Sunday, September 7, 2008

The thing in which you keep a chicken

Coop. Hen house. Chicken tractor. Eggmobile. Cluck truck. Broiler pen. Brooder house. Egg-loo.

They all are basically the same. A place to house chickens. And yet they are different, serving unique purposes. We have a few different kinds of chickens on our place and a few different kinds of chicken houses.

All of our chickens have started out in the basement in our version of a brooder:It is a large oval livestock trough with pine shavings on the bottom. As the chicks soil the shavings, we just add a new layer. When we eventually move them out, there is a nice thick bedding built up that goes to our compost pile. This setup allows us to provide a warm, draft-free place so the chicks can get the best start.

The next stop is the coop: Our homestead came with a chicken coop that is old and very weathered, but still intact and quite usable. It is 12'x24', with a 4'x6' corner made into an indoor cage to connect with the outdoor dog run. It has served us well so far. Our chicks have always made a pitstop there while they are too big for the basement, yet too little to be out in the elements (or at the mercy of the cats). We cover the floor with straw and keep the doors shut for a while until they get a bit bigger. Then, we begin to let the small chicken door open during the day for them to forage. The chickens put themselves away at night and we lock them back up, which protects them from predators. Occasionally, some get it in their heads that they'd rather sleep elsewhere. We used to panic about that, but have since realized that they usually pick a safe place to roost.

The coop served as the winter home for our laying flock. Because the water freezes in the cold Nebraska temperatures, we need to have the chickens close enough to the house to run electric water heaters out to them. Chickens can withstand pretty cold temperatures, as long as their water remains fluid. We set up nest boxes in there and they remained there, also making egg runs much easier.

The coop most recently housed a group of 25 "fry pan" chickens we got at the farm store. They were a mixture of breeds and though they were supposed to be "straight run", they turned out to all be roosters. They were the ones we processed on the 23rd.

Most of the chickens, however, have moved from the coop to one of our other warm-climate movable homes.

The egg-layers are out on pasture in a movable coop. You could call it an eggmobile, as Joel Salatin does, but we aren't that creative. It is opened during the day, closed at night, and hauled to a new location by our truck every week or 2. It is on skids and sits about 4 feet tall. The chickens roam free during the day and eat bugs (and frogs and even snakes), grass, and whatever goodies they scratch up in the cowpies, in addition to their twice-daily bucket of feed. Because they can go where they want, we suspect that some are not laying their eggs in the coop as they should. We could enclose them in order to get the eggs, but honestly, we tried putting them in an enclosure and they looked so unhappy. I'd rather have them free to roam and get fewer eggs, I believe. But, I do wish we could retrain them to use the nests in the coop. That'd be the best of both worlds.

I don't know if you can see that the front opening is half-covered with wire mesh. Or was. The cows on the pasture can smell the feed we put out for the chickens and have taken to trying to push their big bodies into the coop and thus, have completely bent up the wire. I do believe it will last the rest of the month (the cows should be gone by October), but it will need to be repaired before next year. The door also used to swing down instead of to the side, but the cows would step on it and eventually broke the hinge. Those cows are pushy.

And our broilers (or what is left of them after our last round of processing) are in what is commonly referred to as chicken tractors. We have two of them:They are built with 2x2s, covered in plywood on the back half (with a hinged lid for access) and 2x4 wire mesh on the front half. We also run a bit of chicken wire around on the inside to prevent the chicks from slipping out while they are young. The bottom is open to the grass. As it is a little heavy to move comfortably, we slip 2 dollies under, one on each side, and two of us move it, one pushing and one pulling. We move it 2-3 times a day (depending on number of chickens inside) and the chickens absolutely love those times. They run to the fresh grass and immediately start eating the fresh greens and whatever little bugs, frogs, and even snakes that they find. The bucket you see in the picture is a gravity-fed waterer. We've since added a second one since they can sometimes get clogged and we don't want them to be without water. The reason we have the broilers in these is because we were dealing with Cornish x Rocks. These guys are lazy bums and really need a forced move to ensure that they get fresh grass. Otherwise, they may just lay between the water and the feed and never move.

So there you have it. A rundown on all our chicken abodes. They are certainly not all perfect. We've had a learning curve in each of their setups. But we are generally happy with them, though we are constantly tweaking them to better suit our purposes.

No comments: