Fox in the Hen House

In order to keep egg production up we needed to bring in younger chickens. The current ones are 3 years old and laying has dropped. We were without eggs for a couple months late last year. Unfortunately there is a capacity limit in the coop to be sure each hen has plenty of space to be happy and healthy.

Another coop would be a major expense that would perpetuate the tight margin we have on egg sales. Since we have not purchased the goats yet it was decided to move the older chickens in the barn. The corral was lined with 2X4 inch fencing and logs and blocks lined the gate opening to prevent digging. We were told a fox was picking off chickens in the neighborhood right as we completed the project.

Even though we were trying not to spend more money, we purchased a solar panel powered electric fence with 4 wires climbing up the outside of the corral. We were able to get behind the purchase as there are some future projects that the fence could be used for.

The chickens love their new spacious home. Unfortunately I met the fox multiple times over the next few days. First I caught it taking out the rabbit population in our back yard. Since it was always a love hate relationship with the bunnies I was disturbed but not emotional about it. I saw first hand how foxes hunt. They are proficient climbers and will scale a 6 foot fence with ease. They are sly, fast and quick to take their prey down. Viciously they don’t stop at one animal. If there are multiple animals to prey on they take down as many as they can, take one and then come back for the rest at their leisure.

There was one section of the chicken’s corral that a fox could get past the hot wires if it jumped rather than climbed, and we believe that’s exactly what happened. The fox killed 4 hens, injured 2 and gave 1 a heart attack. We can tell it was a heart attack due to the rigid extension of the body. We’d seen it before. The fox only took one hen away which was one with a broken toe so was clearly easy to catch. Interestingly it didn’t come back for the other hens. We wonder if the fox got shocked from the wires on the way OUT and it may have made an impact. Regardless, it still made it’s way in so the next course of action was to put a scarecrow in front of the weakest section. It was enough to make both of us do a double take thinking someone was on the property so it had to capture the foxes attention.

It was over a week after the hit that I happen to catch the fox rushing the corral gate as if it was going to make a flying leap over it. I screamed so loud it glanced over, saw the scarecrow, turned tail and ran away so fast we couldn’t find where it went. That was the last we saw of it.

The 2 injured girls luckily recovered after a week and it appears we only lost the worst of the layers so we are still getting just enough eggs to cover our current customers. Once the new chicks come of egg laying age we will be in good shape for sales again.

You can see a video of the fox on the Farm’s You Tube Channel:

Another Spring Snow- Chicken Run

While we made great progress on prepping the plot for planting the meteorologists had different plans for us. Like usually happens every spring on the prairie, we had a significant wet snow storm that covered everything with about a foot of snow! Since we didn’t have anything planted the only crisis we had was dealing with the chicken run. Since we have 1/2 inch wire cloth on the sides and 2 X 4 inch fencing across the top. It does not readily allow snow to pass through and quickly holds it, creating a lot of build up. It almost creates an igloo style insulation. Since we work away from home we get up early to feed and water the chickens and open the chicken door into the run.This morning we had to get up earlier to shovel a space for the chickens to walk. After shoveling we lay down hay to keep their feet from freezing.

Luckily snow does not last long here so we should be back working on the plot soon.

 

Spring Snow on the Chicken Coop

Our farm is in an area that is notorious for last spring snows. We woke up one morning to 8 inches of wet snow on top of the coop. We’ve had snow accumulate on top before but it was dry and quickly fell through the 2×4 inch openings of the field fence ceiling. As you can see it almost caved in. Our quick and dirty temporary fix from the last snow was pvc pipe arched over a wooden beam for support. Unfortunately it didn’t hold this time and the pvc cracked. Luckily we have never had a full collapse!

This time we decided to replace the pvc with EMT conduit. The set up is still the same but is much stronger. Here is hoping it won’t cave in next winter!

Chicken Run Collapse

Yesterday we had a blizzard and the snow was so wet it actually stuck on top of the 2X4 inch farm fence stretched over the top of chicken run. I wish I could have taken a picture of the 4 inches of snow on top of this roof, but we took care of it at 4:30 AM when there wasn’t enough light to get a photo.

The SCH40 conduit is currently being used support the roof, but wasn’t strong enough for the weight. It was like walking into an ice cave that luckily didn’t collapse on us. We carefully popped up the wire with snow shovels to release the snow but one section on the upslope bent and pulled apart. A couple pieces of wood are now added for additional support until a long term solution can be found. We need to keep a roof due to the hawks that regularily patrol our property.

Replacing the SCH40 conduit with metal is our first priority. Then we plan to create a porch on the upslope to the coop to give more protection from the weather and a dry area for the hens to stand outside during rain or snow.

This was our first winter with the chickens so we count ourselves lucky this was the worst thing that happened all season. We are coming up on spring so hopefully we won’t have another blizzard until we finish the upgrades.

Not everything goes as planned.

coop_archesI knew the shade cover / protection on the run would not support snow and was already planning a different cover for the winter months but what I had not figured in for spring and summer was the hail.  How did I forget the hail?  The first hailstorm came through and filled the shade cloth, weighing it down like fish in a net. Obviously some extra support was in order.

3 hours and some common materials and we now have an arched frame to support the shade netting. Still need to see how it does when the hail is coming down but it should allow all but the worst hail to roll off rather than “pooling” and weighing it down.  Not sure if they will support a “solid” sheathing for the winter yet but we shall see how it handles the hail first and then decide.

With the cover now taken care of we can focus on getting the last bit of stitching done on the sides.

Predator Proofing the Chicken Run

Chicken RunThe chicken run isn’t done yet. The attention is in the detail. We see hawks and coyotes routinely on our property so we need to predator proof the run.

We used 1/2 inch squared welded wire cloth on the sides. That will keep out almost anything, including predators, diseased wild birds and wandering dogs and cats. The wire is also stapled at the base of the coop, bent down with 6 inches extended on the ground to prevent digging under. The wire on the ground is also covered by pavers around the base of the coopfor an additional layer of protection. The 6 inches of mesh around the wood bottom of the run will eventually be covered with cardboard, dirt and will be turned into a herb garden to repel insects and pests.

The top of the run is covered by a heavy duty shade cloth that will not only provide shade and protect from hail and harsh weather, it will also keep the hawks from getting in.  You can get different weaves of shade cloth depending on how penetrable you want the fabric to be.

Have a little more work to do, but nothing it too good for our chickens’ protection.

The chicks have a place to run.

coop_runWork on the Taj MaCoop continues.

The chicks are growing like mad and will soon be old enough to go outside.  I’ve been working on the coop run as time allowed but with the chicks fast approaching 6 weeks it was time to get it at least done enough so they could be let out.  With the number of birds we are raising we needed to have a good sized run.  How big?  BIG – as in 20 by 40 with 6 foot walls.  Right now the top is open but we have a solution in the works for that and the run should be fully enclosed within a week or so.

I sure hope those birds appreciate everthing that has gone into this.

Coop Upgrades

Poop Deck

The weather hasn’t been warm enough to move the overgrowing chicks into the coop yet so upgrades are being done. First, a necessary addition for ease of cleaning, a poop deck was added. It’s basically drawers under the roosts that can be pulled out to scrape the poop into a bucket. Weekly the drawers can be pulled completely out and be sprayed down with a hose.

Electricity has been brought in with 3 outlets. We’ve added heat lamps and plugged them into thermostat plugs. The lamps turn off once it reaches a certain temperature.

Electric Coop

We found the temperature swings are too wide inside the coop so added some reflective insulation liner to the ceiling, It will probably become more beneficial in the summer when it get’s hot. Chicken’s can die of heat easier than the cold.

Insulated Coop

Hoping to move the chickens into their coop soon as they are starting to jump high! They basement brooder won’t hold them in for much longer!

Building a Bigger Brooder

big brooder

There is no space left in the brooder. The chicks have gotten too fed up with each and there is more squawking than we can stand. They are still too young to move into the coop not to mention the snow and wide temperature swings that could potentially kill them. It’s time to get creative and take drastic action. We cut a number of large packing boxes boxes open and duct taped them together into a large 7 X 7 foot box in our basement spare bedroom. We put a tarp underneath it, a tarp on the inside of it, lined it with protective paper an then dropped in pine shavings. The room has it’s own thermostat so we brought it up to 80 degrees and the hung a heat lamp over the box to keep the box at 85. Works like a charm! Although a bit dusty. Hopefully this will only be for 2 weeks maximum.

It is so nice to finally see the chicks run, jump and flap their wings. We started to see more chicken like activity like scratching and pecking the ground. Now they are starting to establish a pecking order. They come face to face with the competition, stretch up tall and start bumping chests! It’s a riot! Much more fun to play with them in their new environment.

Surviving the Chicks

Aracauna Chick

This isn’t about the chicks surviving, it’s you about surviving raising the chicks! You know….you read all the blogs, articles and books, but it never really prepares you for taking care of new born chicks. What should have been the most exciting moment when we pulled the chicks out of the box for the first time turned a little cold when we found one with a broken leg. We had to put her down and it was then that it dawned on me, I have 30 little lives depending on me!!

Thank god the chicks delivery was delayed until Friday so I could spend 3 full days in a row with them before going back to work. On their first morning with us I woke up with a dozen of the little girls with a case of pasty butt! I read about, I laughed about it, but it’s a serious thing! The poop from a chick can get stuck on it’s butt and clog up the works causing toxicity and potentially death!

Pasty Butt

So what do you have to do? You have to clean the butts of every chick that has one of these crusty masses. Okay….so I do as the blogs say and pull out a warm cup of water, Qtips and little bit of olive oil. Dipping the Qtip in the water, I use it to moisten the clot until it breaks down and then wipe it off, cleaning the area and then following it up by applying a little olive oil around the poop shoot so the poop will just slide off next time! Amusing, but I spent almost 3 hours trying to be extra careful not to hurt or traumatize the little ones. Not wholly successful at that.

I started scouring the blogs again and found two recommendations that worked. Adding some ground raw oats to their feed to fix their stressed digestive system, and before Qtipping the chick, hold them under a tiny stream of warm water in the sink. I only had 6 to clean Sunday morning and none after that.

Then we found a little chick that was peeping really loud, looking weak and was getting bumped around, not able to get to the food and water. She was named Little Miss Peeps from that moment.Little Miss PeepsWe separated her into her own box, having to carefully regulate the temperature and trying to teach her how to drink water by forcing her beak into the bowl every 2 hours to be sure she didn’t dehydrate. After 2 days she finally caught on and started to eat with gusto.

Special Needs Chick

She spent her first night back with the other chicks Sunday night and is starting to blend in fine! It was touch and go there for awhile.

 

Now that the chicks are all healthy and we are getting comfortable, it’s starting to become apparently that they are growing FAST. We can already see full wings popping out of the downy fuzz! They are hopping around like jack rabbits!  The brooder is running out of space. Now we have a new issue to work on!