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

The Story of Sweet Little Snowball Laying Again at Last

Snowball puzzled look

Snowball the white Cochin Bantam today.

Snowball the snow-white Cochin Bantam came to us in the fall of 2014 as a two- week-old rescued chick. She came from a farm where she and her fours siblings and their mother were only being fed cracked corn.

Clover and Snowball

Snowball flying out of the coop, not able to navigate the chicken ladder.

As a result Snowball had some obvious neurological problems. Snowball had a wry neck and when under stress or upset she turned in circles around and around. All of her toes were crooked so she waddles as she walks. I was pretty sure she was suffering from nutritional deficiencies, poor thing.

Clover and four babies

Snowball first fall out in the chicken run. Clover stands close by guarding.

I immediately put the flock on a high quality growers feed and supplemented that with herbs, greens and chicken vitamin drops to try to improve upon their obvious nutritional deficiency. Snowballs body grew but she was never all ‘quite there.’ In fact, I thought she was bit handicapped.

Three on stump heads up jpeg

Snowball and two of her Cochin/Phoenix mix sisters posing on a stump.

Snowball was extremely connected to her mother, Clover, often removing specks of dirt from her Clover’s feathers, grooming her and even when she was almost full sized she wanted to sleep under her Clover’s wings at night. She was very reluctant to grow up.

Snowball looking u coop door Good

Growing, growing, growing….

In fact, Snowball was the last chicken to leave her mother’s side and only because after 5 ½ month her mother turned on her and pecked her in the neck (until blood appeared) to say, “I’m done raising babies and I really mean it this time!”

Funny snowball on stump USE  Quirky Snowball on the stump. The mealworms are how I got her up there!

Snowball has continuously been a quirky little thing, a bit odd and unusually funny. But above all those character traits she has always been sweet like most Cochin Bantams are. It took several months but she began to circle less and less and her wry neck eventually went away. She developed her own personality which is a bit “top chicken” where she pecks away the much larger Rhodies from the food and perches even though she is the lowest chicken in the Cochin flock, she just doesn’t know it! She alerts everyone when crows come around and is kind of the block queen. All the other chickens just kind of melt away and let her have her way. It’s almost like they know she is not all there and have compassion for her and do not raise a fuss. She began to lay, a bit later than her sisters and never laid every day. When she did lay her egg she laid the most petite, creamy white eggEating and posing USETHIS ONE                                                       Not quite full grown.

Last fall when the Cochin’s went through their molt it was almost winter time. Snowball molted with the others but never came back in quite the same way. It took her longer to grow her feathers and she never started laying eggs again. I soon accepted that she was going to be a free loader instead of a layer and because she is such a sweetheart, I never really minded.

Snowball cute on stump USE

Playtime on the stump in the chicken run.

Unlike her serial brooding sisters, Snowball has never gone broody either.

2016bfbcalendarad biosecurity calendar 2015 USDA

Snowball is the bird who photograph was chosen for the USDA 2016 Biosecurity Calendar.

One day out of the blue we found a fairy egg. I was pretty sure this meant that someone was beginning to lay again after a long absence, but who could it be? I was puzzled.

Snowball stretchingneck

That funny girl at play..Look at that neck in proportion to her body!

Last week we began to see a new and slightly different egg in the nest box. With two Cochin broodies we couldn’t figure out who was laying this new oblong egg. It was definitely a Cochin egg but whose could it be? After the fourth egg it dawned on me that Snowball was finally laying again She was actually laying after almost a year’s off! Oh happy day!

Brennas hands with eggs 2015

A light-colored petite Cochin Bantam egg.

It is funny to me how very one of these chickens develop their own personalities and how we get so attached to them. I’ve had readers write and comment on how sweet she is. I know we are not supposed to have favorites, but Snowball seems to be every reader’s favorite too.

Two misfires and a Cochin egg USE

Snowball’s two misfires and her normal egg.

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

 

Cochins vs. Rhodies: A Breed Comparison

I’ve been observing the differences between my two flocks of chickens now for almost a year. This is what I have observed about their dispositions, their personalities and their applicable place in the homestead or backyard chicken coop.

Snowball puzzled look

It’s really quite important to pick the right breed for your weather conditions and land characteristics. I also recommend picking a breed that is suitable for your energy and time constraints too. You will be happier and so will your birds.

Goldy side view on star use

COCHINS BANTUMS: Suitable for an urban backyard coop.

  • Smaller in stature
  • Calm and contented personalities
  • Suitable for younger children to raise
  • Content to be in their coop and run, modestly demanding
  • Very attached to and protective of their flock members
  • Serial brooders
  • For egg laying not meat birds
  • Reliable egg layers laying light brown, almost pink shelled eggs
  • Put themselves in the coop on their own in the early evening
  • Small combs and wattles so suitable for cold weather geography
  • Rhodie in leaves nice light USE

RHODE ISLAND REDS: A heritage breed, suitable for farm or homestead where they can free range.

  • Larger in stature, sturdy birds weighing up to 7 to 8 lbs.
  • Wired personalities, very serious scratch and peck birds, a rather demanding breed
  • Most suitable for older children to raise
  • Every bird for themselves personalities
  • Need to free range and not content to be in their coop and run all day long
  • A duel breed, egg laying and meat producers
  • Reliable layers, laying large brown eggs
  • Want to be out in the woods up well past dusk so need to be put to bed at night.
  • Mediums sized combs and wattles so suitable for cold weather geography

Elsa look good

Whatever your situation and whichever breed you choose, enjoy your chickens and the adventures they bring to your homestead or family. They each have their own personalities, most are quirky, fun and interesting to raise and own. I do recommend keeping chickens!!

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

 

News from the Coop-Eggs as Reward for a Job Well Done

Brenna 2 eggs Thanksgiving

My granddaughter loves to help collect eggs from the nest box.

I have been accused lately of pampering my chickens and I suppose that is true. If pampering them means feeding them, loving them and taking care of them as well as I feed my family… then I am definitely guilty.

mealworms in tin and bucket in snow USE

Herbs and mash are a tasty chicken treat.

I do feel strongly that their health comes through in their egg production numbers as well as in the quality and taste of their eggs. And I want the healthiest chickens and eggs possible. So I feel my efforts are worth it. I want eggs with the highest quality of healthy fat, Omega 3’s possible.

My girls get fed layers feed, greens, herbs, “high-test” (a special high protein concoction I make that is intended to fill them up and keep them warm at night in colder temperatures) and some kitchen scraps. Their live greens includes sprouted barley greens and mung beans.

Herbs and mash

Wet feed and fresh greens are a hit in the coop.

Currently when many flocks have stopped laying an egg production is down my flocks egg production is going up-up-up. This tells me I must be doing something right!!Eggs in blue bowl USE

Beautiful brown eggs!

This week our 8 girls are now laying seven eggs most days. I am thrilled! After months of planning, building, growing, teaching and feeding; these eggs are our reward for a job well done.

The four-year-old Cochin/Phoenix mix’s are good layers and quite winter hardy in spite of their petite and delicate look. Fluffy Snowball, Sweet Pea, Freckles and Goldie, had a 6-week long broody this fall followed by a hard molt. At the same time we thought we might lose Freckles as her comb went gray and she acted as if she was not feeling at all well but some extra TLC and lots of extra protein brought her back around. Her comb is red again and while she is still the lowest chicken in the Cochin flock, she is happily eating, ranging and laying eggs again. She and Snowball are best buds.

Chicken conversation

The Cochin/Phoenix mixes are have quite the conversation.

The four Rhode Island Reds are teenagers now at 7-months-old and full of piss and vinegar. Named by our North Carolina granddaughters they are; Elsa, Crystal, Anna and Alice they are names of course come from the Frozen movie phenomena. What do I expect with granddaughters ages 6 and 4!!

Totally spoiled, they see me and come running and begging for food and asking to get out of the coop for supervised free range time. I try to accommodate them as often as possible. All the Rhodies are finally all laying and clamoring for scratch and peck time in the woods. These Rhodies are sturdy birds that are very serious about their free ranging….they live to dig and hunt!

Three Rhodies 11-11-15 USE

Fully grown Rhode Island Reds are masterful egg layers.

All kidding aside;  I am happy to see our chickens healthy and prospering. They have glossy feathers, bright red combs and healthy bodies. They lay delicious eggs and make great fertilizer for our garden. They work the soil and keep the bugs at bay.

Working chickens on the homestead are part of our path to sustainability.

Small House homesteader, Donna