Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coco's in Jail

I separated Coco from Ginger tonight.  She was bullying her.  I realize this is instinctive and to a degree, is simply normal chicken behavior.  But it's tough when you only have two hens and all Coco's aggressions are directed at Ginger.  While she wasn't drawing blood, she was preventing her from eating.  Which is not good.

Ginger has lost more than a pound over the last month while she's molting.  And being bullied away from treats and food is not helping.  I need Ginger to get her strength back.  The final straw was watching them go to bed. Ginger would hop up on the roosting bar and Coco would hop up and peck her off.  She did it three times and I knew I had to do something.  Ginger seemed so frightened.

So I set up their brooder pen in the garage for Coco.  They say you can separate a bully for about a week and that when you put her back with the flock, she'll be at the bottom of the pecking order.  I don't know if that will work with just two hens, but I had to try something.  And anything I try, is going to require some sort of separation.

Ginger already seems so much happier without Coco.  I hand fed her some worms before tucking her in for the night.

Coco on the other hand is not at all happy about this situation.  And she's half asleep.  I'm not quite sure what to expect tomorrow morning.  I'm afraid that Coco could hurt herself if she decides to really thrash around inside the cage.

But maybe, just maybe, penning up Coco and only giving her feed and water, while Ginger has full use of the house and run and treats all to herself, will build up just enough something in her to give Coco a swift peck back if she gets in her space.  That's all I need is for Ginger to stand up for herself.

Say a prayer for me, this is harder on me than it is for either of them.  We'll try this for a day or two if I can stand it that long, and then try introducing Coco back with Ginger and see what happens.

What's in a Name

Well, quite a bit it turns out.  When we decided to get chickens about a year and a half ago, one of the many questions that needed answers was, what are you going to name them?  There are so many good options for chickens.  So after much discussion and deliberation, we decided on the theme, The Spice Girls, and we'd pull names from items traditionally found in a spice cabinet.

We started w/ Ginger, Coco, Pumpkin and Poppy.  And if you've been following my blog from the beginning, you'll recall that Poppy turned out to be a rooster and had to go live elsewhere.  And we gave away Pumpkin a few months back after we finally decided that her bullying Ginger simply was never going to stop.  So in my mind, those names are now retired.

I desperately want to add two more Buff Orpingtons to my flock but this is a tough time of the year for additions.  Most of the big hatcheries have ceased production until after the new year.  And even then, it can take them most of January to ramp back up to full production.  Which means it will likely be February or March before I can pick up some day old chicks.

But that doesn't stop me from day dreaming about names.  I find myself pushing the grocery cart very slowly through the spice aisle as I look for ideas.  Honey Bear is almost a done deal for one the chicks.  Mrs. Dash we decided was also good, but probably for a Barred Rocks.  And I've read that while most are very docile and friendly, some can be feisty.  So we'll hold off on adding a BR for the time being.

I was looking at Backyard Chickens this morning and saw a big fluffy Buff Orpington named Butterball and fell in love.  Not at all a spice, but I'm thinking if I can stretch the boundaries of spices to include Honey, why not butter or turkey's, depending on how you view that.  Shoot, maybe we should just call them the Food Girls and give them food related names.

Course, then that opens up the gauntlet to names like White Meat, Dumpling, Extra Crispy and Drumstick.  And I have visions of me being out in the garden calling Drumstick, come here Drumstick, and what must my neighbors think.  I'm pretty sure they already think I've lost my mind getting pet chickens but I don't want to push myself completely into the Crazy Chicken Lady category.

So what do you all think; Honey Bear and Butterball?  Would love to hear other suggestions if you have them.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Treats on a Stick

I got lots of feedback on my last post about my coop set up.  And specifically, the apple on a stick seemed to draw the most comments.

I've always felt bad keeping my girls penned up even though they have a HUGE run for just the two of them.  So I'm always on the hunt for ways to amuse them during the day.  I have no idea where this metal spike came from or what it's suppose to be used for.  I can't tell you how many times I almost tossed it out over the years we've lived her because it was just taking up space.

But I use it ALL the time now to give treats to the hens.  I you can't find one like this, go to the irrigation dept. of your hardware store and you'll find large U shaped hooks used to anchor drip irrigation lines in place.  Those will work great too.

Below is a Black Oiled Sunflower head that I saved from this summer.  I grew a bunch of these and when the flowers were done, and before the squirrels could get them, I cut them and dried them in the sun (under a protective cage, again so the squirrels couldn't get them).

And once a week or so I'll put one out for the hens.

Black Oiled Sunflower Seed head spiked into the ground inside the girls run.

And about an hour later, this is all that's left.  The seeds are pretty tight in the flower head so it
can take them a bit to work them out.  Once they get it started though, it disappears pretty quickly.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tour de Coup

I've seen others do blog tours of their chicken set up and so I thought it was time that I do the same.  Maybe this will inspire others who are lurkers, thinking about getting chickens, to take the leap.  It's loads of fun.

I thought about having chickens often and never thought it was possible.  I kept telling myself: "I live in the city.  I have neighbors on either side of me.  I have such a limited amount of space.  I don't have time."

Well, one day we went to a BBQ at a friend's house who has a yard even smaller than mine, and fenced off in the corner of her backyard were four, fat, happy Buff Orpington hens.  And I was in love!

So a few hours on the internet researching possibilities and voila, we now have chickens.  Be sure to research the local laws and ordinances for your area.  Turns out, we're allowed to have up to 6 hens w/ out a permit provided we house them 25' from our neighbor's house.  And because we're on a corner lot, with large side yards, that was pretty easy to accommodate.  (You can house them closer than 25' provided you have written permission from the neighbors.)

My other concern was about time.  Chickens are vulnerable to predators and need to be locked up at night and let out at first light.  My crazy schedule would make that a challenge.  So I thought, what if I built a predator proof run and just put their house in the middle of that.  Then I could check in on them at my convenience and not have to worry about getting up early to let them out or home in time to lock them up at night.  Put in an over sized waterer and feeder and now I'm on to something that just might work.

Not being handy at all, I had to find someone to build out a predator proof run and house for my hens.  This actually proved to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated.  I called handymen, wood workers and fencing companies and once they heard the word chicken, they hung up.  And in this economy too!

But with a little persistence, I found a GREAT fencing company to build out my run and cover it with heavy duty welded wire.  I opted to buy a ready made hen house and had it shipped to my driveway.  I took care of burying welded wire around the perimeter of the run to keep the digging critters out.  And after that was all in place, had a general contractor who was eager for work, come back and build out a frame above the run to cover it with corrugated sheets to keep the hens shaded and dry.

The one thing you'll notice that is very different about my setup is that the sides are all solid panels.  Our house is one side and the other three are solid fence boards.  Their only window to the outside world is the wire gate and above the run.  I'm not sure that's the most ideal situation, but it works for us and I don't think they really care.  They have no idea that a much bigger, crazy world exists outside their four walls.

Here are the fence guys building out their run.  You can see on the far left how the fence will come right down the property line.  On the right is the wall of the garage.  And that's their house just sitting in the middle of the run.

Basically the same shot as above only a few hours later as they are installing the fence boards.

Here you can see where I've pulled away dirt from the exterior fence line and stapled welded wire down and out away from the fence to keep digging critters out.  I also used 8" metal spikes to secure the wire into the ground.
And the finished product from the street side.  I had a BUNCH of extra bricks that were in a pile so I lined them up against the fence to give me one more deterrent layer against digging critters.  I know that won't stop them but it makes it obvious visually if something's been digging.  And thus far, we've had no issues.
And the Spice Girl's house.  Which we refer to as the Spice Cabinet.  I've since changed the icicle lights to chili pepper lights.  These hand crafted hen houses are amazingly well built and I simply adore this style.
This is the view from the entrance to their run just off our backyard.  You can see their house is up against the garage where it ALWAYS stays in the shade.  And if you look up, you can see the corrugated metal roof over their welded wire roof that keeps them shaded and dry.
Their run is 7' tall inside making it really easy to go in and out of there.  So I keep my compost bin (black box on left) in side their run and they have a fiesta when I move or turn it as it's full of bugs.  I also keep my wheel barrow in there because I have no other place for it.  They nap under it in the summer and perch on top of it in the winter.
They use the compost bin as their stage.  I frequently find one of them up there just cackling her head off.

And another shot of trying to turn the compost bin.  They get right under foot and while I used to be able to do this in about five minutes.  It now can take me a half hour while I shoo them away and gently try to scoop up and transfer the compost w/ out scooping up a hen.
Here's a wider shot of the inside of their run.  I try to keep lots of leaves on the ground which I spike w/ sunflower seeds to give them something to scratch for during the day.  I had plants in there originally but they destroyed those.  On the right you can see an over sized suet feeder which I'll fill with greens for them to peck at. 

Apple on a metal stick is always a crowd pleaser and gives the girls something to peck at.
And this is what I come back to at the end of the day.
And their Life is Good treat bowl.  Because life IS good for my girls.


And these last two photos is why we do this.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the photo of my three happy hens in each of their favorite nest boxes quietly going about their business.  And the bottom photo was from earlier when they were just starting to lay.  That was the first day we received an egg from each of the three hens on the same day.  And yes, back then they fought over the same nest box.  Their colorful eggs are like jewels to me and to this day I still get excited when I lift up the lid to the nesting boxes to find these treasures.

I hope you enjoyed my tour. 
If you have questions about anything I've done, feel free to post comments and I will answer.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why it's a chicken, of course!

What do people, who love chickens, dress up as for Halloween?  Why a chicken of course.

Well, I couldn't bring myself to don a full chicken suit for the office, but I did sport my crazy chicken hat for the day.  It was loads of fun because I couldn't see myself.  I had no idea how dorky I looked.  But anyone who came to ask me a question that simply couldn't keep a strait face.  It was lots of fun.

Waiting for Spring

I know, it's not even winter yet.  But I really want more chickens.  And we're headed into the season where the hatcheries slow down production and most stop until after the first of the year.  And while they start up in early January, the chickens might still be on slow production as they finish their molt.  And then of course, you have to wait 21 days for those eggs to hatch and the chicks to ship.  So it's going to be February before I have easy access to more chicks.

I really want four hens for my flock.  I started with four hens when I started this adventure a little over a year ago.  But as you know if you've been following my blog, Poppy turned out to be a rooster and we gave him to a family that has some property and wanted to expand their flock of two chickens.

And then about a month ago, we gave away Pumpkin who was a bully towards Ginger.  To the point of not letting her eat food.  She now lives not terribly far away, with two other hens, and is hopefully at the bottom of that pecking order getting a small dose of what it feels like to be pecked at.

And that's how I ended up with just two hens.  Who get along like sisters and are such sweet chickens.  But I worry constantly, what if something happens to one.  One chicken is a VERY lonely chicken.  So I'm eager to add to our flock of Spice Girls.

And as much as I want a mixed flock of hens who lay a variety of colored eggs, I've come to the realization that to have a better chance of having multiple hens who get along well with each other, I should buy the same species.  So more Buff Orpington's are in order.  Ginger is a Buff Orpington or BO for short.

We've selected names for our newest additions, Honey and Spice.  But for now, they are just a fantasy I dream about while I wait for spring.