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How I made a new exit in our chicken coop

The instruction book for most chainsaws will tell you to never use the tip of the bar to cut with because of the increased chance the thing will kick back on you and cause an injury.

I broke that safety rule so I could make a pop hole in our new chicken coop.

It does kick back a little, but seems like a manageable risk if you brace yourself and don't get too close. Framing up the sides first will keep things neat and give you a cutting guide.

Posted early Friday morning, April 18th, 2014 Tags:
do chicks need a ramp or can they jump?

New chicks need a ramp for their first month, but soon after that they can jump.

Of course some chicks develop faster than others, which is why we like to keep a ramp going up to our outdoor brooder a little past a month to encourage the more timid chicks in the flock to get out and hunt for bugs.

Posted early Wednesday morning, April 16th, 2014 Tags:
using an IBC container to collect rainwater for chickens

We picked up this Intermidiate Bulk Container for 25 dollars from a neighbor.

The plan is to take advantage of all the roof runoff and fill it with rainwater once we finish installing gutters on the coop.

It should be more than enough water for chickens and ducks and the nearby fruit trees that sometimes need irrigation.

Posted early Monday morning, April 14th, 2014 Tags:
Chick power struggle

By the time they're a few weeks old, chicks are already establishing their pecking order.  Little skirmishes seem quite dramatic to the observer, with chicks sometimes leaping into the air to menace others with their claws...and yet no one ever seems to get hurt.

Chick faceoff

Sometimes, the biologist in me wishes I was raising chicks that are easy to sex by feather color, just so I could learn more about who exactly is fighting whom as they establish their dominance hierarchy.  Are all of the leapers males?  (I'm guessing so because adult roosters tend to leap and menace each other with their feet, but hens don't.)  Is the hierarchy established only within each sex, or do males and females duke it out too?

In the end, though, I choose to just watch the chicks frolic rather than trying to answer any scientific questions.  It's just more fun to watch chick TV.

Posted early Friday morning, April 11th, 2014 Tags:
water powered automatic chicken coop door opener

If you've got a timer controlled irrigation system you might be able to convert some of that infrastructure to open and close a chicken coop door automatically.

A timer goes off in the morning, the top bucket fills with water in about 2 minutes which is hooked with a system of pulleys to open the door. An affordable electric valve on the bottom of the bucket opens up in the evening and allows the bucket to drain and the door to slowly go back down for the night.

Image credit goes to Youtube user KevvinB for his Redneck version of an automatic chicken coop door opener.

Posted early Wednesday morning, April 9th, 2014 Tags:
Chickens playing with rabbits?

Can you raise chickens and rabbits together?

I think it depends on the dynamics of your flock and the chicken to rabbit ratio. Some people report how their chickens pick on the rabbits, which could be a result of limited foraging space. There's also some evidence that chickens will break up a rabbit fight.

Image credit goes to Youtube user Hairless Hippy. He's got two male rabbits that get along fine with a small flock of hens.

Posted early Monday morning, April 7th, 2014 Tags:

First attempt at a starplate roofLast June, we got the Starplate frame and walls up, then started thinking about the roof.  Although no one else had done it that way, we liked the idea of using aluminum flashing, both for ease of cutting and for safety of rainwater collection.  Our first stab at it, though, involved too much corner cutting.  Furring strips seemed like they might be sufficient to anchor the flashing, but the roof just felt too flimsy using this method.  So we backed up, (waited nine months,) and tried again.

Ceiling of the starplate coop

Round two was much more successful.  We started out by adding extra two-by-fours in the middle of each roof triangle, which was simple since each starplate has extra holes, giving us an easy attachment point at the peak of the roof.  Next, we cut the bottom of each support at an angle to make it easy to screw into the tops of the walls.

Adding flashing to the roof of the coopWe planned our starplate roof to have an overhang, so back when we started, we used ten-foot-long 2X4s for the rafters instead of the eight-foot-long 2X4s we used for most of the frame.  That meant that triangles cut out of 4-foot-by-eight-foot sheets of plywood covered most of the roof, but left a very handy gap that let us stand on the frame while applying the roofing.  By being careful not to attach the bottom edge of the lower piece of flashing, we were able to roof the entire top of the coop while standing in relative safety, then could later slide the bottom piece of flashing up underneath to finish out the eaves.

Finishing the Starplate roofThis part of the project went extremely smoothly, although Mark didn't have fun being up on the roof.  The only thing we would have changed here would be to use thicker plywood --- the 1/4" plywood sagged a bit.  On the other hand, Mark notes that thicker plywood would have weighed a lot more and would have made the process tricker, so perhaps the solution is to use thin plywood, but to add additional supports inside as needed.  Or to simply throw a tarp over the roof so that it doesn't get rained on between screwing down the plywood and adding the flashing --- I think that water was what caused the sag.

Making a ridge capThe photo above shows how we slipped the last piece of flashing up under the edge of the other piece and anchored it down.  We had originally planned to carefully cut triangles to eke out the underlayment for the eaves area, but ended up just using half of a 4-foot-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood for each eave, as you can see here.  The bottom edge of each eave consisted of two 8-foot-long furring strips screwed together to complete the roof triangle.

But before starting on the eaves, we had to figure out the peak.  Reaching the very top of the coop was tough, so we opted to build a ridgecap on the ground, then put it in place. The ridgecap was framed up with furring strips, then covered with triangles of flashing, with liquid nails used to glue the seams.  Mark and I both think the cap adds quite a touch of elegance to the finished roof.

Nearly finished roof

Here we are putting the last piece of flashing on the roof.  You might be able to tell that we didn't cut the edges of the flashing pieces to an angle, just bent them over so they overlapped the adjacent sides.  We screwed down these flaps carefully, so hopefully there won't be any problem with wind whipping up under the edges.

Now all that's left is the fun stuff --- filling in some holes, building the rainwater collection system, and adding feeders, waterers, perches, and nest boxes.  I'm hopeful the coop will be ready for our current round of chicks by the time the ducks arrive and need the brooder.  Total cost so far has been about $1,100 for 110 square feet, and you can read my thoughts on the pros and cons of starplates here.

As a final side note, a reader posted a photo of his nearly finished starplate coop recently as well.  He chose shingles, which definitely made an elegant roof.  I suspect there are as many ways to finish starplate coops as there are starplate coop builders, but hopefully you'll at least get some ideas from this post.

Posted early Friday morning, April 4th, 2014 Tags:
how to make your own egg incubator

There are a lot of instructional videos on how to make your own egg incubator.

I've watched several and have concluded that Youtube user tigrimmy is a good place to start if you want to make one with an egg turner that's also pretty to look at.

The video is clear and concise and you get a good idea of the scope of the project in just over 7 minutes. I especially liked the updates on what he's learned to make it better.

Posted early Wednesday morning, April 2nd, 2014 Tags:
Chick on ramp

I posted some photos of our cute chicks enjoying their outdoor brooder on facebook last week, and several readers wanted to know more about the brooder.  How was it made?  And wasn't it too cold for chicks to be running around outdoors in the middle of March?  I figured I'd write the longer answer here on the blog.

Chick meeting dog

This is the third year our outdoor brooder has been in use, and I'm 100% happy with it.  Mark would prefer the transparent side be smaller and the whole thing be a bit more easy to empty out at the end of the season, but those are minor nitpicks in a brooder that has kept dozens of chicks happy and safe from predators.  You can see our thoughts during the design phase here, and the step-by-step building tips here

Outdoor brooder in the snow

But is it too cold for chicks to be outdoors?  In The Resilient Gardener, Carol Deppe writes:

"If allowed to waterproof themselves properly, ducklings can be out foraging in their third week....  Chicks are normally kept indoors the first six to eight weeks."

Our homestead is anything but normal.  We generally move our chicks into the outdoor brooder by the time they're a week old, using Brinsea Ecoglow brooders to keep them warm at night.  A couple of days later, as long as it's not raining or snowing, I open the door in the morning and let the chicks run outside if they wish.  For the first week or so, they generally just dabble their toes in the outdoors, sometimes going no further than the ramp, but I think the early foraging helps them learn to hunt their own food, and it definitely supplements their store-bought rations.  By the time our chicks are two weeks to three weeks old (depending on the weather), they're usually spending most of their time outdoors and are just coming inside for occasional naps and snacks (and to spend the night).

Chick learning to fly

This kind of early pasturing depends very much on the brooder being very tight, though.  We turn the transparent side to face south in the early spring, which heats the brooder up quite a lot on sunny days, and I keep the door closed if it's going to be bitter outside.  And although it might to be pushing the envelope, our chicks seemed to be fine in the brooder even when it got down to 18 outside a few nights ago.  The nipple on their EZ Miser did freeze, but it thawed right out the next day when I opened the door to let in the morning sun.

Of course, keep in mind that we live in zone 6, where mid March is really starting to be springlike, even during a cold winter like this one.  If you live in Alaska, yes, March probably is too early to brood chicks outdoors.  And if you aren't home to keep an eye on the chicks, it's not very safe for them to be running around outdoors without your attention.  But if you live in a similar climate to ours and work from home, chances are your chicks would enjoy an outdoor brooder as much as ours do.

Posted early Monday morning, March 31st, 2014 Tags:
Lisa Lynn images of her free used chickens

I think Lisa Lynn's post on getting some "pre-owned" chickens is a nice way to conclude my series on easy ways to find free chickens.

She's summed up an experience where someone she knew was updating their laying flock and didn't want to take the time to manage his older birds.

Image credit goes to Lisa Lynn and her impressive Self Sufficient HomeAcre blog.

How to find free chickens?

More ways to find free chickens
How we found free chickens

Posted early Friday morning, March 28th, 2014 Tags:
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I just purchased your chicken nipples and bit, but I have a question since I'm new in the chicken world. Do chickens need direct sun almost all day to lay eggs or are they happy with a few hours in the morning and streams of sun through the trees. They are out in there pen from 8am until dusk.


Comment by suzanne roemer late Wednesday evening, July 27th, 2011

Especially in the summer, chickens will actually gravitate toward the shade. They do like to have some sunny spots for dust-bathing, and like more sun in the winter.

The longer the day length, the better your chickens will lay. But that doesn't mean they need to be in direct sunlight during that time, just that there needs to be enough light to keep them awake and active.

Comment by anna late Saturday afternoon, July 30th, 2011

My chickens go out of there way to try and find sources of the stuff, I have Styrofoam (polystyrene actually) insulating the outside of my package heat pump. They finally figured it out and have peck/eaten a large chuck out of one section, maybe 1 ft in diameter. They have found the stuff before, and they didn't seem to have any adverse affects, I try to keep them out of harms way. I assume they will be fine this time, and I have blocked them off from the area. but my question is, Should I eat the eggs? I have 2 buff orpingtons and a white silkie(the bad influence).They are known as betty white and the golden girls. the buffs had just started laying a few days ago. Any ideas?

Comment by David L at noon on Thursday, February 9th, 2012
I've heard from other people whose chickens go after styrofoam. I figure it can't be good for them, so I'd do my best to keep them away from it. As long as the chickens are healthy, though, I doubt it will affect the eggs, but I don't really know!
Comment by anna Thursday evening, February 9th, 2012
i have a week old chick that was doing fine until yesterday. Now he is not eating and just standing around or sleeping. I put him in a box by himself with a heating pad. I have been trying to get him to drink water with probiotics and electrolites. Does anyone have any suggestions?
Comment by Anonymous at teatime on Thursday, June 21st, 2012
Anonymous --- I'm so sorry to hear about your sick chick! Unfortunately, chicks sometimes just dwindle away, especially if they had some trauma in the egg or soon after hatching that didn't show up at the time. That said, solitary confinement in a warm place sometimes helps them bounce back, so it sounds like you're doing just the right thing.
Comment by anna early Sunday morning, June 24th, 2012
I cook for my chickens.I have four girls. in the morning they get laying food and cracked corn then I give then lettuce and bread they go gaga for it. in the afternoon they get a combo of rice flax seed sucker seed canned green beans. they don't get anything green in Michigan in the winter unless I give it to them. they never got the memo that they don't lay in the winter. their pen is protected and there is no snow in their pen i live my girls.i live in the city and have never had chickens before
Comment by Linda Monday night, March 25th, 2013
Linda --- Sounds like you've got happy chickens!
Comment by anna late Monday morning, April 1st, 2013

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