Avian Aqua Miser: Automatic, poop-free chicken waterers

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Jewelweed seedpodWe left a big patch of jewelweed growing behind the trailer this summer because a hummingbird had claimed it as her property.  At every meal, we enjoyed watching her sipping nectar from the orange blossoms, then flying to a nearby trellis to guard her patch from interlopers.

As the weather cooled, though, the flowers must have stopped producing.  Even though a few blooms hung on, the hummingbird only made an occasional appearance by the third week in September, so Mark decided to clean up the area as he passed by with his weedeater.

Half an hour later, our free range chicks were going crazy scratching and pecking amid the jewelweed debris.  What were they eating?

Chicks eating jewelweed

Jewelweed seedA search of the internet suggested that jewelweed seeds are edible, not only to chickens (and rabbits and deer), but also to humans.  "Touch-me-not" is another name for jewelweed because the pods spring open when touched, sending seeds in every direction, so you have to be careful if you want to harvest them.  For my taste test, I captured a seed pod in my hand and squeezed lightly until it popped open.

Jewelweed flowerThe seeds are larger than I would have thought, perhaps a third of the size of a pine nut.  I've read that jewelweed seeds are tastiest when fully mature and brown, but most of the ones I found were still green.  They are reported to taste like a walnut, but I felt they had a bit of a puckery tang of a pecan shell (perhaps because they weren't fully ripe).

Our chickens didn't seem to mind the puckeriness, though, making me think that jewelweed would be a good plant to encourage in shady, damp spots in the forest pasture.  Yet another wild food to add to the list of chicken favorites.

Our chicken waterer provides clean, refreshing drinks in between our flock's forays into the wild.
Posted early Monday morning, October 1st, 2012 Tags:

Artistic chicken photoOne of our readers asked that we hold a photo contest that doesn't revolve around chicken waterers.  I see your point --- it would be great for folks who can't afford a POOP-free waterer to have a way to win a free sample.

So here's our completely open photo chicken photo contest for the year: http://bit.ly/O0PUuU.  All you have to do is become a fan of Avian Aqua Miser on facebook, then upload one or more photos.  Tell all your friends to come vote for you, and you might be the lucky winner.

Entries must to be in by Oct. 8 at midnight, but you can vote anytime between now and Oct. 12 at midnight.  I'll announce the winner by Oct. 15 and send out the prize (your choice of a working chicken combo pack or 10 pack DIY kit) right away.  I'm looking forward to seeing some photogenic birds!

Posted early Wednesday morning, October 3rd, 2012 Tags:

Chickens with mulberryMulberries are a permaculture favorite, and there are lots of theories zipping around the internet about how best to integrate them into a homestead.  When it comes right down to it, all of the methods revolve around pruning --- do you prune the tree at all, and if so how?

Mark's the one who brought this issue to my attention, because he's been watching our two year old Illinois everbearing mulberry grow like a weed in the chicken pasture all summer.  "Do you think we'd end up with more fruits for the chickens if we pruned our mulberry small and mashed a lot of trees together, like in a high density apple orchard?" he asked.

I'm glad Mark raised the question, because I'd been assuming we'd just let the mulberry grow to tree size and do its thing.  Various websites explain that it's not really essential to prune a mulberry tree, and I know of several big, unmanaged trees that I stole fruits from as a kid --- they seemed to bear heavily.

Mulberry leavesDespite not needing to prune a mulberry tree, there are various reasons you might want to.  In permaculture circles, lots of folks coppice mulberry trees, using the wood and leaves as a source of organic matter (and as fodder for herbivorous livestock).  A fascinating report by the FAO suggests that you get the most leaf production if you cram mulberries close together and cut them often --- optimal spacing seemed to be 2 feet apart, with cuttings every 112 days.  This study was carried out in a tropical setting, so you probably wouldn't see the 8.5 tons of dry matter per acre here in the U.S., but mulberries still might beat the average 3 to 5 tons you'd get from a grass and clover hayfield.

Mulberry ripening

Of course, as I've mentioned previously, chickens aren't really leaf-eaters.  Another study (included in the FAO report) found that you can replace up to 9% of your chicken's daily ration with dried mulberry leaves without lowering egg production, but I read the same thing about duckweed, which our spoiled flock was supremely uninterested in.  Instead, I want to focus on fruit production since I know our chickens will scarf down lots of berries.

PollardingMulberries produce fruits on last year's wood, so straight coppicing is out if you want fruit production.  On the other hand, if you remove only half the branches each year, your mulberry bush can produce fruits on the old wood while growing new branches for next year's crop.

For even more efficiency, I'm considering pollarding, which is just like coppicing, but keeps a trunk and three to five branch stubs instead of cutting the tree to the ground each year.  Annual pruning involves removing the twigs on half of the the pollard stubs, while leaving the other half to bear fruit.  This way, I won't have to worry about chickens damaging the tender young growth that would come up from a traditional coppice each spring.

What will I do with all the wood I cut out?  I plan to try rooting hardwood cuttings next year, which will let me fill the chicken pastures with little mulberry bushes.  Or so I hope!  Stay tuned for more posts on my pollarding and propagation experiments.

A chicken waterer at the far end of the pasture keeps the flock spread out so they don't scratch any one spot bare.
Posted early Friday morning, October 5th, 2012 Tags:

Three week old chicks with brooderAfter six rounds of chicks, our Ecoglow brooder is still plugging along, although it is showing signs of wear.  The power cord (or power brick?) is starting to flake out on us, but Mark wiggled the cord until it worked and then taped it in place, and the brooder seems to be willing to continue providing warmth for our chicks.

While I'd like the unit to last forever, I have to admit that it's probably already paid for itself even if we have to get a new power cord next year.  I figure we've used the brooder for about 4,000 hours so far, which provides an energy savings of about 532 kwh, or $65.  Since we paid $60 plus $16 shipping, as long as we can eke one more round of chicks out of the brooder (and I hope we can do several more), we will have come out even.

(I'm actually a little astonished, typing this, that the brooder saved so much electricity, so you might want to check my math.  People use various types of heat bulbs with chicks, but for a small backyard flock, 150 watts seems to be average.  The Ecoglow brooder uses 18 watts.  I could get away with taking the heat source out after three weeks, but I usually let our chicks keep it for four weeks.  So I figure 4 weeks X 7 days X 24 hours X 6 sets of Good night chickschicks = 4032 hours of using the brooder so far.  At a savings of 132 watts, I've avoided using 532,224 watt-hours of electricity, or 532 kilowatt-hours.  My electric bill tells me we're currently spending about 12.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, so that comes to a savings of $65.)

Since Amazon has started selling Ecoglow Brooders (with free shipping), when we end up having to replace our unit, we'll be able to get it for $59.99.  Maybe I should go ahead and order one so that when ours flakes out, we'll have a spare ready to slide into use?

Our chicken waterer keeps the youngsters well hydrated and their bedding dry from day 1.
Posted early Monday morning, October 8th, 2012 Tags:

Heated chicken waterersThe time has come to think about heated waterers again.  For those of you who haven't been following along, you can read the last couple of years worth of experiments by following the link above.  If you're more of a facebooker, you can see my favorite heated chicken waterers in visual form here.

Even though we like several of the heated waterer options we've used and seen, there's still room for improvement.  Our heat tape chicken waterer did a great job last winter, keeping the flock's drinking water thawed until we hit a low in the mid teens, but I think the design could use some work on the ease-of-construction side.  Perhaps this ultra-cheap heated bucket would make a good starting point?

Homemade heated watererI also want to make the insulation a bit more high tech (and less clunky).  Roland pointed out that a circle of sytrofoam on top of the lid would be a great addition to our Reflectix wrap, and I also want to improve on the wrapping design.

Meanwhile, as I was perusing old photos, I remembered Marvin Bartel's old design from a few years ago.  I wonder if a thermocube plus a better heating element could help keep the nipples thawed at yet lower temperatures.

Any new heated chicken waterer designs kicking around out there?  I'd love to see your photos --- email them to info@avianaquamiser.com and I'll share them on the blog.

We recommend our 3 pack DIY kit for making a heated waterer for up to 50 chickens.  The CD that comes with each kit includes complete instructions to help you build our favorite heated options without any trial and error.

The heated waterer we use in our own coop requires two buckets, a three foot length of pipe heating cable ($23), and the contents of our kit.  With a layer of chicken-friendly insulation, the waterer is good down into the teens.
Posted early Wednesday morning, October 10th, 2012 Tags:

Egg productionWhy do chickens lay fewer eggs in the fall?  As I mentioned in a previous post, one issue is day length --- when there are fewer than 14 hours of light, chickens lay less.  A solution to this problem is to turn on a light in the chicken coop, but my data shows that our lighted coop only boosted egg production slightly.

Another common cause of lowered egg production in the autumn is molting.  After eighteen months in their adult feathers, our hens are starting to look scruffy, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover that an autumn molt is the cause of our paucity of eggs.  If so (assuming we keep the coop light on), we should see egg production increase within a couple of months.

Chicken eggsWe keep track of how many eggs we get every day, but I'm starting to think that we need to be a bit more scientific.  Our laying flock consists of both Black Australorps and Cuckoo Marans, and it's pretty easy to tell their output apart by eggshell color.  Maybe if I can talk Mark into separating out the data from the two breeds, I'll be able to tell you who's a better fall and winter layer.

I'd be curious to hear from those of you who also keep track of your laying stats.  What breeds lay well for you all winter long?  How many eggs per bird per week do you average?

Our chicken waterer makes sure that the flock has plenty of clean water to churn out those tasty eggs.
Posted early Friday morning, October 12th, 2012 Tags:
Dave Bovee The poultry palace
Poultry palace

Does the economy have your wallet on life support?  Are your feathered friends outgrowing their old home and new "store bought" coops too expensive?  Well, this could be your ticket to poultry paradise.  It's a great way to save money and have some fun woodworking.  Besides, your birds will be happy and safe, and we all know happy birds lay plenty of eggs.

If you have the time and some tools...I've got the rough plans and I'll be happy to share them with you.  This project gets at least a 3 hammer rating.  Some woodworking experience is required.  (Note: I built this from a photograph I saw and had no plans to speak of at all.)

First- Take inventory of your tools.  You will need:

  • Claw hammer
  • 16 and 8 penny nails
  • 3 inch deck screws
  • Electric drill.  I prefer battery powered.
  • Chop saw (aka miter saw).  If you don't have one, use a miter box and crosscut hand saw.
  • Wire.  Your call: chicken wire or hardware cloth.
  • Small fence staples
  • Pliers
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses.  Wear them.
  • A circular saw.  Optional but helpful.
  • Common builder's square.  Optional but helpful.
  • 3 ft. level
  • Wire cutters

Second- Materials you'll need:

  • (4) 4x4 in. pressure treated lumber, 8 ft. in length
  • 2 bags of Portland cement with gravel
  • Plywood
  • Roofing materials.  I used pvc roofing sheets; they're inexpensive.
  • Hinges
  • Handles
  • 16 galvanized metal sheeting for a droppings tray

Note: If you have access to an air-compresser and pneumatic tools, it will go a lot faster.  Don't get in a rush though.  I built this by myself and it took me almost two and a half weeks in good weather, but I goof off and take lots of breaks, so...

Framing a chicken coop
Measure in an X pattern to get it squared up.

Let's get started...  This is probably one of the most important aspects of the project and will affect the entire job if you don't get it right.  When you select a site and size of coop, it has to be squared up.  It doesn't matter if it's 4 ft. by 4 ft. or 4 ft. by 6 ft. or what, you must make a diagonal measurement using a tape measure or even string.  The distance across has to be the same when you measure both directions.

See figure above and look at the black arrow.  That distance has to be the same between the other two posts as well.  If not, then nothing will be square and you have to do a lot more work.  It may look a little out of whack and not suit you.  So be sure it's squared up.  Trust me on this one.

Note: Make it easy on yourself.  Lay down a piece of pre-cut plywood to the dimensions you want and use a post hole digger just off of each corner...  This should square it up pretty close.  Within a quarter of an inch is fine.

Twenty four inch deep holes is plenty.  Square it up and then add your Portland Cement.  Just pour it in dry.  The ground in Florida is plenty moist.  It will set up and give you time to check for vertical plumb with your level.  Let it set up overnight.  If you live in a drier area, then add some water to it and pack it in with the butt of your shovel.

Next Step.  After the pressure treated 4x4s have set up overnight, it will be time to check to be sure they are the same height.  No surprise, they usually aren't.  You can use a string and a line level. A line level is about one dollar and sold at Home Depot.  I use a clear piece of hose and fill it with water.  Loop it into a "U" shape and presto...  It will be level.  Make a mark and square it, then cut with saw.  Now all posts will be squared up, level, and within the vertical bubble.

I spent a lot of time on this because it's important to your project.  Get this part in shape and you'll avoid problems in the future.

Now you're ready for this part.  It's kind of self explanatory.  This is where you get to use the miter box or chop saw.  Be extremely careful.  Chop saws take off fingers too.  It's also a good time to wear the Safety Glasses I mentioned earlier.

Roofing the chicken coop

I prefer to use the drill or pneumatic nail gun here to avoid cracking the concrete at the base.  Stong hammer blows may damage or weaken the concrete.

Chicken coop walls

Okay, let's frame in the doors and windows.  I like to 45 the corners of doors and windows. It gives them that professional look.  Just set your miter saw to 45 degrees and have at it.  This makes for good looking corners and joints.  I prefer to join these pieces with wood glue, clamps, and 3 inch deck screws and let set overnight.  (Notice, just below the coop frame, I've started a glide out for the scat tray.)

For me, this was about the start of day three.  Did I mention I like to take breaks?  The rooster was so curious about what I was doing I had to be careful not to step on him.

You guessed it...  It's roof time.  I used 1x12s for the part over the coop, then just pvc sheeting for the run.  They free range during the day. Noth'ens too good for my girls.

Exterior nest box

Mov'en right along now...  Next is the nesting box. Once you decide where the windows will go and cut out for them, you're on your way.  Here's where the pneumatic nail gun comes in real handy.  It's a big time saver.  Note: The nesting box support beams (2x4s) were installed as one of the original tie beams that joined the 4x4s we squared up.

Chicken coop nest box

We're getting all framed in now.  Notice the hinges and handle.  The top to the nesting box is 3/4 inch birch plywood.  I used this because I had it.  5/8 will work just as well.  Birch is pretty pricy.  You should be at the one week mark right about now.  I think I was on another break at this point.  I'm big on breaks.

Chicken coop

Good news.  You're almost there.  Now it comes down to the little stuff.  Here you can get as fancy or as simple as you wish.  I prefer simple and functional.

Coop door latch

Sliding entrance door w/ handle.  Notice the frame under the coop that holds the slide out tray.

Note: All wood that comes in contact with the ground must be PT wood (pressure treated).  If you live in the South, you live near termites.  It's always termite and mosquito season here in Florida with our 11 months of summer and 4 weeks of bad weather.  Makes me want to take a break just talk'en about it.  Where's my ice tea?

Final Lap...  Here we come.  Once you've framed in, and gotten it all wired in and stapled, you can add awning bibs to windows, fancy handles and various trim work.

Chicken coop and run

This coop is 6 ft. 4 inches tall and 9 feet wide.  Front to back measures 48 inches or 4 ft.  I even added lattice at the bottom.  I like that effect.  The lattice is in this next

Quality chicken coop

This was sealed with boiled linseed oil.  I hope this has been helpful and inspired the spirt of wood-working in you.  Take care of our egg-laying friends, and remember...they're important too.

Dave Bovee is a retired wood shop teacher who builds chicken coops for the fun of it.  He's a regular contributor to Airboating Magazine and will be sharing his wood-working prowess with our readers for a couple of weeks.

Next time: The Eazy Breezy chicken coop.  It's just as functional and one fourth the cost and time.

Posted early Monday morning, October 15th, 2012 Tags:
Black and white chicken

Animal swapMark finally talked me into the unthinkable --- picking up a few more laying hens.  Our seven layers were barely giving us enough for our morning omelet plus a pan of brownies now and then.  But where do you find good, point-of-lay pullets?

In the past, I've told folks to look on Craiglist and to check the bulletin boards at the feed stores.  Both are good ideas, but there's a new chicken-buying location in town --- Tractor Supply's Animal Swap.

The Animal Swap seems to be loosely affiliated with Tractor Supply --- a non-company volunteer runs each one, but the store has a fancy sign that they put up at their entrance when the swap is open.  These swaps seem to be springing up across the country, so it's worth looking to see if there's one in your neck of the woods.  Ours is held on the first Saturday of each month and is advertised on facebook and craigslist, but some others seem to be virtually located on meetup.

Black sheep

Holding a silkieI have to admit, I wasn't expecting much.  We live out in the boondocks, and even the "big city" with the closest Tractor Supply has only 48,000 people.  And yet, our Animal Swap had perhaps a dozen enthusiasts selling everything from sheep and goats to rabbits, ducks, turkeys, homing pigeons, and, of course, lots of chickens.  (As a side note, despite the name, the Animal Swap is really a sales location, so bring cash.)

Female silkie

There were lots of very knowledgeable folks present, and I learned how to sex a silky.  (Look for the red knob above the nose, which is the male's version of a rooster's comb.  The silkie pictured above is a girl.)  I Eating like a goatalmost came home with a couple of silkies too, but Mark talked me out of it.  Maybe in the spring....

Many of the folks selling chickens bred their own, and it was interesting to see which breeds were popular in our region.  In addition to the silkies, I saw lots of types of bantams (the Silver Sebright at the top of this post being the only one I remember the name of).  And there were plenty of standard-sized chickens too, ranging from normal-sized Rhode Island Reds up to Jersey Giants.

We came home with three Rhode Island Reds, who I'll tell you more about in a later post.  It was great to have such a variety to choose from, and I highly recommend hunting down your local Animal Swap if you "need" more birds.

Our chicken waterer made it easy to rehydrate our new hens after their harrowing journey, and they started laying that very afternoon.
Posted early Wednesday morning, October 17th, 2012 Tags:
Bringing chickens home

As I mentioned in my last post, we had a lot of chickens to choose from at the Animal Swap.  So how did we narrow down the options and zoom in on our three Rhode Island Reds?

Our primary purpose was to increase our egg production, so we were looking for point-of-lay pullets.  These hens should be around six months old but should definitely already be laying.  Be very leery of sellers who tell you their pullets will start laying "any day now."  If they're not already laying by September, chances are very good the hens won't churn out any eggs until spring.

On the other hand, you don't want to get saddled with old hens.  One year old hens are okay since they probably just started laying this spring, but two year olds are over the hill.

Chickens out of the box

Breed is also important, of course.  It's worth checking the variety you're interested in against Henderson's chicken breed chart.  We chose our Black Australorps for their foraging prowess and broiler characteristics and our Cuckoo Marans for their (supposed) maternal abilities, but this time around we were looking for straight-up egg-laying prowess.  Rhode Island Reds (aka RIR) and White Leghorns (aka Whiteleggers) top the charts among heirloom egg-layers, although you should also look for Golden Comets and Red and Black Sex-links among the hybrids.

First egg

We were very lucky to find these seven month-old Rhode Island Reds who are so ambitious one even laid an egg on the trip home!

Feeding chickens

After age and breed, the last thing to consider is how healthy your new hens look.  The feathers of young hens will shine a bit in the sun --- scruffy-looking chickens are probably older or malnourished.  If your hens are missing feathers on their heads or backs, that could simply mean that they've been kept in too close quarters with a rooster or with a mean hen, but it's better to leave those birds on the table if you have another choice.

Egg yolk color

Our trio looked top-notch and their previous owner told us that they were great foragers, ranging quite a distance from the coop to hunt for food.  When I cracked open their first egg the next morning, though, it wasn't nearly as orange as our ladies' --- but I don't think anyone else takes pasturing quite as seriously as we do.  I suspect our new hens' yolks will orange up within a week or two.

The final question you might have about buying laying hens is cost.  Six years ago, we got young hens for $5 apiece, but these girls were $9 a head.  I'd be curious to hear from others who have bought laying hens recently.  How much did you pay?

Our chicken waterer keeps hens laying with copious clean water.
Posted early Friday morning, October 19th, 2012 Tags:
Chicks and oilseed radish

Four to seven weeks is my favorite chick age.  They're just barely starting to get into trouble --- hopping up on the porch, scratching mulch --- but mostly are simply growing like crazy and rustling up lots of their own grub.

Chickens in the garden

Each morning, the flock has to make a hard decision --- which delicious morsel to eat first!

Chicken and asparagus

Oilseed radishes and asparagus berries are favorites right now.

Chicks in raspberries

After breakfast, it's time for a short siesta.  The raspberry patch makes a safe haven for napping.

Chicks on the porch

Then they're back to work!

Chicks in mulch

The straw I used for this kill mulch clearly had more seeds in it than it should have.  "No problem," said my chicks.  "We're on it!"

Evening chickens

They forage until dusk, then put themselves to bed. 

Chicks going to bed

All I have to do is close the door.

(If you were looking for a little more substance, you might want to read this post about the advantages of free range chickens, and this one about the flip side of the coin.  For more fun chick photos, check out this post from a month ago.)

Our chicken waterer keeps our flock healthy with lots of clean water.
Posted early Monday morning, October 22nd, 2012 Tags:
Winter hen apron

Hen with bare backLast spring I purchased several Rhode Island Red laying hens.  Four of the hens I purchased had varying degrees of feather damage.  The two chickens with the worst de-feathering have not healed.  These two hens have improved, but not substantially enough to protect themselves from the bitterly cold Colorado winter.  With our first snow usually occurring in October, it was time to act for the two little hens.

Having heard that a hen apron, also known as a chicken saddle, is the best method for protecting a chicken’s bare skin I set out on a search for the highest quality chicken apron available.  I needed something that would provide enough warmth to keep the hen’s bare skin from being further damaged by frostbite.  I also have one hen with fairly substantial damage to the feathers on her shoulders, and I had no idea what to do about that.  I found a product on-line called Hen Saver that looked promising.
Hen apron with eye spots
The Hen Saver hen apron comes in a variety of sizes and colors, which is all well and good but of little interest to me.  What was of great interest to me was the Winter model, a hen apron that comes with a soft fleece lining on the inside.  Not only is the inside of the apron soft on the chicken’s exposed skin, but the fleece will take the place of their feathers to keep the hens warm.  What was also of great interest to me was the shoulder attachment option.  As mentioned earlier one of my hens has bare shoulders, a problem I did not know how to deal with.  When I discovered that a shoulder covering could be added to the apron I was thrilled.  This combination of fleece and shoulder coverings might just get the ladies through the winter.

Hen apronThe Hen Saver apron has two additional options.  There are options for the straps (how the aprons attach to the birds), and there is the option to have “predator eyes”  placed on the back of the apron.  The straps come in two varieties.  There is a single-strap model (easier for you to put on, and easier for the bird to take off), or a double-strap model (harder for you to put on, and harder for the bird to take off).  Because my chickens aren’t necessarily pets, and they can sometimes be tough to catch, I opted for the double-strap model.   This type of strap crisscrosses the bird so the apron really stays put.  However all of the strapping can be uncomfortable for the hens and in rare cases some birds will simply not tolerate them. 

The second option, “predator eyes” are round yellow and red circles that are sewn on to Hen apron with shoulder padsthe back of each apron.  They are intended to look like eyes staring up from the back of the chicken, hopefully scaring hawks away.  The makers of Hen Saver aprons indicate on their web site that they have anecdotal evidence that the predator eyes are a deterrent, but that they do not have substantial proof they do work.  I opted for the “predator eyes” anyway, thinking a little extra protection from aerial predators can’t hurt.    

Holding aproned henI ordered the Hen Savers and waited patiently until they arrived; having the custom “predator eyes” sewn on the back of each apron slows down the order.  When the aprons arrived I scheduled a time with my husband to put the aprons on the birds.  This project struck me as a two person job, and indeed with the crisscrossing straps that we opted for, this was a two person job.  We started with the bird that had the most damage, feeling an urge to take care of her first.  My husband held the bird as she stood on a table.  I wrangled her head through the straps, then the first wing, then the second.  It really wasn’t too bad getting the apron in place.  The shoulder protector slipped over her head and secured in place with a large Velcro patch.  And just like that, in less than two minutes, the Hen Saver apron was on our chicken.  We set the first bird aside and proceeded to suit up the next chicken - she was ready to go even faster than the first bird.  Wow - too easy.  I was feeling quite confident at this point.

Naughty duckWhich is right about the time our story takes a turn.  I picked up the two newly decked-out chickens and headed over to the poultry pen.  We keep an assortment of chickens and a trio of Cayuga ducks, and for the most part everyone gets along pretty well.  I placed the two chickens back in the pen, shut the door, and turned to walk away.  As I turned away a commotion of squawking, flapping, quacking, thrashing, and thumping broke loose.  I turned on my heel and headed back inside the pen.  What I saw was memorable.  Both of the chickens wearing the aprons were not happy with their new outfits, and they were trying to get out of them by backing up at high speed, with much flapping and chaos.  Remember that each Hen apron with predator eyesapron has “predator eyes” sewn on the back, and picture yourself as a chicken or duck in the pen with this “thing” with huge eyes coming at you fast.  The chickens without the aprons were in complete panic, running for their lives, flapping to get some height, squawking, and trying to hide behind anything that wasn’t moving.  The ducks, on the other hand, took a different approach.  Rather than turn and run the ducks decided to stand and fight. And what a fight it was.  Three organized ducks against two flailing, confused chickens - it was a mugging.

The two chickens wearing the aprons have been sequestered to safer quarters, and the ducks are being mulled over for a post on Craigslist.  I have been unsuccessful getting the ducks to accept the chickens wearing the aprons - they attack any time the chickens turn their backs and flash the “predator eyes.”  My last-ditch idea to keep the peace is to remove the “predator eyes” from the back of each apron, which I hate to do considering the up-charge for this feature.  While the makers of the Hen Saver aprons cannot be Christine Faithcertain that the “predator eyes” deter hawks, I can say with absolute certainty that ducks have no doubt.  To the ducks, the yellow and red circles of fabric are clearly the eyes of something menacing.  Without hesitation I would recommend the Hen Saver apron if one of your chickens has feather damage.  That being said, if you don’t want additional feather damage done to the bird wearing the apron, and you have ducks, I would pass on the “predator eyes.” 

For more backyard farming tips, anecdotes, and reviews please visit our blog at www.righttothrive.org

Posted early Wednesday morning, October 24th, 2012 Tags:

Rooster cartoonAre your birds look'en for a new summer cottage?  Is your old coop in need of replacement?  If the answer is yes, then this could be for you.  With money scarce, the cost of gas on the rise, and annual household income down, stretching the dollar is paramount.  That's why the chicken coop featured here today is a good deal and made of mostly used materials.  I call it... The Easy Breezy.

I live in west central Florida and it's classified as a subtropical region.  This coop may not be suitable for year-round occupancy if you live in colder climates.  Winter here lasts for only a short period of time and is generally mild.  In December, I cover the sides with plastic tarps I staple into place.  In late January a heat lamp is often needed.

Used materials are:

  • Vertical side boards (used fence slats).
  • Wire leftover from last coop.
  • Cedar shim-shingles leftover from lawn mower shed job.
  • Various hardware came from other jobs.
  • Nesting box base... previously a card table.
  • Door to coop was wood my neighbor was throwing out.

Coop screen floorThe posts were set and squared up just like the "Poultry Palace" project.  Always use "Pressure Treated" lumber when wood comes in contact with soil.  A must for warmer climates.  I also use Sack-Crete to stiffen up the ground posts and help anchor the coop in strong winds.

If you have access to an air-compressor and nail-gun, this is a good time to use it.  Constant pounding with a hammer will act to loosen posts and timbers.  The nail-gun is fast and holds tight.

Framing coop roof

Note the plastic tarp.  This was to keep my brains from baking in the Florida sun.  This wood was purchased at a local home building store.  One of the few things I did purchase.  The homemade trusses were tied together with nail plates and backed up with plywood triangle wedges and 3 inch stainless steel deck screws.  I build'em to last.  Hey, I live in a hurricane prone zone.

*Note: Stay hydrated and wear your safety glasses.  Safety is your responsibility.  That's the shop teacher in me coming out.

Chicken hutch

Notice the edge of the nesting box the Barred Rock hen is resting on.  Box is filled with hay and pine shavings.  The even spacing between the upright pressure treated fence slats was accomplished by using the same wooden spacer between each board.

Using smaller nails and a pneumatic nail-gun made this job a breeze.  Ice tea and sports drinks played a big part too.  Stay hydrated.

Rooster coop

Every job needs a supervisor and Angelo fits the bill on this one.  Look closely and you can see the fly strips hanging from the underside of the coop.  Not exactly pretty, but efficient.

Tarp coop roofWell... Modern tools have limits.  The air pressure regulator on the air compressor died, but not before the seals blew on the pneumatic staple gun I was using on the roof... Hence the blue plastic tarp as seen on so many Florida homes after hurricanes.  Look carefully and you can see the the back side of the nesting box.  It has a tin roof for extra protection.  These hens are in high cotton now.  We all know happy hens lay lots of eggs.

Easy chicken coop

Meanwhile, as I wait to get my pneumatic tools repaired, the blue tarp remains in place and the hens stay dry.  Building wood projects and keeping busy with my tools seems to be when I'm the happiest so I'll keep making things.  Next project, an old fashioned wooden tool box like my dad had.

Take care and stay safe when using tools.
Dave Bove, Ret. Shop Teacher

Dave Bovee is a retired wood shop teacher who builds chicken coops for the fun of it.  He's a regular contributor to Airboating Magazine.

Posted early Friday morning, October 26th, 2012 Tags:

Homemade chicken feederWe've had at least half a dozen requests for an automatic chicken feeder in the last month.  While I wish I could say we've solved the feed problem like we solved the water problem, I can't.  But maybe you can?

How to enter:
Send in your photo(s) and description for a chance to win your choice of a 10 pack DIY kit or 3 premade waterers!  Either email your entry to info@avianaquamiser.com (one photo per email, please --- multiple emails are fine) or post it on our facebook page by midnight on November 16.  We'll choose one winner to receive the grand prize, and several more honorable mentions to be showcased on our website.

What we're looking for:
We're interested in fun photos and ingenious feeders.  If you've bought a commercial automatic feeder, feel free to enter with your review of their design, and if you've made your own we'd like to see that too.  Our readers love to hear specifics about dollar amounts and time costs, as well as anything you wish you'd done differently.  Most of all, we're looking for an automatic feeder that solves the problem of spilled feed, stolen feed, and spoiled feed.

The fine print:
All photos and text entered in our contest become the property of Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton.  We don't care if you use them for other things; we just want the right to put them up on our website and perhaps share them with future readers in ebook and CD form.

I look forward to seeing your feeder in action!

Posted early Monday morning, October 29th, 2012 Tags:

In the world of chicken feeders, the treadle feeder seems to be the most innovative solution.  These feeders keep your laying pellets inside a closed container, so rats, sparrows, and water can't get in.  When a chicken wants to eat, she just jumps up on the lever, which automatically opens the door and lets her dine at her leisure.

Grandpa's Feeders are the best online version I stumbled across, and I've heard multiple chicken-keepers sing their praises.  The feeders are expensive ($210 once you add in shipping), but the quality looks top-notch.  The Carpenter Shop has a cheaper version ($65 plus shipping), although it looks like you have to jump through a lot of hoops to order one online.

Treadle chicken feederOr you can make your own!  Designs abound on the internet --- check out this one by Backyard Chickens to start, this one in Grit, or this elegant one from Woodworking Corner.

Have you built your own treadle feeder?  Did you have trouble training your flock to hop on the lever?  I'm very interested to hear from anyone who's given one of these designs a try.

Our automatic chicken waterer keeps the mess out of chicken-keeping.
Posted early Wednesday morning, October 31st, 2012 Tags:

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