Spring is beginning to look like a reality here in northern Pennsylvana. The snow from our mid-March blowout is starting to melt, the grass is turning green, there were robins in the front yard… and the chickens had gone from 5-9 eggs a day (January/Feb) to 18-22 eggs a day. My average for the month is 17.something per day. I have few who stagger, so it’s highly possible every one is laying.
The next thing you know *cough*it’s already happened*cough* someone will go broody.
I have this vision in my head of the ultimate chicken coop. Sadly, I have a limited space to work with in the barn. My own allotted chicken space and that’s it. Unless I convince DH to build a second coop, we’re pretty much working with that same space. But I’m constantly trying work in changes and tweaks that might result in something closer to the ideal of my imagination.
We’ve been remodeling the house, and last spring, we did the kitchen, tearing out all the old cabinetry that has been there for close to 40 years.
This full sized until had an old dual oven in the empty spaces. Today, I gotto looking at it and realized that it would make a good ‘maternity suite.’ Kind of like last year’s ideas to put them under the laying beds, or the cat carrier idea (which worked, although it was cramped due to height constraints.)
But this? Could be ideal because could remove the doors, hang curtains for privacy and it was was wide inside to put both a decent sized nest AND a feeder/waterer.
After getting permission from Dad (whose cabinet it is) and asking DH to cut it down, this is what we came up with:
And… as luck seems to have it, I might actually have a broody hen.
This is Maicey. She is My Girl’s favorite hen out of all the others. Maicey has never gone broody before, but it sure looks like it. I’m going to give her a couple of days to see is she sticks with it and give her some of the barnyard mix. I’ve saved out one of Abby’s and Hershey’s (I was there when they laid them luckily) and hopefully some of Pavelle’s. I don’t buy specialty eggs (from breeders or hatchery) for new broodies. Too much of a chance they will be like Ashley, or mean to the babies.
If she stays broody, Maicey will be the first to try out the new broody accommodations.
aka How I Learned to Make Deep Litter Work for Me.
Last summer, I made the discovery of a chicken keeping practice known as Deep Litter. The idea is to keep about 3-5 inches of your preferred bedding on the floor of your coop, cleaning it out every so many months, as opposed to every day.
The chickens are supposed to help, by scratching and pawing in the bedding, turning it with their feet in search of bugs, food, etc, and causing the bedding to aerate.
The bedding, in turn, slowly decomposes and breaks down over time, and by the time you give it a good deep cleaning and fresh litter, the old has become the right consistency for garden compost.
Or so all the websites I researched told me.
Sadly, all last winter and summer, I failed to see evidence that my chickens were doing any of this turning and scratching. If anything, they walked on it and compacted it, leaving me to do all the hard work myself.
That is… until last week when I got tired of turning the bedding with my trusty bedding fork and decided to – gasp – leave the bedding I had just turned in two big piles in the middle of the coop.
I came back later that night and the piles were gone.
Why? Because as any chicken person can tell you – chickens LOVE piles. Dirt, leaves, grass, compost…. whatever kind of pile you have, your chickens will find them and play in them.
By the time I came back to do my last egg-check and lock up for the night, they had it all spread back into place. I’ll leave them more piles in a couple of days, and they’ll have something to keep them busy for a little while.
Overall, it makes for a good winter boredom-buster, too, if you think about it!
I’m still learning, but I like it. It’s less work for me. When I first started, I was cleaning the coop every day, sometimes for more than 2 hours at a time, and it was tedious. Deep litter put a stop to that. Now, I just clean off the roosts and the droppings board, and the occasional poop in the laying beds. Max time – IF I don’t stop and play with the chickens – half hour to do everything. That’s quite a jump from 1-2 hours. Although, let’s face it. I do play with the chickens while I work. It’s how I roll.
Yesterday started the process of spring cleaning in our chicken coop, as well as moving the Littles over to the ‘grow up coop.’
Or, as the hens have dubbed it – the Chicken Apocalypse 2016.
Yes, dear readers, I cleaned a winter’s worth of deep litter bedding out of the coop, swept down the window ledges, put all fresh bedding in the laying beds and hung up clean curtains.
It looks nice, doesn’t it? I trimmed the curtains a little bit so they didn’t over-hang too much.
Yes, I went with cloth and not shower curtains, by the way. Probably a good thing, too, for reasons I did NOT foresee.
The hens flipped out! Like, total end of the world, the sky is falling level panic.
I’m not sure how they are feeling about it today, but if I stop getting eggs, it will because they are protesting the changes.
And while the girls were debating if the coop was safe to lay eggs in yesterday, I was bringing some of the Littles over to the split half. The Grow Up coop. They will stay there until we’re ready to integrate, sometime this summer.
I moved nine of our eighteen chicks over yesterday and few more today. They looked so BIG in the brooder but in the grow up coop, they look so small.
This morning, one of the hens finally got over the shock of new bedding and curtains long enough to look through the door and see what was in there.
One of the Australorps stared back at her and she ran back outside!
Then she came back in and stared some more. Clearly, this is too much change for one lifetime. What was I thinking?
Oh yeah, that the coop needed cleaning and my babies were getting too big for the brooder. They looked like feathered sardines!
There are three chicks still in the brooder. They still have too much down to leave the lamp. They’ll be exactly 6 weeks tomorrow but I don’t think they are ready just yet. I will simply keep checking in them every day and see where it goes.
It’s a chicken door, so our chickens can go outside during the day and not have to spend all day inside their coop.
Normally, Little Dude and I lock it up at night when we do head count, and thus ensure that whatever sneaksy nighttime predators their are don’t think that it’s an open invitation to snack on our birds.
Yesterday, I went down to the barn, as usual. Opened the front door, and as usual, called out my greeting of ‘good-morning, peepy chicks!” Yes, I know that most of them aren’t chicks who say “peep” any more, but they ALL grew up hearing me say it, so it’s custom.
What wasn’t ‘as usual’ was the reaction I was greeted to – 14 very agitated chickens in the coop. Abigail, as the oldest hen and self-appointed boss, leading the list of complaints in her most bossiest of Boss Voices.
Something was wrong.
The something was quickly noticeable. The door – as seen in this non-related pictured – had been left open ALL Night.
It had been windy and cold, and that coop had been exposed. ALL night.
Which, quite frankly, I am at a loss to explain because Little Dude and I, plus DH, went down there as is our norm, and were in and out of the coop 3 times the night before. Little Dude went around back, brought in the treat dish. He usually locks the coop door then.
We all missed it, and I don’t know how.
Abby didn’t care about ‘how’ we missed it. Just that we did. She yelled at me while I recounted heads and checked that everyone was safe and unharmed.
She yelled at me while I checked that no flying birds or anything else unpleasant had invaded the coop and might still be there.
She yelled at me while I took the treat dish and filled it (I give them a scoop or two of feed with a little scratch on top to go outside with, one a day).
She yelled at me while I took the treat dish outside into the run.
We screwed up and she wanted me to know about it.
Well, yes, we did screw up. Anything could have gotten into the coop and attacked our chickens. Nothing did, thank goodness. But I definitely could have been met by something much worse than a scolding hen.
Well, it’s been a busy couple of weeks here at our house, and while I had pictures to share, I just haven’t had time to share anything.
We’ve had snow, which meant my not-so-winter-hardy winter hardy birds spent most of the last week and a half in the coop. They went outside just long enough to get a breath of fresh air, look at the snow on the ground and rush back into the coop with a very definitive ‘oh heck no! Our toesies are COLD!’ Because forbid their toes are cold.
Yesterday, after spending most the week indoors, it warmed up enough for them to come outside. They explored, hunted for food, and got in some dirt bathing.
By the end of the day, most of the snow was gone. It still is, so there’s mud and some green stuff to peck at. They’re happy campers… or would be if there was more bugs.
Last Saturday was Pip’s 6 week-aversary. I took pictures, and yeah, forgot to post them.
So much for having a buffy-colored chicken, huh? He’s turning into the same golden red as the sexlinks. It’s kind of cute because he looks more like his gold sexlink momma rather than a Rhode Island Red. If I hadn’t been present when Madison laid Pip’s egg, and wrote her name on it right away, I would never have guessed. The egg layer is a dark red and there is almost no dark red on Pip at all.
Today marks Week 7.
Pip is growing, getting bigger. He’s now a little over a 3rd the size of Abby, his momma. He’s losing a little more of the residual baby fuzz on his neck. That’s really the only spot he still has some. And… I’m not sure if you can tell from the Week 7 photo, but his comb is getting pinker. Same with his wee little wattles. I’m holding strong that I think he is truly a ‘he’ and not overly big she. Time will tell, though.
Following in the same vein as my last post, Abby and Pip are still breaking down my ‘understanding’ of how ‘things are supposed to work.’ EVERYTHING I’ve read in various forums and places have all said that by the 6th week, a mother hen will leave her chicks to start hanging out with her flock again, and start ignoring them in an attempt to ween them and transition back into being a laying hen again.
At week 7, I see NONE of that type of behavior at all between Abby and Pip. Pip is still Abby’s constant shadow in the barn yard and coop. If I pick Pip up and walk away, Abby follows me. If I pick Abby up and walk away, Pip follows. They sleep together still, although it’s getting harder for Pip to sleep under her wings. I’ll have to get a picture tonight and show you. It’s amusing.
I did notice today that Pip was straying away from her a little, but never more than a foot away from his momma at best.
I’m wondering if this due to Pip being an only child, or Abby’s first hatch, or because it’s winter and keeping him close means Abby has a buddy to cuddle with when it’s cold? I don’t know, honestly, but the only thing I do know is that she is definitely not shoving him away in the manner most the chicken forums said she would.
Now, seeing as today is a beautiful sunny day, I’d like to end with some pics of the chickens enjoying it.
… aka “What I’ve Learned in 5 Weeks of Watching Abby Raise Her Chick.”
Yesterday was Pip’s fifth week-aversary, and I had a lovely post written out, but the WordPress app on my Kindle Fire ate it. It wouldn’t let me post it and I had to exit the app… only to find it didn’t save either. All those words lost…
… but I’ll start by wishing Pip the customary ‘Happy week-versary!!!” and showing off how cute he is. Because… he’s cute. 😉
Now to the subtitle of this post… I’ve never claimed to be an expert on chickens. That’s what this blog is about, right? Me learning as I go and you, my small but encouraging audience, following along with me. Most of what I’ve learned has been gleaned from other blogs, Backyard Chickens, and a really awesome Facebook Group I found… and a LOT of observing my own chickens, trial and error. A lot of trial and error.
This adventure of Broody Abby and her Baby Chick has challenged pretty much everything I ‘thought I knew’ about raising chicks. It really, really has.
When we first brought the sexlinks home from Tractor Supply in their box, I had no clue what I was doing. I had a brooder box and brooder lamp my father had used to raise pheasants a few years prior, a feeder, a waterer, and a lot questions. I answered them by buying a couple of chicken raising guides and jumping online to suppliment.
I followed the guidelines I found in those sources to the letter. My chickens had a brooder lamp until 6 weeks (7. really because I read they needed it until the last of their baby fuzz was gone an couple of the chicks still had baby fuzz on their heads until 7 weeks). I didn’t let them outside until almost ten weeks, except for short, supervised visits in which I sat with them and watched them freak out over every little sound, the blowing of the wind, other birds flying over head. I followed the feeding chart on the back of their feed bags for an idea of what to feed them at what age. And when we added the Rhode Island Reds, I kept them separated and integrated them once I thought the RIRs were big enough to hold their own against the sexlinks who were 3-weeks older but lightyears bigger than them.
All of this… much like a new mother trying not to ‘screw up their baby.’
And then there is Abby with Pip. Abby is a first time mother, too, but unlike me, she isn’t following anyone’s rules or guidelines but her own.
Pip had never seen a brooder box or a brooder lamp. He sleeps cozy. nestled under her wings. I expected her to keep him there for a couple of days, but from he very beginning, she always encouraged him to come out and eat, and after the first week, she encouraged him to go outside and play and explore. In his first 5 weeks, Pip has gone outside almost every day, learned to scratch in the ground for food and bugs, and when he gets cold, they go back into the coop, and he snuggles under her wings for maximum warmth.
He has chick starter, yes, I keep his dish stocked… but he also eats the bugs, slugs, seeds and stuff Abby has been teaching to dig up when they go outside. He also eats the scratch and seeds, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, fruit, etc I feed the others as treats. Why? Because Abby eats it, and if she decided it’s good for him, she buck-buck-bucks until he tries it.
He isn’t separated from the rest of the flock. He lives with them, and now, at 5 weeks, is not afraid to move among them. They haven’t been aggressive or harmful to him. They seem to tolerate him just fine, in fact.
It is, in short, NOTHING, like raising day-old chicks in a brooder. It is NOTHING like getting my sexlinks and RiRs to co-habitate without killing each other. And also, NOTHING a book or a website could prepare me for… because it was natural. A hen and her chick doing what instinct tells them.
Granted, the harder parts are yet to come. Pip is entering his tween-stage, and in a few weeks, he will become an adolescent rooster. There may still be scrimmages between him and Dots. I hope not, because for now, he seems to know his place in the flock. But time will tell… and because of Abby’s poor timing in going broody right before winter, all of this will come to pass in the dead of winter when they are confined to coop (mostly of their own choice because they don’t like to have cold toes) and close quarters.
It could get interesting in my coop in the next couple of months, people.
But what I take away from the last 5 weeks is that this is how I want to raise my chicks… with a momma to sit with them, teach them and protect them. Abby has been amazing with Pip. If she goes broody again, I will definitely give her eggs to sit on!