Sunday, August 4, 2013

Our Chicken Coop

Because eggs, chickens and chicken coops have been such a hot topic at our market booth recently and because I'm about to roll out a few blog posts on our new mobile coop, I thought I better write a little bit about the chicken coop that has served us well for the last seven years or so.

I got my first batch of chicks, a motley crew of eleven banties, game birds and guineas eight years ago shortly after Robert and I got married.  I had decided I wanted chickens and all of the locals said I needed to go to the Beebe flea market to get them.  The sight we took in early one Saturday morning as we walked into the flea market was not an experience soon forgotten.  The quiet town of Beebe is transformed on Saturday mornings as all manner of country shows up to peddle everything from vegetables to thrift store type stuff to any critter that can be caged or leashed.  Naively I walked away with eleven birds that were not anywhere close to the laying hens I was looking for.

Regardless of what they were, these birds needed a place to sleep.  As chicks they started in a rabbit hutch and grew into a very rigged together chicken coop.  A funny thing I've found about having chickens is that random people want to give you their chickens.  As my motley crew grew over the course of the summer it was clear we were going to need a bigger chicken coop.  Later that fall we decided to put up a new building to house tractors and a variety of other things and Robert decided to add a "chicken palace" to one end of it.  Just in time because by then I'd learned about mail order chicks and had seventy-five pullets soon to show up via USPS.

So the chicken palace has served us well over the last seven years.  All of it has a roof but only half of it has walls.  We wanted a place for the birds to get out of the wind and rain yet still have as much ventilation and access to the outside as possible.

While it would sleep many more than the seventy-five or so birds we've had a different points in it, it is still too small of a space for that many birds to stay cooped up in it.  So at about 6:00 every morning I open the door and the birds come boiling out.  

At about 8:30 at night they are all safely perched on their ladders and sleeping so we shut the door to keep out the coons and possums that would love to get in.  

We used to keep laying boxes inside of the chicken coop.  It didn't take long for us to realize though that there are always a few hens at the bottom of the pecking order and that these hens preferred to sleep perched on the laying boxes rather than make a spot for themselves among the birds on the ladders.  The problem with this is that birds still poop while they sleep and that birds sleeping in laying boxes meant birds pooping in laying boxes.  I've always been proud of how clean we've kept our laying boxes.  Clean boxes means clean eggs.  Soon enough we moved the laying boxes back into other parts of the building so the birds couldn't sleep in them.  

Over the years our laying boxes have evolved to random containers the birds choose to lay in.  The most popular of these right now include a cut-off 50-gallon drum, a couple of milk crates and a tall concrete flower planter.  

Our birds used to have the run of our entire yard but as the garden grew, keeping them out of it became a problem.  We also had trouble with two members of our dog family not understanding that chickens were part of the pack.  A few years ago we fenced in about an acre of ground around the chicken palace to help keep our sanity and help keep them safer.  In this field and on the edge of our woods is where they spend most of their mornings and late afternoons.

As I took these pictures though in the heat of the day, I found most of them lounging under a large fallen tree we lost in a storm earlier this summer.

So that pretty much sums up the daily life of a laying hen on our farm right now.  All of this is soon to change as we finish up our mobile chicken coop.  Pictures of that project and the impending chicken move soon to come.   

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