For many years, I have wanted chickens. They are silly, totally incredibly dumb, and they make delicious delicious eggs. By the time I actually got serious about wanting chickens, one of our friends’ girlfriends had a few, and they were fairly noisy. This was not a great way to convince Craig that they would be awesome for our yard. You know, because we live in the suburbs and we have neighbors on all sides of us. After years of nagging, I finally got him to grudgingly agree to build a pen and let me get muscovy ducks, because they’re the only poultry that I could find that are essentially silent. But after several months with the ducks, I developed a heck of a rat problem which was exacerbated by the existence of the beautiful in-ground pond that I built. The rats moved in under it, and there was no effective way of getting them out from under the pond. My attempts at flooding their tunnels and allowing Boris to catch and kill them tended to result in success, but I was never able to fully decimate their population. The duck pond was not a viable option for the long term success of my ducks. Also, despite the extreme amount of research that I did, I was woefully underprepared for the sheer volume and gooeyness of the poop that came out of those things. With a slightly guilty conscience, and a heavy heart, I gave the ducks away to an acquaintance up the street. Then the duck pen sat empty for 6 months(without the duck food around, the rats moved out pretty quickly). I finally decided to use a week of vacation that was going to expire to put some effort into de-duckifying the existing pen, and get it retrofitted to chickens. You see, my main stumbling block with getting chickens had always been that I suck at carpentry and it was imperative that Craig and his father build the actual “frame” of the pen, otherwise it was going to collapse and kill whatever poultry that I had living in there. Once the duck pen was built, and then subsequently emptied of the ducks, the hard part was done. All I needed to do was retrofit for chickens and then actually get chickens. The arrangement that I made with Craig regarding the chickens is that we try to avoid getting any noisy chickens, and if we end up with any troublemakers, they either go into the freezer or into someone else’s flock. This keeps our relationship with our neighbors better. Also, once we and the neighbors are getting some eggs, that should help smooth over some of the potentially rough edges.
And so I got down to it. The first trick was excavating and removing the pond. Once I managed that, I arranged for the lady that took the ducks to also come collect the pond, getting it out of my hair! Then it was mostly a case of rock removal, building a roosting loft, and the most expensive part of the entire ordeal, installing corrugated plastic roofing. Because chickens aren’t fans of getting wet. This isn’t a standard chicken coop setup. The chickens will have access to the run 100% of the time. I have (for the time being) repurposed the hinged-roof duckhouse into a nesting box area, although the chickens mostly seem to stand on top of it and poop, so I will be happy to get rid of that and replace it with something that they can’t sit on top of.
The roosting loft is my own invention and time will tell how successful it ends up being, although I have high hopes. I put up some hardiplank siding that I got for free, cut and painted for exterior siding to help provide a little bit of a wind/rain break in the winter. The rest of the frame will be used to support removable walls that will be built soon and then put in place once it starts cooling down in the winter. This allows the chickens the benefit of a fully “open” coop in the warm weather, and also the benefit of an enclosed coop when it is chilly. The bottom of their roosting loft is going to be a simple “poop hammock” which will just be long dowels and some feed sacks that have been sewn together to form a sling. This should keep most of the breeze from cooling their fluffy little bottoms, and collect the manure that they produce while roosting, making coop maintenance a little simpler. Ventilation is very important in chicken coops, especially during the winter. An accumulation of humidity (from chickens breathing and pooping) overnight combined with freezing temperatures can result in frostbite on their combs. The top few inches of the roosting loft will be open (and the whole area is protected from rain by the clear roofing) so they should get plenty of air exchange.
By the time my week of vacation was over, I had the pen totally ready for chickens, with the exception of having a feeder and waterer completed. Tired, a little sore, and feeling victorious, I posted on the chicken forum, and shortly thereafter, got a reply from someone living nearby that is planning to move, and needing to liquidate their 30-something chickens. He had a group of 3 pullets (not yet laying hens) that were mutts(this doesn’t affect egg-laying ability, it just means that they aren’t desirable for someone wanting to breed them). The father is a faverolles (totally silly feather-beard alert!), and then they have 2 different moms. My favorite (but also the noisiest of the group, so she’ll have to go) is half welsummer and the other 2 are half speckled sussex. All 3 chickens are entirely wild. They want nothing to do with me. They weren’t handled as chicks, but they are healthy, and minimally aggressive to each other (which is especially important when you are going to be keeping them in close proximity to each other.) They were 3 months old when he gave them to me, and now are about 4 months old. Chickens usually start laying eggs between 4 and 6 months, so we should start seeing some eggs shortly. I have spent some time hanging out with the girls. I dragged a lawn chair into their run and occasionally go out there, have a cocktail, and either browse the internet or read a book, while talking to them every now and again to get them used to my presence.
The chicken guy has 4 favorite laying hens that are about a year old. He wants to make sure that I get them because the rest of his hens are going to one person and he doesn’t think they’ll be able to give special attention to his favorite girls. 2 of the hens are Speckled Sussex, which are an old timey dual purpose breed, docile, friendly, and really very striking. They are a reddish brown with white speckles all over them, and the speckles are often ringed in iridescent black. The other 2 hens are Dominiques, which is the first chicken breed developed in America. Also a dual purpose chicken, these ladies are barred with very dark and very light grey. I am pumped to have them in my flock. I should probably be getting those ladies in a few weeks. I am wanting to build a permanent nesting box that will allow me to collect eggs from outside of the run built prior to getting them, so expect to see that at some point.