Keeping our Chickens IN the Chicken Run

Keeping chickens where you want them can sometimes be a challenge. Chickens like to be out and about free ranging and they like to fly. And they REALLY love worms.

Metal stake in cement block

A close up of the cement block filled with dirt that hold the hoop in.

In spite of the four feet high fence, our chickens have a habit of flying out of the chicken run. Yes, we could clip their wings so they could not fly but if they ever seriously needed to escape a predator (or our labrador Retriever Sassy) they would be minced meat. So I don’t clip their wings.

Gene tieing crisscorss use

Gene working on the connection point of the two hoops.

Chickens are smarter than you might think too. Ours have learned that if they fly up on top of the bale of straw they can fly up, out and over the tall fencing designed to keep them in their run. They have also learned that the worms are in the vegetable garden under the bark chips. Destination worms!

New hoops to keep chickens out

The overview of our chicken condo complex.

That leaves them flying out of the run and into the vegetable garden where they scratch up the back chips of the low raised beds. This is not a good thing for me because it meant a lot more work rebuilding and spreading more bark chips and leaves!

New hoops close

Greenhouse hoops new held in place in cement blocks.

Our assignment was to find a way to keep them from flying out and to do it without spending any significant money. This was going to be quite a challenge.

New hoops close  The chickens also like to fly up to the tarp top and fly over from there.

It’s not fancy or perfect, but we came up with the idea of using the last two leftover stainless steel greenhouse hoops and poles along with the left over bird netting and tie wraps. The only out-of-pocket costs to us were $4.00 for four cement clocks to hold the hoops.

Problem solved. Now to determine if it works…

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Small House Homesteads Week in Photo’s-Photo Diary

Balmy warm weather, sunshine and spending time outdoors was the best thing about our week on the homestead.Curious chicken USE                     Look at the shiny hackles on this Heritage Rhode Island Red.

The temperature got up to the 60’s for a few days and we spotted the first Phoebe, Rufus Sided Towee and Robin of the season.

HORZ shrub and cart USE

The weather warmed up enough I could remove the protective burlap from the yewsSister Rhdoes in leaves cute USE  Sisters, sisters / There were never such devoted sisters /

VERT close target and chicks

A Rhodie is drawf-ed by the oak logs target for hatcket practice.

Totes barn chickensThe chickens are interested in our water totes containment center.

Sister Rhdoes in leaves cute USE

Hey baby…what’s happening?
Burlap frying on fenceDrying the burlap on the vegetable garden fencing.

Chickens in front of the run USE

Our chickens enjoying the sunshine in the open run near the enclosed Rhodies run.

Pecking at my pants

Newest bluebird house inmeadow USE

We put up two more bluebird boxes this week.

Small House homesteader, Donna

Teaching Sassy About the Chickens

We get many questions about how we deal with a trained bird dog and retrievers and free ranging chickens.

Rhodies Gene Sassy

Sassy and Gene practice “leave it” while the chickens free ranged today.

Readers often wonder if they need to buy a certain breed of dog to guard their livestock and how t0 train them?

I was worried about this very issue when we decided to get our chickens. Sassy is a very high energy Labrador Retriever and certain birds are her prey. Her job is to find them and bring them home.

Sassy sleeping on gun

Sleeping on the gun case after a good long hunt.

As a trained hunting dog she has been taught to capture and retrieve birds as part of the hunting process. Of course I was nervous that she would want to do that with my baby chicks who were then just about the size of a woodcock, one of the birds species she has been taught to retrieve.

Sassy love

Good girl Sassy! Getting a lot of love and praise for such good behavior!

When the chicken were very tiny and in the laundry room in their brooder, we initially introduced them to her quite early. We let Sassy smell the chicks  liberally while telling her to”leave it,” our cue to teach her when we want her to not touch, mouth or pick up a particular thing. Pretty soon she learned their cheeps and when they cheeped, “I am hungry,” Sassy would come and get me and alert me that they needed me,

VERT Sassy snow beard USE

Sassy, the wonderdog!

Sassy Gene coop USE 11-2-14

Standing at the chicken run on her lead was part of her training process.

I took her outside with me when I had chicken chores to do. I always keep a close watch on her and her behavior. She has always behaved very well around my chickens but no matter what, I have always been mindful she is a trained bird dog and keep my eyes on her and my ears open.

I’ve come to the conclusion that its not the breed of the dog but rather the consistent training that is most important.

Apparently Sassy understands that being on the field is where she hunts and retrieves birds and only when instructed to do so. Apparently she instinctively views these birds on our land as “different” and not birds she is supposed to go after.

Good girl Sassy!!

Small House homesteader, Donna

Small Houses’ Tiny Role in Preserving the Savanna Forest

We spent as much time outside as possible during our recent February thaw. The sunshine felt wonderful on my skin and the warm weather made a partial clean-up of the yard possible.

Oak tree close with chickens USE

Our small parcel of the Oak Savannas forest with compost bins in the distance.

When you live under the shelter of forty-seven White Oak trees you end up with a lot of sticks blown down in the yard that need to be picked up come spring. One record spring I collected twelve garden carts full of sticks and twigs!

Rhoide close comb backlit USE

One of our Rhodies enjoying her time in the forest edge.

So I am always happy to have the opportunity to get outside during the winter months and do a bit of pre-spring yard clean up.

Snowball close

Snowball the Bantam Cochin like all chickens loves to scratch in the leaves.

Have I recently  mentioned that our land was once part of the Oak Savanna Forest?

This italics piece below was written by the author of the Lillie House Blog. Lillie House is an urban permaculture garden in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can see the post about the history of the savannah in its entirety at Lillie House : How We Save the Savannas

And most magnificent of all the ecosystems in the new Americas was the savannas. These large parcels of land were once common across the region where the Eastern Woodland receded into western prairie.Chickens in wood compost in background

Our chickens free ranging along the path into the forest.

Just as we call the prairies “grasslands,” these savannas were “flowerlands,” glorious with a great bounty of broadleaf plants that provide medicine, food and forage. These special ecosystems are the preferred environment of many species, the only place where some can thrive. No doubt it was also home to undiscovered, lost soil communities that we had not yet begun to understand when we brought with us a vast, yet tiny army of invisible conquistadors to colonize the kingdom under foot. 

Oak Savvanah with flowers underneath
 Photo credit: Lillie House Blog Spot.
Within ten years of “settlement” by Europeans, these ecosystems were transformed. The open woodlands filled in to thick forest, prairies and savannas turned to cane thickets and old field, and eventually forest. This once open, park-like continent transformed to just another dense European thicket, and the North American miracle was never to be seen again.

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One of the remaining stands of native lupines in the State Game Area.

One large 50,000 acre parcel the Allegan State game Area was preserved by officials for its recreational use for campers, snowmobilers, cross-country skiers, horse trail riders and hunters and due to the prevalent native lupines that grow there. These beautiful lupines are the host plant for the protected Karner blue butterflies.

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Spring in the forest with native Lupines providing the color.

The chickens had a blast being out of their run. They walked, scratch and pecked for hours every day.  We feel most comfortable supervising the chickens when they free range outside of their fenced in runs.

Rhodie head up studio in rear USE

The forest edge creates a lovely back-drop to our property as well as wind break.

I have tried to preserve the trees on our land and to plant native plantings as well as the many native Lupines as I could plant. I have maintained and played steward on this property as best that I can in the fifteen years we have lived here. We have work hard to preserve and protect this unique ecosystem and add to it as we can.

The weather report indicated that a big storm is headed our way later this week and predicting 5″ to 8″ of fresh snow. So I have been picking up as many sticks as I could and letting the chicken out for several hours a day. Apparently this lovely thaw is about to end!

Oh and the bluebird are coming back…we saw two males looking for their breeding territories earlier this week! I’ll keep you posted!

Small House homesteader, Donna

A Week in Photos Small House Homestead

We had a bit of the January thaw this week. Our weather rose to around 40’s degrees and the sun shone brightly for a few days. We were happy to be able to get our snowbound chickens out of the chicken run for a stroll and a munch on patches of grass that popped up as the snow melted.

Hey lady where are my worms

Crystal says, ‘Hey lady where is the food?’

Our winter has been relatively mild this year with small amounts of snow interspersed with a warmish week in-between. This week the animals certainly enjoyed enjoy our old-fashioned January thaw.

Sunrise hprzontal most pink

A beautiful winter sunrise one day this week on the Small House homestead.

And, I enjoyed a rare opportunity to photographs very pretty sunrise on Saturday morning. I am usually up and at em’ early as our retriever Sassy gets up very early to go outside to the bathroom. My day often begins with the sound of her nails clicking on our linoleum floor and her head pressing down on my arm as her signal, ‘Okay mom its time!’

Sassy 11-18-14

Miss Sassy the snow dog.

Everyday the sun rises but most days I am preoccupied with animals needs or cooking breakfast to actually walk out and concentrate on taking a good a photograph. But luck was with me that day.

Sunrise tree in half interesting for textGreeting The Dawn.

Elsa the fluffy butt

Do these feathers make my butt look big?

After the animals are fed and our breakfast eaten we do our yoga stretches. On this day Sassy was determined to get into the act.

Sassy doing yoga stretches

Sassy and Gene do their yoga stretches.

Circling the fire

The Rhodies circle the wagons.

Crystal bithbat head up USE

Crystal scratching for sunflower seeds under the bird bath

Sassy run three

Sassy gets a good walk everyday.

The chicken monitor

The chicken monitor.

I hope your week was a good one too.

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Small House Homestead Winter – Photo Diary

Pole barn crystal gene USE

Crystal the Rhode Island Red likes to follow us around the homestead.

Our winter thus far has been spent, cooking new gluten-free recipes, doing some deep cleaning inside our home, letting the chickens out to free range with supervision and shoveling snow. Welcome to winter in Michigan!!

This is our week of January 15, 2016. I hope you enjoy the view!

Rhodies and Cochins in dirt USE

Rhodies and Cochin’s alike want to get out of the run no matter the weather.

We shoveled snow away from the door to the covered run so the chicks could scratch and peck. Our girls love their dirt!

Rhodie at pole barn USE

Elsa found a tiny bit of open ground in front of the pole barn door.

We are challenged to find open areas of dirt or leaves to keep the chickens occupied during the long, cold days and out of trouble. Too much time in the coop means chicken squabbles and the lowest chickens in the pecking order seem to be the one who suffer, especially poor Freckles.

If there is a tiny patch of dirt USE

The wondering buddies, Crystal and Elsa.

This was a tiny melted area about the size of a plate near the front of the pole and the girls found it and scratched around satisfying the Rhodies intense drive to dig, scratch and peck.

Crystal and Elsa are wondering buddies. Even when no one else will venture outside in the snow and cold these two avian friends find a way to occupy themselves.

Rhodie at pole barn USE

Posing at the pole barn!

Gene and two chickens USE

Gene and his girls!

Unless there is a terrible snowstorm, we try to get the chickens outside every day, if even for just an hour. Sunlight, fresh air and exercise are good for the girls and helps to keep them busy and occupied too.

Rhoide under forge at buckets USE

When the chicken run gate is open for our morning chores they invariably find their way to the overhand of the forge where there is open dirt and leaves. THIs winter we have stored buckets of bark chips under the forge overhang that we use from time in the chicken coop.

Chicken tracks use

Chickens tracks lead the way to where the girls have been traveling.

I hope you have been having some enjoyable travels too!

Small House homesteader, Donna

A January Thaw Holiday for Chickens

Today our weather was a bit warmer here on the homestead. We invited our chickens to come out of their coop for a reprieve and they headed right to the burn pile we had been working on this week. It was like the chickens were enjoying the thaw!

Gene smiling Elsa looking USE

Crystal on the left, Elsa on the right. Yes, the names are from Frozen…granddaughter named!!

With so many White Oak trees here, we have a lot of fallen branches. I pick them up through the year and toss them into a huge burn pile. The goal is once a year to burn that pile down during the winter. The truth is we don’t get to it but every few years.

Chicken complex blue sky USE

Winter in the coop and covered run.

Earlier this week Gene tried burning this pile down but found the pile was so compactly packed the center would not burn. He then began to rake the pile out a bit in order to make the burning process easier.

2 chickens at burn pile USE

The Rhodies were in heaven in the dirt again today.

The plan is to gather the wood ash when fully cooled and use it in the girls dust bath.

2 Chiciken fluffy buts cute USE

These fluffy butts are just so cute!

The chickens were thrilled to have some bare soil again to scratch and peck in. They went crazy scratching and eating the soil. They seemed to not get enough of it. With the forecast for rain tomorrow followed by snow we took them out both morning and in the afternoon.

Gene raking pile from side USE

Raking out the burn pile left a ring of soil for the chickens to enjoy.

January thaw or chicken spring break?

Small House homesteader, Donna