Greenhouse Hoops Repurposed as Chicken Run Frame

Our Cochins hens love to fly!

Tie wrapping USE

The open chicken run is now covered with deer netting to keep the girls in.

When I look out the kitchen or dining room window to check on our hens, inevitably I find them out of their pen scratching in the mulch around our oak trees or heading across the yard to heaven knows where. These girls are always on the move.

Not only do I worry about stray dogs as day-time predator (or even our own Lab Sassy forgetting her lessons.) An avid gardener, I have nicely mulched garden beds that need protecting too. So I really want to keep the girls in their pen areas.

Sassy looking

Sassy is being trained to “leave it.”

Our chickens have a series of three “pastures” each with a mix of leaves, grass and weeds to wander around in of their own free will so they really are not hurting for places to scratch and peck. They have shade and sun and a covered coop so no matter the weather they can be contained and protected.

But they also have a kind of wanderlust and like to fly over our 4 ft. tall chicken wire fence for evidently what they think are “greener pastures!”

Hoop run step 2 from Noth view

Stage two of the covered chicken run project. Our Cochins are in the lower right hand corner of this photo.

After months of rounding up and collecting birds five, seven or nine times a day I began to think about covering the open run permanently or clipping their wings. I made the decision early on to not clip their wings because I do want them to be able to fly away in case a predator should come to dinner.

Instead I scoured the Internet and then Pinterest for low-cost covered coop and run ideas until I found one that incorporated metal greenhouse hoops as a frame covered with netting. Bingo!

It turns out that we already have 7 metal greenhouse hoops stacked behind our pole barn that we purchased from a garden club a few years ago for just a $20.00 donation. At that time I had hoped we might build a small hoop-house here. But there was always so many projects waiting that this greenhouse just never got built.

There was my answer…using the greenhouse hoops as a frame for a covered chicken run.

Pool shack side

An east facing shows the block with the hoops inserted into the holes.

This was really simple to achieve. We bought 10 cement blocks, each one weighing 36 lbs., at just about $1.00 each and inserted the hoops into them. We plan to add pea gravel to help to hold the hoops in the block but they already seems to be quite sturdy to me.

Initially we thought we would use bird netting as the cover but then we had a tip on a shade cloth from a local garden center.  Unfortunately that shade cloth was too large for our hoops so it was back to plan A; Using deer netting  secured to the hoops using plastic tie wraps.

Hoop Dimensions:

Our hoops are 8 ft. in length from pole end to pole end.

Our Covered Run Is:

  1. 18 ft. length
  2. 14 ft. 2” width
  3. Hoops are 86” tall

Deer Netting:

100 ft. long.

Today Gene used a $20.00 bag of deer netting and cut and fit the netting around the hoops using tie wraps to connect the netting to the metal hoops. Covering the three gates was a bit trickier to figure out but eventually he just cut panels and weighted them with a repurposed wooden and metal poles that I will lift and open when I go in and out of the gate.

Less than one days work and only $50.00 in cost. What a happy day this is!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

 

New Outdoor Chickenwire Playpen

Checking out the garden USE

It’s a big new world for a chicken that has only known an indoor brooder.

My chickie babies and I took a little sun bath in the lovely 70+ degree sunshine today. We all sat in the newly built chicken wire and stake enclosure Gene made for us within our vegetable garden. This was their first outdoor adventure so we kept it short, we were outside maybe 15-20 minutes max.

Marching RIR USE

Hey you guys, come on out its pretty out here.

Gene built a this temporary “playpen” for us today for this very purpose. I carried the chicks out in a cardboard box and turned it on its side so they had a place to be with plenty of shade and no breeze and where they felt safe and secure.

Chicken wire playpen

The new, temporary and movable chicken wire playpen.

They tentatively moved in and out of the box, testing the feeling of grass on their feet and the taste of fresh grass then they scurried back inside. They are just beginning to get use to the feel of the sunshine and the out-of-doors. They had their organic growers feed sprinkled on the floor of their box and fresh water in a chicken waterer nearby.

Food shelter water and mom what more could a chick need

Food, sunshine, water and mom nearby….what more could you ask for?

They acted like they had a great time. As soon as they started to act the least bit tired I took them back into their brooder and fed them their fermented grower feed, and dandelion greens tea w/ garlic which they love. They were back up on their little mountain of grass and dirt in a few minutes playing king of the mountain!

This was a positive experience I think!

Small House Chicken Keeper, Donna

 

 

Photo Diary – Day 5 – Super Chicks

Three in a row nice soft focus

Pst…have you heard the latest gossip?

These chicks are really something. I can’t say that they are “smart” but they are certainly born with every instinct they need for survival and they have plenty of them. It’s only day five and already they are scratching, pecking, dusting and perching. Amazing!

Perched adorable

Hold on tight there sis!

LATEST CHICK BEHAVIORS:

  1. Scratching up their paper towels into torn bits and eating them.  Yes, they are environmentally friendly towels, but still I don’t want them eating them. I switched to pine shavings.
  2. Dusting in the pine chips so I added a pile of sand for them
  3. Perching during yesterday’s photo shoot, so I added a twig to perch on in their brooder.
  4. Had real chick sized poops.
  5. Their primary and secondary wing feathers are developing.
  6. Perching on the side of their chick feeder and sometimes scratching the food out of the tiny oval hole to the floor.

NEW FOODS:

  1. I added dehydrated kale from last year’s garden to their growing menu. I crumble it and put it right into their feeder and they gobbled it up.

TODAY’S TEA:

  1. Fresh dandelion leaves, dried basil and honey steeped tea.

ADDED ELEMENTS TO STIMULATE THEM:

  1. Added a couple of sticks in the brooder for perching.
  2. Put their feeder and water bottle up on blocks of wood to try to keep them cleaner. (A  lost cause!)

Three in a row nice soft focus

 It’s a hen party.Move over darlin'Hey little darling, move over please!

Butt to butt

 Tush push!

Having chicks is a lot of work but its also a lot of fun. I am enjoying every day watching them grow and develop.

Small House homesteader, photographer and chicken keeper, Donna

 

Goldie the Broody Hen

Our 9-month-old hen Goldie began to go broody this past week.

At first I thought she was just having trouble laying her egg and I was concerned with her clucking all the time and sitting on the nest for hours. I thought she might be egg bound. Then Gene figured out that she was acting broody and we realized what was really going on – our first broody hen!

This is making things quite difficult for us right now because of the demands of having new chicks, the porch’s membrane roof research and quoting project, spring garden demands (two flats of native lupines, 48 comfrey slips and 6 custom grated fruit trees are coming soon and we must have the ground ready) as well as a big joint birthday dinner at the homestead this Sunday (more about that later on this week.)

When it rains…it pours…

Gene named this hen Goldie from the iridescent golden color in her hackles, the ruff around her neck that is prized by fishermen who tie their own flies. Of the five Cochin/Phoenix mixed chicks we rescued last fall, Goldie is the only one that has this unique and rich golden coloration. The golden hue against the subtle and contrasting black and teal and green shimmers is simply beautiful.

Sitting pretty

 Goldie is second in from the right hand side.

Because my hens only started laying eggs about a month ago, it took me a couple of days to recognize this brooding for what it is, a deep hormonal desire to sit on her eggs and hatch them. When a hen goes broody, her pituitary gland releases prolactin, a hormone that stops her from laying. Her body and her hormones are telling her to brood but the catch is we have no rooster and that means no fertile eggs.

Hens who brood like this often do so endlessly without eating or drinking and often they starve themselves to death. So we knew we were going to have to break her of this desire for broodyness or she could be endangering her own life.

To Break a Broody Hen:

  1. Removing her from the nest box repeatedly, often multiple times a day which of course she does not like and she screeches loudly and goes right back on the nest at the first available opportunity.
  2. Finally closing off the chicken door which stops her access to the box (but also to the other hens as well, which obviously not a long-term solution.
  3. Separating her from the nest box in a more assertive way.

Story’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow also has a nice section on “Discouraging Broodiness.” I can recommend this too.

By Tuesday I decided to set up the dog kennel in the corner of the enclosed run for her. I put in leaves, food and water as well as a low wooden perch the same size as the one she is used to. This is a system that was originally set up for momma Clover when she began to peck her chicks after she “weaned” them and they would not leave her alone.

Crate on dest bath sandbox USE

The dog kennel in the sandbox dusting pen in the North coop corner.

I give Goldie several, supervised, outdoor free-ranging periods throughout the day so she can exercise, take in the sunshine and of course find and eat worms. During these times the chicken door is latched shut so she cannot get back to the nest.

I know this sounds cruel. but I must remember that a hen who wants to brood but has no fertilized eggs can actually die from starvation and thirst if she will not leave the nest.

And when one hen is hogging the “favorite” nesting box that every other hen wants to use – big trouble resides in the henhouse. This requires constant monitoring by me as well.

Goldie in pen

Poor Goldie is very unhappy in her temporary, protective kennel home.

Her latest “stunt” is to fly up to the top of the nesting box and try to get in through the ventilation window which is blocked with hardware cloth. She also flies up to the rafters and tries to get in through the roof which of course is impossible with the corrugated plastic roofing panels covering it. This look like a serious injury in the making.

Goldie closer USE

I am sorry Goldie girl, I feel really bad to have to put you through this agony but I have to protect your health above all….

I’ve read that a week is standard to break a broody hen from wanting to brood 24/7, sometimes two weeks, but we shall see just how stubborn Goldie is. She doesn’t yet realize just how stubborn this German chicken momma can be!

Small House homesteader and chicken momma, Donna

 

Adventures in Holistic Chick Raising-Adding Greens

DAY THREE – Highlight of the Day:

1) Today the chicks began to scratch and peck in their brooder. I found out they also like to sleep under the paper towels…whew…for a minute thought I lost one!

2) Sassy responds to the chicks peeps. They peep and she comes running to see what is the matter. That is the cutest mothering thing she has ever done!

3) Today Report: Poop. Sleep. Eat. Poop.

RIR Babies jpeg

If you’ve been following our blog you have read about the new chicks on our homestead. If you have ever had chicks you know just how they consume your time and energy. In fact, they have seemed to take over my life right now!

Chicken adventures day one and two can be seen here…https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2046&action=edit

The RIR chicks spent a lot of time napping and resting today in their brooder box. Once or twice they all began to peep loudly so of course I drop everything go and check on them. Nothing looks off, but their water seems very warm to me so I change it out for the Susan Burek cooled garlic and honey water. They sip it and that seems to be just what they need. The peeping stopped  and peace again reigns in our household.

Based on herbalist Susan Burek’s recommendation I am feeding our new chicks chickweed, dandelion and a few other greens today as well as the fresh minced garlic. It’s only day three and the chicks are already pecking, beginning to scratch and eating greens. This quite blows me away!

I made a Burek tea of garlic and honey and put it in one of the chick waterers. The second waterer has a steeped green tea made from various organic greens like dandelion greens and chickweed.

Chicks Fresh Greens Tea:

Gather dandelion greens, chickweed, comfrey, and wheatgrass greens and place in a quart canning jar.

Boil water and pout over greens. Let cool. Pour into glass chick waterer.

My goal is to acclimate them to the taste of the garlic from day one and for them to get all the nutritional and medicinal benefits of the raw honey and garlic as well. I used raw honey from our local beekeeper and added some chopped organic steeped garlic I bought at the store. I put that in their waterer today. She does this for at least three weeks.

Chicks Raw Garlic and Raw Honey Tea

Smash and mince four cloves of fresh garlic

Fill a quart canning jar with water and boil the water

Add garlic and steep until the water is cooled

Pour into chick waterer

I will continue this tea for at least three weeks. The greens, garlic and raw honey are all immune system boosters.

Morning and night I clean out the brooder box, putting down fresh paper towels. I always add chopped fresh greens and chopped garlic.  I can’t say for sure if they ate any significant amount if either but they are very interested in it. They peck at everything in general and  worked the greens around. I did see a piece of green grass sticking out of a chicks moth when they came to drink. If nothing else they are getting used to the smell, texture and taste. I call this a good first step to eating holistic herbs and live greens.

They are already growing too. They stretch their necks up tall and practice lifting and flapping their wings. They run from one side of the brooder to the other. Their growth is evidenced in their pronounced pin feathers.

I used raw honey from our local beekeeper and added some chopped organic steeped garlic I bought at the store. I put that in their waterer today. She does this for at least three weeks.

I also tried handling the chicks throughout the day too. They are a little skittish right now, and peep and squirm, but I have no doubt that continued handling will help to tame them.

I did some more introductions of the chicks to Sassy too.  I sat on the floor of the laundry room with a chick in my hands. Sassy hears them cheap but can’t quite figure out where they are located.  She thinks they are in the base of the brooder stand and looks for them there. When I hold one in my hand, stroking it, she sits in front of me and watches what I am doing. A couple of times she tried to nose or lick the bird and I quietly said, “Gentle.” I am hoping she gets the idea of what I want. Once she mouthed it but moved back at my command.

Please know that I am not taking credit for these holistic chicken management techniques, this is a Susan Burke developed system. I totally trust her judgment and experience and I am just following her suggestions.

I am getting up twice a night to change out water and give me chick starter feed.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Adventures in Chicken Keeping: Chicks Have Arrived

DAY ONE:

Our four new Rhode Island Red chicks arrived from the hatchery yesterday. My friend Dawn, who is a huge chicken lover, graciously pick up four for me and she took home 102 new chicks for her farm!! I’ve come to realize I can handle about four at a time with our life here on the homestead as it currently is.

Chicks in box at Dawns

 Piles of chicks trying to stay warm in the chick box.

I had the brooder and red light ready and when the call came I turned on the light, upped the house heat and drove over to her farm just 10 minutes away from us to pick them up. Within 15 minutes they were in their new home.

Donna with Rhode Island reds day one 4-20-15

Here I am with one of my new baby chicks.

 My brooder is not unusual; a sterilized plastic bin, with paper towels on the bottom. A red chick light, new thermometer, chicken water, organic chick starter  and a bit of grit on the towels (so they can easily see the food) a bit of grit I put Nutradrench in the water so they got a bit of a head start on vitamins from day one.

Brooder set up

A repurposed microwave stand as base and a sterilized recycle bin as brooder.

They were pretty exhausted from their big day. I dipped their beaks into the waterer so they knew it was therefor them but they were more asleep than awake. I watched them until I was sure they were all drinking and eating and then check in on them every little while. Some were pooping a kind of clear liquid that I assume is the fluid in their body from the liquid matter in the egg shells from before they were born.

Sleepy Girls

Sleepy girls cat-nap on and off in their first hour in their new home.

We also introduced our Lab Sassy, to them while they were peeping heavily when they first got home. She was very interested in their peeping noises and smells. She was exploring all around the converter brooder and spent a lot of time trying to figure out where exactly these peeps were coming from. We let her explore with supervision and told her to “leave it” a few times. So far she has been real good and we did not have to put up the baby gate in the doorway as I thought we might.

I decided not to handle them too much today in order to let them rest, recover and acclimate to their new home. It was a big, big day for them. They were cat-napping and wobbling around and doing well when I went to bed.

It was blessedly uneventful night. I got up at 5 a.m. to check on them and give them fresh water.

DAY TWO:

As I mentioned above I was up at early morning day two. I wanted to make sure they did not run out of water or that it was dirty.  I changed their paper towel litter and gave them fresh food and water. I have two chick waters and I am swapping them out frequently since their water warms up quickly from the 90 degree heat in the brooder.

I went on-line this morning to research what herbs new chicks could have and  at what age. I found a great article written by Susan Burek,  herbalist and owner of Mile High Herb Farm,  called Raising Chicks Naturally.  That same article can be accessed through the Poultry Natural Living Facebook group and then by going to the “files.” I whole-heartily recommend this herb based chicken group for additional learning and this article for anyone with new chicks who wants to do things as holistically as possible.

We are all off to a real good start!

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Our Girls Eat Live Green Barley Fodder at Last

I let the girls into the barley fodder “patch” today for the first time.

Grass under screen close USE

 The fodder patch before I removed the protective frame.

This fodder I planted is Amish grown and are untreated barley seeds that I bought at our regular feed mill. I tested just 1 pound of seeds to make sure that they would grow well here and that they would be received well and eaten by my Cochin/Phoenix mix chickens. This turned out to not be a problem!

Snowball in grass lookingup  USE

Snowball happily attacks the fresh barley grass fodder.

I planted the seeds right in their smallish open run where I had a nice size patch of sunshine. This worked perfectly.

The seeds have been growing since I planted them on 3-25-15 and the recent rains and warmer weather really brought them on. I let the seeds grow for about three weeks until they were about 4″ to 5 “ in height. The girls were trying to dust between the frame and the fence and I took pity of them.

Screenchikens dusting

This corner is a favorite outside dusting area. Looks like I crowded them!

I’ve read that grasses any longer than 4”to 5” are too long, can get caught in the chickens crop and cause sour crop so I decided to let the girls eat them while the grass was still reasonably short in length.

Screen one chicken up USE

Freckles look over the grass this morning just before I removed the frame.

They had been standing on the frame and pecking at the grass growing under it, taking off tiny pieces with their beaks.

Once I made my decision, I removed the frame and they took to the grass immediately. The best things about this feed is that it is untreated seeds so there are no chemicals involved and it is a live green food – the absolute best for chickens.

Snowball in nest box USE

Snowball in the nest box laying her egg.

The moral of his story is that…Happy, well-fed chickens lay healthy great tasting eggs!

Small House Homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna