I spent a fair amount of time today fixing the chickens’ roost—it was in the wrong location, encouraging them to sleep in the draftiest area of their coop, and I think it contributed to them catching colds during the colder/wetter weather. It was also directly outside their nest box area, which meant that the area of the coop with the most droppings was what they were walking through to on their way to lay. Ick. So I crawled in and remodeled this afternoon, moving the high roost to the interior corner, away from drafts and the nest box. I also completed a second nest box on top of the first, with a way for them to get from the low roost into the high box via a little ramp. (There have been … issues with multiple chickens trying to use the same nest box at the same time.)
I just went out there to see how they like the new arrangement. Apparently, they don’t. Trouble and Miss Thing are crammed in between the roof and the top of the upper nest box, pressed against the chicken wire window. Durf is sleeping on the ramp into the upper box. They’re in exactly the same place, only now they don’t have a roost there. What the heck, chickens? Am I going to have to put bricks or something up there to encourage them to try the new roost?
This would make more sense if I had photos, but I didn’t think to take any earlier. Although, hmm… maybe I’ll go back out and take a photo of how they’re sleeping right now.
And now that I see the photos, I think they’re going to be crapping in their water all night. That won’t do. New plan: find a longer piece of 2×2 and make them a perpendicular roost that runs all the way across the interior side of the coop. And then put something on top of the nest boxes so they don’t roost there.
The chickens have laid their first dozen eggs over the course of about a week, maybe 9 days:
I believe that the lightest in color come from Durf, the medium from Trouble, and the dark from Miss Thing. A few of them are cracked at the tip; I suspect this is because they keep scratching all the material out of the nesting boxes before laying, exposing the bare wood. If I can find a plain coir doormat, I may cut liners for the nest boxes out of that and see if it helps.
Apparently the fuss the chickens were making this morning was due to one of them laying her first egg:
I’m very surprised to see that it’s almost exactly the same size and weight (55g) as a large egg from the store. The last time I had chickens, I remember them starting off with undersized and less sturdy eggs–the shells were softer, and the eggs were about half size. Could we have just missed that phase with these chickens? I don’t remember seeing any evidence of eggs, broken or otherwise, in the coop before today. Maybe we just have these chickens on a better diet than the ones we had when I was a kid.
In any case, hooray! They’re finally starting to earn their keep.
Further evidence that if Durf, our Buff Orpington were any dumber, we’d have to water her twice a week: she isn’t bright enough to come in out of the rain. I just went out to make sure the chickens were all locked up in their coop for the night, and found Durf on the perch in the uncovered run area, dripping wet, muttering unhappily. I tried poking her off the perch, and she just sidled away from me. So I lowered the perch to the ground, hoping she’d get the clue and go inside. Nope, she just stood there on the lowered perch, getting rained on. So I had to climb inside the run, pick her up, and put her in the enclosed coop. Where she proceeded to just stand there, occasionally pecking at the ground. I tried lighting a path for her from where she was to the area of the coop with the night-time perches, and she just blinked at me. So I had to get back into the coop and shepherd her into the fully-enclosed area. Eventually, she got the idea, and I heard her hop up onto one of the perches.
But, come on. Sitting in the rain and cold, when there’s a warm perch with the two other chickens not 10 feet away. I worry about Durf. On the one hand, she’s a bully to the other chickens. On the other hand, she’s about as smart as a cabbage. Maybe being a bully is all she has.
Yesterday, Josh and I — mostly Josh — put up a temporary extra run for the chickens under the plum tree. We netted the top with trellis netting, which with any luck will keep the chickens in while letting plums drop through. I’ve been cultivating a clover meadow under the plum tree for a while now, and the chickens love it. They go bananas out there, foraging for grub and chasing bugs and each other around. I’m wondering how long the clover will last before it’s entirely grazed out; those chickens eat an amazing amount.
They’ve all got names now: Trouble is the Delaware (white), Miss Thing is the Welsummer (brown), and Durf is our dimwitted Orpington (gold).
I keep an eye on them out there. (That trellis netting wouldn’t keep out the hawks, and we do occasionally get one.) It’s striking how much easier it is to spot Trouble and Durf than it is to spot Miss Thing. Camouflage works.
This run we’ve got is probably only good for one season. It’s really hinky, all held together with zipties and safety pins. I’d like to get a short cyclone fence out there with a couple of gates. And I’d also like to come up with some clever way of managing the netting over the top that’ll let me get in there and stand up to harvest plums — something like an enormous bungie net, maybe, that I can hook and unhook relatively quickly. I could make one of those out of cord from Seattle Fabrics. How hard could it be, right?
I haven’t seen a raccoon in our back yard in at least a year, probably more. After we cut some branches out of the tree on the back property line, they seemed to be less interested in hanging out back there. I guess they were just waiting for a reason to come back.
We took the chickens out to the coop in the back yard today with the intent of leaving them overnight. Tonight’s the Great American Backyard Campout, so we figured we could set up a cot or something back there and spend the night by the coop in case anything happened. So we headed out back just now, with the light fading, to see how the chickens were doing. They were freaking out, but they’ve freaked out the last few days when the light starts to fade. They haven’t gotten used to not having an overhead heat lamp on 24/7 yet, I guess.
They were in the fenced run area of the coop, so Cam got in to herd them into the enclosed chicken house area. They flew up onto her head. It’s not as easy to get a small chicken off your head as you might imagine, at least if you don’t want to injure the chicken. They’re pointy, and I think one drew blood on its way up, so I got in to help her out. And that’s when Cam noticed a raccoon at least the size of a five gallon water bottle staring at us from the break in the corner of the fence, about four feet away. The chickens continued to freak out, and some ended up on my head. Taking one for the team, I wrangled the chickens off Cam’s head and onto my own, so she could get out of the coop and retrieve the pet carrier. The raccoon climbed the fence and disappeared, but I’m sure it didn’t go far. Not with those tasty chickens protected only by a layer of chicken wire.
We got the chickens back into the house and put them in their box. Tomorrow, I think we’ll reinforce the coop with a layer of half-inch hardware cloth, dug down a ways to prevent tunneling. We don’t want the chickens’ first night in their real coop to be their last. Stupid raccoons.
Yesterday after work (plus a bit today after I found the tin snips so I could cut the chicken wire) I built a small chicken tractor so we could introduce the chickens to the outside world. I probably should have put some more thought into the design—doors on both ends might be nice, for example—but it worked out ok, and it’ll be easy to take apart later if we decide we want something better. This isn’t going to be their permanent home, in any case; we’ve got a real coop with an enclosed yard for that. This is just so we can take them into the front yard if we want. And so we could take them out of their box in Cam’s office and into the outside world for the first time today.
They’re about five weeks old now, and they’ve got enough insulation that they shouldn’t be too bothered by a breeze. Plus, it was a gorgeous day. So I went up to the neighborhood vet and picked up a cardboard pet carrier to transport them out of the house and into the tractor, one at a time. They were freaked out by the change for a few minutes, but got used to it fairly quickly and started scratching around and eating the clover. Cam fed them some rose petals, which they had fun with, grabbing one and then running away so nobody else could take it from them while they figured out how to eat it.
Getting them back into the house could have been tricky. We don’t have a fishing net or anything to catch them with if they escape, and the tractor is long enough that we can’t just reach in and grab them if they don’t cooperate. Luckily, this time when we opened the door they came over and let us pick them up and put them back in the carrier. Cam had enlisted one of our neighbors to help if we couldn’t wrangle them back inside, but we ended up not needing to call him. This time.
As usual, there are some photos:
I am distinctly not happy with the metal chick feeder we got at the Bothell Feed Center. (Yet another of the things I was not happy with when it comes to the Bothell Feed Center.) The Delaware in particular is bound and determined to climb the thing, and the feeder has sharp edges around the openings that we’ve had to bash back to make it chick-safe. The chickens keep finding more and more sharp edges, though. The Delaware cut one of her feet again today; that’s the third or fourth time for her. I’m going to bust out a goddamn file and file the hell out of that thing.
Not pleased. Tempted to dip the whole shootin’ match in a tool-handle plasticizer, and if I thought it were foodsafe, I probably would.
ETA: Hell’s bells. Filing isn’t going to work worth a damn either. We’ll figure out something. (ETA2: Fixed. I’m pretty sure. Thanks, Josh.)
Josh has some new chick photos. They’re going through the first molt and looking distinctly motheaten. Enough feathers have come in that you can hear a loud taffeta rustle from them now.
Right now they’re in a cardboard box that gives them about four square feet. This should be enough for three chicks of that age, and if it weren’t for the Delaware it probably would be. But the Delaware is a hyper nutcase. That chicken is trouble, all right. I read her the chicken catalog description — “a lovely calm breed” — and she was predictably unimpressed. I think we’re going to have to double their space very soon.
The length of their necks keeps astonishing me. They seem almost neckless, and then suddenly they’re all neck.
If you dangle a ribbon into their box, they attack it madly, shrieking. “We’re training ninja chickens, you know,” remarked Josh yesterday. (Yeah, except for the whole stealth thing. I think they’re more in the berserker line.) I thought of that today when I was handling the chickens and saw that a little scab on my arm had come loose. The Delaware was happily drinking my blood. This has got to be a bad sign. Unless we want bloodthirsty attack chickens, and I suppose there’s something to be said for that.