Posts Tagged ‘chicken coop’

It’s Mites Alright

Friday, May 27th, 2016

Well, it seems to be that time of year again. I was poking around through the archives, and it seems that last May I was wondering if my chickens had vent gleet or mites, and then I looked at my posts this May and here I am wondering the exact same thing. Given last year’s experience, I’m just going to assume we’ve got mites. And I don’t really need to assume, because I know the importance of chicken butt inspections, and I’m seeing feather loss in that area, and that’s the evil calling card of the mite. They seem to be the obnoxious summer renter of the chicken butt resort town.

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

Always with the Hawaiian shirts.

The question then becomes what to do? Since this is becoming an annual thing, am I doing something wrong? Or is this just the cost of doing chicken business? Even if it is, how do I get rid of them? What seemed to work last year, despite my reservations, was the “poultry powder” stuff that’s got poison in it. I have been out there with that stuff two weekends in a row, and am currently in the “see what happens” period. As I learned last year, it takes so long for feathers to grow back, it’s hard to know what’s working. So I went in with the biggest gun I had, and am waiting for the smoke to clear. Somewhat literally – this stuff is nasty, and it takes some doing to apply it without poisoning yourself in a giant cloud of it. I go out in a hoodie with the hood up, one of those face masks you use if paint fumes bother you, and rubber gloves. I climb into the coop and powder every bird, which can be tricky since after one or two get done, the others get the memo and try to hide behind each other in the corner. Then, as I am covered in poison, I immediately go into the bathroom, throw all my clothes into the washing machine, and take a shower. It does worry me that I protect my own breathing holes, but can’t do anything for the chickens’. They don’t make little beaky respirators, so this is how it has to go. There’s ventilation in the coop, and I don’t throw it in their faces, but I feel pretty bad about the whole situation. Not as bad as I would if I let them be eaten alive by mites, though, so this is what it comes to.

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

When your nostrils are up top, things get tricky.

I’ve been doing more research to try to find a better way. Some people swear by hosing the coop and the birds down with dishwashing detergent, while others say this strips the protective oils off their feathers. Some people say tea tree oil is all natural and will kill all the bugs, others say it will also kill the birds. Some people say Product X will do it, and then provide an affiliate link to that product, which costs $150 for a tiny amount. This all is reminding me of how it is I came to use diatomaceous earth (which some people also malign) and the poultry powder. After spending far too much time reading internet arguments, these seemed to be the least contentious cures. And for now, they’re the ones I already have.

It goes a little like this sometimes.

It goes a little like this sometimes.

I did come across a couple new methods that sound promising, and less messy and/or problematic. I don’t like to drop name brands (unless these brands want to pay me to do so, please see the “contact” link on this page if this is the case), but these seem to be pretty specific things. One is called “Poultry Protector.” It’s a spray, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it at our local feed store. You spray the coop and the butts, and that’s allegedly that. It’s cheap enough that it’s worth a shot. The other is something called “Red Stop Solution.” You put it in their water, and it somehow makes the chickens’ blood unattractive to mites, but will not mess up (by which I mean poison) their eggs. It’s a little pricey, but just putting it in the waterer seems less traumatic for everyone involved. It might be worth the cost to save whatever dignity I have left, assuming there is any. I’m not convinced about the mechanism of action, so it’s on my “maybe” list. I’ll continue to monitor the butt situation and bring in new tools as required. I beat the mites once before, I hope to do it again.

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

Winston Churchill fought his own battles against mites.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Twenty-fourth of May, mazurka, by the Band of the House, Fred Figner, Rio de Janeiro)

Coop Fever

Friday, March 27th, 2015

As the snow begins to melt, the true effects of this past winter start to become obvious. Our window boxes were ripped right out of their brackets, and the brackets are so bent, they may not be salvageable. The fences around my garden beds have been warped into demented spiderwebs. Our newspaper box is completely flattened, and I fully expect the mailbox to tip over as soon as there’s no more snow left to prop it up. These are just the obvious examples of the damage we’ve experienced now that we’ve passed through to the other side. The psychological scars that linger aren’t always so easy to see. For a while, I felt like all the snow was physically crushing my soul, and not being able to get outside and do anything added to that feeling. I wasn’t the only one trapped inside. The chickens didn’t get much in the way of free-range time, either. I could have let them out, but they would have been restricted to the few paths I had dug, all leading to the front door of the house. There was the one to the coop, of course, then one branched off of that to the compost pile. In the other direction, you could go to the driveway, and then further to the other side of the house to the trash cans. I gave up on the trash cans about two storms in and just dug a hole in the snowbank outside the front door for them. There was so much shoveling to do I had to streamline things, and no one could even see our house anymore due to the snowbanks. No one was going to see that we kept the trash in front. The snow was just so plentiful, there were very few places for anyone to go. I could have let the chickens out into the paths, but this got problematic quickly, as I thought about it. If they went down a path, I was between them and the coop. In order to get them back in, they needed to be between me and the coop. I wasn’t sure of how I was going to get to the other side of them. I sure wasn’t going through the snow to do it. It was far too deep.

chicken sled

This doesn’t work.

The other way it could have played out would have involved them abandoning the paths for the open tundra that is the yard. For most of the winter, it had remained so cold that nothing melted. It had also been so cold that all the storms had dumped very light, fluffy snow on us. So I had an image of them all “going over the wall,” so to speak, and then just sinking. Then I would have had to rescue them somehow. There were too many logistical issues. Then, we finally got a few warm days, followed by freezing nights, so the snow now became a mixture of ice and snow, which meant that they might actually be able to walk on top of it. I, however, was far too heavy, so were I to have to wrangle them back into the coop, it would again involve me, up to my waist in icy snow, trying to chase a bunch of birds who were light enough to scuttle across the surface. None of this was in my favor, and none of it was anything I wanted anyone to witness.

stuck in snow

Pretty much how it would go down.

So, long story short, everyone’s been cooped up since late January. The chickens mostly didn’t act too broken up about it. It’s been so cold that they’ve tended to just hang out inside the coop anyway, out of the wind. But staying put has finally seemed to have begun to get to them. The last few nights when I’ve gone to check the eggs, all their bedding has been moved to one side of the coop or the other. It’s as though to entertain themselves they’re rearranging the living room. This actually works out in some ways, as it mixes all the poop into the bedding, and makes a compost that provides a small amount of heat. However, I think it’s a sure sign that they need to get out of the house. We’ve had a few warm days, and there’s been some melting, but I don’t think it’s quite time yet. There’s still about two feet of snow on the ground, so even ignoring my concerns about chasing the chickens, they can’t get at the ground either. What would happen would be I’d let them out, they’d come out, look around, realize they can’t scratch at anything, and then there’d be a lot of confused and angry chicken noises. We all need to get out and run around a little, but not right now. They’ll have to keep moving the chips in the coop around for hopefully just a few more weeks. And as I look around here, I get the sudden urge to move all the furniture from one side of the room to the other. Spring can’t come soon enough.

swearing chicken

There’d be a lot more swearing, actually.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Original Rags by Scott Joplin)

The Coming Floods And Chickens

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Here in New England, all anyone can really talk about right now is the snow, or problems created by it, like ice dams, roads down to one lane, or a transit system that has completely stopped working. I think we’re all a little traumatized, and we never get a chance to recover, because it never seems to stop snowing. We get a day or two off, and then it starts anew. It hasn’t gotten above freezing at all either, so the snow doesn’t go anywhere. It just piles up on top of itself, and the landscape slowly disappears. My garden’s out there somewhere, but I won’t be seeing it until June. The chickens basically have a moat around the coop. I dig a path around it that’s just about shovel width, make sure the electric fence is free of obstructions, and that’s about all I can do. I only dug it out that much because I never expected it to snow this much. Now I can only maintain that width because in most places the snowbanks are too high for me to start expanding the trench. It’s not the worst problem, and it’s not as bad as we have with the house, where the snow from the roof has piled up so high that it is now higher than the roof itself. Now where do we put it? Please email me your ideas, and try to be polite about it.

roof snow

I wish I was making this up.

The thing not too many people seem to be talking about is what’s going to happen when this snow all melts. We’re so focused on the forecast and having our souls crushed by impending snow amounts that usually are nothing to worry about. 1-3 inches is normally just a dusting. I’m concerned no one is looking far enough ahead. I expect big problems on many fronts. The trains run erratically, if at all, these days. While melting clears the tracks, it also floods them. I was on a train that was delayed by a mudslide back in the late Fall, which was just caused by a lot of rain. I don’t want to be Mr. Gloom and Doom, but I see both gloom and doom in the future of my rides to work.

crystal ball

I have to stop borrowing Sir Topham Hatt’s crystal ball. It’s a total downer.

On the level of things I can actually do stuff about, I’m worried about the chicken run flooding once everything starts to melt. The way rain tends to flow is away from our house, and down close to, but past, the chicken coop. If it’s windy and raining, the run can get wet sometimes, but the roof I’ve put over it helps keep it pretty dry. But we’re not talking about rain, we’re talking about melt. So stuff in the yard will melt, run down towards the coop, and then hit the giant piles of snow down there. Will it be able to pass through if there is snow in the way? I suspect no. Does that mean it will flow into the run? I’m concerned it means yes. And that’s not even considering how my paths hold up. When they start to melt, will they collapse towards the coop? Will my paths to the coop remain passable? Will everything just float away? Am I thinking too far in advance? Should I be more in the present?

in the present

I didn’t mean this sort of present. However, I should also be more in this one so you can tie the bow.

Well, the problem there is that in the present, it’s the first day over freezing since January. This is why I’m in paranoia mode, but at least it didn’t also rain like they had predicted. There’s so much snow it’s not all going away today (though that would be awesome), but there’s also so much snow that all it takes is a little bit to melt and when it’s got nowhere to go, it makes for some big ol’ puddles. I’ve seen this in Cambridge, which has been a little warmer than where I live. You hit 33 degrees, and suddenly every intersection is a lake. I see open space (but not much of it, just my dear, dear paths that I’ve dug over and over and over) and I see water filling them up.


Who am I kidding? We’re going to have giant snowbanks until June.

Granted, a winter like this one makes you pretty fatalistic. I have this idea that once we’re done with this, everyone will level up somehow. Like when Gandalf the Grey fought the Balrog, and upon his victory became Gandalf the White. I’m not sure what superpowers I’ll be granted in the Spring, but my hope is that they aren’t related to digging trenches to redirect large amounts of water. That’s not an very exciting power, and you don’t even get a cool white cloak or anything. What I think is really going to happen is that I’ll just be given the ability to think positively about things again. You know what? I’ll take it.

shall not pass

You shall not pass! (Because the plow guy filled my path again.)


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Coaxing The Piano by Zez Confrey)

Snow and Flat Rooves*

Friday, February 20th, 2015

Our house has a flat roof. In some parts of the world, this is not such a big deal. In New England, where we live, it’s not entirely a big deal either. In Boston, the flat-roofed “triple decker” is pretty standard. I lived on the top floor of a row house with a flat roof through many terrible winters (including Boston’s snowiest!) and nothing ever came of it. So when we found a house we could actually afford that wasn’t a shoebox, we jumped on it. “Sure,” I thought, “Maybe once a winter I’ll have to get up there and shovel, but that’s not such a huge deal.” Then that first winter in our house it snowed all the time, and it occurred to me that since our house was only one story, all that square footage that seemed so appealing was also roof area that needed shoveling. I’d come home, tuck my son into bed, strap a light to my head, and go shovel the roof until I collapsed from exhaustion. After that first year, it wasn’t so bad. Even last winter, which seemed to never end, doesn’t stand out in my memory as a horrible roof year the way the first one did. Maybe I’ve just completely blacked it out. I hope, given this current winter, that this blacking out of roof shoveling is going to happen again. Historic though it may be, I don’t think I want to remember this February, at the very least. More snow is always on the way, it seems. At least I’ll have gigantic arms and one weird huge muscle in my back by summer, if summer ever comes.

six pack

I’ve got a six-pack, it’s just on my back.

What does this have to do with chickens? Well, the thing is, my coop also has a flat roof, and so does the run. I have made sloped, but not that sloped, rooves out of corrugated plastic to direct the rain away from the run and the coop. The run has a clear one, so the sunlight can come through, and the coop has a white one, to match the overall color scheme. They’re held together by flimsy, but cheap, pieces of wood called “furring strips.” The angle the rooves are at comes from hunk of a pallet that I stuck on the top of the coop. Rain runs off just fine, and it’s great to not have a totally soaked run after storms, because boy does it stink when it gets wet. However, with the constant snow this winter, I find myself having yet another roof to shovel, and this is one I can’t climb up on. I have to reach over my head as best I can and get as much as I can hold at this weird angle, and then try to find a place to throw it that isn’t already taller than I am. It’s a delicate business. It also makes the chickens go mildly bananas. I don’t think they like the noise, or maybe they’re just annoyed that I have to do it too.


My degree is not in engineering.

I haven’t fully tested how much snow the roof can hold, but my expectation is that the four feet that we’ve gotten is probably more than it could have taken. I have added various braces in several spots, by which I mean bricks or big pieces of wood underneath that will stop the roof from bending too much if it’s weighed down. The furring strips have a little bit of give, but I don’t think it would be that hard to snap one. It hasn’t happened yet. Whether or not this means that I made a brilliant design decision by wedging odd pieces of pallets and bricks under long portions of the roof remains to be seen, but it’s held up so far. It’s actually doing better than my sanity, which is currently in the rear view mirror. As I write this, it’s already on the way to being the snowiest February on record, and we’re not even halfway through the month. I’ll be out shoveling the coop roof again sometime tomorrow, and I get the feeling this isn’t the last time, either. They say New Englanders are tough for putting up with all this, but I think it’s really just that we can’t leave because we’re plowed in. Then, by the time we get out, that repressed memory reaction I’m hoping for kicks in, and we have no idea we should get out of here before it starts happening again.

coop roof

One flat roof, viewed from another.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: True Blue Sam by Zez Confrey And His Orchestra)

*Rooves as a plural form of roof is dated, but not incorrect. The Oxford English Dictionary lists “rooves” as an alternate to roofs, one of several outdated spellings used in the UK, and in New England as late as the 19th century. If you can’t handle my use of it, you may getteth thineself bent.

Winter And Warping Wood

Friday, February 13th, 2015

I built my coop on my own, and while it’s not perfect, if viewed from a distance it looks pretty nice. If you get too close, you may be able to notice some areas where things may not line up exactly as they’re supposed to. It was never about perfection, so that doesn’t bother me. I needed a place to keep my chickens safe, and I needed to not spend what a store-bought coop for 6 chickens would cost. When I got my chickens, I chose to get six, because I had no idea what to expect. I feared they were fragile little things, and could possibly die if I looked at them sideways. Three seemed like too few, in case one or two did die. Having one chicken is a no-go, since they like company. Six seemed to leave me wiggle room for a couple dying, but then still having enough left over to make for a friendly social gathering. Of course, they were more rugged than I expected, and the cutoff for coop sizes seemed to be 5 chickens. To buy one big enough for 6 birds, prices doubled, and prices weren’t that cheap to begin with. So, for about what a small coop would have cost me, I was able to build both a coop and an enclosed run, using mostly reclaimed wood from various sources (including some bathroom stalls that had been in our house – it’s a long story). The hardware cloth to keep out varmints was the biggest expense, and there was no skimping on that. The rest was improvised.

coltrane of chickens

I’m like the Coltrane of chickens.

The original door into the run was a canvas stretcher I had pulled out of the trash at work. Working for the Art Department at a college has its perks. It was a pretty good sized rectangle of wood, and I figured it was probably more perfect in shape than anything I was going to be able to make myself. I reinforced the corners, added some hardware cloth and hinges, and affixed it to my creation. It was fine for the time being. I could get in and out to open the coop door and bring in food and water. However, I also had to squat down really low to enter. I knew it was going to be a temporary thing, but the length of that temporary period got shorter each time I had to do the Groucho walk to get inside.

groucho chicken

Oh, come on. You try drawing a moustache on a chicken.

Eventually I went out and bought some 1 x 6s, and cobbled them together into a door with whatever other scraps of wood I had handy, or could pilfer from the wood shop’s free scrap wood pile. (At some point, I started to grab anything that looked like it might be useful down the line, and became a bit of a wood hoarder in the process.) Now I had a door I could walk through like a normal person, and my chicken duties got easier. Or they at least involved less awkward bending and waddling.


bend and waddle

I can still bend and waddle in my spare time.

However, each winter I run into the same problem. At a certain point, the door will just not shut flush. It happens to various degrees, which in turn gives me various degrees of worry. I had always assumed it had to do with the cold temperatures making the wood warp. Last winter, I just needed to add a zip tie to one of the latches so I could get the door hooked shut without having to risk breaking anything (though I did end up ripping some screws out of the bottom of the door from pushing too hard to shut it – Hulk smash!). This winter, since it has not stopped snowing, I’ve realized the issue is that snow gets in the space between the bottom of the door and the run, and in doing so creates an icy barrier to closure that only a thaw (or maybe a heat gun) will overcome. This time around there is a good-sized gap between the door and the frame, even with the door latched. I’ve been stuffing whatever sticks I can find in there to plug the holes, figuring that an animal would have to touch the electric fence to get these out, and so wouldn’t get very far in their break-in attempt. This is really a flimsy fix even by my own slack workmanship standards. It doesn’t help that one gap has 3 sticks that I have to wedge in there in a specific order to make them stay. Luckily, my wood shop hoarding days have paid off. I found some pieces of wood that are a good thickness to cover the existing gaps, and leave extra room for if the gaps get larger, and I had already even painted them for some other abandoned and forgotten project. We currently have 4 feet of snow on the ground (and of course, more on the way, because winter is now an endurance sport) so running an extension cord out there to drill pilot holes may not happen, but I’ll find a way to get this done, and soon. This whole coop project has been about making things work, even if in an inelegant way. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this really just validates my hoarding, so I’ll have to make an extra effort to avoid the scrap wood box for a little while. I’m miles from campus right now, but I can hear its siren song already, telling me I never know what problem I’ll have next, so I’d better have weird pieces of wood at the ready. Can you hear it too? Shh. Listen.

bunch of sticks

Desperate times call for a bunch of sticks.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music bed: Untitled by Zeke Healy)

The Recurring Winter and Chickens Question

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Did you know that winter happens every year? There’s a fun science fact for you. I’ll even throw in a bonus fact. Every year when winter comes, people start asking me what I do with my chickens in the wintertime. It’s as dependable as the seasons themselves, but requires less snow shoveling to deal with. (Some of you may accuse me of shoveling other things, but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time). I’m not annoyed by this, as clearly I enjoy talking about chickens, and I’m happy to share my tricks with people who show an interest.

chicken trick

Not actual chicken trick. Do not attempt without cape.

So then, what are these tricks I speak of? Well, there really aren’t any to speak of. For the most part, keeping chickens in the winter isn’t a whole lot different than keeping them the rest of the year. You feed them, make sure they have water and shelter, and try to keep varmints from eating them. A key thing is to have made sure that the chickens you got were a good match for the climate you live in. There are breeds that can deal with the cold, and breeds that can’t. Likewise, there are ones that can deal with heat, and ones that can’t. So, if anything, if you’ve done your research before you got your chickens, you’re most of the way there.

california chicken

I wish they all could be California birds (provided I lived in California).

Where it gets a little confusing is the need in the winter to keep the birds out of drafts, but to make sure the coop has adequate ventilation. Moisture in the coop is bad at any time of year. It can cause respiratory issues, but when it gets below freezing, that moisture in the air is what’s going to freeze to the exposed parts of the chicken, like their combs. When I built my coop, I read a helpful bit of advice. It said “consider how much ventilation you think your coop needs, and then double that.” What I’ve done is to put vents in each upper corner of two sides of the coop, using heating vent covers to try to minimize drafts. I then made sure the roost sat directly between these, so no one would be right in front of the air flow. I’m sure there are windy nights where a breeze can still get in there, but if they’re not directly in it, they should be good. Also, given my skills at building things, there are spots where parts of the coop come together that are less than airtight. I originally was going to seal them, until I learned about the ventilation rule, and suddenly, my flaws as a craftsman became strengths. These gaps are near the ceiling, so again, nothing will be hitting them directly, but air can move in and out. People sometimes ask if on cold mornings I see steam coming out of the coop. If I did, I would panic. That would be a sign that there is way too much moisture in there. I haven’t ever seen this in my coop, so I think I’ve done ventilation right.

steamed chickens

No steamed chickens.

A different moisture issue is what to do about their water when it’s below freezing. You can get all sorts of electric water warming devices, but there’s no electricity near my coop, and running an extension cord from the house out to there is generally considered a bad idea. I have seen people who’ve made battery powered heaters using cookie tins and car headlamps, but I’m not sure I’m quite that skilled. I can eat the cookies in the tin, but my electronics abilities might make this more frustrating than useful. I’ve ended up doing two things. One is to put apple cider vinegar in the water. I do this anyway, since it’s good for them, but it also lowers the freezing point of the water a little bit. Then I bought a device that’s meant to keep pet beds warm, but is easily adapted to chickens by just putting it under the water. It looks like a fat frisbee, and it’s as wide as the base of my small waterer. Each morning I microwave it, and then I supposedly get up to 8 hours of warmth. I’m sure it’s somewhat less when you place it out in the elements, but it keeps the water unfrozen for long enough. If it’s extremely cold out, chances are they won’t even leave the coop for water anyway. Last year during the polar vortices they didn’t, and still lived to tell the tale. If they do end up getting thirsty because the water froze, they’ve learned to come right out and drink up first thing in the morning before it happens again.


disk o' heat

Not to be confused with Disco Heat, which is a surprisingly good record.

Finally, as I’ve mentioned before in various posts, I just make sure they’re getting enough protein when it’s cold. Keeping warm takes energy, so they can load up on scratch or black oil sunflower seeds, and burn it off just by staying warm. It’s a pretty good workout routine.

chicken workout

Molting To The Oldies

You have to remember that these are animals that are basically wearing down coats. They are probably much warmer than I am when I go out in my pajamas every morning to let them out. That’s no excuse to slack, but keeping a few key points in mind, winter can be pretty manageable for chickens. For me, not so much. I’m still not over last year.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: That Moaning Saxophone Rag by Six Brown Brothers)

Coop Muscles

Friday, November 14th, 2014

My freshman year of college, I had a class with a guy named Thad. Though he was built about as slightly as I was, he was on the rugby team. If you didn’t know me back then, I was the guy who once got a Christmas card that said, “Maybe Santa will bring you a chest for Christmas.” I’m not sure what kind of cards Thad got during the holiday season, but I found it surprising that he would go out for rugby, given the size of some of the other guys on the team. Maybe he liked getting squashed regularly, or maybe he just liked saying “scrum.” I don’t claim to understand what motivated Thad to do anything. Except one thing. One of the other guys on the rugby team once warned me to watch out for Thad at parties. I asked why, and he gave me a big smile, and simply said, “beer muscles.” I had heard of beer goggles before, but not beer muscles. However, given that I was in college, I used some of my intellectual powers to determine that this must mean Thad became a bit of a tough guy when he was drinking. I suppose some of his need to appear hypermasculine may have come out of having been named “Thad” (sorry to any listeners named Thad, but come on, this is not a name generally associated with tough guys). I’m not a psychologist, and Thad is long out of my life, so I’m not going to dwell much longer on this. But the term “beer muscles” sort of came back to me recently, and so I went down memory lane a bit.

beer muscles

Dude, do you even work out?

I didn’t actually have a run-in with someone with beer muscles, or even experience them myself. But I have now on several occasions run into something I’m choosing to call “coop muscles.” I probably need to explain. Chickens are generally docile, or least many breeds are, and I intentionally chose mellow breeds so as not to put myself or my family into any sort of poultry-based peril. Even so, when Boss Chicken was healthy, she was a bit of a terror, but I suppose that was her job as Boss Chicken. (After her stroke, or Marek’s, or whatever her issue is, her personality did a complete 180. It’s kind of like Regarding Henry, but with a chicken instead of Harrison Ford. Think about that, then think about what Star Wars would be like with similar casting.) Basically she might have charged you if you turned your back, but once you faced her, she’d back down. Unless you were my son, who she had it in for. He’d climb onto a tall rock, and thus find safety. The rest of them generally steer clear of humans unless those humans have treats.

han solo chicken

Han pecked first.

There have been a few occasions though, where I’ve stuck my head in the coop, and a chicken has really tried to take a chunk out of me. Sometimes when they get broody they can get a little aggressive, since they want to protect the eggs they think they’re incubating. But since they want to protect the eggs, they generally stay seated on them, which isn’t the best attack position. I’ve gotten a bad peck or two from time to time, but nothing major. What I’m really talking about is sticking my head in the coop to see what’s going on, and a chicken will charge me, squawking and kicking like this is some sort of championship cockfight. This has happened to me several times now, and I have no idea what I’ve done to provoke it. Usually, they’ll walk away from me in the coop, since if I’m poking around in there, I might be looking to grab a chicken to medicate it. Maybe every once in a while a chicken just isn’t interested in being handled to the point of completely losing it. We all have our bad days, but some of us try not to kick and squawk at the source of our annoyances unless absolutely necessary.

reaction wheel

How I make most of my decisions.

What finally occurred to me after my most recent chicken attack was that when I stick my head in the coop, I’m at eye level with them. Out in the yard, I’m bigger than them, so they respect that. In the coop, I must seem like I’m their size, and so maybe they think they can take me. I’m not really sure. But since it only happens in the coop, I’ve decided to just call it “coop muscles.” Next chicken to try anything gets named Thad.


They can’t say I didn’t warn them.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Laid Ten Dollars Down by Black Twig Pickers)


Introducing New Chickens Part 3!

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

At the end of last week, I was thinking that maybe it was time to get the new chickens sleeping in the coop with the old ones. There had been an incident in which the alpha hen attacked one of the n00bs when I tried to put her in the coop, and so I began a slow process of acclimating the two groups of chickens to each other. This involved leaving the new chicks in the run in the protection of a dog crate, and then building up to leaving the crate door open during the day so everyone could mingle if they so chose, but the teen chickens could hide in there if they felt threatened. I also threw in a hearty dose of group free ranging. The free ranging really seemed to be helping. The old guard was surprisingly tolerant of the new school when they were out in the yard together, and so I knew it was only a matter of time before they began to accept them in the coop as well. Just how much time was proving to be the big question.

bad clock

I really wasted money on this clock.

After a week or two of the free ranging togetherness, I decided that this was it. They were getting along fine, or at least ignoring each other, out in the yard. If they could do it there, they could do it in the coop too. So finally one night, when the grownups were in the coop and the youngsters were roosting on top of their crate out in the run, I decided to try putting another youngster in the coop. I picked one up, hoping it wasn’t the same one who got pecked so badly the first time around, apologized quietly for what might be about to happen, and put her right inside the door. There was what amounts to the chicken equivalent of a growl, but there wasn’t an attack. Seeking to capitalize on this moment, I put another one in there. Another chicken growl, but peace. Going for the hat trick, I put the last new chick in there. Still just squawking. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Except that the chicks all piled on top of each other with their heads sticking out the coop door, rather than hunkering down inside. It was a start, anyway. They were in the coop.

heads out the coop

In, but out. Very Zen.

My original group of chickens took under a week to figure out that I was going to put them in the coop every night so they might as well just go in on their own. These new ones either weren’t so fast to figure it out, or were too afraid of what might happen if they went in on their own. After a week of putting them in every night, I decided it was time to take the dog crate out of the run. That would get them to mingle even more with the adults, and would take away their default nighttime roosting place. So I took it out, and that night I came out and found them all roosting on one of the roosts I set up in the run for daytime use. So I continued to put them in by hand, and they continued to stick their heads out the doorway. I guess this was like sticking their heads in the sand. If they couldn’t see the adult chickens, they weren’t there, right? And if they’re not there, they can’t peck you.

head in sand

Their necks are too short to actually stick directly in the sand, so they make do.

I didn’t mind leaving the coop door open at night when it was warm, but it was getting colder. There were several nights in the 40s being forecast, and I wasn’t going to leave the door open for that sort of cold. So the night before the first cold snap, I put the chicks in, and then pushed them far enough into the coop so I could close the door. They made agitated noises, but the grownups were silent. The next morning, everyone was in one piece.

That day when I went to check for eggs, it was already getting dark. As I approached, I noticed that Henny Penny was actually herding the babies up the ramp into the coop. She had finally taken them in as members of the flock, and was making them sleep in the right spot. Or, sort of. They still sat in the doorway, but at least they were going in on their own. I crammed them in and shut the door again.

That Saturday I cleaned out the coop, and the youngsters came in to watch me. They were very curious about what I was doing, and then they saw the roost, and that seemed even more interesting. They all sat on it and made excited chirping noises. I think they had been so intimidated by the older chickens that they were afraid to even try roosting in there. But they gave it a shot when the grownups weren’t around, and they seemed to enjoy it.

on the roost

The thrill of the roost!

The next night when I went to check for eggs, it wasn’t quite getting dark, but when I opened the coop door, the youngsters were all in on the roost, ready for bedtime. I sometimes want to go to bed really early too, so maybe they’d also had a bad day at work. Or maybe they were getting there early to get a good spot. Either way, after attempting a lot of different techniques for getting everyone together, it had finally worked. At last I had a happy chicken family.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Little Nemo Selection by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)


Introducing New Chickens, Part One

Friday, September 19th, 2014

As summer was winding down, I had three chickens out in the coop, and then I had three baby chicks that eventually grew into three teenage chicks. What next? Seeing as how I didn’t have any extra coops lying around, it seemed like I had to figure out a way to get these two groups together and have them form a united front. I had space in the coop due to a couple of chickens dying in the spring, but it wasn’t really the space I was worried about. I knew that chickens get territorial, and I knew whose territory the coop was. My older chickens, while generally docile, were going to have to meet their new roommates, and I was bracing myself for it to go poorly. Better to be prepared and surprised than unprepared and en route to the vet.

not good at mingling

Not good at mingling.

I knew the best way to ease new birds into the flock was to do a slow period of getting familiar. Since I was keeping the chicks in a dog crate, I figured the easiest thing to do would be to put the dog crate next to the run and let everyone say hello. However, I had forgotten how much chickens freak out over change. The mere sight of the crate anywhere near the run sent the old guard into freakout mode, where they hid inside the coop and made unhappy sounding squawks for at least an hour. They eventually wandered back out, but were still quite vocal in their disapproval of this new object. Imagine the 2001 monolith scene, but with chickens. After a while, I brought the dog crate back inside. I began to bring it out every day for a little while in the hopes they’d get used to it. There was still a lot of angry squawking, but I worked on it. I would have left it out there all day, except that it’s totally not a secure device, and there are lots of clever varmints around who would really be excited about an easy to obtain chicken dinner. The thing that was killing me in this whole process was that I had used bricks to prop up the chicks’ food and water to keep shavings out, and these made moving the crate a very heavy endeavor. I could have taken them out each time, but that would have made it a very time consuming endeavor. So I went with back pain instead.


doan's pills

I sure could have used these.

I had heard that letting chickens free range together would sometimes help them accept one another, so I put the dog crate in the yard and let the other chickens out. Then I opened the door to the dog crate. Immediately one of the chicks took a majestic leap right out the door into the yard. This seemed great. Then she realized she was in an unfamiliar place, and immediately ran back into the crate. Each of the three of them took little trips just outside the door, but always went right back in after a second or two. Meanwhile, the adults were steering clear of everything because they still didn’t trust the dog crate. Didn’t matter where it was, that thing was trouble, so they avoided it.

flying chick

Like an airship of yore.

After a couple of weeks of putting the crate next to the run, I decided it was time to put it in the run, and let everyone get a little closer. The rungs in the crate are big enough that someone could stick their head in and get a good peck at someone else if they wanted to, but I figured there was just as much of a chance that the chicks would stay away from anyone who approached the side, so I put it in there. I lugged it out in the morning, listened to the adults angrily yelling at it, then brought it back inside at night, since I was worried it would be too cold outside for the chicks just yet. I did this every morning for about two weeks, and my back would have made angry chicken noises if it could have. Everyone was getting used to each other though, which was good. The squawking happened less and less, which seemed to indicate some level of acceptance had occurred.



At around their 10 week birthday, I decided the chicks were ready to stay out all night. They were feathered out, and the nights were pretty warm, even though it was the beginning of September. This saved me a lot of time both in the morning at night, and it really relieved my back. After a week, it seemed like they were getting along well enough that maybe it was time to even let them sleep in the coop. All I had to do was move them inside, right?


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Down On The Farm by Pryor’s Orchestra.)

Yay! More snow!

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Got about another foot on Wednesday. Luckily I had finally gotten around to putting the new roof section over the run. Up until now, it was protected by an old tarp that got a little leaky when wet. Now it has a clear roof that should keep them dry while letting light through . . . unless it’s covered in snow.

coop roof

Look at all that snow protection!

I still need to add one more support beam, but in the meantime, I just used a huge branch that came down in one of our earlier snowstorms.


Use what tools you have available.

Don’t forget, new Garden Guys episodes (featuring Too Many Chickens!) begin February 28th!


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