Sheetrock is not food

We hit our first major chicken farmer problem today.

We spent much of the day tearing the walls out of our back addition. Crumbles of sheetrock and tufts of pink insulation covered the dirt outside the back door, remnants of what didn’t quite make it into the trash trailer.

I didn’t intend to let the chickens out today, seeing that there was so much debris near the chicken coop, but I suppose it gets dull being stuck in a muddy coop for several days in a row (free range prevented both by heavy rain/flooding and our construction activity). So today after I made a last check for eggs, two of the braver hens darted out of the coop as I stepped out. They were literally pressed against my leg on the way through the gate–that’s how desperate they were to squeeze out of there.

So I reasoned, well, since two of them are out, I suppose I should let the others out. And I did.

The next thing I hear is Peepers: “Bip-bip-bip-bip-bip!” I’ve learned that this odd peeping sound means, “I’ve found something yummy!!” All the hens come running as fast as they can when he makes this noise.

I look down to see what he’s got and I’m horrified to see him pecking at a little piece of sheetrock. Peepers thinks sheetrock is edible. Worse, he keeps telling all the ladies that he’s found something delicious!

So I start flapping my arms and screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!” After scaring the chickens into the safe half of the yard (far from the construction site), I get Byrd, and together we herd the chickens back into the coop. Squawkers gives us a really hard time.  She did NOT want to go back into the coop!

So we are now facing a few options.

1. Move the hen house and chicken coop into the “safe” side of the yard, and erect a plastic barrier to keep the chickens on that side of the yard when they range. This is my preferred option. Byrd objects because he thinks the chickens will ruin the grass under the coop. He’s right, but then again, the winter rye grass that’s there now will be dead in another month anyway, so what’s the big deal?

2. Erect a plastic barrier around the construction area to keep the chickens out. I think this is harder because it will cramp Byrd et al when they are working on the house. They will have to be careful not to let debris fall outside the barrier, and they will have to keep their tools and trailer within the barrier. It’s not much space.

3. Stop letting the chickens free-range until the construction is complete. I don’t want to do this to the chickens. They really love their range time. And construction might last for months.

Guess we’ll see what Byrd decides is the best option.

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Spring Days

I’ve gotten over my initial worries about letting the chickens roam. Nowadays, I open their coop for free range in the backyard from about noon to dark. The chickens put themselves back in the coop when it starts getting dark. They haven’t left our backyard yet, even though the back fence is a mere four feet high. Hopefully they realize there’s a dog over there (untested around fowl).

Chickens framed by wisteria about to bloom like crazy.

Chickens framed by wisteria about to bloom like crazy.

Where'd my ladies go?

Where'd my ladies go?

This used to be a leaf pile. Then the chickens came. Now it is a leafy expanse.

This used to be a leaf pile. Then the chickens came. Now it is a leafy expanse.

On the back porch for a drink from the dog water bowl. Over 90 degrees today, and we were all panting--chickens, dogs, and humans.

On the back porch for a drink from the dog water bowl. Over 90 degrees today, and we were all panting--chickens, dogs, and humans.

An Egg!

Cluckers laid her “first” egg (first since we got her) some time between yesterday afternoon and this afternoon.

Hard to see in the pic, but it has a very pale aqua shell.

Hard to see color in the pic, but it has a very pale aqua shell.

I found it in the hen house but it wasn’t in the nesting box. On the other hand, all of the shavings that should have been in the nesting box were scattered all over the hen house floor. I think someone accidentally tipped the box; possibly the egg rolled out at that time.

Smart Move

The heat lamp was a smart move, and perfect timing. Almost immediately after we got it installed, we had a series of freezes and even some sleet.

The heat light stayed on for days. And Peepers stayed in the hen house most of the time.

Today I went out and gave Peepers some mealworms as a treat. She loved them, of course. But I tried to get her to fly up for them, and she just hopped a little and gave up. I wonder if it’s hard for her to fly because she can’t see out of one eye?

I held her for a while and picked at the feathers until she got tired of it. She fluttered, so I opened my hands to let her fly to the ground… and instead, she sort of plunged and face-planted in the dirt. Lack of depth perception?

Aside from her reluctance to move around a lot, she seems to be okay. Maybe hens slow down as they get older. Or maybe it’s because she’s visually challenged.

This weekend I’m going to take her out into the yard again so she can have some greens and do some exploring. I’m also going to get some hay to spread across the dirt in the chicken coop. I think I’ll put some rye seed under the hay so she’ll have some fresh grass to eat in a few weeks. (The grass here is completely dead because of drought.) I’ll probably grow some rye in a pot on the back porch, too, because I bet she’ll eat a lot of the rye seed in the coop.

I have a potential chicken friend in the works, a hen from a local farm. That might cheer her up a bit. Or it might piss her off… I dunno.

Nice Weekend: Finishing the Hen House

Byrd basically finished the hen house this weekend. The weather was gorgeous on Sunday–perfect temperature, nice breeze, sunny skies–so while he was working on the hen house, I weeded the garden with Peepers.

Peepers was completely unhelpful. This is a summary of her contribution to the chore:

Meanwhile, Byrd added a perch, trim, and a thermostat-controlled heat lamp to the hen house. The thermostat/heat lamp setup is actually based off a reptile tank setup.

Heat lamp with thermostat control up on the ceiling. The temperature probe runs down the wall and is closer to the floor.

Heat lamp with thermostat control up on the ceiling. The temperature probe runs down the wall and is closer to the floor.

On-off switch for the heat lamp on the exterior of the hen house. You can also see the trim, which still needs to be painted white.

On-off switch for the heat lamp on the exterior of the hen house. You can also see the trim, which still needs to be painted white.

Inside the hen house. The perch is just a closet rod. You can also see the temperature probe for the heat light--that black thing in the center of the rear wall.

Inside the hen house. The perch is just a closet rod. You can also see the temperature probe for the heat light--that black thing in the center of the rear wall.

Peepers!

Peepers!

I also checked with the Dallas-area Americauna breeder to see how his chickens were getting along. He says that unfortunately, all of the ones that are Peepers’ age are looking like males (roosters) at this point.

So it looks like I will have to buy some younger ones if I want more than just Peepers. Now I am somewhat torn. Though I’m concerned that Peepers is lonely and needs some chicken friends, I am also very worried that she will peck to death anything that is too small.

A Stretch of Calm

With Byrd’s night work, nothing has gotten done to finish the hen house. Sorry. Peepers has adjusted to sleeping in or on the nesting box, though—probably because it’s finally cold at night (and for a short while, during the day) and that is the warmest option.

Peepers does not like the Blue Heeler puppy we’re fostering. She squawks and runs around in the coop when it comes near. I try to keep the dog away from her as a result. Funny how she knows that Dozer (our big old pit bull) is okay, but Titan (the heeler) is not. I guess it’s because she was around Dozer as a tiny chick.

Dennis the Viszla gave us an award today, and I am honored for it… I love reading his (and his Dada’s) blogs and I’m rather envious of the wit displayed therein. Thanks, guys! Here’s the award:

i_love_your_blog_award

I would like to pass this on to the following blogs:

  1. Mina and Celeste (Rinalia has been very helpful with chicken info)
  2. Tess (Japanese food, yummy)
  3. Leila and Quizz

I’m pretty sure the rest of you regular commenters have gotten this award from me or Dozer already. 😉

More from the chicken front when something interesting happens. I think within the next month or so, we should be at the point of getting additional chickens. Stay tuned…

Pics of Peepers and the Hen House

Here are some updated pics of Peepers and the hen house.

We did not get the hen house finished this weekend, unfortunately. It is still missing trim and a perch. My husband is shifting to night work (extended hours to boot) for a while, starting tonight, so he had to spend this weekend resting and sleeping. And apparently “had” to buy an XBox 360 and a new flat screen TV in order to properly rest up. 🙂

 

Anyway, on to the pictures.

The hen house in the coop. We also added 2x4s across the bottom to discourage predators.

The hen house in the coop. We also added 2x4s across the bottom to discourage predators.

The interior of the hen house. Food and water dispensers are to the left, nesting box is to the right. I will probably make a temporary perch of some sort by myself, to shame my husband into making a "real" one.

The interior of the hen house. Food and water dispensers are to the left, nesting box is to the right. I will probably make a temporary perch of some sort by myself, to shame my husband into making a "real" one.

Turns out hubby was smart to make this cubby under the hen house. Peepers loves to sleep in this space.

Turns out hubby was smart to make this cubby under the hen house. Peepers loves to sleep in this space.

Here is Peepers sitting in my hand at arm's length.

Here is Peepers sitting in my hand at arm's length.

Peepers looks basically like a grown-up hen now (and her peeps have become more like clucks), but she’s still very small. I can hold her in my palm without a problem. The feral chicken that looks like her is a lot bigger, so I guess she’s not full grown yet.

Sleeping Inside the Hen House

A while back, we moved the hen house into the chicken coop. It is still missing trim, but otherwise it’s finished. I’ll take pictures when it’s done.

Instead of an honest-to-goodness nesting box, I bought a very small cat litter pan. I actually prefer the litter pan as a nesting box because it’s made of plastic, and therefore easy to clean, whereas most nesting boxes are traditionally made out of wood.

I put the litter pan, full of pine shavings, into the hen house. I guess it was too much to expect that Peepers would automatically start sleeping in the hen house from then on. But after a full week of going outside at night to see her sleeping on her PVC perch, and having to manually place her in the nesting box each night, I decided I would have to convince her, somehow, that sleeping in the hen house was a much warmer option.

The exact method of doing this eluded me for quite a while. Then one day, because I was planning to water the grass in the chicken coop, I moved Peepers’s food and water dispensers into the hen house to protect them from the “rain.”

Ultimately, I forgot about watering the grass, so it’s essentially dead now, but by moving the food and water into the hen house, I accidentally stumbled on the answer to my problem. Peepers now goes into the hen house by herself every night, apparently because the food and water are in there. I guess she just wanted to sleep near these important dispensers.

The Chicken Palace

Typical of my husband—everything is always much more elaborate and over-the-top than it needs to be. I kept asking for a hen house so Peepers and his future chicken pals could have real shelter. This weekend, my husband finally got around to it.

He drew up some rough sketches. It was a cute little thing; he wanted it to look like a barn, complete with a gambel roof. It seemed silly for this chicken house to be so fancy, but on paper at least, it was small and functional, so I approved, and off hubby went to the hardware store.

He returned several hours later laden with all manner of wood (plywood, 2x4s, even lattice), roofing shingles, styrofoam insulation, hardware (tiny hinges, bolts, and vents), and “hurricane paint” in red and white cans. The total bill was well above $300.

I had to clarify what, exactly, he hoped to build. He reassured me it was a hen house per the drawing I had approved. I then realized that I had not requested a detailed description of the exact size of this building. Big mistake.

And indeed, Byrd and his brother proceeded to slap together a barn-shaped structure that looked just like the sketch. The thing is easily the size of a dog house. I can (and did) sit inside it.


In fact Byrd and I discussed making and selling these as dog or hen houses for people in the Austin area. But I am not so sure that would be lucrative, especially in this economy.

We still have a few things to work on. It needs a front door, trim (which will be white), the air vents (there is a ridge vent in the roof but we are also going to have some circular vents running just under the roof line), and the inside accessories like linoleum on the floor (for easy cleaning), nest boxes, and perches.

Then we have to lift up the dog kennel and drag this monstrosity inside it. More pictures to come.

Peepers, meanwhile, didn’t give a hoot about all the commotion. He was thoroughly enjoying his freedom outside for the entire time we were working on the hen house (about six hours). Peepers is not too fond of being stuck in the bathtub all the time. I wish there was some way to reassure him that it’s not a permanent situation. We just have to finish the work on his kennel and his castle.