Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ok - so this is Lynn's (my wife) mid life crisis. Cheaper than many of the alternatives!

When we moved here, the basic structure was already in place. It was a charming little play house. We were beyond the "charming little" phase with our two kids so the playhouse was just sitting there, calling out for a new mission.

I thank god that my wife's attention swung away from alpaca and onto chickens. The alpaca would have never fit in the play house!
So, now we have 15 or so chickens and one Cornish hen (modern pterodactyl)

Its important to understand at this point that 1) the only time I ever had a chickens they were purchased from a Nichols Departments Store display a few days before Easter in 1965. They we cute, baby blue, and my Mom was a huge softy whenever i REALLY wanted something. So for a month or more, we had several chicks living in a makeshift wire pen in the corner of our kitchen. My brother and I lost interest soon after they were no longer blue. I believe that my folks convinced us that they would be happier "on a farm".

Anyway, so now we have chicken, and despite my protests that i was going to have nothing to do with them, and that i would take up "small bird hunting", i have somehow become the resident Chicken Survival Strategist.

We lost the 1st batch to either a fox or a raccoon. He dug under the fence and wiped out the whole batch in one night. Nothing but feathers.

So i reworked the fencing to include heavy gage coated wire covering the entire ground surface withing the cage. If a critter digs under again, it will find its whole topped by wire.

We also covered the top with chicken wire. That will keep the climbing raccoon or hunting owls from getting in.

The inside of the hut had evolved over time. This shot shows the current layout.

There are 4 commercial laying boxes with "roll out" fronts. On most days 75% of the eggs are laid in these boxes. There are still a few chicken that prefer to lay on the floor in the back right corner. For these I installed a small wood sliding door to access the eggs in the back without having to climb in.

The perches are hooked to the wall in a way that allows them to be lifted up or out for easy cleaning underneath.

There is a heat lamp facing the perches. I use a ceramic heat element instead of a light bulb. That allows me to provide some heat without lighting the hut all night which the chicken don't respond well to.

There is also an upright sealed oil radiator with a thermostat that kicks it on if the hut falls bellow freezing at night. Well insulated and with the ceramic heater, the radiator sees very little use and I will likely not keep in in there in the future.

Posted by Picasa
One of the best things I added was this automatic chicken door. It can be set to open and close with the sun, or set to a clock. This adds an extra level of night time predator protection for those chicken smart enough to go in at night. Of course, most of mine aren't that smart.

8-12 of my chickens will roost on the railing of the back porch of the playhouse each night.

Every few months I get 5 bales of hey or straw for the yard. its great for controlling mud and the chicken like to scratch in it. I will generally keep 2 or 3 bales whole for a while because the chickens also like to sit on the bales.
I have 2 water sources for my chickens. In the picture above, there is a large plastic tub stating on top of several apple crates. fresh water goes in there most days.
There is also stainless steal water can that I keep under a small covering. The cover does a good job of keeping the chicken from sitting on top of the can and crapping in their own water supply.

The cover also keeps the rain off of the heated base that the water sits on in the winter so that it does not freeze.

Below, their feed bin is hung on the inside of the big entry door into the hut.
Posted by Picasa
This is the back deck of the old play house. Many of the chickens prefer to roost on this rail instead of going in at night.

I used regular chicken wire on the top and sides of the entire cage.

Along the bottom 2 feet and covering the entire floor of the cage area I used a heavy gage coated wire. Its easier to work with than chicken wire and should last many years even on the ground.

If you don't already have one, this project is the perfect excuse to head over to Home Depot and by a small air compressor, a pneumatic stapler and nail gun. It will make doing the chicken wire much easier and faster.

Also, i found that "zip ties" - like those used by electricians were a fast and effective way to seam together the wire where the sheets of wire overlapped.

All of the posts are sunk in cement. Then I used the remaining cement to poor a thin rough slab under the doorway area. This pretty much makes it impossible for a critter to dig under at the door.

Posted by Picasa

This is Dino. He's our 2 year old Briard. He LOVES to torment the chickens. They seem to regularly outsmart him.