Building The Chicken Coop

The Chicken Coop…. just those words is like teeth grinding or the high pitched squeal/scream of a three year old that hurts your ears so bad your eyeballs feel like they shrivel and ear drums explode in repercussion.

It has almost taken us a month to get our chicken coop done, could have been done faster if it wasn’t for the fact it has literally rained every day since we started (expect one nice sunny day that I remember vividly). Most of the work has been Mr. Husband spending his weekends working hard on it. A 7 month pregnant lady is limited to the amount of lifting and things that can be accomplished. I have mostly been doing the painting, helping of measuring, or just general supervising. So really, I can’t take any credit for getting this monster built. I have to give my husband mad kudos, Atta boy,  and props for building this huge and amazingly awesome chicken coop.

My initial plan for the coop was, I wanted the coop itself to be 6ft x 6ft, have 2 ft available under the coop, with a total length of 14 ft total for the run (including the 2 ft under the coop). Some people may think this is huge for a back yard chicken flock, I know Mr. Husband did. I wanted a nest box that had enough space for three separate nesting areas. I nest box door that flips down instead of up, so the kiddos can collect eggs. Have the coop/run be tall enough I could walk in. The coop made to support a deep litter system, with a door or flap that flips down that I can easily rake out litter. Vinyl flooring on the coop floor for easy cleaning. Two human doors that open up with windows in each. Good ventilation and windows. A hen door that can be opened by a pulley system. Oh and a roofing system that will eventually allow me to collect rain water from. Sounds like a huge laundry list of things that I want. So far, Mr. Husband has been able to deliver everyone of these and then some! “Happy wife, Happy life” right?!

Before I got the chickens, I did some research first on our city code and regulations for keeping chickens. Looked it up on the City Hall website, and called just to verify. It stated, “Animals in Residential Districts. 1.) A minimum setback of ten (10) feet from all property lines shall be required for all hutches and twenty (20) feet for all pens, coups, aviaries, similar enclosures, and free-range areas. 1.) No more than sixteen (16) poultry, birds or rabbits and similar mammals shall be permitted per acre.” The no more than 16 poultry per acre, was what was throwing me off, which is why I called to verify. We live in the suburbs and most houses in our area have on average, less than .25 acres. So I decided I wanted about 6 chickens.

Now, that I determined how many chickens I wanted, I needed to find out how much space does a chicken really need? Well this has different variables to consider. Like, will I have heavy breeds (Barred Rocks or Buff Orpingtons), or small/light breeds (bantams). So cramming a heavy breed in a 1 square foot area and expect them to be happy, isn’t ideal. (Let’s not get on the subject of living conditions of the chickens in the egg and meat industry) Some other things that need to be factored is, how much outside time will they get? Will I want room to add to my flock at some point?

Based off of multiple sources, it is suggested to have at least 4 square foot of floor space inside the coop per chicken, with at least 10 square foot room in the run per chicken. So, here comes the math… I wanted 6 chickens, 4 sq. ft. per chicken would be 24 sq. ft. total. for the run that would be 60 sq. ft. total. With my coop plans, I would have 36 sq. ft available for the coop and 84 sq. ft. for the run. Plenty of room if I got my 6 chickens. But I didn’t get just 6… shame on me! I initially got 10. I wanted to factor in mortality rate and rooster probability. As of date, 1 mortality and 1 rooster. So, I will be at a total of 8 chickens. With my design I don’t have room for flock growth. But then, I considered over time there would be at least a couple casualties to predators (we have raccoons, hawks, eagles, coyotes, cats and dogs).  Cats have already shown to be a problem, as well as a few bald eagles. So with my 8 projected chickens I will need to have 32 sq ft in the coop and 80 sq. ft in the run. I just squeaked by. Isn’t planning ahead great! Hopefully, my space allocations will provide for some happy chickens. They will get to free range for a couple hours a day and pretty much all day on weekends during the summer. Winter time they might not get as much time to free range.

Next step in the planning process was how do I want it to look? I took inspiration from the Carolina Coops and the Whichita Cabin Coops. We really didn’t draw anything out, we just kind of went with my original plan and told Mr. Husband how I wanted it when he started to build that part of it. Maybe in the future we will put together a Coop tour and how-to, step by step. Mr. Husband doesn’t have much experience or a professional on building or constructing buildings, and this is his first really big project. But I have to say he has truly amazed me in his abilities and made my dreams/plans come true in more than one way. 😉

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Laying out the foundation and making sure it is level. The neighbors cat that has become a problem already with the Chickens. It got squirted with the hose a couple times for “lurking” while the chicks were out.

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About 50% done. The structure is done, three sides are up, the nest box framed, windows are cut out, vinyl flooring installed, and half painted.

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Working on installing the roof. Installed the deep litter clean out flip down door.

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So close, but still far from being done. Most of the hardware cloth is now installed, just need the walk in door for run. The two human doors are installed, but still needs the finishing touches added, the window covers are installed (will be changed to Polycarbonate Sheets or Plexiglass Sheeting) Painting still needs to be finished. The chickens haven’t moved in yet, but hopefully will soon!

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6 Week Chicken Update

Can’t believe the Chicks are 6 weeks old! They look like little chickens now. The journey with them has been quick. A blink of my eye and they are already chickens and 6 weeks have gone by.

Some notable moments since my last post when the chicks were 2 weeks old. Their individual personalities are showing. I have a few chickens that are very attached to me. They will be the first to the front of the brooder box “gate” to get their morning/bedtime pets or scratches. Then there is the rooster that I am 95% sure is one. He is still fairly sweet and friendly to me. Will investigate my hand and occasionally want to “cuddle” with me. Then there is one hen or suspected rooster that is the only one out of the 9 that will aggressively peck at my hand and doesn’t want to have a thing to do with me. If I get rid of the rooster or process him, this hen will have the same fate if she doesn’t knock it off. I am not going to have an aggressive hen.

I had to upgrade their food container. My favorite hen got her head stuck and ended up getting all contorted, luckily I was home to help her. Plus, I was getting tired of cleaning out their pine shavings from their food trough that they were scratching in there. Found an old plastic coffee canister, cut 2 inch diameter holes in it, drilled some holes in the top to hang it by. *Lesson Learned for next time, drill the holes higher so I can put more food into it.* I have noticed that when they get to spend a couple hours outside, it cuts their food consumption down.

I also got tired of constantly changing their water container as well.Which I used a 1 qt water base, with a mason jar on it. I changed this to an old vinegar bottle and drilled some holes to install chicken nipples into. These work well, however I don’t like the fact that when they drink, more than is needed comes out causing water spillage. This isn’t good in the pine shavings which gets soaked and then start to smell bad. So I have a little counter clock-wise raking system going on in their pool. Which then, I add fresh shavings under the water. The chicken nipples might work better in the chicken run, once that gets finished, or I might try out the chicken watering cups.

They have become used to getting treats in the morning when I come out to check on them. Lately, If I don’t bring anything out for them, they are a little loud and protests about their unhappiness, until I leave for the morning. I will usually give them leftovers or fix them something special. Most mornings it has been some sprouts, strawberry tops, old smashed berries, scrambled egg, or a handful or two of mixed salad greens. Occasionally, they will get leftover blueberry pancakes, fruit and yogurt that little “D” didn’t eat, leftover meals that has been in the fridge longer than what I feel comfortable eating (green beans, butternut squash, and chicken breast… shhh they don’t know they are cannibals), Butternut squash leftovers after we scraped out the flesh, left over sweet potato, leftover oatmeal, and whatever else I have laying around. If it has been raining outside all day or if I can’t take them outside then I will grab a handful or two of weeds or dead leaves and throw in their pool brooder.

After 6 weeks they are almost out of their chick starter food, so I am going to go ahead and buy their grower feed, which you can switch over at 8 weeks. I am trying to find someone that carries Cluckin’ Good Organic Herbs from Scratch and Peck, Cluck’n Sea Kelp by Treats for Chickens, and Cluckin’ Good Organic 3-Grain Scratch from Scratch and Peck. I have a little bit before they will need this. Might have to order a few things online.

Oh and just this week they have started losing their “chick” feathers and are getting their adult plumage. I didn’t know that they did this. I just thought that when their started growing their feathers that those were their adult feathers. Showed me differently, I was a little concerned that my Silver Laced Wyandottes (SLW) weren’t looking like the traditional SLW. Oh! The three golden laced wyandottes that I supposedly got from the feed store, are just SLW. They messed up some how. Luckly, they were the same prices. So looks like I will have 6 SLW and 3 Easter Eggers (EE).

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Nothing beats a chicken hug. Little “D” was having a rough day and wasn’t wanting any consoling from me. So I asked him if he wants to hug a chicken. This little EE, helped him get out of his slump. 

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Don’t mind the 7 month pregnant belly shot. The chicks were enjoying the first sunny day in what felt like forever. 

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My favorite hen, she is an EE and starting to get her beard/muffs. I also think she is top hen right now.

2016 Mason Bee Lessons Learned

For the 2016 Mason bee season. I had to build a bigger house, than the PVC pipe that I had been using and get a lot more reeds to put into their house. Which most of the reeds where used up. By summer I took all the reeds out and put them in a shoe box and stored them in the garage. About Halloween or thanksgiving time frame I was noticing a lot of “pantry moths” that were getting into the house and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. When I went to harvest my Mason bees for the Crown Bees buy back program (which I was too late and they ended up closing it early because of the amount of bees they received.) I noticed there was a bunch of little white worms, poop and dirt in the shoe box. Definitely, not how I left them. I believe they are either a pantry moth or similar. They would eat into the mud caps and dividers and then eat the mason bee cocoon and bee. I wasn’t planning on harvesting all of my reeds this year so I could reuse them for the 2017 season. But I ended up harvesting most of them just to be safe and control the moth problem.

While I was harvesting, I found that I had a few with Chalk Broad, a few with pollen mites. The card board tubes are a favorite for the parasitic wasps which drill holes in the sides of the tube and they eat the Mason bee located in that area. Luckily, the wasp couldn’t go past the mud dividers. The worm/moths were the worst, they could destroy a whole tube. Once I finish all the tubes I ended up with at least 800 cocoons. Gave a few to my mom and her friend. So I should have close to 650-700 bees that will be released in my yard/neighborhood for the 2017 year.

Once harvested most of my bees, I placed them into the HumidBee Cocoon Humidifier, which reminds me of a cigar box or something. It worked out fine up until a couple weeks ago after I added some additional water to them. I noticed that they started growing mold on the cocoons. I am not sure it is because there was too much moisture or that I added the water directly on top of the cocoons and they didn’t dry out. Or if it was my special native bee cocoons that were the ones that started it. Not too sure, but I will give the HumidBee another chance next year.IMG_2661

For the reeds that I didn’t harvest, I put them out in the backyard PVC house so they could hatch out naturally. Seems like the bees are doing what nature intended.

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The reeds that I didn’t harvest and allowed the bees to hatch out naturally. You can see with tubes have been hatched out of.

Bought a reusable 96-hole wooden tray from Crown Bees to put in my wooden house. I might add some additional reeds or houses this year. But then again I might have to limit how many bees I can support. 800 bees is a little much for my neighborhood to handle or I need to find someone that I could donate or sell the bees to.IMG_3127

  • Looking a head for the end of 2017 mason bee season, have Mr. C build me some of the reusable trays and a couple new bee houses.
  • Maybe get some summer bees.
  • Get a BeeGuardian protective mesh bag to prevent pest from destroying the bees I store at the end of summer.
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Comparison of my special native bees (on left) and a normal Blue Orchard Mason bee (on right) Female cocoon on top and Male on bottom. The native bees will use vegetation and mud mix as a divider and end cap and will almost seems squished into a tube.

Garden 2017 Progress

So far this year has sucked for gardening. I had all these elaborate plans to start seeds in doors and be ahead of the game. Have my raised garden bed with a row cover on it, so I could start some cool weather plants sooner than normal. Well, nothing has been going as planned this year. The month of February and March has hit us hard with one issue after another.

I did start some seeds in doors on February 25th, which I don’t think turned out good. I tried to make my own seed starting mix, which was a fail. Learning experience… don’t buy left over compost in a bag that has been sitting at the garden center all fall/winter long out in the elements and expect it to be good. I opened the bag and realized both buy smell and sight it wasn’t good quality. It was water logged, cakey, muddy like consistency and well beyond rotten and growing blue and white fungus all over it. Not too worried about the fungi growing on it, but the smell was horrible. Definitely didn’t smell earthy, it had a mix of dead fish and cow manure smell to it. I went ahead and used it with a mix of coconut coir, perlite, and a basic organic fertilizer. I was originally going to use some of my worm castings that has been accumulating all fall and winter. But, didn’t plan too far ahead. My worms weren’t able to keep up with the amount of food I was feeding them so I had to give them a couple months break. My bad compost makes the seed starting mix rock hard when it is dried out. I will have to experiment some more later on perfecting my seed starting mix.

  • Learning experience 1: Don’t buy old compost
  • Learning experience 2: Plan a head when using worm castings from bin so you stop feeding on one side so there isn’t any food scraps when you go to harvest castings.

Being almost 7 months pregnant and trying to prep garden beds can be very labor intensive, especially if you have back problems to begin with. I did a soil test on all my garden beds back in January. I knew what I needed to add to my soils a head of time, but didn’t get around to doing it until March. Then planted some cool weather crops on March 11th, that will hopefully be done by the time my hot weather crops need to be rotated in. The hardest part to prepping the garden this year is the fact that weather SUCKED! It literally has been constant rainfall all of March and freezing wet temperatures in February. Being pregnant and working the soil isn’t too bad, you can just put an ice pack on it later. But when you are freezing cold and soaking wet and pregnant then that is just down right miserable. I still have a lot more soil preparation to do. One garden bed down two and half more to go.

Not to mention building our chicken coop. The weather has really put a stall on the progress. The chicks are quickly coming up on 6 weeks and every day that passes and they are still in their tiny baby pool, the more apparent it is they need to get their eviction notice from our garage. They are fighting and picking on each other more each day. Which, I have come up with a couple creative solutions to a few problems we have been having.

So, hopefully this year for gardening will turn around. There is a ticking time bomb inside me that is due to go off June 5th. I want to get as much done, that way I don’t have to worry about to much when I am out of commission end of May beginning of June.

Things that still need to be done…

  • Compost bin started
  • Finish soil prepping
  • Plant planned crops on time
  • Beautify chicken coop with chicken friendly plants
  • Oh and can’t forget to get my Mason Bees outside!

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