Posts tagged homesteading

Recipe for a Hen House

Recipe For A Hen House

1 unused bathroom in the workshop outbuilding

6 x 9 ft of cheap linoleum

25 ft of adhesive vinyl baseboard

1 infra-red heat lamp

1 pile of scrap lumber to construct various chickeny accoutrements

1 handy FM to remove all plumbing from said bathroom

As I have said before, FM and I took on the role of chicken farmers without truly being prepared. Anyone can drive out to the poultry swap and pick up a few day-old chicks. But it takes real genius to stay one step ahead of their constant growth and need for space.

Here we are, 6 weeks into this chicken adventure, and a true sense of urgency is upon us. While still ramping up our run training and managing the spring growth around the acreage, we are also trying to get these chickies housed in their permanent home. Needless to say, our weekends and evenings are jam-packed.

A few months ago, our friend Simon suggested that we turn the rarely used workshop bathroom into the chicken coop. I believe that this one idea was the catalyst for the whole adventure.

“You have a full bathroom in your workshop?” I hear you asking. Yes, it is true. The previous owners/builders of our home lived in the workshop for the two years it took to build the main house. So, of course, it has a toilet, sink and shower. (I still have trouble coming to terms with this mad living arrangement whenever I look carefully at the workbench/kitchen counter.) On the up-side, it is well-insulated, has water and electricity, is near the main house and will hopefully be raccoon, rat and mink-proof.

So, now that we had decided on the design and structure, all we had to do was build it.

Before:

With its patchy, plywood walls and bare concrete floor, ‘rough’ would be a compliment.

View from the shower door out into the workshop.

View from the shower door out into the workshop.

During:

Once the plumbing fixtures were removed, we covered and capped the various orifices and patched the walls that we damaged during demolition.

A 6' x 9' piece of linoleum trimmed with brown vinyl baseboard.

A 6′ x 9′ piece of linoleum trimmed with brown vinyl baseboard.

Chicken Door

The chicken door is still under construction. That pinhole of light is large enough for a mouse and a mink might be enticed to enlarge it. The latch is outside at the top and the door flips down to become the entrance/exit ramp.

The door will flip down and work as the ramp. We won't be opening that door until we have proper fencing in place. They will have to tolerate a few more weeks of confinement before we allow them to range freely!

The wooden door will flip down and work as the ramp. We won’t be opening that door until we have proper fencing in place. They will have to tolerate a few more weeks of confinement before we allow them to range freely!

It is fabulous to have electricity so easily available for the heat lamp, since it is still frosty on these late April mornings. FM built a 2x6 door sill to prevent the shavings, etc. from entering the shop when we open the door.

It is fabulous to have electricity so easily available for the heat lamp, since it is still frosty on these late April mornings. FM built a 2×6 door sill to prevent the shavings, etc. from entering the shop when we open the door.

This roost should easily hold eight chickens. Hopefully the laundry basin will making cleaning underneath a bit easier. The nasty blue wall is concrete board covered in gorilla glue which was behind the shower enclosure.

This roost should easily hold eight chickens. Hopefully the laundry basin will making cleaning underneath a bit easier. The nasty blue wall is concrete board covered in gorilla glue which was behind the shower enclosure.

After:

To transition the chicks to their new space, we brought out their familiar motorola box and kept both their food and water inside. We have removed the screen lid and you can see that they are checking out their new digs, although hesitantly. We have added a second roost structure that they use to hop in and out of the box.

Here they are in order around the box – Chip, Peeps, Croque, TweedleDee, Roo (standing), TweedleDum

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Meet the Peepers

Twenty-four days have gone by and, surprisingly, all six chicks are still with us. They are a resilient little gang who have tolerated our frequent pesterings, a few prolonged absences and our incessant fawning. We have spent a lot of time watching them develop their ‘chickenalities’ (TM) and building relationships with each of them.

Don’t give them names. If they have names, then they are pets. It’s hard to eat a pet.

Too late! (and kind of disturbing advice).  Our six chicks have names. Since our ultimate goal is to have three egg-laying hens and one rooster, most of them are pets and require names that suit them. Initially, I had envisioned names that matched the delicious egg dishes we would prepare with their eggs – Benny; Pickled; Souffle; Frittata; Deviled; Pudding; Brulee; Coddled; etc.

But, as we watched them over the first few days, we had to give them names so that we could tell them apart. The names we doled out generally had something to do with their appearance or their demeanour. It seems that these temporary nicknames have stuck, as nicknames tend to do.

Before you jump to the photos, you have to be warned that these little muffins are in the ugly ‘tween’ years and they currently look ratty, scrawny and almost scary! I guess they are almost half-way to adulthood so their appearance is similar to the pimply, buck-toothed, frizzy hair stage that we all went through. Consider them, if you will, to be 13 year olds.

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Roo (short for Rooster) was the first to receive a name. It seemed so obvious to us by day 4 that he was a HE. Somehow, he has lost all his down and is the slowest to grow feathers.

Peeps

Peeps is the singer. She chirps, peeps and trills all the time. All the others seek her out and like to rest their heads on her back when they’re sleeping. She would easily win the popularity contest of the flock.

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Croque Madame is the only chick who was given an egg-dish name. Out of the 4 Chanteclers, she has the most feathers and the longest tail. She has become more gregarious lately and often puts Roo in his place. (Maybe her name will change to Croque Monsieur)

Chip

Chip (short for Chipmunk) is the largest of the herd. When he was downy, his colouring was exactly like a chipmunk, but now he has these beautiful rusty feathers on his chest and stripey ones on his wings.

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Tweedle-Dee.  Two of the Chanteclers are very hard to tell apart. Their feather growth and mannerisms were identical until last weekend. Now, Dee has become a nervous wreck and often stands in a corner, trying to be invisible, whenever we come in the room.

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Tweedle-Dum acquired her name one day when she had successfully had a wild dust bath in some fresh droppings. When I discovered her, she was covered from wing to wing in some nasty crap which had crusted up. After a very stressful bath and hair-dryer experience, she never did it again, but the name stuck. (!)

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The Pros and Cons – Reflecting on the Year

April 1st marks our first anniversary of moving to the Queendom. I still catch myself telling people that we just moved here but, like newly-weds, that status only lasts 365 days. In that mysterious way of time, this year feels like it has passed in both a blink of an eye and a lifetime. So long ago, we were staring wide-eyed at the immensity of it all – the pond, the acreage, the too-large house, the space, the wildlife, the quiet – and now we continue to stare widely at it but in a more understanding way. Now we have figured out what things need to be done regularly and we fall into step with our unwritten after-work chores and weekend tasks. When we look out across the pond or walk the property, we expect to find something new and exciting.

The point of this blog has been to help us remember the events of our new-found life. But, there have been more events than time permitted to sit at a computer and write. Here is the reader’s digest version of the pros and cons we discovered here:

Pros

unbelievable peace and quiet

we discover something new around here almost everyday

easy access to multiple trailheads

endless trail systems to explore (see alongapath)

short commutes to work

surrounded by trees – not a building in sight

easy access to delicious real farm food – veggies, fruit, meat, seafood, cheese, eggs, etc.

ducks, deer, birds, mink, bears, owls and frogs live here and are sighted often

new chicks and the hope of our own fresh eggs by summer’s end

a regular feeling of satisfaction from completing projects

the brewery is almost complete and the taps will be running soon

groceries, hardware and all other shopping is less than 10 minutes away

endless  possibilities for the Queendom – more so than we ever imagined

Cons

unpacking – it seems to go on and on! So much space and distractions have allowed us to be lazy on that front

the landscape project is huge, very long-term and often daunting

our landscaping crew from last summer did a merely passable job and charged too much money

invasive and unwanted plants are difficult to deal with and chronic, it seems

often a big effort results in a minuscule difference (such as digging out thistles and alders)

the property is wet, marshy, swampy and ugly in places

drainage issues have had us on high alarm a few times (not yet documented!)

our list of potential construction projects is long and very involved (deck, hot tub, garage, chicken coop, island bridge and pergola, etc.)

we are far, far away from our friends and we haven’t really connected with people here

time does not move slower out here.  We need more of it

Not surprisingly, the Pros out-count and out-weigh the Cons. There have been many things happen that we didn’t expect and a few true surprises, both positive and negative.  But we seem to have struck a balance with managing it all and are trying to keep our to-do list short and within reason. Neither of us would go back to our previous life. This smaller town/bigger space lifestyle suits us both so well and our only wish is that we had started on this rural path long, long ago.

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Chick-a-licious

Our clutch is now 8 days old and it is amazing how quickly these little gaffers grow! Already there are a few who no longer look like chicks and we definitely have one bold rooster – perhaps two.

Look at that cute little tail!  His tail (I'm convinced it's a HE) is the only tail so far in the brood.

Look at that cute little tail! His tail (I’m convinced it’s a HE) is the only tail so far in the brood.

When they sleep, they all pile on top of each other and truly snuggle. They often lay across each other and chirp contentedly as they drift off. Their sleep cycle is about 6 minutes before they jump up, run around, eat drink, poop and then sleep again.

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Not a beak in sight! When they are awake, they endlessly peck at each other, but all seems to be forgotten when they get drowsy.

As I said earlier, there is one that is showing all the signs of being a rooster. Firstly, his posture changed yesterday and his stance is now completely different from the others – with his chest pushed forward and his long neck stretched out.  He is far more curious about noises and our presence, when the others all shy away and hide. He is slightly darker in colour than the rest of the Chanteclers, making it easy to pick him out of the crowd.

Yesterday he became a cockerel in a matter of hours.  With his puffed out chest and his long-legged stance, he already stands guard of his flock!

Yesterday he became a cockerel in a matter of hours. With his puffed out chest and his long-legged stance, he already stands guard of his flock!

Some of them love to sleep and get comfortably stretched out when they feel a snooze coming on. But others resist the snooze and try to stay upright, standing or feeding, until they simply fall on their faces.

Resisting sleep as long as possible seems to be fairly common. We always get a chuckle when they fall asleep standing up, leaning on their beaks or tip over.

Resisting sleep as long as possible seems to be fairly common. We always get a chuckle when they fall asleep standing up, leaning on their beaks or tipping over.

I can almost hear you thinking, “Oh no. All she is ever going to write about is these darn chickens”.  But don’t worry. The novelty will soon wear off – I think.

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Take the Plunge with a Clutch

Our own chickens! The idea has been simmering since we arrived at the Queendom – or perhaps more precisely, FM has been keen since day one and I have been slowly and cautiously considering the concept.

My key hesitation is that, although I am a fan of birds and bird-watching, I can’t stand bird feet (in fact, I kind of gagged as I wrote those two words). Also, if we are going to go the chicken route, I think that we should be completely ready with coop, feeders, waterers, etc. before we put any living thing at risk under our care.  But I digress…

With very little fanfare (or fore-thought), we headed to a little farm yesterday and bought 2-day old chicks. The chain of events was that FM happened to be perusing (?!) the usedcomoxvalley farm forum (our town’s answer to craigslist) and saw that a local poultry farmer had some heritage breeds ready for the Sunday Poultry Swap. In all of our discussions, we had decided that heritage breeds were the way to go and we (he?) seemed especially keen on the “Chantecler” variety, which is a cold-hardy Canadian breed from Quebec (pronounced SHAN-te-clay). This farmer also had “Welsummers” and “Orpingtons”.

So, when FM arrived home from work on Friday, he relayed this news to me and, immediately, I felt some pressure to get these particular chicks before they were bought by some less-appreciative farmer at the swap. FM reassured me that all we needed was a box, some wood shaving and some starter feed. This was the pressure we needed to start constructing our backyard coop!

With all that starter feed, I think we might do this again some day!

With all that starter feed, I think we might be doing this again some day!

The bathroom floor is heated and we have been carting around that Motorola for about 10 years.

The bathroom floor is heated.  That Motorola monitor box has been shuffled around with us for about 10 years, waiting for this exact purpose!

Gavin, the Holiday Farm heritage poultry farmer, brought us into his little chicken hatchery – aka his laundry room. He had about 30 2-day old chicks and about 18 week-old chicks in separate brooders. He showed us a wall of incubators, full of multi-coloured eggs.

With 2 day old chicks, you buy a straight-run, or unsexed chicks, since their sex is unknown until the tail feathers and combs start to show. We decided ahead of time that we would like to end up with 3 laying hens – who would lay approximately three eggs/week. At $3/chick, we bought 6 chicks – 4 Chanteclers and 2 Welsummers, thinking that 50% would be roosters. Both breeds are considered ‘dual-purpose’, meaning that they lay well but they also grow to a decent eating size.  We are not yet sure if we want a rooster around.

We placed our brood into a lasportiva cardboard box with a hot water bottle and headed for home. FM had set up a large Motorola monitor box in our spare bathroom, which has heating coils in the floor. We cranked up the floor heat, put a gooseneck desk lamp on the box edge as another heat supply, spread some shavings around the box bottom and placed a waterer and a feeder inside.

The 4 pale yellows are the Chanteclers and the 2 chipmunks are Welsummers

The 4 pale yellows are the Chanteclers and the 2 chipmunks are Welsummers

All six chicks

All six chicks

These 2 figured out how to drink at the same time and were involved in synchronized drinking.

These 2 figured out how to drink at the same time and were involved in synchronized drinking.

Then we spent the rest of the afternoon watching them, holding them and reading about them.

Chicken Farmer #1

Chicken Farmer #1

Chicken Farmer #2

Chicken Farmer #2

Here are some photos of adult Welsumers and White Chanteclers:

Welsummer roosters are the Corn Flakes box rooster!

welsumerRoo

White Chanteclers have small combs which won’t get frostbite in the cold Canadian winters.

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89713678chantecler_hen

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Burn Baby, Burn!

We have found an added bonus of having a large piece of property. Bonfires!

Last spring, during our long stint of yard work weekends, we managed to accumulate about five separate burn piles. These piles consisted mostly of the alders that we dug out and other random branches and brush that had been left by the previous owner or blown down in the frequent wind storms. Being law-abiding citizens, I inquired at the fire department about the fire regulations for rural properties. I was instantly handed a burn permit which allows burning any time between October and May. And so the fun began.

We started cautiously with a small fire of branches that were laying around an area that FM insisted needed to be cut and tended. Once we got the fire going, we began working hard at collecting all the nearby debris. In no time at all, we had a tidied up a large area and had earned our fire-roasted weiners.

Small, controlled and quaint

Small, controlled and quaint

The second burn was a huge undertaking. The previous owner had used his excavator to make a very high pile of branches, logs and garbage (?) which we decided was too large for us to handle and too close to some trees.  So we made a small fire ring at a safe distance and, all day long, we hauled stuff from his large pile to our smaller fire pit, separating out the nasty non-combustibles as we went. This bonfire was an all-day affair, leaving us both exhausted and sweaty by the time the sun went down. (Do I need to mention that we each lost all our arm-hair?) But this fire made the biggest improvement to our surroundings and, with each successive burn, we became more comfortable with managing the Queendom in this manner.

This photo lacks perspective because that pile of branches is more than 5 feet tall.

This photo lacks perspective but that pile of branches is more than 5 feet tall.

But the bonfire to end all bonfires was made by our landscaping crew (a series of blog posts not-yet-written). After clearing out a section of our pond that had tree stumps, branches and whole tree trunks in it, the crew made a bonfire that towered above us. This fire required a special permit, an excavator at hand and a water pump which could use pond water to extinguish it, if necessary. This fire burned for three days.

I can feel my eyebrows singeing from here.

I can feel my eyebrows singeing from here

When a fire is this big, it can burn pretty well anything

It may not be the best thing for the environment and I’m sure I’ll get air quality comments from somebody, but it is the way we roll out here in the boonies.  Come on by and roast a weinie with us next time!

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