Almost a year after moving here, we have taken the next step towards making this house feel like home: building a chicken coop!
We’ve still got many improvements to make on it, namely a real door, a roost, and in time some nesting boxes, but overall I think it really shows my husband’s carpentry skills.
And the really cool part? We’ve used almost entirely scrap wood, and about the only thing we had to buy was the wire netting.
Some of the chicks enjoying their new abode. They were SO ready to move outside from the brooder.
After almost a year of chicken hiatus, we’ve finally taken the plunge again. We got some eggs from a generous friend, dusted off the incubator, and three weeks later…
Now these little ones need a proper residence. I know, I know – we’ve got the it all backwards again, but at least now my husband will have the motivation to build a coop. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with.
As cute and fuzzy as baby chicks are, and you can be sure they’re a huge hit around here, what I really look forward to is an established coop with a flock of adult hens, a rooster or two, and fresh eggs every day.
The little hen in the photo above is my champion broody. It seems that she only ever lays a batch of eggs with the view of sitting to hatch some chicks, and she takes care of her brood for many months, keeping them under her wing until they are almost fully grown. Here you see her with part of her latest brood – six multicolored chicks from an assortment of eggs.
Not all is calm and peaceful in the chicken kingdom, however. Today at 4 A.M. we had a visit from an especially cunning fox who managed to dig under the coop and carry off another one of our hens. Foxes are about the meanest and sneakiest enemy a chicken owner can have – once they have set an eye on your coop, they will keep visiting with amazing persistence until they pick off all your chickens one by one… or learn that free meals are not to be had around your place. That’s why, even if a chicken is already killed, you should do your best to stop a fox from carrying it off – once they get one prize, odds are much higher that they will keep coming back for more.
I spent part of the morning reinforcing the coop, and will probably keep mama hen and her chicks inside overnight.
As difficult as it is for me to understand, some people actually have an aversion to chickens. If these people happen to be your neighbors, while you are a poultry lover, it has the potential to create some very unpleasant clashes, in particular over one issue – the crow of a rooster.
It can seem very unfair, especially if your neighbors have a noisy dog, a habit of loud music or smoking, or give you a headache by using their lawnmower every other day – but the fact is, they have the upper hand, because once local authorities hear the scary word “livestock”, your poor little chickens might be the target of an eviction order.
Read on how to evade these unpleasant situations in my latest MEN post:
“My last suggestion is broader and less technical; try to cultivate a closer and friendlier relationship with your neighbors. Give them a few fresh eggs when you can, invite their children to feed your chickens or see baby chicks when you have them. Usually, after people have been your guests, tasted your home-grown omelet, and played with your cute fluffy newly-hatched chicks, they are unlikely to complain over something that isn’t absolutely disruptive.”
Around here, spring is marked, among other things, by the renewal of nesting boxes, which are replaced or cleaned, and padded with fresh dry grass or leaves. My hens, excited by the end of their winter egg-laying break and the beginning of the new and fruitful season, are eagerly checking them out.
Read more about comfy nesting boxes in my latest Mother Earth News post:
“With some basic carpentry skills, you can easily build your own nesting boxes out of wood scraps, but even if you don’t know which way to hold a hammer, there are plenty of simple and cheap DIY solutions. Among them are 5-gallon buckets (resting on their side, obviously), old cat litter boxes, large plastic containers with the top cut off, and old re-purposed drawers and crates. The nesting boxes should be stable, so that they aren’t prone to falling even if the hens tend to shove each other, sheltered, and with a rim to prevent the eggs from falling.”
Some chickens are the ultimate layers, others are champs at meat production, but which breed would be the best choice for your backyard? This depends on your preferences, climate, space and, of course, budget. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post, also featuring the smallest, largest and rarest chicken breeds in the world:
“Many breeds traditionally chosen by homesteaders are actually dual-purpose, such as Rhode Islands, Plymouth Rocks, Orpingtons and Wyandottes. These breeds are fairly large, hardy, decent to good layers, and will supply you with both eggs and meat, though not as efficiently as industrial single-purpose lines. They will roam your land, getting much of their food on their own if you let them free range, and provide organic pest control. They will naturally go broody, and renew your flock year after year by hatching and bringing up chicks, so that you need not be dependent on hatcheries after you purchase your starting stock.”
The chickens in the photo above are Fayoumis belonging to a good friend of mine. The Fayoumi is a traditional Egyptian breed very well-suited to a hot climate. These medium-sized chickens are good layers, excellent foragers, and hardy, independent birds largely resistant to the fatal Marek’s disease. Overall they seem like an excellent choice for a homestead in a Mediterranean to desert climate, and I hope to obtain some hatching eggs when the laying season begins.
There’s something comforting, in the middle of winter, in planning on running the incubator and raising baby chicks that will be let out into the great outdoors once the warm weather comes. It’s a bit like browsing a seed catalog while a winter storm is howling outside.
I can tell you there are some breeds I can’t wait to get my hands on – start a pure-bred flock of Marans or Speckled Sussex, and look forward to the possibility of obtaining some good-quality eggs from breeders I know, in a month or two. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:
“We are big proponents of breeding and raising chicks the natural way, with broody hens, but sometimes running the incubator or ordering a batch of baby chicks can have definite advantages – such as, for example, the ability to monitor valuable eggs extra carefully, and to give your flock a head start in the spring. If you are not averse to the idea of keeping chicks indoors for a few weeks, your February babies may well be ready for the outdoors as early as March or April, depending on your local weather – at about the time when your hens are just thinking of getting back to laying.”