Saturday, September 14, 2013

New Peeps

Because we have a tendency to put a lot on our plates at one time, things around here tend not to get done until they absolutely need to be done.  Every little thing seems to get prioritized and placed either on the list of things that absolutely must be crammed into today or the list of things that can be put off until tomorrow.  The mobile chicken coop was no different.  Work on it slowly plugged along throughout the summer until we made a decision on the first of August to order a new batch of chicks that would be shipped the last week of August.  And then we had a deadline.  Despite working on it throughout the month Robert was still hard at work finishing it up the day the big chickens needed to move out of the big coop in it to make room for the peeps that were coming in the mail.

We decided to do the move in a two night process.  Our biggest concern was how hard it was going to be for our very conditioned chickens to figure out how to roost somewhere other than the coop they had spent their entire lives roosting in.  Watching them through this process Robert decided it was slightly akin to a smoker quitting cold turkey.  They struggled.  But only for a few nights.

Because this coop was not designed with enough space to keep the chickens penned up in it during the day we decided to move only twenty hens into it the first night.  We picked the birds that seemed to be the escape artists from the chicken yard.  While I have never seen a big yellow Buff Orpington bird outside of the chicken fence, we have a group of colored Aracaunas that have routinely made their way up into the barn to lay their eggs and drive me a little insane on a daily basis.  These are the birds we figured we'd have the most trouble keeping in the new chicken yard so we moved them first.

Waiting until dark meant it was relatively easy to pick these birds off of their roosting ladders, clip their wings and load them into bird boxes to be hauled to the new coop.  Having stayed in there one evening, Milan got his first chance to pick up eggs out of the new laying boxes which he was pretty pumped about.

Moving on night two took a little longer when one our horses decided to have a bellyache in the middle of the process requiring a late night trip to the vet to pick up some medicine leaving Robert to catch birds and clip wings without any help.  Despite being past our bedtime it got done.  

Milan and I spent the next morning cleaning out the big chicken coop and preparing feeders, waterers and lights for the incoming peeps.  No phone call came from the post office that day, but our phone rang bright and early the next morning to "come get these peeping chicks!"  So I did.

75 new peeps.  25 Plymouth Barred Rocks (a new breed for us) and 50 Aracauna chicks made their way from Cackle Hatchery in Missouri.  Well, 73 anyway, two just didn't make it through the mail.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mobile Chicken Coop

This project really deserves some long overdue love on this blog.

We have dabbled with the idea of a mobile chicken coop for several years.  The idea of it made sense in so many ways.  Being able to rotate our chickens around our pastures and gardens would not only help with the fertilization of our ground but would also keep our birds healthier by reducing their parasite load and might even cut some of our feed bill down by giving them access to fresh greens every time we move them.  The two main issues that kept us from moving forward with this project were the initial cost of building a mobile chicken coop, the electrified netting and charger and more importantly to me, not being sure that this set-up would keep our flock as safe as our current chicken coop (which is the Fort Knox of chicken coops as long as we remember to shut the door in the evening).

Enter last summer.  No rain for over four months.  The majority of Arkansas was in as severe a drought as we'd seen in a long time.  Our yards and pastures dried up.  The little bit of green that managed to survive was literally mowed down by army worms in mid-August.  We had no grass anywhere and the acre yard that the chickens live on turned to dirt for the first time in 8 years.  I remember posting pictures of us cutting buckets of kale out of the (irrigated) garden to feed to the chickens to get them something, anything green. Despite the fact that we finally began getting rain at the end of October, those pastures and the grass in them didn't recover until this spring.  In the meantime, our two fallow fields that had been sown with rye grass and crimson clover started to grow and by mid-December were thick with grass and clover.  Every day I wished we had a way to get our chicken flock to those two fields so that they had more fresh food to eat.  I was more convinced than ever that we needed a mobile coop.  At the time though Robert was busy building our walk-in cooler closely followed by a new greenhouse.  Discussion of this project was tabled for a while.

Late this spring it came around again.  This time though Robert had a little more motivation because he'd worked up designs for a new tractor shed that involved using the materials from the old tractor shed...which the old chicken coop is attached to.  Time to make a mobile coop.  I think we all had a little fun with this project.

When I first mentioned this idea to Bruce a few years ago he told me he had an old trailer that would work for the project.  The first step then was getting this trailer to the farm.  Bruce pulled it over on three wheels, although only one of them held any air, and parked it at the end of our strawberry beds which is where it sat for a few months.  Then Robert started knocking the rotten floor boards off of it and cutting out the rusted bolts.  I don't have a picture of the trailer from the start, but I do have one with the floor out and the first of the vertical boards attached to it.

One of the more difficult aspects of building a mobile structure for laying hens is that not only do you have to give them shelter from weather and keep them safe from critters, but you have to provide them with adequate laying boxes.  Robert did a really great job of taking into account all of the elements I wanted incorporated into this coop and fitting them on this trailer.  Once the initial structure was framed up, he built eight sets of laying boxes that each have three compartments in them for a total of twenty-four laying boxes.  The summer interns, Milan and I spent a morning painting them with primer and then Robert took back over and added a little color.

Eventually a roof and a door went on.

Chicken wire was added to critter-proof the sides...

A cattle panel and hardware cloth made for a mesh floor to allow chicken poop to fall to the ground.  And we ran ten horizontal 2x4's for the birds to roost on in the evening.  Milan's main contribution was filling the laying boxes with pine shavings.

And then we were ready for the big move...