oak tree which can provide shade during the summer.
I made my run 4 feet high. This is largely due to the fact that hardware cloth can be purchased in rolls that are 4 feet wide.
It took awhile to make the run. Hardware cloth is a bitch to work with. It had numerous puncture wounds because I don't much care to wear gloves. It also scratched up my coop and run so I had to do a lot of paint touch ups.
Keep in mind that anyplace you cut the hardware cloth is going to be a sharp point. Unless you cover this point, it won't be childproof. So keep small children and more importantly, overprotective mothers, away from it.
With an optional 4'x4' run connector, my 4'x12' run has 24 possible configurations with the coop. See first image.
It works like this because the run has 4 possible openings. Each opening can be secured by a 4'x4' section attached with carriage bolts. But the fit is very tight...to tight. I have to use a hammer and crowbar to remove them. It I had to do this over again, I would make things not fit so tightly. The swelling and shrinking of wood is also a factor. I expect I will change things to make getting in and out of the run easier.
Check out the second photo for the finished run with the coop behind.
Several months later, I decided to redo it all at Norma's suggestion. She's very good at creating new tasks for me. She felt the chickens needed a roof for the winter to protect them from the rain and snow. I agreed. In November 2014, I did the following:
I made the run level. Previously, only the coop had been level while the run followed the slope of the ground.
We hadn't tried any of the other 23 configurations and I figured we would not. It was a good idea but unless things are on wheels (a chicken tractor) and easy to move, I'm just too lazy to move things around.
I changed the 'L' shaped configuration to a rectangle. Previously, the square footage for the run was the 4'x8' under the coop, the 4'x4' connector, and the main 4'x12' space which had a total of 96 square feet. That was actually pretty good considering the minimal suggestion is 10 square feet per bird (80 square feet). But now they have the 4'x8' under the coop and a 7.5'x12' main area which yields a total of 122 square feet. This is a 27% increase in run space!
They now have a lean-to design roof made of Tuftex Seacoaster, a clear polycarbonate corrugated roofing material. This covers 75 square feet of the run.
Previously, the door was a lift-off design that hung on carriage bolts. It was awkward because the fit was not perfect, the wooden holes would sometimes expand/contract, and the bolts could bend if something hit them. Now the door hangs from a steel rail and glides on wheels. It is a closet door design so it is extra-smooth.
The original run was 4 feet high, except under the coop which was much lower. Now the highest part of the run is 6 feet tall. Unfortunately, one must still duck under the 4 foot door to get in. Because it is so much higher, they now have a 7.5' long perch and even a swing for their entertainment. I modeled this after Fowl Play Products - Chicken Swing.
In the third photo is the finished product. I call these changes Chicken Run Version 2.0. These upgrades cost me $381. That's quite a bit considering I was able to reuse most parts of the original run. The breakdown of these expenditures is shown in run 2.0 costs.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can a chicken live?
A chicken can live between 10-15 years although there have been instances where they have lived longer .
How long does it take for a hen to lay eggs?
Most hens will start laying between 5-7 months of age. They will lay best at 1 to 2 years of age. All pullets (female chickens under one year of age) lay small eggs at first and after awhile will lay larger eggs. Younger hens will lay one egg every 3-4 days. A hen 30 weeks old can lay 2 eggs every 3 days. Some have been known to lay an egg a day. All breeds have different laying abilities .
Egg production is a remarkable thing. A pullet (young female chicken) begins laying eggs at 18 to 20 weeks of age. She reaches peak production at about 35 weeks, with a production rate greater than 90 percent (that’s 9 eggs in 10 days for a single hen or 9 eggs from 10 birds daily). This period of peak production lasts about 10 weeks, after which her egg production slowly begins to decline.
A high-producing hen’s annual egg production is more than 10 times her body weight .
Is there any way to tell if an egg is fresh?
Yes, put it in cold water. A fresh egg contains little air so it will sink. An older egg will float. Also, if you break open a fresh egg into a dish, the white is compact and firmly holds the yolk up. In an old egg the white is runny and the yolk will flatten out .
Although a floating egg is quite old, it's not necessarily unsafe to eat .
How long will an egg last?
An egg left at room temperature ages the same amount in a day as a refrigerated egg ages in an entire week.
Rubbing the shell with clean vegetable oil before refrigerating the egg will prolong its shelf life.
Clean eggs stored at 45 degrees and 70% humidity will keep well for at least 3 months. In a standard household refrigerator, where foods tend to dry out thanks to the refrigerator's defrosting mechanism, eggs will remain edible for up to 5 weeks .
If you want to know everything there is to know about chickens, consider signing up for some courses at Chickens and YOU Training and Coaching.
My goal is to have a diverse flock of good layers. There are certain characteristics I am looking for and I know not all chickens will have each of these traits.
Lays a lot of eggs
Lays large eggs
Resistant to disease
Gets along well with other chickens
Docile or mellow, not flighty
Not prone to being bullied
Not likely to bully other birds
Lays eggs with interesting colors/markings
Does not require a large space
Does not damage ground excessively
The breeds I prefer are listed in order in Roster.
No chickens yet but I do have some names and breeds. Here are the name ideas listed in no particular order: Gertrude, Blanche, Beatrice, Ethel, Rosemary, Agnes, Mabel, Edith, Vera, Henrietta, Mildred, Matilda, and Penelope.
You can be assured that we're choosing "sexed" rather than "straight run" to avoid getting roosters.
Some chickens are "debeaked" which means the upper part of their beak is chopped off to prevent brutally aggressive behavior.
But such behavior emerges only in situations of extreme stress - thus debeaking is an admission up front that the management system is a profoundly stressful one .
Maybe I'll disagree once I have my own chickens but for now, I'm trying the more humane approach.
Many hatcheries offer vaccination against Marek's Disease as an option. I've read mixed reviews. Some owners have never had a problem with disease and claim that it is more of a concern for chickens that are not-so-well cared for. I don't know if I totally agree with that. I've had my share of vaccinations including shots for the plague, chickenpox, smallpox (once as a child, again as an adult), anthrax, and a host of other things. According to The History of Vaccines (broken link as of 2016), people in the United States have been vaccinated since 1800. So I don't see a problem with vaccinating chickens.
The chickens shown below in the table are my top choices listed in order. The ones with names in bold are the ones I actually received.
I placed my order with Meyer Hatchery on Christmas Day 2013. They are scheduled to arrived between April 10 and 12, 2014, inclusive.
Saki and Norma's chickens
||Date of birth
||April 9, 2014
||Our most popular kid pick! Commonly known as the Easter Egg Layer, these birds are good layers and produce eggs that range from olive green to turquoise blue which their name comes from. Their small size allows them to do well in warm weather but they also do well in cold weather. Like their eggs, they come in an assortment of colors. They are favored for their eggs, but are large enough to be used for meat. Average mature weight of hens: 4 pounds . This breed has an inherent genetic beak issue. 1 out of 100 chicks as they grow may have some variance in severity of scissor beak/cross beak. This can be best described when the top and bottom beak do not align and this condition normally will get worse as they grow . One fellow in my veterans club has this type of chicken and he says it is his star layer. They may not lay the largest eggs but who can resist a green or blue egg? My own experience is these are the last to start laying and they aren't a great winter layer.
||Ethel (nicknamed "Osprey") and Edith (the brown one)
||April 9, 2014
||Our most popular kid pick! Commonly known as the Easter Egg Layer, these birds are good layers and produce eggs that range from olive green to turquoise blue which their name comes from. Their small size allows them to do well in warm weather but they also do well in cold weather. Like their eggs, they come in an assortment of colors. They are favored for their eggs, but are large enough to be used for meat. Average mature weight of hens: 4 pounds . This breed has an inherent genetic beak issue. 1 out of 100 chicks as they grow may have some variance in severity of scissor beak/cross beak. This can be best described when the top and bottom beak do not align and this condition normally will get worse as they grow . One fellow in my veterans club has this type of chicken and he says it is his star layer. They may not lay the largest eggs but who can resist a green or blue egg? My own experience is these are the last to start laying and they aren't a great winter layer.
||April 9, 2014
||Also known as Golden Comet, Golden Sex Link, Cinnamon Queen, and Red Star. This hen is a leader in the brown egg market and is by far the most popular bird we sell. Customers favor this bird for its large eggs and quiet temperament. These birds are sex-Linked, which means the sex of the chicks can be determined by their color when they hatch. Mature hens have a soft buff- red color and roosters are white with darker wing, neck and tail feathers. Average mature weight of hens: 4 pounds . Gertrude is my most athletic chicken. If there was a chicken obstacle course, I would enter her to compete.
||April 9, 2014
||Also known as Golden Comet, Golden Sex Link, Cinnamon Queen, and Red Star. This hen is a leader in the brown egg market and is by far the most popular bird we sell. Customers favor this bird for its large eggs and quiet temperament. These birds are sex-Linked, which means the sex of the chicks can be determined by their color when they hatch. Mature hens have a soft buff- red color and roosters are white with darker wing, neck and tail feathers. Average mature weight of hens: 4 pounds .
||April 9, 2014
||Rhode Island Red
||A popular dual-purpose breed that is a familiar standby in many chicken coops. Like its name suggests it is developed in Rhode Island and is even the state's official bird. The hens are calm birds and are among the best layers for a heavy breed and they lay large brown eggs. Rhode Island Red hens can lay around 200 eggs annually but rarely brood. Roosters of this breed may become aggressive. Average mature weight of hens: 6 pounds .
||April 9, 2014
||Black Australorps are a popular producer of large brown eggs and are known for their hardiness and persistence in laying - even in hot weather. They can lay up to 250 eggs annually and will lay into winter. When this breed was being developed the breeders focused on utility and still today this is what they are know for. Australorps are known to mature early and are docile and quiet birds, which makes them great for handling and children. When mature, the birds have glossy, all-black feathers that show a gorgeous green sheen. From the time these chicks hatch until they are fully grown, their feathers have white tips. Great dual-purpose choice. Average mature weight of hens: 6 pounds .
||April 9, 2014
||Barred Plymouth Rock
||This old-time favorite lays brown eggs and is a popular dual-purpose breed. This breed is very friendly and does well in cold weather. Plymouth rocks have high egg production, a meaty body, a docile personality, and good hardiness all characteristics that would be a great addition to your flock! These lovely birds have black and white barred feathers, with the roosters slightly lighter in color than the hens. Average mature weight of hens: 6 pounds . Beatrice looks like Dorothy and is very similar to her in terms of personality.
||The Columbian Wyandotte was first introduced at the Columbian Exposition (better known as the Worlds Fair held in Chicago) in 1893, hence the name they now hold. Nice dual purpose breed. These birds are truly in a class of their own with barred necks, white body, and barred to black tail feathers. Definitely a must for your flock! Average mature weight of hens: 6.5 pounds . As of Christmas Day 2013, these cannot be delivered in early April so I am not ordering this.
||Faverolles were originally bred by the French to be layers as well as for meat. One thing that breeders have agreed on is that the bloodlines of Faverolles is uncertain. Instead of white, their eggs are slightly tinted and they are great layers through the winter. This breed features beards and feathers on their feet and legs. Salmon Faverolle hens have a rounded appearance. They are very gentle, do very well with children, and can become affectionate with their handlers. They also can become aggressive against other breeds. Average mature weight of hens: 6.5 pounds . As of Christmas Day 2013, these cannot be delivered in early April so I am not ordering this.
||Introduced in the mid 19th century from China, they were imported to England in 1840. The American Poultry fanciers refined the original stock into a large stately breed. They make a good dual purpose breed and though they may only lay 3 or 4 eggs a week, they are known for good winter production. Brahmas do alright in confinement but do much better if they have access to an outdoor run. They are mellow, quite hardy and make good pets. Brahmas are comfortable in heat and cold. Average mature weight of hens: 9.5 pounds . On April 9, 2014, I was told this not hatch on time so it was replaced with another Golden Buff.
||Golden Laced Wyandotte
||Except for their rich, reddish gold colored feathers edged in black, our Golden Laced Wyandottes are the same as our Silver Laced Wyandottes. These are calm birds with tight rose combs that lay brown eggs. Wyandottes are a customer favorite! They add a unique look to your flock so order them while they are in stock! Average mature weight of hens: 6.5 pounds . In Norma's and my opinion, this is one of the more attractive birds. As of April 9, 2014, this did not hatch on time so it was replaced by a Dominique.
||The Ameraucana breed arrived in the 1970’s originating right here in the United States. The breed’s most striking feature is their black or slate colored legs and the fact that they lay blue tinted eggs. They have both beards and muffs. They have a quiet and calm personality and will be sure to attract attention to your flock. These are not to be confused with Easter Eggers, as they are a pure breed. As with other “blue” breeds, the trait does not breed true. In addition to blue you may receive splash and/or black as well. Chick color is hatchery choice. Average mature weight of hens: 5.5 pounds . As of Christmas Day 2013, hens are not available.
||These deep-bodied, brown egg layer dual purpose breed is beautiful and practical, too. This breed's color pattern is what makes them unique. They are very friendly. Males have rich heads and mostly red upper backs, but their body, breast, and main tail feathers are black. Their hackle and saddle feathers are greenish-black laced with red. Wings are black and red. Females are a deep reddish bay with black penciling on their back, breast, and body plumage. Average mature weight of hens: 7.5 pounds . As of Christmas Day 2013, ordering this breed would delay my shipment so I am not getting it.
||April 9, 2014
||These are known as one of the first breeds of chickens established in America. The name could have came from early chickens of the breed that came from Saint-Domingue which is now Haiti. Poultry lovers have been working in recent years to increase numbers of this breed, which had nearly become extinct. They can survive in both hot and cold climates which helped them from becoming extinct. These birds are great foragers, have rose combs, and lay brown eggs. Average mature weight of hens: 5 pounds . This looks a lot like a Barred Plymouth Rock but lays smaller eggs. Since the Golden Laced Wyandotte I ordered did not hatch on time, this breed was a pinch hitter. Dorothy is my dominant chicken. She is very confident, outgoing, and easy to handle.
||April 9, 2014
||Buff Orpingtons are a popular dual-purpose variety and are sometimes called "Big Bufffs." This is a friendly and affectionate breed which would be good for children. Since they are so calm and quiet they can become bullied by an aggressive breed. Because they are loosely feathered, they appear to be heavier than their true weights. Their golden buff feathers are broad and smooth-fitting on this deep-bodied breed. They have quiet dispositions, make excellent mothers, and are one of the most broody of standard breeds. Their white skin is a cosmetic disadvantage for use as meat birds. Average mature weight of hens: 7 pounds . I ordered 4 of these to give to my sister-in-law who has a big farm with about 20 chickens. She buys hers as pullets which means she doesn't have a big of selection when it comes to breed (i.e. she can't buy Buff Orpington pullets). I raised them until they were ready to go into the coop and then gave them to her. Hence, I did not give them individual names or include them in my egg count.
In addition to chicks, there are a few other things I'll need.
Vitamin-electrolyte solution to mix in the chicks' water
Rocks or marbles to put in the fount to keep them from drowning
Starter grit to be used at 3-4 weeks of age until 10-12 weeks. Grower grit can be used from 10-12 weeks on .
Pine shavings to be used as litter
The My Pet Chicken Guide to Chicken Care, Chapter 4: Caring for Baby Chicks has some great information.
I bought the following equipment for my brooder:
Miller Manufacturing 9810 Round Jar Galvanized Feeder Base for Birds, 1-Quart: I read that one should go with metal over plastic if you are in it for the long haul. $5.99
Miller Manufacturing 9826 Mason Jar Water Base: $4.39
EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder: I thought long and hard about this one. At $76.99, it is far more expensive than a heat lamp. But according to Hayneedle - EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder
This unit only uses 18 watts because the chicks are in contact with its warm under-surface.
That was the big selling point for me. If I'm going to be powering my chicken tractor with a solar panel and a 12 volt battery, then I need to make sure any electrical devices run efficiently. I plan to use this in the coop during the winter. After doing the math, a heat lamp will drain the battery too quickly. But this should work. Most reviews seem to say very good things about this product as compared to traditional heat lamps too. Saving money in the long run is a factor too. I calculate that below.
Above, I mentioned that Meyer Hatchery says I should use starter grit at 3-4 weeks of age. While I think they are a great company, the stuff I've read from other sources tell me something totally different.
Starting the third day, sprinkle baby grit on the feed daily as if you were salting your food. Avoid putting too much at any one time as the birds may fill up on it instead of the feed .
Starting the third day, sprinkle baby chick grit on the feed daily as if you were salting the food. .
Starting after the third day, also sprinkle baby chick grit on the feed every 3 days as if you were salting your food. Avoid putting out too much at any one time as the chicks may fill up on it instead of the feed .
In the end, it really comes down to the feed the chicks are getting. I am feeding them Southern States All Grain Start-N-Grow. The Southern States website tells me the following:
You can easily provide chicks with a healthy, balanced diet using pre-formulated, store-bought feed. Usually sold as “chick starter feed” or “chick starter mash,” these formulations provide all the chicks’ necessary nutrients from day one until their eighth week. After they’re eight weeks old, chicks should be switched to a pullet grower feed until they reach 20 weeks.
While some sources suggest chicks need grit, a dietary supplement, don’t worry about supplying grit unless the chicks are eating food other than the starter feed. If you decide to give them grit, use chick-sized granite grit or parakeet grit .
Brand new baby chicks prefer temperatures just under 100 degrees. However, their need for heat decreases about 5 degrees per week until they are about 10 weeks of age .
This sounds a little high to me. Most other sources I've seen suggest slightly lower.
95 degrees for week one then decrease 5 degrees per week to 70 degrees .
The temperature where the birds are should be 90 to 95 degrees for the first week. Reduce the temperature 5 degrees per week until you get to 70 degrees. Then they shouldn't need any more heat.
A good source of heat is a 250 watt heat bulb. (Red bulbs are preferred, white may cause picking.) Hang it 18 inches from the floor. The temperature directly under the bulb will be higher than 90 degrees but birds will adjust themselves to the area they like .
Day-old chicks require a temperature of about 90-95 degrees. Reduce the temperature 5-7 degrees per week until you reach 65-70 degrees .
The temperature in your new chicks' pen should be about 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week of life.
The temperature within the brooder can be decreased by 5 degrees every week until it reaches 70 degrees. At this point, the chicks will be about three weeks old .
Hmmm...the last I checked, 95 degrees minus (3 weeks x 5 degrees) = 80 degrees.
So let's say you use a heat lamp for your chickens during the first 4 weeks of life. This means 28 days * 24 hours a day = 672 hours. If you use a $19.44 brooder heat lamp and 250 watt bulb, when you will consume 250 watts * 672 hours = 168 kwh. At 2013 rates of about 12 cents per kwh, this totals 168 kwh * $0.12 = $20.16. If you use the EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder, then you use 18 watts of electricity which means 18 watts * 672 hours = 12.1 kwh. At 2013 rates of about 12 cents per kwh, this totals 12.1 kwh * $0.12 = $1.45. This means that your EcoGlow 20 will pay for the difference in cost between it and a standard heat lamp in ($76.99 - $19.44)/($20.16 - $1.45) = 3.08 brooding cycles.
It would be ideal if, when it is time to graduate your chickens from the brooder to the coop, you can do so without having to use a heater. In my neck of the woods, the average daily low temperature in Baltimore, Maryland is 50 degrees or higher starting on May 9 .
Counting backwards from May 9, that means your chicks should be born on March 28. Interestingly, in 2014, this is just 8 days after the spring equinox. Perhaps this is why it is a good thing to be a "spring chicken."
New England chicken farmers discovered that chickens born in spring fetched a better price than the old ones who had weathered the winters .
Meyer Hatchery requires a minimum order of 15 chicks if they are shipped between January 1 and March 31. April 1 is only 4 days later and if they are indeed shipped on April 1, then they will likely be born on March 31 since
For up to 72 hours after they hatch, baby chicks are still ingesting their yolk sacs. This provides them all the nourishment they need, which allows us the narrow window we need to ship them out. After 72 hours, their yolk sacs are gone and they need immediate access to food and water. Without it, they'll die .
However, this all stands somewhat contradictory to the earlier claim about new baby chicks needing 100 degrees and this need dropping by 5 degrees every week for 10 weeks. This means that by week 6, they would still need 70 degrees. This is a far cry from 50 though it is the case that the average high temperature on May 9 in Baltimore is 72. I'm thinking I'll keep the heater on in the coop at nights until June 6. By then, the average low will be 59 degrees and the chicks will be 10 weeks old.
Chicks should not be moved outside if nighttime temperatures within the pen can't be regulated above 60 degrees Fahrenheit, otherwise, they'll spend most of their energy keeping warm rather than growing .
Depending on the source, I got very mixed answers as to how long chicks should stay in the brooder.
You can think of 3 weeks as an approximate minimum, and they should not need longer than 5, even in the early part of the season when night temperatures can be pretty cold .
Most sources give lots of detail about taking care of chicks in the first couple of weeks and when they are adults. But I had a hard time finding good information when it came to taking care of chicks during the transition. When it came to learning about the adolescent and teenage years of a pullet, I found Chick Days: Raising Chickens from Hatchlings to Laying Hens to be a great source.
Pullets (chickens less than a year old) can be introduced to the coop at 6 weeks of age and will be fine without a heater as long as the night temperature is at least 50 degrees .
For now, I'm assuming that if I get chicks born no earlier than March 28, they'll be fine as long as I wait until they are at least 6 weeks old before transferring them to the coop permanently and make sure I provide them with supplemental heat at night until they are 10 weeks old.
If you use a heat bulb, this will also serve as the light you need. Otherwise, be sure to give your birds light. Use a 75 watt bulb on dark days. Have a small light for night - 15 watts or similar - to keep them from piling .
Baby chicks need 24 hours of light for the first 48 to 72 hours of life to ensure that they find food and water. Use a 60-watt incandescent bulb or a 9-watt compact fluorescent bulb for every 200 square feet of floor space. Remember to choose the warm-white type if you use fluorescent bulbs. Using shallow-dome reflectors such as aluminum pie plates, or bulbs with built-in reflectors, will improve the distribution of light within the house.
Some growers suggest 23 hours of light and at least one hour of darkness in the first few days in order to accustom the chicks to a dark period. This hour of darkness will be hard to achieve if you are using heat lamps, which also give off light.
If supplemental light is still needed after two to three weeks for any of the reasons described in the sections below, use a 40-watt incandescent or a 7-watt compact fluorescent bulb to help avoid overly high light levels .
When the pullets reach 16 weeks of age, the maximum of 14-16 hours of artificial light can be applied without harm by increasing light exposure 1 hour each week. By imple-menting proper light management practices, producers can prevent the complications in their birds that can occur as a result of producing eggs at too young of an age .
Wood shavings, rice hulls, or ground cobs make good litter. Do not use cedar chips, sawdust (it is too small and the birds may eat it instead of their food), or treated wood chips. Sand, straw, or dirt will also work but are not as good as the others. Put the litter all over the floor at least one inch thick. Keep it covered for the first day with newspapers to keep the chicks from eating the litter instead of the feed. To avoid leg problems, remove the papers after the first day for heavy breeds and meat birds and after the third day for lighter breeds .
One can use the deep litter method in the brooder. One big advantage is it provides heat.
Once the pack got perhaps 6 inches deep (quite a while back since it settles a good bit) you could feel warmth radiating up from it when you held our hand over it .
Deep decomposing bedding is also supposed to help prevent and combat disease problems .
It doesn't smell bad either... 
The deep litter method described above for chicks uses built-up litter or a "mature" deep litter which has been used by 2 or more previous broods of chicks.
The prevention or control of coccidiosis by starting day-old chicks on old built-up litter could have been prophesized years ago. It has long been recognized that chicks exposed to small dosages of coccidia at an early age developed a resistance which gave protection against heavier dosages to which they are often exposed from 4 to 12 weeks of age. Built-up litter has thus proved the most practical and effective means by which this resistance can be established .
While the mature deep litter method sounds good, I'm not so sure if it would work so well for me. I expect I'll have chicks every few year and not save built-up litter from previous broods. Even if I did, I'm not so sure the microbes would survive after a few years in less than ideal conditions.
Try to provide 1/2 square foot per bird at the start. After 4 weeks, increase floor area to 3/4 square feet per bird .
How much space does one need for chicks?
0-4 weeks 1/2 square foot per bird.
4-8 weeks 1 square foot per bird.
8-12 weeks 2 square feet per bird  .
At 12+ weeks (still brooder space not coop space)
light breeds (bantams, standards) 2.5 - 3 square feet per bird.
heavy breeds 3 - 3.5 square feet per bird .
I would hope that by 12 weeks, the chickens are long gone from the brooder. Living in the brooder at that age is like having a 30 year old living with his parents.
Cardboard put in a circle around 12 inches high around the birds helps cut down drafts on the floor. Be sure the circle is large enough to allow the birds to get away from the heat if they want to .
How tall should the walls of the brooder be?
If you can find a brooder that is about 12 inches deep, you won't have to worry about putting a lid on it, as the chicks won't be able to fly out. If the brooder is shallower than that, consider using a top on it so they can't escape .
The brooders I found for sale on line have wall heights of 9", 10", 16", 18", and 18.75".
Brooders that can be set up with connecting panels come in varous lengths. I have seen 12", 25", and 44".
Material is typically corrugated cardboard or corrugated plastic. The latter is typically used to make the little signs along the side of the road staked into the ground. I see one quarter inch thicknesses typically being used (0.635 mm). One supplier of this is Premier 1 - Brooder panels. These come with the panels notched so they fit together. Or, you can buy the panels un-notched from various sources that have nothing to do with chickens. Just keep in mind the thickness of the panels since 4mm thickness is more common. Of course 6mm is better but 4mm could work fine. Buying from one of these or other sources might save you some money but not much:
SignOutfitters: Corrugated Plastic Sign Material: You need to place a minimum order of 25
EBay - 10pcs 24x18 Horizontal Corrugated Yard Bandit Signs - Plastic Blanks
Corrugated Plastics: Corrugated Plastic Sheets: This requires a minimum order of 10
When figuring out how many panels to buy, keep in mind how much square footage you will need per bird. If you know the circumference of the brooder, then you can figure out how much area it will contain, assuming it forms a circle. Let C equal circumference. Then the area is
So if I plan to have 12 chicks that I may keep in the brooder for up to 12 weeks, then each needs 2 square feet of space or a total of 24 square feet. If I go with 25" long brooder panels that are notched one inch from the end, then each panel will make up 2 feet of a circle. If I buy 9 panels from Premier 1, then the area it will contain is (9*2)^2/(4*pi) or a little under 26 square feet. The cost before shipping is $30.50 and for my area, there is a $14 shipping charge unless I spend at least $100 (which I don't plan to)
Another option is the Farm Innovators Baby Chick Starter Home which is 18 inches high and has a 3 foot diameter. This means it has an area of about 7 square feet and circumference of 9.42 feet. So if you buy 2 and fasten them together, your circumference will be 18.84 feet and your area will be (18.42^2)/(4*pi) = 27 square feet which is what I'll need for 12 chicks that may be up to 12 weeks old. Before shipping, two of these costs $40. There is a $12.47 shipping charge unless I spend at least $50. Also, there is $2.40 in tax. I went with this option since I had a $20 gift card from Southern States.
Pebbles or marbles are placed in the water tray to discourage the new chicks from piling into it and drowning .
Water should be avoided since washing the shell rinses away its natural seal against bacteria .
If you do wash an egg, use water that's slightly warmer than the egg itself. If the water is cooler than the egg, bacteria can actually be drawn through the shell into the egg. Dry the cleaned egg before putting it into a carton and use it as soon as possible .
Question: Should you wash your eggs?
Answer: No, even according to the USDA, it is not necessary to wash your eggs because of the increased risk of introducing microbes into the egg. The washing water/solution can be pulled into the egg through the shell's pores. As the hen lays the eggs, they coat them in a protective coating called a bloom. This bloom essentially seals the egg helping to keep moisture in and germs out. All eggs that are processed in the store are mandated to be washed by the FDA but they have strict regulations and guidelines for washing .
An egg that has cracked slightly is safe to eat as long as the membrane that's attached to the shell is still intact and the egg is used right away .
But you won't finding me selling such an egg.
Question: What does it mean if the white part of an uncooked egg appears cloudy?
Answer: That is an indication that the egg is very fresh. Over time, the white part of the egg, also known as the albumin, turns clears .
Question: What is that green ring around the yolk of my hard boiled egg?
Answer: That occurs when eggs are overcooked. It is a chemical reaction between sulfur and iron. The egg is completely safe to eat .
Question: Why are fresh eggs so hard to peel?
Answer: Fresh eggs have less air inside the shell. Older eggs have a larger cell of air A larger cell of air allowing for easier peeling, so use older eggs for hard-boiling .
On Christmas Day 2013, I ordered my chicks from Meyer Hatchery. I had heard good things about them and found their selection to be excellent. Their catalog was very informative. I requested 12 chicks. Eight is the legal limit in Howard County but I plan to give 4 to my sister-in-law before they move into the coop.
Santa Claus and my relatives bought me a lot of chicken-related gifts. They have more experience with poultry than me so I was open to any advice they could give or products they could recommend.
Over the next several weeks, I spent numerous hours reading several books about chickens. I also did a lot of on-line searching. This web page contains my notes.
Without a doubt, most of the preparation work was spent on the coop. That was my big winter project. I reckon I spent about 200 hours on the coop and the run. That includes leveling the ground, creating a foundation, and numerous trips to the hardware store. That does not include the time spent reading books and searching on-line to figure out how I should do things. If I was going to charge someone to do what I did, I would charge them an equivalent of 6 weeks of what I would make at my normal job.
I got a call from Audrey of the Howard County Conservancy. She told me about a "Coop-to-Coop Tour" that she was organizing. She got my name from Cathy who I had met the previous year. Audrey asked if I would be interested in participating in this event that would be a sort of "open house" for folks with chicken coops. It would help potential chicken owners get started and would give them and veteran chicken owners new ideas. I explained to her that I did not yet have a finished coop or chickens but that the coop would be done by the day of the event, April 12, 2014.
On April 7, 2014, I went to the post office in my town. I spoke to Jennifer and let her know about the box of baby chicks I was expecting to be delivered between April 10 and 12. I left her my phone number at work and my cell phone.
I also stopped by at Farm and Home Service, the Southern States store in Ellicott City. I bought pine shavings, grit, a heat lamp, bulb, and a 25 pound bag of Southern States All Grain Start-N-Grow. I also spoke to the folks that work there to make sure I didn't forget anything.
On April 8, 2014, I set up the brooder. I decided to put it in the downstairs shower. See first photo. This is a very small space. How small? If I want to shake the water out of my hair, I have to step out of the shower. The actual dimensions are 26.5" x 31.5". I added cardboard at the 90 degree corners to make the sharpest angle 45 degrees. I read that the ideal brooder should not have square corners since chicks will sometimes clutter in a single corner and smother the unfortunate chicks closest to the corner. This made the total available floor area 5.55 square feet. Chicks 0 to 4 weeks old should have 1/2 square foot per bird which means 6 square feet. I considered other spaces for the brooder but our house is pretty small and the only suitable place indoors that could be protected from our cat, Asha, was in the shower. I considered the garage but nighttime temperatures are still occassionally uder 40 degrees. So the plan is to keep them in the shower until they are 2-3 weeks old them move them into a larger brooder in the garage after things have warmed up a bit.
I cleaned the shower with Soft Scrub, which has bleach. Then I let it dry thoroughly.
On April 9, 2014, I ran tests using a digital thermometer and my two sources of heat: a 250 watt infrared heat lamp and an EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder made by Brinsea. Newborn chicks need temperatures of 95-100 degrees. I wanted to make absolutely certain that my heat sources could do the job. The heat lamp was indeed sufficient but at 250 watts, it is quite the energy hog. In comparison, the EcoGlow 20 uses only 18 watts by emitting only the heat necessary under a table-like structure that can be adjusted for height. It is a fabulous idea...but one that fell short on performance. I tested the EcoGlow 20 by putting it on a sheet of Reflectix radiant barrier in the basement. Reflectix radiant barrier is what I use to insulate some of the walls of my house. Put simply, it reflects heat. Also, it is very fire resistant. I then took a cloth glove and positioned it under the EcoGlow20 heat source and then placed the temperature probe on the glove so it was midway between the heat source and the radiant barrier. The EcoGlow20 was on its lowest setting which is where it would be for newborn chicks. The temperature outside of the area heated by the EcoGlow20 was 56 degrees which the probe measured 72 degrees after a few hours. 72 degrees is a far cry from 95 degrees so I decided that the EcoGlow20 was not sufficient.
I put a sheet of Reflectix radiant barrier on the shower floor. See second photo. I figured it would help reflect heat upwards. Then I poured out a 1.5 inch layer of pine shavings on top of that. See third photo. Above that were about 3 sheets of newspaper which was then taped to the edges with painters tape. The newspaper is only for the first day to help ensure the chicks don't eat the pine shavings.
I set out the EcoGlow20 and turned on the heat lamp. I figured having both on might give the chicks a choice. But I don't think the EcoGlow20 was made to have a heat lamp shining down on top of it. I noticed a chemical smell. Perhaps it was slowly melting the plastic. Needless to say, I removed the EcoGlow20. I might use it in a few weeks when the chicks don't need as much heat.
I suspended the heat lamp from the shower pipes so that it was about 18 inches from the newspaper. I used parachute cord to hang it. It took several iterations to get the height correct. I kept the temperature probe slightly off to one side and also used my Black and Decker Thermal Leak Detector TLD100 to measure the temperature at various parts of the brooder. Directly under the heat lamp it was about 120 degrees while at the opposite end of the brooder, it was more like 70. I've read that chicks will adjust themselves accordingly, positioning themselves where they are comfortable. If most are as far from the heat lamp as possible, then it is too hot. If most are directly under the heat lamp, then they are too cold.
I was a little paranoid about using a heat lamp. I had read all kind of bad things about how they are such a fire hazard. So I put our fire extinguisher just outside the bathroom door. The lamp hangs from the pipes of the shower which are very secure as is the parachute cord and the knot I used to hold it in place. It leans against the bathroom tile which of course is not flammable so I figure everything is fine. Still, I'll be glad when I don't need it anymore.
Ventilation is very important for chickens and I assume that is true for chicks too. Despite trying to keep things warm, I kept the window open about 3/4".
I put their feeder and fount on a piece of cardboard which made for a rigid foundation.
A co-worker loaned me some round, glass marble-like things to put in the fount. I've read that chicks will sometimes fall into the fount and drown or at least get really wet and then get chilled. Glass marbles are ideal because they are non-porous (so they don't hold germs so easily), non-toxic, and chicks can stick their beaks between the spheres. What I got were marble-like because they were flattened a bit. At first, I used them but decided they weren't necessary since the fount is made for chicks and there is no way a chick can drown in it or even get soaked.
Around midday, I received a call from Cindy of Meyer Hatchery informing me that the Light Brahma and Golden Laced Wyandotte I ordered had not yet hatched. They could send them to me in a later shipment once they hatched but I would have to order another chick since they need to ship at least 3 at a time. I imagine that is so their body heat can help keep each other warm. The other option was for them to send me replacments. I opted for that. They read off the substitutes ("pinch hitters" as I like to call them). I chose a Golden Buff and a Dominique. They said they would ship out the chicks right away.
Chicks in the brooder
At 0940 on April 10, 2014, (only about 21 hours after I spoke to the hatchery), I received a call from the post office informing me that my package arrived. I left work quickly and went to pick them up. I felt like an expectant father. It was quite sunny so my car was pretty warm but I also turned on the heat so the chicks would be comfortable. While waiting in line at the post office, I could hear loud peeps coming from the back area. A young woman with a big smile carried out my box of chicks as if she were carrying a jar of nitroglycerin. She said she took good care of them and put them in a warm place. I thanked her. I made it home, making sure to go slowly over the speed bumps.
Upon arriving home, I turned on the heat lamp. I left the box of chicks in the car, which was probably pretty comfortable for them. It only took about 10 minutes before the heat lamp got the brooder to the right temperature. Then I carried the box into the house and carefully opened it. Inside were 12 beautiful chicks, all chirping loudly. There was also a heat pack to help keep them from getting cold. I grabbed the chicks one at a time and introduced them to the brooder. Each one got its beak dipped in the fount so they would know where to find the water. By the time I was done, the first ones had already started drinking from the fount on their own. A few found the feed and were voraciously munching away on that.
Newborn chicks can survive for about 3 days without food and water since they are living off what was in the yolk. So it is fair to guess that they were hatched on or around April 8 or 9. I'm declaring their actual birthday as April 9, 2014 since I know they were shipped out then. Before then, some might have still been an egg.
Along with the box of chicks was a package of Gro-Gel Plus.
On the very first day, after arrival, Gro-Gel Plus is used. Gro-Gel Plus is the perfect solution to getting your poultry off to that all important great start. For baby poultry to grow and live efficiently they must readily start to eat and drink. Gro-Gel Plus provides immediate nutrition and hydration for all baby poultry in a very concentrated and digestible form. Research has shown that it has improved livability and mature body weights substantially thus saving you bird loss and money in the long run.
- from Murray McMurray Hatchery
I mixed up the Gro-Gel Plus in accordance with the instructions and tried to feed it to the chicks but they had no interest in it. I thought it was tasteless. A few tried it but none took more than a couple of nibbles. I ended up throwing it away since it was only good for 6 hours. Later, I read on the website that I was supposed to spread it on their food, not give it to them directly. Unfortunately, this wasn't written on the instructions on the package.
After a few hours, they got their fill and were resting. Some looked dead but I could tell they were just sleeping. But none slept for long during the day as others would walk over them and wake them up. I could see a few starting to fall asleep. They would wobble around with a sloth-like look in their eyes until another chick would bump into them.
It is recommended to let the chicks know you are there by making some noise before they see you. It is natural instinct for them to panic when they see someting coming from above since this is how a raptor would attack. So I would whistle as I open the door to the bathroom and approach them slowly. Still, they were a little shy and would crowd against the wall opposite me if I was close. But what really freaked them out was when I used my thermal leak detector to measure the temperature inside the brooder. I don't know if it was because I stuck a gun-like device inside the brooder or because it shines a colored light but they broke out into a mad frenzy. But I wanted to ensure the temperatures were comfortable for them and the device assured me it was.
Chickens tend to establish a pecking order and pick on the weaker ones. I haven't encountered this yet. There is some pecking going on but I certainly don't see anyone as a dominant bully or a helpless victim.
It was a sunny, warm day so I took the rest of the day off to finish my coop. It was a big relief to get that done.
On the morning of April 11, 2014, I removed the newspaper so the chicks could frolic about on the pine shavings. This made for a cleaner environment. But that also meant that the chicks were scratching and putting a lot of pine shavings into their fount. I ended up having to clean that out 3 times a day.
I bought pastries to share with my co-workers. I sent out an e-mail announcing the arrival of the chicks. It was truly a cause for celebration. I also brought in a list of the different breeds I ordered and the Meyer Hatchery catalog that shows what the breeds look like as chicks and as adults. After one of my co-workers noticed that the hatchery is located in Ohio, he commented, "I thought the only place one could order chicks from a catalog were in Russia."
Pasting up became an issue. That is when their poop sticks to their feathers and seals off their anus. If left untreated, it could be fatal. I took some warm water in a paper towel and blotted it for awhile before trying to remove it. I wasn't having much success so I turned warm water on a slow trickle and directed a few drops of water directly onto the caked up poop to soften it up before removing it. It took quite awhile and the Buff Orpingtons weren't too willing to cooperate. Unfortunately, they seemed to be the ones that were more prone to pasting up. Maybe it is because they are supposed to get bigger than a lot of the others so they are eating more. Of course if they had hands then they could just wipe their butts after they poop and this wouldn't be a problem.
It’s mostly a problem during the first week, and that chicks that paste up once are likely to paste up again .
On April 12, 2014, I was ready for the Howard County Conservancy Coop-to-Coop Tour. This was scheduled to run from 1000 to 1400. During this time, we had about 16 visitors. I got a lot of compliments on my coop. Most of the visitors did not have chickens but were very curious. A few already had some and wanted to see what others had done. I really enjoyed talking to people, especially the veteran chickens owners. I learned a few things.
Guinea hens make a good early warning system for the other chickens. They can be annoying but if they see a raptor, they let out a cry that alerts the others and gives them time to run for cover. The Guineas are pretty small and agile and can usually hide pretty quickly.
The EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder doesn't need to provide 95 degrees of heat because it is a different type of heat than a heat lamp. It provides enough to keep the chicks happy and grow to adulthood.
The chicks are definitely more comfortable around me after having seen me so much.
I don't know much much they are drinking because I clean and change their water about 3 times a day. It almost seems like they are trying to kick pine shavings into the fount. Regarding food, they seem to be eating about half a mason jar of food per day. I know there are all kinds of chick and chickens treats and supplements out there but I am just using the starter feed from Southern States. It is nothing fancy but I think it is sufficient and the chicks really seem to like it. The folks that work at and shop and Southern States seem to be farmer types and not into all the frilly, fancy, newfangled stuff. So I'm guessing what they recommend will be sufficient though not necessarily the latest thing to hit the market.
The photos Norma and I took earlier with the heat lamp on didn't turn out so good. The red light from the lamp distorts the colors. I took some photos taken without the heat lamp on. See first and second photos.
I gave the EcoGlow20 another chance. I turned it on, stuck it in the brooder, and turned off the heat lamp. I periodically checked on the girls to see how they were doing. I am getting pretty good at recognizing if they are happy or not. The temperature under the EcoGlow20 was about 75 degrees and they were all huddled underneathe, keeping warm. They weren't complaining, but they weren't active either. I was reminded of my time in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf War. It was winter. Despite the fact that it was the desert, it was cold and rainy. We all huddled together in the back of the Humvee trying to stay warm and dry. We were o.k. but not exactly happy.
After about an hour, I turned off the EcoGlow20 and turned the heat lamp back on. Then they were spread out more, eating, drinking, and moving about. I think for now, I'll use the heat lamp and maybe switch to the EcoGlow20 when it is warmer or when they don't need as much warmth. I want them to eat and drink a lot so they can grow. Sitting huddled together might be good enough for them to stay alive and healthy but I think I can do better.
On April 13, 2014, I noticed that the chicks had real feathers, not just fluff, at the tips of their wings. They were noticeably larger too, though they maintained their infantile shape.
I thought they were getting used to being around people. That is true but being handled is a totally different story. At this point I don't care to handle them any more than necessary. They still get spooked. But they are fine as long as people don't make sudden moves, aren't loud, and maintain a safe distance.
It is fun watching them fall asleep. Their eyes slowly close. Then their head drops. Sometimes their beak plants down into the pine shavings. But they tend to walk all over each other so they often don't sleep for long before one of their peers wakes them up. Sometimes they sleep with their legs sprawled out behind. Other times, they use a neighbor as a pillow.
On April 14, 2014, I cleared a few vents of chicks that were pasting up. It wasn't nearly as bad as before. It still seems the buff opingtons are more prone to it than the others.
They were going through about a half jar of feed a day but now it is about a full jar.
Some of the chicks are starting to fly for a short distance. They jump and flap their wings and cover a pretty good distance. I know it isn't really flying but it isn't just jumping either.
On April 16, 2014, I added about an inch and a half of pine shavings. I swept out the bathroom, wiped the floor, and took out the trash.
Norma has been giving the girls little bits of lettuce. It is hard to tell if they are really eating it. I think they prefer to fight over it and steal it from one another because the next day, I always find dried up pieces. Today she tried giving them little pieces of strawberry. We heard that chickens like red things. But they had no interest in the strawberry.
What they did find interest in was cardboard. I put a small square of cardboard under their fount to give a more solid base. I don't mind so much if the feeder gets knocked over but I really don't want the fount to tip. Today I changed the cardboard. Before I could put the fount on, they were fighting to stand on the cardboard and peck at it. Perhaps they are like my niece and just like to make noise. Give her a pot and spoon to bang together and she's happy.
Here is what they look like after about a week (third photo).
On April 18, 2014, I brought home some ping pong balls for them to play with. I figured the balls are so weightless that they could kick them around and peck at them and have some fun. But they had no interest in them.
On April 19, 2014, I tried to play with the chicks like I play with our cat. I put out some string and slowly pulled it. It caught their attention. The yellow and black chicks attacked the end of the string and pecked at it as if it was a worm. The other chicks were a little hesitant to get close.
The chicks are getting really big. I think I am going to move them to a bigger brooder space after 2 weeks. They look much too cramped in 5.55 square feet.
On April 20, 2014, I was refilling their feed jar. When I returned to the brooder, I saw one of the black chicks on top of the 18" brooder wall. Who says chicks can't fly? Now I do have maybe 3-4 inches of litter in the brooder so effectively, the wall is only about 14" tall. I was very impressed that she was able to fly to the top of the wall and perch there. Once there, I don't think she knew what to do. I put her back then started working on a taller wall...just a temporary solution.
On April 21, 2014, I more than doubled the size of the brooder, making it a total of 11.38 square feet. If it was 12 square feet then in theory, it would be good until they are 8 weeks old but similar could be said about the brooder being 5.55 square feet (which is the original size). If it was 6 square feet then it should have been sufficient for 4 weeks but I felt they outgrew it in less than 2 weeks. So I'm hoping the new brooder gets them to 6 weeks old.
The new brooder makes use of the old space in the shower plus the space just outside the shower. In between is a raised marble divide. I filled the shower with enough pine shavings so it was almost level with the divide. Then I put a ramp so they could get down the divide. But they didn't like that. It wasn't steep but it was slick. So I made stairs. They didn't much care for that either. One and a half inch steps may not seem very high but when you're only 5 inches tall and don't have any arms, I suppose it is. In the end, I just added a lot more pine shavings so the space on the other side of the divide was level with the space in the shower.
After pine shavings settled and they did some scratching, the divide was still a little higher than either side. It is slick marble. I didn't want anyone to lose their footing so I covered it with hockey tape which is a little grippy.
The chicks weren't so eager to investigate the new side of the brooder at first. As I might have expected, it was the yellow and black chicks that were the first to investigate.
The walls of the old brooder were the shower on 3 sides and corrugated plastic on the 4th side that was 18 inches high. For the new brooder, it still makes use of the shower walls and the wall outside of the shower. There is a single cardboard wall and it is 3.5 feet high. The top 1.5 feet fold down so I can reach in and change their water and food.
One problem I've had is that their fount keeps getting filled up with pine shavings. I figured if it was just a little higher, then this wouldn't be such an issue. So I made a little table out of scrap wood to rest it on. It raised it about an inch on one side which isn't much now that they are so much bigger. On the other side, they can step up onto the table to drink. It has been working very well.
The girls have been making good use of their additional space to sprint back and forth and fly. I laughed when one of the yellow birds flew right into the fount. She looked a little dazed.
I'm still playing with them with the string. The yellow and black chicks are still the ones most interested in it. Now that they have extra room, they will grab one end of the string and then run to the other side of the brooder to get away of the others that are also interested in it.
On April 22, 2014, I bought more feed. They finished off their 25 pound bag.
I also bought some celery at the grocery store. I gave them some of the leaves after I tore them up. I made sure not to give them any stem-like parts...just the more easily digestible leafy parts. They really loved it. I put a stack of the leaves on the table I made. One of the yellow or black birds grabbed the first leaf and started running with it. Then the other birds chased it and tried to take away the leaf. But there was still a whole stack of leaves at the table. That was fine since it gave some of the less aggressive birds a chance.
Pasting up no longer seems to be an issue.
The Rhode Island Red (Rosemary) is not as active as the others. She doesn't seem as hungry and doesn't run around as much.
On April 24, 2014, I added more pine shavings. Norma fed them some spinach. I make sure she just gives them the leafy parts (not the stems), washes it off, and breaks it up into small pieces.
I took some photos of them now that they are 2 weeks and a day old. They are not as afraid of the camera as they used to be but they still panic when I add more pine shavings. See fourth photo.
Today was a huge breakthrough in terms of socializing. I put my hand out and one of them put a foot on my finger. I slowly raised my hand up and then she put her other foot on my finger. She was perched on my hand. She stayed there for quite a long time, even when I raised my hand up. See fifth photo. I couldn't get any of the others to do that. The fact that she did that for me before Norma is like a baby saying "Daddy" before saying "Mommy."
It rained hard on April 25, 2014. I always leave the window open a little to let in some fresh air. But it also lets in humidity when it rains. Despite having added fresh pine shavings yesterday, their poop was not smelling so good. I'm guessing the humidity kept it from drying out.
Rosemary is still often the one that is sitting when the others are moving about. I checked her vent. All clear. She looks normal. She will be one of the bigger birds so I am wondering if her calories are being used more for growing than being active.
On April 28, 2014, I bought a couple of small bells. I suspended them from an arm I made with a bent up wire coat hanger. I know chickens often like to peck at shiny things. But not only is a bell shiny but it moves around and makes noise when they peck it. I was certain it would be a big hit. I was wrong. They had no interest in it.
I've been playing with them regularly using the string. They really like to attack it. The small black bird and the larger brown Easter Egger are the most aggressive. They grab that string and run around quite a bit. A few of them shake their head real hard like a Rat Terrier with a mouse. Their head becomes a big blur when they do this. But Rosemary has no interest in such activities.
I had the cardboard wall of the brooder folded down so it was only about 20 inches high while I changed their water and feed. Big brown Easter Egger flew to the top of the wall and perched there.
It is still just that one bird that is willing to perch for more than a few seconds on my hand though I was successful in getting big brown Easter Egger to perch briefly. The others hate to be picked up but they will approach my hand freely.
The girls hate the sound of my fingers rubbing on duct tape. It either freaks them out or they all get totally silent and freeze up. Clearly, they don't like it.
On April 29, 2014, Norma expressed concern over Rosemary. She fed her sugar water from an eyedropper, much to Rosemary's objections.
On April 30, 2014, I added fresh pine shavings and swapped out their feed and water jars with clean ones. I do that weekly. I am in the habit of refilling their feed and fount at least twice a day now. They are eating about 1.75 jars of feed a day though I don't know how much of that feed just ends up in the pine shavings.
They got a lot of celery leaves, which they love.
I played with the chicks for awhile using the string. I am doing that now daily. It really works up their appetite. I threw the string to Rosemary quite a bit. She got involved but wasn't as interested as the other chicks. Still, she got the string twice. She doesn't make any noise unless she is picked up. Then she complains a lot.
Norma gave Rosemary some Gatorade and water.
Here is what they look like after three weeks (sixth photo).
On May 4, 2014, I took them outside and put them in the run. The temperature was in the high 60s and low 70s. They didn't like me putting them in a cardboard box to take them out there but once they were there, they didn't want to leave the safety of the box. This is when I found them to be most affectionate. I picked them up and found that they would rather be perched on my hand (or my boot) than on the ground. See seventh photo. After awhile, I put them on the ground where they were not so certain about their surroundings. But eventually, they enjoyed it. See eighth photo. They were looking all over the place and pecking at everything.
Rosemary acted totally differently outside. In the brooder, she seemed lazy and/or depressed. But outside, she was as lively as all the others. So we quit giving her Gatorade and worrying about her.
Several people came over to see the chicks that day: Bishop and his girlfriend Jacklyn, Andre and his daughter Aria, Annette and her friend Diana, Jimmy, his wife Joyce, and their daughter Harlem (ninth photo). Sitting in the run, we were successful in holding several of the chicks.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Chicks in the coop
On May 6, 2014, the temperature was in the 70s so I let the chicks outside for a few hours after work. They hate going into the box but really enjoy being outside.
I looked at the forecast for the next several days out starting from May 8, 2014. Nights would generally be in the 60s, which is a good bit warmer than previous temperatures in the high 40s. High temperatures would be in the 70s and 80s. So I prepared the coop and moved them in. They still have the heat lamp but now I have it set on a timer so it only comes on at night and early morning.
They are getting much easier to handle.
May 9, 2014: They finished off their third bag of 25 pound feed so I bought 3 more bags. I also bought some starter chick grit because now they are eating more plants. Their regular feed has grit (or at least they don't need it with it) but if they're eating plants and less feed, then they will need grit.
On the night of May 9, 2014, the heat lamp quit working. I'm guessing the bulb burned out. Fortunately, it was only supposed to get down to 64 degrees. 75 degrees is what they should have at their age. I plugged in the EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder and put it in the coop. I figured it would be better than nothing. I also closed the windows and vents to trap any warmth.
On the morning, of May 10, 2014, everyone was up and ready to go. The lack of sufficient heat didn't seem to bother anyone. It was supposed to get up to 81 degrees so I put everyone in the run. Now that they are in such a big space, it is hard to catch them.
I've been doing some coop repairs and upgrades. I added grip tape to the run. I want them to start using that as soon as they can but I also don't want them to fall. Grip tape kept me from falling off my skateboard when I was young so I figured it might help them too.
I made a small roost and put it in their coop to get them used to sleeping on a stick. I used a 1 inch diameter PVC pipe that is 6 feet long. I wrapped it in hockey tape so they can grip onto it better. It is raised about 3 inches from the ground. A few perched on it and it looks like the diameter is a good size.
On May 11, 2014, the chicks have not yet slept on the roost I made yesterday.
It was the nicest day of the year. I opened their coop door to the run. The curiously looked out the door. I put their food and water in the run. A couple hours later, they were all in the run. Success!
Later in the day, I went in the run to spend some quality time with them. I fed them some vegetables Norma picked. That means less that I have to eat, which is not a bad thing. I got one of the Buff Orpingtons to sit on my wrist.
As it got darker and colder, they started chirping loudly. I turned on the heat lamp to let them know to go into the coop where it would be warm. But they wanted to stay outside. They huddled together between the coop and the run. I had to lift them out and put them in the coop. Once in the coop, they wanted to roost but the roost I made for them wasn't high enough. They clearly wanted to be higher up than 3 inches. One flew up to the full sized roost but it was too big for her.
I started cleaning the brooder in the downstairs bathroom. A fine layer of dust covered everything. It wasn't like sawdust...it was much finer. There was poop on the walls too. I got the sawdust out. I'll clean out the rest later.
May 13, 2014: The friendly larger black and white chick will perch on my shoulder as I walk around the yard. She almost looks like a twin of the smaller black and white chick so I am hestitant to call her by her name until I know what breed she is since she and her "twin" are of different breeds. Until then, I will just call her my favorite.
They still need to be put in coop at night but they are more than happy to leave it in the morning.
They are not using roost I made. Perhaps once it gets warmer. They huddle together when sleeping near the heat lamp. Some like to dig a little hole for themselves in the pine shavings.
I started making fermented feed based on Why and how to ferment your chicken feed. As instructed, I filled a jar between 1/3 and 1/2 full. Then I added enough water to cover it.
May 14, 2014: After coming home from work, I noticed that some fluid had leaked out of the jar, despite having put the lid on securely. I opened the jar and a whole bunch of feed exploded out! Apparently, it expanded quite a bit. Though it probably didn't have enough time to ferment, I took some out to the hens in a small plate. They LOVED it! I added more water to the jar and sealed it back up.
I spent some time in the run. My favorite was the first to sit on my hand and she now jumps onto my arm if I stick it out. She is still more than willing to sit on my shoulder for as long as she can. Today, she sat on my head. The other birds are starting to follow her lead. At one point, I had 5 birds perched on me.
Once the sun sets, they still don't want to go into the coop. Instead, they all try to huddle together in a corner or tight opening. I think the problem is brown Easter Egger. She is the biggest, strongest, and heaviest. The others follow her lead. She picks a spot to sleep and the others crowd around her. I think if I can get her to go into the coop at night, the others will follow.
Perhaps I am biased but I think my favorite is the smartest. She will start to walk up the ramp into the coop when I open the door in the evening but isn't so convinced it is the right thing to do since none of the others follow her.
May 15, 2014: The twins sat on my shoulders for a long time.
I thought that if I got brown Easter Egger into the coop, the others would follow but that is not the case.
May 16, 2014: I let them out of the run to wander and explore the back yard. They really enjoyed running amok. I am still unable to get them to go into the coop when it gets dark.
I was unable to get the twins to perch on me again.
May 17, 2014: Now that they have been out of the run, they are wanting to get out into the yard. They will sneak by as soon as I open the door to the run. They are not easy to catch and put back in the run. On a regular work day, I expect I will put their food and water in the run before I open the door between the coop and the run.
I made a dust bath for them so they can practice proper hygiene. I put it directly under the coop to help keep it dry. It is in a big aluminum pan that is 20"x12". I filled it up about 2 inches deep which means 0.28 cubic feet. The dust bath is comprised of the season's worth of ashes from our pellet stove. It is a very fine powder made of wood ashes. I haven't seen them use it.
May 18, 2014: A couple chickens were using the roost when I checked on them this morning. See first photo.
I let them out the coop in the morning (second photo) and into the run (third photo).
I started a fresh batch of fermented chicken feed, which we now simply call "mash." The last batch was smelling pretty strong though I don't necessarily think it went bad.
I let them out of the coop about an hour before dark. Once the sun started to set, they all gathered together just outside of the run. They knew the run was sanctuary but they didn't know how to get back in. I dug out Norma's old badminton raquets and used one to direct them to the entrance of the run. Once they saw the opening, they went in. Then I had to direct them into the coop. It took a little raquet persuation. About 3 went in fairly easily. The others took a little more convincing. Two of the Blondies just didn't want to go in and I had to pick them up and put them in. My favorite and another Blondie sat on my shoulder the whole time. They were eventually put in through the side opening. Interestingly, my favorite actually flew off my shoulder and tried to go in through the window of the coop. She got tangled up in the wire that connects to the coop door motor and I had to untangle her.
May 19, 2014: The chicks thought I was a good perch. See fourth photo.
May 20, 2014: But Norma was an even better petch. See fifth photo.
May 21, 2014: Norma set a new record for having the most chicks perched on her.
They had a hard time finding their way back into the run once it started getting dark. I had to help them out. But once they were in the run, they all went up the ramp and into the coop by themselves. That was a big success. Now if only they can be consistent.
May 22, 2014: The chicks all figured out their way into the run by themselves but not all of them would go into the coop once it got dark. Osprey likes to stay outside. She is the black and white Easter Egger.
May 25, 2014: They are doing pretty good now at going into the run and the coop at night.
I did some work to put in a lower door so I can access the space below the coop. While I was doing that, I had the top panel open and three of the girls perched on the lower panel to watch me work.
May 26, 2014: While the girls were out, I played with them using the string. I pulled it and some of them started chasing it. One of them grabbed it and started running. But since she wasn't limited to the space of the brooder, she ran all around the back yard for a few minutes. I held onto the other end of the string, running with her. It was hilarious. Some of the others did the same.
Like yesterday, I opened the top panel of the coop at night. But this time, instead of 3 perching on the lower panel, they totally filled it up. The ones that couldn't fit perched on the roost. Nobody wanted to be left out. See sixth photo.
May 27, 2014: It rained so I didn't let the girls out of the run. A few stayed under the coop while the others stayed under the ramp. By the time it got dark, only 3 or 4 were in the coop. The others were still under the ramp, huddled together (seventh photo). I moved them to the coop.
May 28, 2014: They are 6 weeks old today which means they only need 95 - (6 x 5) = 65 degrees. I thought about taking away their heat lamp and replacing it with a 60 watt white bulb that will be on from dusk to 2100. But it is supposed to get down to 57 degrees tonight and 55 after that, then 53 a couple of days after that. After second thoughts, I figured I'd give it another week.
May 29, 2014: The girls were let out late in the day, as usual. They all made it back into the run and the coop by dusk. In the evening, all were perched on the roost. Nobody wants to use the lower of the two roosts. Several perch on the 2x4 support beam above the highest roost.
May 31, 2014: Norma and I went away to her mother's house for the weekend. We left the chicks in the hands of our competent neighbor girl, Samantha. She has dog and cat sitted. Now she can add one more species to her resume.
June 2, 2014: The chicks are over 6 1/2 weeks old now and the nighttime lows are getting higher. I decided it was time to turn off the heat lamp. Instead, I have a shop light that I turn on just before dusk and for about a half hour after dusk so they will go into the coop.
June 3, 2014: I switched the girls over to their adult feeder and fount. They are big enough now so they don't need their baby fount and feeder.
June 6: 2014: I spilt some feed on the rocks under the coop a few days ago. I ended up putting the fount on top of it. Once in awhile I would dump some old water out of the fount by tipping it slightly. Today I noticed that all that water got the spilt feed wet and kept it from drying out. The result...mold! I removed the moldy feed and then sprayed the remains with diluted bleach after they were all in the coop for the night.
June 9, 2014: Someone (I think my co-worker Ryan) told me that his chicks like to chase the red dot created by a laser pointer. I gave it a try and it worked with my chicks too. They like to peck at it.
June 14, 2014: It has been raining every day all week. The pine shavings in their run haven't had a chance to dry out and their coop is very humid. Odors are not terrible but they are much more noticeable.
Over the last couple of weeks, the girls (even Crooked Toe) have become much less attached to me. They come to me if they think they will get some mash or a treat but otherwise, they prefer to maintain their distance. They have no desire to be picked up or to perch on Norma or me. I guess that is just how teenagers are.
They are becoing more adventurous. No longer do they stay in the area around the run. Now they go into the lower garden bed and eat Norma's vegetables. When I see them do that, I chase them away with a badminton raquet. Norma said she saw one walking up the stairs to our deck. I fear that it is only a matter of time before they fly to the top of our privacy fence near our garage, when it is low. Whether or not they will venture out of the back yard remains to be seen but I don't think they will.
June 18, 2014: I bought them some dried mealworms. A small bag of this (less than a pound) costs more than 25 pounds of their regular feed. I gave them all a taste. They looked at it for a couple of minutes, not knowing what to think. Then one of the buff orpingtons ate it. Soon, they were all eating it. After they finished it off, I came back with a little more which I fed them by hand. They were not shy about eating out of my hand. I will use this to get them more used to being close to me and to reward them when they do what I want.
June 26, 2014: They really love the mealworms. They'll eat it out of my hand. Sometimes I will raise my hand high and put out my other arm so they can use it as a perch to get to the mealworms. Only "crooked toe" will climb up on my arm to get the treat.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Saying good-bye to the Blondies
I mentioned that I had 12 chicks. But 8 is the legal limit in Howard County. Not intending to be labeled a chicken outlaw, I intended to pass on 4 of the chicks to my sister-in-law, Laah, once they got older. She has a 220+ acre farm in western Maryland with about 16 hens, goats, pigs, and cattle. All the chickens she has arrived as pullets. This being the case, she is limited in the breeds she can request. She only has Rhode Island Reds. She wanted to get a few Buff Orpingtons so I said I would raise a few and then sell them to her. So that is what I did.
My 4 Buff Orpingtons were never named because they were temporary. I simply called them the "Blondies." I found them to be somewhat assertive and more confident than the other chickens.
After about 11 weeks, it was time to pass the Blondies onto Laah. On June 28, 2014, Norma and I caught the first 3 easily but it took awhile to get the 4th. Even with 2 people armed with tennis raquets to herd the chickens, it was very difficult to catch the last Blondie. But eventually we did. They all went in the trunk of my car which had a cloth tarp covering the floor. They also got some food and water for the 3.5 hour drive to the farm. We did our best to ensure they got plenty of fresh, cool air. Norma sat in the back to periodically check on them.
We arove at our destination. When we arrived, she and her husband were making hay. See first photo.
On their farm, the chickens and goats live in the same building. See second photo.
We took the Blondies out of my car (third photo). Then Laah (fourth photo), put them in a dog crate (fifth photo) so we could transfer them to their new home.
The veteran chickens were walking about the area (sixth photo), wondering who the rookies were. Some were taking a dust bath. See seventh photo/video. I grabbed a few and introduced them to the Blondies, still in the cage. See eighth photo.
Eventually, the Rhode Island Reds all had a chance to meet the new arrivals but they were separated by a cage or fence. The 2 groups wouldn't actually get in contact with one another for awhile still. One has to be careful about introducing new birds to a flock. Otherwise, they can get violent.
The Blondies are smaller than the full-grown Rhode Island Reds but not by a lot. The Rhode Island Reds were purchased de-beaked so they wouldn't be able to cause as much damage to each other. In contrast, the Blondies are not de-beaked so hopefully they would be in a better position to defend themselves if the Rhode Island Reds gang up on them.
I left Laah about 9 pounds of starter feed and a small sandwich bag filled with starter grit.
As the sun set, the Blondies were frantic to roost. We put tool handles through the cage so they could.
I was very sad seeing them leave. Even though I knew from the start that they were temporary, I also knew that from about 2 days old until now, mine was the only home they knew. Their new home might be as good and perhaps even better than their old one. They would have much more space to roam and they would be out of their pen more often. I suppose I felt like a parent saying good-bye to their children who are off to college. A better analogy might be a kid that trains a puppy to help a disabled person and must eventually say good-bye.
I estimate that I spent a total of $42.60 on the Blondies, their food, grit, and pine shavings so that is what I charged for them.
On July 23, Laah reported the following regarding the Blondies:
They are pretty much out and about with the bigger hens, but they do not roost with them. I can tell that their tail feathers are getting bigger, and their "voices" are maturing.
On October 19, 2014, Norma went to the farm and visited the Blondies. They looked healthy. See ninth photo.
On November 30, 2014, I saw the Blondies. This was the first time I saw them since I sold them to Laah.
Tenth photo: Still looking healthy.
Eleventh photo: Just outside the house.
Twelfth photo: Unlike my chickens, the Blondies are not used to being as close to people anymore. Getting close to take a photo can be challenging.
Thirteenth photo: Laah's Rhode Island Reds (which she did not buy from me) are older than the Blondies. They are not looking so nice now because they are molting. But the Blondies are not because they are less than a year old. I find it strange that they molt as it gets cold. It seems like they would want to keep their feathers at this time of year.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Down to 8
Now that the Blondies are gone, I am down to 8 hens and within the legal limit for Howard County.
My coop and run are only made to hold 8 so I feel like the chickens I now have will be under less stress. Certainly the group dynamics have changed. The blondies were very outgoing and assertive.
One fear of mine is that one of girls will actually be a boy. Roosters are not permitted on lots like mine in Howard County. I don't know if I'd be able to give away a rooster which might mean the worst. But I knew that when I took the responsibility of ordering the chickens. As a good citizen, I will do what is right.
Based on what I read, roosters will typically begin crowing at about four or five months of age . As of July 27, 2014, my chickens are 14 weeks old. In 2 weeks, I'll start weaning them off the started feed which is good until 16 weeks of age. I guess at that point, they are like teenagers and undergoing puberty. If I had to make a guess as to who is a rooster, I would say Osprey. Molly pointed out that she (or he) has the long tail feathers that hang down. She is a little taller than most but she isn't assertive or aggressive. In fact, the opposite is true. She doesn't have leadership traits. I heard that one can drop something between young chickens. If all run away except one or two, it is those few that are likely roosters. I tried this and Osprey was the only one that didn't run away. They say that the rooster will look around, ready to protect the hens. But Osprey is not very smart, even by chicken standards. She tends to be one of the last to figure out that everyone else is going someplace. Still, I fear that she is a rooster. Only time will tell.
July 26: The girls are curious by nature. See Gertrude in the first photo checking out my camera. I spend a lot of time in the backyard working on the yard and when I'm there, I let them out. They often follow me around and like to see what I'm doing, especially if it involves digging. I've trained them to come running when I whistle because they think they are getting a treat. In this case, it is fermented feed. See second photo.
I was working near the spring. They came to watch me and in doing so, found the standing water from the spring and started drinking it. If this was a clean flowing spring, I wouldn't have a problem with it but the ground is very soft and a footprint will soon fill with water which becomes stagnant. I hope to have this resolved in another month or two but in the meantime, I'm concerned they might catch something so I put out a clean bowl of water out where they hang out near the cherry tree.
August 3, 2014: Norma learned that the chickens do not like tomatoes. We've read that other people's chickens like them...just not ours. I tried feeding them some cole slaw awhile back and they didn't like that either.
August 7, 2014: I feed them some cooked quinoa. They ate it but I don't think they liked that I had just gotten it out of the fridge.
They are 17 weeks old as of today. At 16 weeks, they are supposed to transition from chick feed to adult feed. They still have another week or two of chick feed that I'll finish off before I open the new bag of adult feed and get them started on adult grit.
The twins are looking more different. My favorite, the one I call "Crooked Toe" is a little smaller and has a smaller comb. I determined that she is a dominique so her name is Dorothy. The other one is a Barred Plymouth Rock and her name is Beatrice. Mystery solved.
On August 9, 2014, I saw Laah who gave me an update on the Blondies. They seem to be getting along with the Rhode Island Reds and she hasn't witnessed any bullying. What is interesting is that they aren't sleeping near each other. The Blondies fly up into the rafters. In the coop I made, the rafters were the favorite place to nest but in the chicken and goat shed, the rafters are 7-8 feet high. I'm guessing they first get on a 4 foot fence that keeps the goats in their place. Then they fly up. But that is quite a feat. Getting down is also impressive. I wonder if, when I return, they will recognize me. I am still sad that they are gone but I think they are in a very good place.
August 15, 2014: Rosemary and Edith used to be the biggest hens. Now, Rosemary is small, by comparison. She doesn't have a very strong personality so the more confident ones, Abigail, Dorothy, and Beatrice, chase her away when I bring out snacks. I try to make sure she gets some but she doesn't like to get near people. I think the whole Gatorade incident traumatized her. Gwendolyn is another one that is small and prone to getting picked on. But at least she will eat out of my hand if the others don't interfere. In contrast, Abigail used to be the runt and now she is quite bulky. But she was always very confident. So now she has the muscle to back it up.
They love sunflower seeds (shelled). Who doesn't?
In the third photo, the girls are taking a dust bath under one of our fruit trees. If you look closely, you can see all their faces except Osprey.
On about August 20, they started consuming adult feed.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Let the laying begin!
Before I left for vacation on August 19, 2014, I put down some straw in the nesting boxes. Our good neighbors checked on the girls and reported that the straw was looking like it was being flattened out and arranged like a nest. Sure enough, when Norma and I came home August 27, I found a single egg in the middle nesting box. It was small...barely 2" at its longest point. Its color is light beige. See first photo. My chicken sitter thinks Abigail is the culprit since she had been spending some time in the nesting box. This makes 20 weeks since their birth to the first egg.
Over the next few days, I got more eggs, all looking the same. I seem to be getting about 2 every 3 days. I didn't bother to put fake eggs in the nesting box to teach them where to lay. They just figured it out on their own. I fear that on days where they spend a lot of time outside, they might choose to lay in the yard but so far I haven't found any.
On September 2, 2014, I found 3 eggs! This is the first time I found more than one. Two were in a single nesting box while one was under the coop. Someone is a slow learner.
On September 5, 2014, Norma witnessed a couple of very interesting things. She found two normal eggs. But she also found an egg that was laid without a shell. It looked like a broken egg but there were no shell fragments. It was laid in the run.
Soft shells or missing shells occur when a hen's shell-forming mechanism malfunctions or for some reason one of her eggs is rushed through and laid prematurely. Stress induced by fright or excitement can cause a hen to expel an egg before the shell is finished .
Later that day, she found another egg with a soft, flexible shell. At first I thought it was just a membrane but Norma says it is a soft shell. It was laid in the coop, outside of the nesting box. See second photo.
On September 9, 2014, we ate some of our first eggs. Norma scrambled them and mixed them with rice, bell peppers, ocra, and other stuff. I would like to say that they tasted much better than store-bought but I really couldn't tell since there were so many other flavors in this dish.
I was hoping to find an egg with no yolk. These are called a cock egg. We found no such eggs.
As of September 12, 2014, four of them are laying. Two lay brown eggs and two lay white. I'm not sure who exactly is laying but I am fairly certain that at least Rosemary and Abigail are laying while the Easter Eggers are not.
On September 13, 2014, we gave a dozen eggs to our good neighbors Sara and Don, who took care of the girls when we were on holiday. They are the recipients of the first eggs we have given or sold.
On September 17-24, 2014, my parents paid me a visit. They were very pleased to meet the girls. We took quite a few photos of the chickens.
On September 23, 2014, I gave a dozen eggs to my very good friend Jenn.
On September 29 2014, we got a very interesting egg. It was 2.7 inches long and the shell had a few spots that were extra thick...as if someone had glued on a couple chipped pieces of another shell. See third photo. But the most interesting thing was the top. It had a swirly pattern. See fourth photo. I don't know who laid this egg. We got another egg a couple days later that also had this swirly pattern.
As of October 1, 2014, here is my assessment of the girls, who are now 25 weeks old. I are listed in terms of my favorite to least favorite.
Beatrice: She is friendly and full of life. If anyone flies up on your shoulder, back, or arm, it will be her.
Dorothy: Not only does she look like Beatrice, she acts like her too. The two of them have great personalities.
Gertrude: She is curious and adventurous. She's not afraid to walk up on the deck and look for a handout. If anyone were to win an agility contest it would be her. She is very athletic. Gertrude also pecks hard. Feeding her by hand might be a little painful.
Gwendolyn: She is the runt. Because of that, she is a little shy and is sometimes picked on. I have to make a special effort to make sure she gets treats when I'm handing them out. After a few weeks of making sure she gets her share of treats, she has become much more friendly around people.
Osprey: Chickens aren't known for being particularly smart and I think Osprey might be the least intelligent of the bunch. When the others are walking up the plank and into the coop, she's still trying to figure out how to get into the run. But folks like her for her good raptor-like looks.
Rosemary: She has never been particularly friendly and even though she is not small, she sometimes gets picked on. She lacks confidence.
Edith: She is a big of a loner. She doesn't bother anyone and she is a little shy. She can fly great when she wants.
Abigail: She is a loner and a bully. I think she has low self-esteem issues because she is a little overweight and a terrible flier. She picks on Gwendolyn and Rosemary. Even when there is plenty of food, if Gwendolyn or Rosemary are next to her and eating quickly, Abigail will chase them away. I give her a light slap on the head when she does this.
It isn't easy taking photos of chickens. They are not cooperative models. Every once in awhile, I can get all 8 in a shot. See the fifth photo, taken on October 17, 2014.
On October 24, 2014, I fed the girls their usual mash. Norma came out with a camera so I could show how tame my favorite four have gotten.
Sixth photo: On the left in the front is Dorothy with Gwendolyn behind. On the right is Beatrice with Gertrude behind. Rosemary is on the far right, looking for a spot to perch. She tried to fly up on my knee but fell off.
Seventh photo: Side view of the above.
Based on what I've read, it sometimes takes longer for Easter Eggers to start laying. Once they start laying, they will often squat down once someone gets near. This hasn't happened yet with Osprey (an Easter Egger) so she can be difficult to catch. But not this time. See eighth photo.
Abigail and Edith are the least social of the group when is comes to interacting with people. See the ninth photo. Abigail is in the front and Edith behind. I recently saw the two of them square off. They bumped chests like sumos. Edith was the winner. Since then, the two have become BFFs.
On October 26, 2014, our neighbors Sara and Don came over for dinner. Naturally, they had to see the girls. In the tenth photo, Gwendolyn shows just how tame she has become while in the eleventh photo, all are hungry and ready for some mash.
On November 6, 2014, we noticed Abigail demonstrating broody behavior. She was sitting on eggs at night instead of roosting. We removed the eggs and that was the end of that.
Around November 16, 2014, I started using the Heated Base, Model HP-125 by Farm Innovators. This is a 125 watt device that keeps my double wall metal fount from freezing. It is designed to keep water from freezing in temperatures as low as 10 degrees. It is more than a month out from winter and we're already getting low temperatures of 19! The heated base works fine with a regular 120 volt outlet.
On November 20, 2014, I observed Rosemary limping. I did not see any other signs of injury on Rosemary and the other girls seemed fine. I'm wondering if Blackie, our neighbor's cat got her. Norma and I checked her out that evening. We saw no open wounds or swelling. She did not respond with pain when the injured (left) leg was touched or squeezed. After a few weeks, she was fine.
I swapped the power source back to the solar charged battery. I'll see how that works with the heated base. My guess is that even though it is intended to be good for 150 watts, it might have drained the battery. Or, perhaps running the heated base with the door opener amounted to too much wattage. I might just connect the coop to the 110 volt outlet rather than the solar one for the rest of the winter.
On November 23, 2014, Carmen and her friend Daniella came over. Beatrice made friends with Carmen (twelfth photo) while Dorothy plucked Daniella's pearl earring off her ear and swallowed it. Daniella took some photos of Norma and me with Asha and the girls for our 2014 Christmas card. See thirteenth photo. Dorothy showed no ill signs from swallowing the pearl.
In December 2014, I put up a windbreak on the north and northwest sides of the coop. These are where the coldest and prevailing winds blow. I used the old corrugated plastic walls of the brooder I purchased to create the windbreak under the coop. This was secured by zip ties. For the run, I used a canvas tarp suspended by Easy Klips. This wasn't a cheap solution but it certainly did the job.
On Christmas Day 2014, Norma tended to her garden while the girls tried to help. See fourteenth photo.
January 7, 2015 was our first really cold winter day. It got down to 10 degrees at night. I put in a 75 watt heat lamp. I know plenty of people don't provide supplemental heat for their chickens and they do just fine but personally, I think anything below 20 degrees is too darn cold for a warm blooded critter without a lot of fat that doesn't burrow. It is hard to find heat lamp bulbs under 175 watts but if you look in the reptile section of a pet store, you'll find them. According to Pet Solutions - Fluker's Red Heat Incandescent Reptile Bulb, a 75 watt heat bulb should provide 85 degrees of warmth at 18 inches from the source. A table at this link lists other wattages and distances. A 40 watt heat bulb provides 78 degrees at 18 inches while a 150 watt heat bulb provides 95 degrees at 18 inches. The relationship between heat and distance is non-linear but if you have some numerical analysis skills, I'm sure you could write a polynomial function that interpolates the heat and distance relationship.
On January 10, 2015, Norma and I put petroleum jelly on the combs of the chickens with longer combs: Beatrice, Gertrude, Rosemary, and Gwendolyn. Beatrice is losing feathers around her neck for some reason.
On January 11, 2015, I found a green egg under the coop. This was the first green egg I've found. Clearly, it was from an Easter Egger (Osprey or Edith). It was a subtle lime green...the color one might expect of an egg laid by a zombie chicken. It took them 9 months to start laying as compared to some of the others that started in less than 5 months. In the fifteenth photo, you can see a green egg compared with a brown one. This was my first green egg and it was cracked...hence the darker lines. The others have been fine and laid in the nesting box.
On January 29, 2015, I had 2 green eggs laid in a single day. Thus, there is no doubt that both Easter Eggers are laying. I was hoping one would lay green eggs and the other blue but their eggs look nearly identical.
On January 31, 2015, I got 5 eggs. That's the most I've gotten in a single day. Usually, hens don't lay as much when the days are short but I think I now have all 8 laying so production is good. I expect in the spring I'll have about 6 a day.
I spoke too soon. Within 10 days, the girls set a record with 6 eggs in one day and then 7! The sixteenth photo shows some of the eggs they had been laying over a few days.
On February 15, 2015, the morning temperature outside was 6 degrees. There was a northwest wind of 28 to 33 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 55. That night, it is supposed to get down to 2 degrees with wind chill values as low as -14. Wind chill isn't much of an issue since the coop blocks any wind and I have windbreaks put up on the run on the north and west sides (the dominant wind direction). Still, it was crazy cold. In 20 degree weather, I've seen them act normal. But not today. Most of them didn't want to leave the coop. I kept the 70 watt heat lamp bulb on all day and night. I brought food and water into their coop. I used our cat's water bowl for the chickens and put it on top of a big wooden platform to prevent them from tipping it over. I know you're not supposed to bring water into the coop but I was worried they might dehydrate if I didn't. I had to replace that water frequently to ensure it didn't freeze. The water under their coop has a heater so I wasn't worried about their main water supply, though it was just doing a mediocre job at these temperatures.
I found a single egg in the morning and it was broken. It wasn't just cracked. It looked like someone laid it and then they (or another hen) pecked it and made a small hole from which they could eat the contents. I've heard that once chickens learn to eat their eggs, it can be a hard habit to break. So I checked their nesting box frequently during this cold weekend and immediately removed any eggs I found. I think because it is so cold and they don't want to go out, they are worried about getting food and water. That's part of the reason I'm letting them eat and drink in the coop. In general, I forbid it but when it gets this cold, I'll make an exception. Their thermometer gives me temperatures inside and coop and out. Outside it was 8 degrees. Inside, it was 32 around the level of the pine shavings.
Eventually, they started coming out of the run but they really didn't like it and avoided it if they could. See seventeenth photo. I know I wouldn't want to be walking around in the snow with my bare feet so I can't blame them.
On February 17, 2015, Norma and I put more petroleum jelly on the combs of the four hens with long combs.
During the wee hours of Friday, February 20, 2015, it was zero degrees, according to Wunderground - February 2015. That was my first time I had experienced non-positive temperatures. This same source said it got down to negative two degrees the next night though I find this questionable.
The snow melts under the deck first so I dug a path so they could get there. The dirt there is also very good for dust baths. The first night, some of them weren't smart enough to make it back to the coop so I had to carry them.
Around February 25, 2015, I quit using their heat lamp. Maybe I'll just use it if it gets exceptionally cold but everyone I spoke to claims they don't need it. Laah (my sister-in-law) never uses it at her Garrett County farm and it is usually 10 degrees colder there than in Savage. I think the reason I've been getting so many eggs is because the heat lamp is affecting their sleep patterns, making them think there is more daylight than there really is. I didn't think that would be the case since it isn't full spectrum but otherwise it is hard to explain why I am sometimes getting 7 eggs a day from 8 hens. Based on what I read, laying that much in the winter is hard on the girls. I'd rather get fewer eggs and have them live longer, happier lives. Interestingly, regardless of how cold it gets or whether or not I have the heat lamp on, the internal temperature of the coop at the level of the pine shavings never seems to drop below 32 degrees. I'm guessing that is largely because the decomposing poop gives off some heat. In January 2016, when the temperature was 20 degrees, I tried to confirm this with my infrared thermometer. Inside the coop, the temperature was 20 degrees, even though my Taylor 1522 Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer indoor probe said it was 32. After reading the description of the Taylor 1522, it turns out the indoor probe has a temperature range of 32 to 122 while the outdoor probe has a range of -40 to 158. So using the indoor probe, I'll never really know how cold it is inside the coop if it is below 32 degrees.
In the game of Hackysack, you stand amongst a circle of people and kick a small footbag (called a hackysack) to each other. If everyone in the circle kicks the bag before it touches the ground, then it is called a "hack." I use a similar term for my chickens. If each lays one egg in a single day, then it is called an "egg hack." On March 11, 2015, we had our first egg hack. On March 16, we had another.
Also on March 16, 2015, Gwendolyn was attacked by a raptor. I wasn't home at the time but Norma was. She was working in her garden when out of the corner of her eye, she thought two of the chickens hit each other in midair. But on closer examination, she saw one of the birds fly away into a tree. The one that flew away was a raptor and it flew to its mate. On the ground with feathers all around was little Gwendolyn, the runt of the group. It appears the raptor tried to carry her away and was unsuccessful. Norma said she was only about 10 feet away when this happened. Gwendolyn was unharmed. No obvious injuries and the next day she was fine too. The girls seemed oblivious to what just happened. They just went about their normal business of scratching and pecking. Norma put them in the run for the rest of the evening. This all occurred around 1915. This is the first time this has happened. With our nice privacy fence, we figured raptors would be the biggest threat. We decided to keep the girls in the run for the next week unless one of us was outside watching. The next day, I did just that, staying with them for about 45 minutes before they went into the coop for the evening. I kept looking in the trees for any raptors but didn't see any. Norma contacted Andy B., a raptor expert, and described what happened. He replied,
My bet would be [the attacker was a] Red-shouldered Hawk based on the fact that there was a pair. Coopers Hawks have been known to go after chickens but there wouldn't be two of them together. Red-tailed Hawks would be paired now, but they are much bigger and would have taken it away with ease. You may have to keep watch because hawks and owls are opportunists and will keep coming back.
On March 21, 2015, I switched the power from grid to solar. I'm hoping our last day of snow was March 20, 2015. At this time, their food and water consumption increased noticeably as compared to a month ago. A couple of days later, I turned off the solar. It wasn't sufficient. Not enough sun and we still have a few cold nights that require the fount heater.
On March 28, 2015, I ran a test on the solar panel. I had heard that the battery should be placed in close proximity to the panel because voltage is lost over distance. The cord attached to the panel is about 10 feet long. In addition to this, I was using an extension cord that is about another 15 feet long. This just made it easier to position the battery where it would be out of the way. Around 1100 that day, I tested the voltage both at the end of the 10 foot long cord and at the end of the 15 foot long cord attached to the 10 foot long cord (equivalent to a 25 foot long cord). The difference in voltage between the two was insignificant.
On April 11, 2015, I tried switching the power from grid to solar again. Still no good though I don't think it has anything to do with not enough sunlight. The only thing that uses electricity is the timer switch and the motor for the door. The fount heater has been removed so any electric usage should be minimal. I tried it out with two different inverters. Neither worked. All I can figure is that there wasn't enough power in the battery. Maybe the problem is the battery and maybe it is the solar panel. Regardless, I've spent far too much money on this and don't plan to spend anymore. I'm sticking with grid power for now.
In June 2015, the oak tree on the south side in our back yard became a victim of alcohol flux:
Alcoholic flux is a stress-related disease that affects sweet gum, oak, elm and willow trees. It usually occurs after a period of very hot, dry weather. The disease is caused by a microorganism that ferments the sap that seeps or bleeds from cracks and wounds in the bark. The result is a white, frothy ooze that has a sweet, fermenting odor similar to beer. Alcoholic flux is sometimes called frothy flux or foamy canker because of the white ooze that looks and feels like melted marshmallows. Fortunately, this ooze only lasts for a short time in summer.
The girls and several insects really like the fermented sap that oozes from the tree. When I let them out of the run, that is sometimes the first place they often go.
Around July 12, 2015, Abigail became broody. I read what someone else had done at Community Chickens - Bye Bye Broody. But the best advice I found was at Backyard Chicken Keeping - Broody Hens and Raising Chicks Naturally:
Tip #1: Place the broody hen in a wire cage and hang it up in the hen house. The open wire cage bottom cools off her underside and that along with the swinging motion from the cage being hung up tends to break the broodiness.
Tip #2: Place ice cubes under her in the nest in place of eggs. Replace the ice cubes as needed as they melt.
Tip #3: Take the broody hen and dunk her underside into a bucket filled with icy cold water.
I borrowed my neighbor's dog crate and filled it with pine shavings. I put a bowl of food and water in there and then put Abigail in solitary confinement during the day. But when I got home from work, I let her and the others out but closed the coop until late in the afternoon. Then I put a blue ice block in each nesting box. So instead of sleeping in the nesting box, Abigail chose to fly up onto the roost. If she had slept in the nesting box, that would have been fine too since it would have cooled her off. After observing that she did go to roost, I removed the block before I went to bed. I didn't want to keep any of the others from laying in the nesting box in the wee early morning hours. I used the solitary confinement treatment on her for three days and then the ice block for one night. If I had to do it all again, I'd do both from the start.
Around this time, someone laid an extremely small egg that looked more like a songbird egg. See eighteenth photo. Had I not found it in the middle of the coop, I would have thought it wasn't from one of my chickens. My guess is that is is from Abigail and maybe she laid it shortly before or after becoming broody or after coming off being broody.
In early August, I noticed Abigail was sleeping in the nesting box again. But as Norma pointed out, she wasn't broody. She's not as athletic as the others and sometimes has difficulty getting to the lowest perch which is only about 14 inches from the floor. So I made a ramp just for her so she could walk to the perch. After a few days, she used it consistently and now she sleeps with the other girls.
On September 16, 2015, I was mowing the yard and saw a wood frog. The frog was keeping an eye on me and didn't see Abigail attacking. She caught it then ran as Edith chased her. Then she put it down and it started hopping away. She re-caught it and then Edith took it. Then Abigail took it back and ran off. She shook it hard and hit it against the ground to kill it. Then she ate it. I also found a box turtle that day in the yard.
On September 16, 2015 and for the next few weeks, the girls were confined in the run or a 15'x15' fenced-in space just outside the coop. This is because I finished my retaining wall and planted a lot of new grass...about 1000 square feet of it. So it was to help the grass get started and to protect them from eating fertilizer that I kept the girls confined. Want to know what type of grass to plant for your area and when to plant it? Check out Great Day Improvements - When to Plant Grass Seed in Your State.
As of September 18, I believe Osprey is molting. She lost her tail and there are feathers all over the coop and run. It is amazing how small she looks now. The others haven't started yet.
In early October, Beatrice started molting. Then it was Edith. It takes about a month before they have their new feathers. When they are molting, I've heard that they should be treated extra gently and given a higher protein diet to facilitate new feather production.
On October 21, 2015, I did a thorough coop cleaning. I typically replace a lot of the pine shavings and clean the windows every 6-8 weeks but this was what I call a twice a year cleaning where I remove all the pine shavings and straw, hose and scrub things down, let things dry thoroughly, do paint touch-ups, make any repairs, etc.
Also on October 21, Norma got a call from a neighbor who said there was a chicken running around on Baltimore Street in her neighbors front yard. We went over and found it under a pickup truck. It went behind some bushes and Norma caught it. Since it was nighttime, it wasn't too difficult. We brought it home and put it in a dog cage with some pine shavings, food, and water. See nineteenth photo. Norma and I were foster parents! I put up several signs in the neighborhood to try and find the owner. I went around to three houses with chickens and asked if it was theirs. I also reported a found chicken on our community listserve and Norma posted a similar message along with a photo on the community Facebook page. I determined it is a Black Star hen. For now I am calling her Bertha because she is so large and the 'B' in Bertha is alliterative with the 'B' in Black Star. I kept her in the garage mostly but I put her cage outside for a few hours so she could get some sun and fresh air. I also wanted to see how my chickens responded to her. They were curious but Dorothy paid the most attention. Dorothy is the dominant chicken in my pack and she challenged Bertha. See twentieth photo. They pecked at each other between the bars of the cage. On October 25, I got a call from Michael J. on Baltimore Street. He said that he had gotten 5 or 6 chickens from someone he knows who is a vegetarian and raised her chickens organically. She gave them to him to eat. During the transfer, one of the chickens (Bertha) got away. The others were slaughtered. He said I can keep the chicken. She is 3 years old so she is past her egg laying prime. My goal then became to find a home for Bertha. I reached out to the chicken people that participated in the Howard County Coop-to-Coop Tour back in April 2014. I quickly had two offers and later a third. One woman, Tabby, who works for the Howard County Conservancy said she could take Bertha but she was way out in Mount Pleasant near Frederick. Another woman, Julie, lived just 15 minutes away in Fulton. Julie came by on October 27 and picked up Bertha. See twenty-first photo. Julie lives on three acres and has five other chickens. She also has children who gave Bertha a new name...Aang, an Airbender character. A happy ending!
Norma and I took a photo for our 2015 Christmas card with the girls and Asha (our cat). See twenty-second photo.
In mid-November 2015, I found a dead squirrel under the coop, next to the feeder. I removed it and buried it. It was a small squirrel and I couldn't tell how it died. I'm thinking my girls ganged up on it and killed it. After seeing how Abigail ferociously took the life of the frog in my yard, I have no doubt a few chickens could kill a squirrel. The moral of the story is "Don't mess with the chickens' food."
Winter Storm Jonas brought about 29 inches of snow to our town on January 22-24, 2016. The girls hate snow. You can see in the twenty-third photo that they are very hesitant to step out onto it, even to get a treat. Before digging us out, I dug a path to the coop. Then I cleared snow out of their run. Even though it is covered above, the winds were strong and blew snow in from the sides. They would not leave the coop until I removed snow. Then, only a few would leave. So I put a bowl of food in the coop. We save fat/oil and use it to provide them with extra winter calories to stay warm. I melt it and drip the grease onto their feed.
After some snow melt, I gave the girls their favorite treat...mealworms! See twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth photos
Since mid-autumn of 2015, the Easter Eggers pretty much quit laying, Then in late January 2016, they started up again. They were making up for lost time with the two of them producing at least as many eggs as the other six.
In early winter, egg production dropped to about one a day. I was not providing supplemental light or heat. With temperatures getting really cold in February 2016, I deeply contemplated providing heat via lamps but decided not to. Most folks I know do not and there are plenty of people in colder places that also do not provide heat for their chickens. Additionally, just look at all the wild birds that don't need heat lamps. They certainly don't have body types as well suited to the cold as full sized chickens.
I spent the weekend of March 5 and 6, 2016 building tree planters...I guess that's what they're called. I used 4x6 beams to make wooden retaining walls around our fruit trees. Why am I making planters? The chickens scratch around the trees, throw mulch all over the place, and end up exposing the roots. So with the planters, I can add more dirt, create a more level area, and then put down rocks to prevent the chickens from getting to the roots. See twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh photos. I stained them using the same stuff I use for our boardwalk, fence, and deck: Olympic Maximum semi-transparent 6 year protection 716 Cedar Natural Tone. You can find this at Lowe's. I also ended up purchasing five tons of 1-3 inch red brown stone from the Stone Store for $89 per ton to put on these planters and a few other smaller ones. Our salesman, Eric Amaker, was extremely helpful. Between the rocks and dirt is weed control cloth. I finished the job on March 20. See twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth photos.
On March 7, 2016, someone laid a "blooper egg." I don't know who it was but it wasn't Edith or Osprey because it wasn't green. See thirtieth photo.
Egg production picked up pretty fast. As of March 16, 2016, they are averaging 6 eggs a day.
Of all my chickens, Abigail is the most high maintenance yet she produces the fewest eggs. She is the only one of my hens who has been broody and this has occurred several times now. On June 24, 2016, I tried to cool down her body temperature to snap her out of her broodiness. I filled the drain basin of one of my rain boxes and then submerged the lower half of her body in it. The water was cool. I held her in there for about three minutes. A frog swam by which she didn't notice. Good thing she didn't see it...she likes the taste of frog. Around dusk, while she was still wet, I put her in the dog cage that my neighbor had loaned me. I then placed it outside the chicken run. I was hoping the sixty something degree light breeze would help drop her temperature. But I made one serious error. The dog cage has bars that are about an inch apart. For a chicken run, they say to use hardware cloth that has about half inch holes. This is to keep racoons from reaching in. They can be strong and have been known to kill chickens by pulling them through the gaps in chicken wire. Chicken wire is meant to keep chickens out of stuff...it isn't made to protect them from predators. But I had never seen a racoon in Savage and I figured my backyard privacy fence would likely deter such critters. I was wrong. At 0345, Norma and I were suddenly awoken to an agonizing scream that was louder than a rooster crowing. As soon as I heard it, I knew what the problem was. We jumped out of bed, put on our glasses, and then ran outside after Norma grabbed her headlamp. We did not see the predator but around the dog cage were several of Abigail's feathers. She had clearly been attacked. I took her out of the cage and checked for injury. I found no wounds or blood but it must have been very scary and painful for her to have feathers ripped out during the night. I put her back in the coop where she was safe. Was she still broody? Yes. But at least she was alive.
The only time I was awoken so suddenly like that was during the Gulf War when Iraqi tanks broke through the front lines and headed towards my platoon. I remember our firewatch yelling "stand to!" This was similar to someone yelling, "Man your battlestations!" In a fraction of a second, we went from being asleep to running around in high gear. In the end, the A-10 Warthog planes took out the tanks before they reached out position. We were then told to "stand down." That was what I considered to be our first taste of combat, even though we never actually engaged the enemy. The night that Abigail was attacked was reminiscent of the enemy tank front line breach.
I think Abigail started being broody in 2016 around the beginning of June. She came out of it on her own on August 16, 2016. Someone laid a softshell egg and I believe it was her. What made this egg particularly special is that it had what looked like an umbilical cord attached. See thirty-first photo. Do we eat softshell eggs? Yes indeed. But you should eat them quickly. They are porous and they lose their water a little each day. The longer you wait, the more it will look like a deflated water balloon. She stopped being broody in late August and then started again maybe three weeks later.
Egg production is dropping off. As of mid-August, I'm averaging about four eggs a day.
Abigail doesn't run like the other chickens. Norma thinks she favors one leg over the other and I think she tends to "waddle." She is the worst flyer. In the late summer and early autumn of 2016, there were times when she slept in the nesting box but wasn't broody. Why would she do this? One night when I was gathering eggs, I heard a thud. I checked the coop and she had fallen from the roost where she was perched just a minute earlier. I expect that she has a weak leg and sometimes can't roost at night.
In November 2016, I noticed that Rosemary looked significantly different. Many of the girls had lost feathers due to molting but with Rosemary, she was missing most of her feathers on her neck and the top of her buttocks. It looks like some of the others had been picking on her. I didn't see bare skin but all her colorful feathers were removed from these areas. She was also walking hunched over and she had lost weight. She looked more like Gwendolyn's size. I don't know why she was hunched over. It almost makes me think a raptor tried to pick her up and damaged her back in the process. I ordered something called "Hot Pick" from Meyers Hatchery. It is described as a "A topical herbal anti-pick spray for cannibalism in poultry." I think it is new because it is not rated. I also saw Net-Tex Anti-Feather Pecking Spray on Amazon but it would have taken a long time to ship while Meyers could ship their product much faster. I'll let you know how it works. I wasn't too happy about Rosemary not being well but then my co-worker, Rod, told me that he had just lost four chickens to what he thinks is a fox. His weren't even of pullet age yet while mine are two years and seven months old. So I didn't feel so bad. Still, I am very concerned about Rosemary. Her feathers grew back quickly. Then I noticed that Dorothy was looking similar. Nobody dares pick on Dorothy since she is the dominant hen. So now I'm thinking that Rosemary was just molting.
Around Thanksgiving, Norma and I took our annual family photo to send out on Xmas cards. It is very difficult to get all 8 chickens and the cat in the photo. I used to hope I could get them to look at the camera but I don't think that will ever happen. See thirty-second photo. For Thanksgiving, I cut them up a cow's tongue and diced it up into small, bite sized pieces.
In January 2017, my very good friend, Jenn, got me a beautiful, framed photo of Gertrude, Gwendolyn, and Edith on the steps of our deck. Gertrude is the main focus. At first I couldn't tell if it was her or Rosemary but after looking at the points on their combs, I was certain it is Gertrude.
Also in January 2017, my friend Stacy sent me an article that describes just how smart chickens are. My summary of it is that "Chickens understand ordinality, trajectory, and delayed gratification. They also possess self-awareness. empathy, and are capable of referential communication." For the full article, see Science Daily - Think chicken: Think intelligent, caring and complex.
In late January 2017, I saw several feathers in one area of the yard and then noticed that Gertrude had bald patches. It was too late for moulting and if she was being picked on, the feather loss wouldn't have been so sudden. So I concluded that a raptor had attacked her. She had no injuries that I could see and behaved normally. But we did have a few cold nights where I brought her into the house. By two weeks, her feathers started growing back. It is amazing how fast they can recover.
As of March 5, 2017, they are laying about three eggs per day, compared with one egg per day about a month ago.
In March 2017, Norma learned that the best way to make hard boiled eggs is with a pressure cooker. The eggs taste better...I would describe them as tasting "smoother" and they are much easier to peel.
In June 2017, I made what I call a "screen wall." See thirty-third photo. I replaced the higher wall panel on the east side with a framed piece of hardware cloth. It is under the roof overhang so rain water shouldn't get in but it allows plenty of air to circulate and cool things off during the hot summer months. This was Norma's idea and like a good husband, I turned her idea into reality. By replacing the east panel instead of the west one, I avoid catching the dominant wind. This may sound counterintuitive since I want good air ciculation but I also don't want rain water to get in.
During summer, I open the windows to the coop fully. So they are almost horizontal. They end up catching a lot of dust. In July 2017, I noticed raccoon footprints in the dust. So far in 2017, we've caught and relocated three raccoons. But the one that left the footprints showed up after that. I guess this shows that my coop is predator-proof (or at least raccoon-proof).
As of July 23, 2017, we haven't had a single day where everyone has laid an egg. About a third of the time, I have to clean up a broken egg or softshell egg. I can't prove that someone is breaking their own eggs but that might well be the case. I know at least if encountering a broken egg, Abigail, Gertrude, and Dorothy will eat the contents. This is not good. Perhaps calcium supplements are in order to make the shells stronger but if they are intentionally breaking their own eggs, then this won't matter. By late August 2017, the girls quit breaking their own eggs. Not sure what the deal was with that but I wasn't happy.
At work, management bought Chinese food for the whole building. We had a LOT of leftover rice that they were going to throw out. I filled up ziplock bags and brought home most of the rice. I filled up the freezer and fridge until it would hold no more. Then the girls got a really big bowl full of rice for the next several mornings. Unlike the spent grain, it did not affect their eggs. I guess they can digest it and make use of the nutrients more easily than spent grain.
On September 9, 2017, I mowed the lawn. I saw a small, five inch long snake...but not before Gertrude saw it. She grabbed it, killed it, and then ate it. I don't know what kind of snake it was. Then I saw two skinks but the girls did not so they lived another day. Later, she ate a cicada.
On September 10, 2017, Norma and I went kayaking. On the way home, I saw the property of a like-minded person who loves their country and chickens. Rather than placing a bald eagle at the top of their flagpole, they put a chicken. A little patriotic humor (twenty-fourth photo). That same evening, we set up our new Marmot Limelight 3 tent in the backyard to test it out. The girls watched. See twenty-fifth photo. I like this shot of them because unlike most of their group photos, this captures more faces than feathery butts.
On October 1, 2017, I noticed that Gwendolyn was hunched over. She wasn't acting like herself. I picked her up and noticed that the area just below her vent was bloody. She had a large open sore about two inches long and one inch wide. It smelled like rotting flesh and was full of maggots. Norma and I took her inside and cleaned her up at the basement deep sink. We soaked her in warm, soapy water. Then we removed some loose, bloody feathers and cut away a few more around the wound. We poured hydrogen peroxide on the wound and proceeded to remove the maggots. There were literally a hundred or more. It took two hours. Then I laid out pine shavings in the basement shower and put her there with some food and water. A few hours later, we removed a few more maggots and then cleaned the wound with rubbing alcohol. We bought a generic version of Neosporin (which I will refer to as antiseptic cream) and used that to cover the wound. Gwendolyn doesn't appear to be in pain but she is very weak. What is the problem? Fly strike. For a description of this, read The Art of Doing Stuff - Flystrike: a chicken killer and Backyard Chickens - Poultry Fly Strike. Why Gwendolyn? She probably had feces that stuck to her feathers which flies then laid eggs in. Some chickens are just more prone to having feces stick to their butt. I don't check my chickens closely on a regular basis though I do make sure they make it into the coop every night. She was strong enough to jump onto the roost. Beyond that, I hadn't noticed anything special about her until today.
As of October 7, 2017, Gwendolyn is making significant progress. Every day, we have been inspecting her for maggots, cleaning the wound, and applying more antiseptic cream. She has been separated from the flock and will stay that way at least until October 10, perhaps much longer. To clean the wound, at first we were using hydrogen peroxide with a syringe. After three days of that, we switched to saline. Then she gets blow dried before applying the antiseptic cream. I've also started giving her a homeopathic antibiotic. I would have preferred giving her something stronger but as of this year, a law was passed that requires oral antibiotics for animals to now be prescribed by a veterinarian. We also bought Alushield Bandage which I expect we will use after she is re-introduced back into the flock. Gwendolyn is the runt of the flock and sometimes she gets picked on. I wonder if one of the other chickens created a cut that made it easier for the maggots to take hold. We have Hot Pick which we can use to help prevent this.
Twenty-sixth photo: We don't normally bring chickens into the house but for Gwendolyn, we made an exception on October 4, 2017.
Twenty-seventh photo: We keep our girls away from our garden because we don't want them eating the vegetables we grow for human consumption. But this is my sister-in-law's garden so I don't mind (ha, ha). Here, Gwendolyn is behaving naturally. She is walking around, eating, and looking for bugs. If it wasn't for her wound, you'd think she was perfectly normal.
As of October 14, 2017, it has been two weeks since we first found Gwendolyn a victim of flystrike. After daily cleaning, isolation from the flock, topical antibiotics, and and oral antibiotic, she is now back with her sisters. Tonight will be the first night she will be sleeping in the coop. She's far from being fully healed but I think she'll be able to go back to living a normal life. See twenty-eighth photo.
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For the last few months, I've been feeding my girls spent grain when I can get it. They really love it. My source is a fellow I know that brews his own beer. So if you know any beer makers, make sure they save the spent grain for your chickens. But I don't recommend feeding them too much, too often. Every other day seems o.k. based on my experience. I've noticed a correlation between the number of softshell eggs I get and the amount of spent grain they eat. Perhaps it is deficient in calcium and by filling up on it, their shells get soft. I don't know that for sure...just a theory. If I wanted to know for sure, I could buy Nutritional value for chickens of dried distillers-spent-grain from barley and dehulled barley but I'm too cheap and lazy to do so.
Later, I found a good article in the September/October 2016 Grit magazine titled "Spent Grains for Livestock Feed." Note that this is primarily written for owners of livestock but some sections are still relevant:
...spent grains can be fed to poultry if enzymes are added to help degrade the fiber to make them digestible.
Between 20 and 30 percent of the dry weight of brewery spent grains is protein, and 36 percent of this is rumen [not ramen]...
Spent grains are not nutritionally complete, so they are used as a supplement to regular feed. Animals fed spent grains will likely benefit from supplementary nitrogen and calcium.
The abstract of the first article mentioned the enzyme that chickens need to fully digest the spent grain. It is ß-glucanase:
When a comparison was made between the chickens which were fed the diet based on dried distillers-spent-grain from barley with or without ß-glucanase supplementation, the enzyme supplement was found to result in a better performance with respect to weight gain and feed conversion ratio.
One can purchase ß-glucanase (beta-glucanase) as a digestive enzyme health food supplement for human use. But my question is "How much should be given to chickens"? I guess I could read "Nutritional value for chickens of dried distillers-spent-grain from barley and dehulled barley" if I really want to know.
Beta-Glucanase represents a group of carbohydrate enzymes which break down glycosidic bonds within beta-glucan.
Beta glucans are a polysaccharide made of glucose molecules linked together into long chains that humans cannot readily digest. In more familiar terms they are cellulose plant fiber, cereal bran fiber, and parts of certain types of fungi, yeast, and bacteria. As a kind of indigestible fiber, they may become viscous in the intestinal tract and slow peristalsis (intestinal contractions).
Beta-glucans are health-promoting in that they act as intestinal fiber, which may help reduce high serum cholesterol levels and help create regularity through bulk formation. Water-soluble fibers may also help to regulate blood sugar and reduce the likelihood of developing colon related diseases.
Due to these important benefits, it is important to include foods with beta-glucans in the diet, but it is equally important to have enough of the beta-glucanase enzyme. Why? Because Beta glucanase hydrolyzes these glucans, reducing viscosity, and helping to revitalize natural peristalsis. This enhances the digestive process, increasing the overall nutritional value of your food.
The Health Benefits of Beta-Glucanase
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Chickens help foster a sense of community.
For most people, they will generate more eggs than one can consume. So people end up selling or giving away the rest. In doing so, you get to know your folks in your community.
People, especially children, are curious about chickens and want to see them.
Once you develop an appreciation for chickens, you want to tell others about them (preaching the word).
Savage Fest 2014
I decided to "preach the word" about chickens on June 7, 2014. This was the date of Savage Fest, an annual community festival in my town. A few thousand people showed up on this lovely, sunny day. I had a booth called Savage Chickens (see first photo) set up where I showed Osprey, Abigail, and Gertrude. I picked them because they all look so different. Osprey was most people's favorite. See Osprey and Abigail in the second photo. Sara and Don loaned me their dog cage so I could display the girls. I printed out literature about chickens that I found at PG Hens - FAQ...yes, I did get their permission first. I also printed out info about the zoning requirements in Howard County for having chickens. Most people were not aware of the 2013 zoning law change that makes it easier for residents to have chickens. I displayed photos and several books that I picked up from the library.
My friend Molly brought two of her full-grown chickens to display along with mine. See third photo. Hers are a little over a year old. She said that once they started laying, they became much more docile. So she and her eldest son James had no problem picking them up and allowing people to pet them. In contrast, my 7 1/2 week old chicks don't like being touched or handled.
Overall, Savage Fest was a big success and I look forward to it next year.
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Savage Fest 2015
Like last year, I set up my chicken booth to inform the public about raising backyard chickens in Howard County. My neighbor and fellow chicken owner, Tim A., joined me all day. This gave me a chance to check up on the other events I organized: the Marine Corps League who were selling grilled sausages and the bean bag toss Savage Community Association (SCA) fundraiser.
I brought Edith and Osprey to show to the public. I also brought in various eggs laid by my hens. Folks were quite surprised to see that Edith and Osprey lay green eggs. My booth drew in quite a few people that had questions about chickens or that just wanted to see the girls. They were a big hit with the kids. Though I did not witness it, one of them laid an egg around 1630.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman stopped by to say hi in the early morning. He used to own chickens. Various friends and co-workers stopped by too: Allison, Yvette, Jorge, Teresa, Rey, and Wahab.
Janie helped me set up and was of great assistance to me during the busiest part of the day.
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Can one recoup the cost of owning chickens? Most sources tell me no. But I wanted to see for myself if I could and if so, what would be the return on investment (ROI) in terms of time?
When can one expect to get eggs?
Hens take 25 weeks to start laying.
A laying hen eats 25 pounds of grain before she'll lay her first egg .
How many eggs can one expect to get in a year?
Most hens need 24 or 26 hours, start to finish, to lay a single egg. so at most your birds will be able to produce one egg per day .
Assuming I have the 8 chickens shown in Roster, I can expect to have about 1660 eggs per year with each hen averaging 207.5 eggs (how can a hen lay half an egg?). As of 2013, I value a dozen eggs at $2.50 (this is how much I sell my sister-in-law's eggs for). This means the chickens should provide $345.83 worth of eggs per year given ideal conditions.
Question: How long does it take for a hen to lay an egg?
Answer: 25 hours from the initial phase of ovulation to egg laying. After the egg is laid, her body will rest for approximately 30 minutes and then she will ovulate again and start the entire process over .
How long will hens keep laying?
Replace hens every 2 years. Productivity will be dramatically reduced by the 3rd year .
Once a hen turns 3 years old, she's past her prime, and you'll notice a considerable drop in production. She may continue to lay until she's 10 or 12, though in steadily decreasing numbers .
There is a plethora of free information available on-line. You can also check out your local library. I have not purchased any books or magazines to learn about chickens but I did make use of my wife's Mother Earth News magazine which she subscribed to long before we had chickens. I also received the book A Chicken in Every Yard for my birthday. For Christmas 2013, I received Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow. I've found this to be the source that the hardcore chicken owners refer to although it is geared more for people that plan to have a lot more than 8 chickens. Of course your local library has a plethora of free information.
One time cost items for initial setup of coop and run:
Miller Manufacturing 9810 Round Jar Galvanized Feeder Base for Birds, 1-Quart: $5.99
Miller Manufacturing 9826 Mason Jar Water Base: $4.39
EcoGlow 20 Chick Brooder: $76.99
Fast Framer Universal Storage Shed Framing Kit: $49.99
Chicken Coop Motor by Add-a-Motor: $91.40
12v 55 ah 22NF Deep Cycle AGM Solar Battery: $134.57
G3500 NOCO -3.5A (3500mA) Genius Smart Charger: $60
NPower Crystalline Solar Panel Kit with Stand, Charge Controller and Inverter - 80 Watts, 12 Volt: $317.19
Valspar Duramax: $211.50 for two gallons of red and three gallons of white. I made use of a lot of spare primer I had lying around so I didn't have to spend much money on that.
Two gallons Kilz exterior/interior primer: $36
One quart Valspar Duramax semi-gloss black for nesting boxes: $19.06
Two 1"x4"x8' pressure treated pine boards for base of coop: $8.42. Fortunately, I was able to salvage a few
2"x3"x8' non-pressure treated pine boards. This served as the main ingredient for the frame of the coop and the run. I did not use any of this for ground contact, even though it was always painted. Only pressure-treated boards were used for ground contact. These cost $2.04 after tax for each board and I lost count as to how many I used but I think 30 is a reasonable figure. ~$61.20.
Four 2"x2"x8' non-pressure treated boards. I also made use of a couple that I had lying around. $7.80
Eight 2"x2"x8' pressure treated boards. $28.58
Four pressure treated 8 foot long 2x4s for the base of the runs: $15.14
Half inch thick BC ULX 4x8 plywood for removeable floor of coop: $29.12. This has a solid-surface veneer, the knot holes are 1/2 inch or less in diameter, the board is recommended for exterior use, and made with exterior-grade glue.
Four vinyl framed 32"x14" basement windows: $199.28. These are wide and short which makes them good for putting a little below the roof overhang so that light shines into the coop when the sun is low but not when it is high. The windows can be reversed to open outwards in a way that won't let water in so easily. This also makes it so that one can open/close the windows without having to be inside the coop...a must for chicken tractors. What I really like about it is that the whole window can open to let air in, unlike the sliding windows where only half of it opens. The 32" width is great too because that is how far apart the studs are in the coop.
Three pieces of 11/32" thick 4'x8' plywood for roof and nesting boxes: $74.64
Three pieces of 11/32" thick 4'x8' plywood for walls: $74.64
Two 14"x6" white steel three-way registers: $22.90
Two 8 foot long one-eighth inch thick and one inch wide aluminum rails to ensure the floor slides in and out of the coop without wearing out or damaging the wood: $28.76
Flexco, 4' long vinyl rubber baseboard. This is the thing you see in commercial buildings, not residential homes. I figured it would give my nesting box protection from the weather as a hinge cover. $2.47
Exterior drywall screws. I was able to make use of quite a few that I already had. Cost reflects only those I purchased. $53.79
Other types of screws. $5.91
Three 8' long PVC strips, about 1.5" wide and 3/8" thick used to prevent drafts and water from getting in between removeable panels. $16.28
30" long stainless steel hinge for nesting box. $16.49
12" nickel hinge (couldn't find stainless steel in this size) for door panel: $5.07
Latch for nesting box. $3.64
Four 1"x2"x8' pine furring strips for coop ramp. $16.83
Four tubes of Loctite Pro Line Premium Construction Adhesive: $19.42. Liquid Nails is supposed to be good too but this stuff is more versatile in that I can use it to glue together a wider variety of objects whereas with Liquid Nails, I would need a few different tubes depending on what I'm working with. I used it for attaching the aluminum rails (see above) and for gluing my vinyl flooring to the floor of the coop.
Two tubes of Red Devil painters caulk. $9.14
Little Giant Hanging Metal Poultry Feeder Cover: $8.76
Rubber baseboard as hinge cover for nesting box to keep rainwater from getting in. $3.33
Aluminum bar to hold rubber baseboard. $6.17
Aluminum 'U' bar to ensure smooth operation of the door. $9.95
Sanding sponges. $7.92
Miscellaneous hardware. Stainless steel used when exposed to the outside. $16.29
Caulk. $3.07 for 2 tubes. I was able to use a lot of leftover stuff so I really should have paid a lot more
Two hinges to attach ramp to door panel. $3.77
Aluminum bar to attach ramp hinges to door panel. $4.64
35 bags of drainage rock to provide an approximately 2.5 inch thick layer over a 9'x9' area (about 1400 pounds). $166.02
2"x12"x12' pressure treated boards for foundation border. $88.31
2"x4"x10' pressure treated boards for run. $20.65
16 angle brackets for run. $33.58
Carriage bolts, washers, locking nuts, staples, and non-locking nuts. I ended up opting for non-locking nuts since they put less tension on the carriage bolts. $76.71
4'x25' hardware cloth with 1/2" holes. Southern States is much cheaper than Home Depot for this. $197.15
2'x25' hardware cloth with 1/2" holes. $35.48
2"x4"x12' pressure treated boards for run. $23.39
Pine handrails. These are 2.25" wide, 1" thick, and 8' long. These are the roosting poles. $47.59
Taylor 1522 Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer for monitoring the temperature of the brooder: $7.99
Brooder heat lamp: $12.67
250 watt infrared red bulb for heat lamp: $6.35
75 watt heat lamp bulb: $15.88
Arduino Uno Ultimate Starter Kit: $54.99
Two bells. Supposedly they like to peck at shiny things so I figured they might have fun with these. But no, they totally ignored them. $6.35
Corner brackets for making doors to run below coop: $16.79
Hinges for making doors to run below coop: $6.93
Gate hook for making doors to run below coop: $3.96
Eye screws for hanging feeder: $4.20
S hooks for hanging feeder: $2.10
4 2"x2"x8' pressure treated lumber for making doors to run below coop: $14.29
Farm Innovators Baby Chick Starter Home. This is the thing made with plastic walls to keep the chicks rounded up. I bought two so I could accommodate 12 older chicks that would need 2 square feet per bird. $50.86.
Conduit, 100 feet of 12 gauge wire, electrical connectors, electrical boxes, outlets, etc. to hardwire coop for optional 110 volt electricity or electricity generated by NPower Crystalline Solar Panels: ~$350
One great way to help cut the cost of having chickens is to put chicken accessories on your birthday and Christmas wish lists. That is what I did and in addition to getting the book Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, I also received the following from my generous parents, wife, and in-laws:
12 pound chicken feeder for 8 hens: $21.56
5 gallon water fount: $43.40
HP-125 Water fount heater: $46.78
One time cost items for chicken run version 2.0:
Hardware to include screws, nuts, washers, and staples: $66.30
Hardware cloth: $26.48
Tuftex Seacoaster polycarbonate roofing panels: 5 for a total of $107.70
Toftex fasteners: $13.70
Handrail to be used for perch and swing: $36.50
96" sliding door rails: $50.84
Two inch safety gate hook: $1.98
4'x15' canvas drop cloth to be used as windbreak: $19.33
Clips for holding canvas drop cloth by Easy Klip: $47.69
This is what it is all for
12 chicks ordered from Meyer Hatchery: $83.59. 8 are for me and 4 (Buff Orpingtons) are for my sister-in-law. All have Marek's (HVT) Vaccination. I'll raise hers until they are ready to go into the coop.
Recurring cost items in first year:
Feed: The "Storage for Feed, Bedding, Manure (for 6 layers)" slide of  claims 6 layers consume 2 pounds of food per day which equates to fifteen 50 pound bags per year. Doing the math, this means 8 chickens will consume 2 2/3 pounds per day or twenty 50 pound bags per year. This is 1000 pounds!
9 bags of 25 pounds of all grain starter feed, non-medicated: $80.93.
5 pound bag of grit: $7.94
Two 5 pound bags of starter grit: $11.64; as of June 18, 2014, they consumed one bag
A 10 pound bag of oyster shell grit: $3.38
As of November 25, 2014, 8 bales of pine shavings have been purchased and 6 used: $56.06
One heat bulb replacement. I'm guessing that since these burn 24/7 when the chicks are small, they don't last long. Always good to keep a spare handy: $11.64
Bags of dried mealworms and other treats: $16.30
As of February 16, 2015, 9 bags of 50 pound Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder Crumbles have been purchased. I was told the crumbles (versus the pellets) are easier for pullets to consume. They have consumed 6 bags as of February 28, 2015. $136.63
As of February 16, 2015, one 10 pound bag of Manna Pro scratch. They're not too crazy about this stuff. $15.89
Five pound bag of oyster shell calcuium supplement to ensure eggs have sufficiently strong shells: $7.34
The first thing I considered was the manure.
Chicken manure is an excellent and surprsingly valuable fertlizer. Currently [based on a 2012 source], 20-pound bags of organic chicken manure fertlizer can fetch a price of between $10 and $20. A fully grown four-pound laying hen produces approximately a quarter-pound of manure per day. In comparison, an average dog produces three-quarters of a pound per day, or three times as much waste as one hen .
Assume I have 8 chickens, which is the legal limit in Howard County, Maryland. That means that over one year, they will produce 8 x 0.25 x 365 = 730 pounds of manure. At $10 for a 20 pound bag, that equates to $365 in manure.
Another source claims much less.
Each of your hens will produce - get this - 45 pounds of poop a year .
This means I can expect 8 x 45 = 360 pounds of manure per year which is worth about $180.
Chickens help control the bug population. Unfortunately, they also eat the good bugs (e.g. earthworms). So I will consider their monetary value as an insecticide to be neutral.
The difference between being involved and committed is like a ham and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved but the ham is committed.
A chicken is better than all the happiness in the world.
Proof: Nothing is better than all the happiness in the world.
A chicken is better than nothing.
Therefore, by transitivity, a chicken is better than all the happiness in the world.
Roosters are a lot like men. First you are single, then you are married, and if you are unfortunate, you get divorced.
We've all seen boneless chickens in the store. Where do they come from? Well here are two answers.
Boneless chicken photo: Origin unknown
Boneless chicken drawing: from the "Far Side" comics
Takeo Ischi - New Bibi Hendl (Chicken Yodeling) 2011
A Japanese man singing in German and yodeling to chickens
Why the chicken crossed the road
You might be a redneck if...you turn your old car into a chicken coop. There's no homeowners association where I live but something tells me if I had a coop like this, the neighborhood might start one.
WARNING: The following chicken jokes may not be appropriate for children or uptight adults!
A woman walks into an accountant's office and tells him that she needs to file her tax return.
The accountant says, "Before we begin, I'll need to ask you a few questions."
He gets her name, address, tax file number, etc. and then asks," What is your occupation?"
"I'm a prostitute," she says.
The accountant is somewhat taken aback and says, "Let us try to rephrase that."...
The woman says, "OK, I ' m a high-end call girl".
"No, that still won't work. Try again."
They both think for a minute; then the woman says, "I'm an elite chicken farmer."
The accountant asks, "What does chicken farming have to do with being a prostitute?"
"Well, I raised 650 cocks last year."
"Chicken Farmer it is."
Fred was in the fertilized egg business. He had several hundred young 'pullets,' and ten roosters to fertilize the eggs.
He kept records, and any rooster not performing went into the soup pot and was replaced.
This took a lot of time, so he bought some tiny bells and attached them to his roosters.
Each bell had a different tone, so he could tell from a distance, which rooster was performing.
Now, he could sit on the porch and fill out an efficiency report by just listening to the bells.
Fred's favorite rooster, old Butch, was a very fine specimen, but this morning he noticed old Butch's bell hadn't rung at all!
When he went to investigate, he saw the other roosters were busy chasing pullets, bells-a-ringing, but the pullets, hearing the roosters coming, would run for cover.
To Fred's amazement, old Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn't ring.
He'd sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one.
Fred was so proud of old Butch, he entered him in the Brisbane City Show and he became an overnight sensation among the judges.
The result was the judges not only awarded old Butch the "No Bell Piece Prize" (pronounced "Nobel Peace Prize") but they also awarded him the "Pulletsurprise" (pronounced "Pulitzer Prize") as well.
Clearly old Butch was a politician in the making. Who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the unsuspecting populace and screwing them when they weren't paying attention.
Vote carefully in the next election, the bells are not always audible.
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World Egg Day
World Egg Day is celebrated on the second Friday in October.
In the November 17, 2013 issue of the Parade Magazine, Marilyn vos Savant answers the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Here is her answer:
I'd say it's the egg. Why? An animal (such as a chicken) is defined by the kind of creature it is, not by the kind of animal it gives birth to or by the kind of egg it lays. (A horse is a horse even if it gives birth to a mule.) But an egg is defined by the kind of creasure it contains. An egg holding a chicken is a "chicken egg," no matter what laid it. The same with a robin. If a robin pops out of an egg, it's a robin egg. So if you believe in evolution, at some point a creature that was almost a chicken laid an egg that contained a chicken, and as an egg is defined by the kind of creature it contains, the egg came first.
What do chickens and fencers have in common?
The answer? Electronic recording of hits.
The tip of the fencing weapon is the second fastest moving object in sport; the first is the marksman’s bullet! 
Because of such speed, electronic devices are used to record hits.
The foil fencer’s uniform includes a metallic vest, called a lamé, which covers the valid target area, so that a valid touch will register as a colored light. A tip is attached to the point of the foil and is connected to a wire inside the blade. The fencer wears a cord inside his uniform which connects the foil to a wire, connected to the scoring machine .
Similar technology has been used to record hits scored in "humane" cockfighting.
Once considered one of America's national sports, cocking [cock fighting] is now considered barbaric and inhumane and is illegal in the United States and its territories. However, a Nevada corporation is promoting a bloodless variation designed to "make this ancient sport legally acceptable...and allow gamecock breeders to continue to legally test and perfect their breed." Called game cock boxing, it involves covering the spurs with foam rubber gloves and fitting each cock with a vest that electronically records hits, so cocks can spar without causing injury .
Using egg whites to treat burns
This got sent to me in an e-mail. Is it a good practice? I'll tell you at the end.
A young man sprinkling his lawn and bushes with pesticides wanted to check the contents of the barrel to see how much pesticide remained in it.
He raised the cover and lit his lighter; the vapors ignited and engulfed him He jumped from his truck, screaming.
His neighbor came out of her house with a dozen eggs and a bowl yelling: "bring me some more eggs!"
She broke them, separating the whites from the yolks.
The neighbor woman helped her to apply the whites onto the young man's face.
When the ambulance arrived and the EMTs saw the young man, they asked who had done this. Everyone pointed to the lady in charge.
They congratulated her and said: "You have saved his face."
By the end of the summer, the young man brought the lady a bouquet of roses to thank her. His face was like a baby's skin.
Keep in mind this treatment of burns is being included in teaching beginner fireman. First Aid consists of first spraying cold water on the affected area
until the heat is reduced which stops the continued burning of all layers of the skin. Then, spread the egg whites onto the affected area.
One woman burned a large part of her hand with boiling water. In spite of the pain, she ran cold faucet water on her hand, separated 2 egg whites from the yolks, beat them slightly and dipped her hand in the solution. The whites then dried and formed a protective layer.
She later learned that the egg white is a natural collagen and continued during at least one hour to apply layer upon layer of beaten egg white.
By afternoon she no longer felt any pain and the next day there was hardly a trace of the burn. 10 days later, no trace was left at all and her skin had regained its normal color.
The burned area was totally regenerated thanks to the collagen in the egg whites, a placenta full of vitamins.
So is this something you would want to do yourself?
Akin to another Internet-spread rumor regarding the treatment of burns (which involved placing the injured extremity into a bag of flour), this seemingly helpful heads up also began making the online rounds in March 2011. In a nutshell, don't do it, because the danger of introducing salmonella into an open wound should not be toyed with.
- from Snopes - The White Albumen (broken link as of 2016)>
Why are there no chickens in nativity scenes?
On Christmas Eve 2014, I noticed several nativity scenes in my neighborhood. I also saw a depiction at one of my local churches. The manger scenes showed a donkey, sheep, and camel. Sometimes there was a cow. But never was there a chicken. I began to wonder why.
When were chickens first domesticated and when did they arrive in the Middle East?
It has been claimed (based on paleoclimatic assumptions) that chickens were domesticated in Southern China in 6000 BC. However, according to a recent study, "it is not known whether these birds made much contribution to the modern domestic fowl. Chickens from the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley (2500-2100 BC), in what today is Pakistan, may have been the main source of diffusion throughout the world." A northern road spread the chicken to the Tarim basin of central Asia. The chicken reached Europe (Romania, Turkey, Greece, Ukraine) about 3000 BC. Introduction into Western Europe came far later, about the 1st millennium BC. Phoenicians spread chickens along the Mediterranean coasts, to Iberia. Breeding increased under the Roman Empire, and was reduced in the Middle Ages. Middle East traces of chicken go back to a little earlier than 2000 BC, in Syria; chicken went southward only in the 1st millennium BC. The chicken reached Egypt for purposes of cock fighting about 1400 BC, and became widely bred only in Ptolemaic Egypt (about 300 BC).
- from Wikipedia - Chicken
So it might be the case that there were indeed domesticated chickens at the time but they might have only been used for cock fighting and not such a common sight on farms.
Another source says
There is no reference to chickens in the Old Testament sufficiently clear to specify our common domestic bird.
- from Bible History - Chicken
We know that chickens were present by the Christian era, because Jesus mentions them in the passage: "How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings," Matthew 23:37 and also in the passage about the cock crowing three times on the night of His betrayal.
- from Yahoo Answers - Can someone tell me even more about chickens in ancient Israel?
How the Chicken Built America
Even if the chicken was not present at the birth of Christ, at least it was present during the birth of our country.
After reading this article, you might think the chicken should be our national bird instead of the bald eagle.
How the Chicken Built America by Andrew Lawler
Egg prices likely to rise amid laws mandating cage-free henhouses
On December 28, 2014, this article was published by the Los Angeles Times which describes
...a landmark animal welfare law that takes effect in California on New Year's Day. Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 in 2008 to effectively abolish the close confinement of farm animals in cramped cages and crates...
This is great for the chickens though some consumers won't be happy.
Prices for wholesale eggs are expected to rise 10% to 40% next year because of infrastructure upgrades and the reduction of flocks to provide animals more space
A typical hen spends its entire life in a roughly 8-by-8-inch space, hemmed in on all sides by other birds. Detractors say it's cruel and conducive to injuries that lead to disease. The egg industry argues that the practice is safe, humane and essential for keeping a cornerstone of the American diet cheap and readily available.
The eggs from my backyard chickens are looking better and better.
Egg Color Not What It's Cracked Up to Be
The following was in the January 4, 2015 issue of Parade Magazine.
What does the color of the yolk indicate about the nutrition in the egg?
Nothing at all. The color of the yolk comes from substances called carotenoids, and they depend on the diet of the hen. Brighter yolks have no more nutrients (or indicate more nutrition in the egg whites) than paler yolks. But consumers love colorful yolks, so egg farmers make sure to give their hens plenty of yellow-orange pigmented plants, such as marigold petals, and add supplemental carotenoids to their feed. (A colorless diet of, say, white cornmeal, produces a lighter yolk.) And, by the way, brown eggs are no more nutritious than white eggs.