Meet the Girls!

The house we built is now a home!  If you missed my last post about building the coop, check it out.  It’s called The Chicken House Rules. The girls have been busy getting accustomed to their new home, to me, and one another.  Meet the first two, Gilda and Idgie – they’re 3 month old New Hampshire Reds, a docile and hardy breed derived from Rhode Island Reds.  Here they are the day after I brought them home three weeks ago –

They’re inseparable best friends and very sweet.  The fact that they were my first makes them special.  The fact that they come running when they hear my voice doesn’t hurt a bit either.   They should start laying eggs in another month or so.

A week later, it was time for more!   My newest girls are a bit older – 7 months and already laying.  The coop is designed for 5 hens, so this made a full house.  2 are Buff Orpingtons and 1 is a Dominique.  Buff Orpingtons are a heavy breed, good egg layers and continue laying when days get short in the winter.  They have beautiful feathers and are definitely the Alpha hens in the group.  Here are Buffy and Little Sister (later renamed Pushy Broad)

The last girl is Ripley, the Dominique.  Dominique is a heritage breed; been around for hundreds of years and is considered endangered.  They are similar in appearance to another popular breed, Plymouth Barred Rock, but the comb is different.   Here she is getting a feel for the nest box –

The girls keep very busy – they like nothing better than to spend their days out in the garden, weeding, scratching for bugs and worms, and tilling the soil.

When the girls need a break, they walk back up to the house to eat or drink or, every once in a while……………….

– make an egg for Mom!  Happy, Happy Dance!   Based on the color, this is from one of the Buff Orpingtons.  Soon all the girls will be settled in and mature enough to lay; then we’ll have a consistent supply.

I’d understood that hens lay eggs in the nesting boxes, but they sleep up on a roost, off the ground.  Well, nobody told my girls because they were all sleeping in the nesting boxes.  That caused some pretty messy boxes come morning because chickens poop all night long!  So, on the advice of more knowledgeable friends, I began putting them up on the roost at dusk.  If they jumped back down, I put them right back up.  It didn’t take long; in fact, the third evening into this new ritual, I had a phone call that prevented me from getting out to the coop to escort them in and onto their roost.  I can’t describe what an endearing sight it was to walk in there and see them all either already perched or in the process of making the two jumps required to reach the 5 foot high 2×4 that is their boudoir.

Not that it was a peaceful adjustment.  For a few days, I thought I was back in high school.  Talk about mean girls!  The Buffs were giving the young ones a really hard time, pecking and squawking and pushing them out of the way.  I was struggling with some very negative feelings toward the bullies and it’s a good thing that it resolved fairly quickly.  They still go through a ritual every evening to establish who’s in charge, but the young ones have learned where to go and at least they have each other.  If it was just one, I might have to take her into the house with me at night!  I’ve heard some awful stories!

Back to the girls in a bit.  I want to show you some of the details of the coop.  Here’s an inside view showing the nesting boxes, the inside of the roof and the vents just under the roof – there is insulation covering the vents right now since nights are still cold here –

On the right is the ladder that helps them get up to the roost – the 2×4 that spans the area over my Habitat for Humanity kitchen counter (in pink).   They don’t really need that ladder or the other one leading to the nesting boxes.  In fact, you could say they scoff at my silly ladders.  They jump/fly a few feet quite easily.  Here’s another shot of the counter with some pine shavings on it to prevent poop from sticking to the surface – and when it does get soiled – hey, it’s a kitchen counter, easy to clean!Most of the concentrated poop happens at night when they’re sitting still in one place and this is what I’m going to collect and add to my compost.  The rest is already on the ground and that’s where I’ll leave it and rake it periodically.

Their food and water containers are hung underneath the counter so that nothing falls into them.  It works quite well.  They’re hung with chain on hooks and are off the ground – at just the right height for the hens.

What you also see in this picture is a light hanging from the ceiling.  When I first brought the young ones home, they had been living in a place where the breeders left a 100 watt light on to take the edge off the chill and to keep the water from freezing.  It was in the low 20s that night and I thought I’d offer the same amenities.  It did help, but it was bright.  I’m not sure the girls slept at all that night or the several after.  We’re all learning!  There are no lights anymore.

< I like things to be convenient, so I hung a couple of hooks to keep a few items handy, but up off the ground.

Here’s how I’ve reinforced the perimeter of the coop –

It’s 4 ft hardware cloth, with 1 foot on the ground as an apron and 3 feet up the sides of the run.  The apron will prevent predators from being able to get in under the wire fence.  They don’t know to step back a foot and go under there; they will be thwarted where ground meets fence.  The apron will be covered with soil, plants and mulch soon, but it’s functional now.  I’ll be planting deciduous vines to grow up and over the wire to provide shade in the summer and allow sun in the winter.

Another change that had to be made was the addition of this overhang on the left to keep rain out of the nesting boxes.  Since the wall is fence panels, there is a small gap between each slat which allowed some rain to drip in.  Wetness is not only uncomfortable, but could result in mold in the bedding and respiratory problems for the hens.  So Larry used some lumber, insulation and tin we had left over and solved the problem nicely and it gives me a perfect place to hang a nice basket of petunias.

This picture also shows another predator block with the concrete edging along the side of the house on the bottom.  A determined predator will try all they can to get in and kill the chickens.  It’s the nocturnal ones that worry me the most, so I don’t want to leave any openings.

It’s been a thoroughly engaging and entertaining experience so far, this chicken parenthood.  They’re all unique individuals with their own style.

This morning, I tossed some oats out for them as a special treat.  Now when I call out, all of them come out, front and center, and look in my direction.  They’re not pushovers, but they can be had!

If you’re interested in keeping chickens, do some research – read, talk to people, prepare.   It’s a commitment, but a joy as well.   If there’s a chicken tour in your town, check it out.  In my city, we have a wonderful event every year in May – chicken folks around town open up their backyards and coops for others to get an up close view of what it’s like to have chickens and the variety of ways to house them.   It’s a great way to get outside more, eat healthier, feed your garden and if there are children in your life, a wonderful way to teach them about nature, animals and where food comes from. This is the link to our annual chicken tour. This is where I bought my girls.  There is good general information here even if you don’t live in the area, and a great photo gallery.

See you next time!

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4 Responses to Meet the Girls!

  1. Tracy says:

    Kim just read this and said, “Wow! Nice Coop!” It is amazing that they are so trainable. We have to come see them. We also have a few scraps of spinach and a couple of eggshells. Can we bring that down to feed them? Are they ready for that yet? (a friend who has chickens feeds their girls this kind of thing.) 🙂 tracy

    • Laura says:

      Sorry I missed you – had to shop – UGH! How about tomorrow? I’m sure the spinach would be fine at least; I’ll check about the eggshells – might be only the layers should get it, don’t know. Shoot me a note when you think you’d like to come and we’ll make it happen!

  2. Beth says:

    Cute blog and wonderful layout for your garden and coop. Just thought I’d add….No eggshells for your hens unless they are baked and crumbled. Hens will learn to break open their own eggs and eat the contents. Once they get in that routine, it’s nearly impossible to break. You can provide oyster shells for calcium but the lay mash that you give them generally contains calcium. Anyhow, Love reading your blog. It’s very informative and interesting! Thanks. =)

    • Laura says:

      Thanks, Beth! I knew I’d read something about eggshells – and that makes perfect sense. Glad you’re enjoying the blog; thanks for stopping by and reading!

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