Monthly Archives: February 2012

Spring Chickens

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We’ve always had pretty basic chicken breeds. Good layers, nice birds, but nothing crazy. For some reason, all of a sudden, I’m kind of craving the crazy. Probably has something to do with all the pictures people are posting on Backyard Chickens Forum of their beautiful, exotic breeds.

I love our Golden Comets, but I really want to move from production birds to heirloom breeds. This spring, I’m planning to add Buff Orpingtons — gorgeous, plump, bright gold Buff Orpingtons. They’re not crazy, but they are beautiful. They’re also pretty laid-back and docile, and according to my friend and “chicken source” at the feed and seed, some of her best layers.

Buff Orp Hen
(from Harmony Poultry)

Partridge Rocks, on the other hand, are a little more special. Another heirloom breed, they’re a branch of the Plymouth Rock family, like Barred Rocks, which we’ve had great success with in the past. But Partridge Rocks are more rare and very beautiful — a deep red bird with fine black penciling on each feather. Those will be arriving about a month after the Buffs.

Partridge Rock
(from My Pet Chicken)

But what I’m really excited about is getting Silkies. They’re one of those breeds that you look at and think “that thing can have no actual purpose in the world.” They’re all fluffy and fuzzy and impractical looking. They come in various colors of plumage, but they all have black skin, black bones, and blueish-grey flesh. You can’t tell me that’s not crazy.

Silkies
(from The Ark in Space)

Another characteristic of the breed is broodiness, meaning that the hens really, really like to sit on eggs and hatch them out. Although their “nest hog” tendencies mean you have to make sure you have enough extra nests for your other birds to lay (which is why I’m only planning to get a few silkies), I’m excited about the idea of hatching our own chicks. Yes, I could do it myself in an incubator, but how fun would it be to see a little mama hen lead a bunch of tiny fuzzy-butts into the run for the first time?

Silkie with chicks
(from Brandywine Croft)

The bad part is that this warm weather (again!) has me fooled into thinking it’s time to set up the brooder and pick up the chicks, when in reality, I still have to wait about a month. I guess it just means that I have plenty of time to get the chicken tractor painted and the wire put on before we’ll be needing it…

Mobile Chicken Housing, or “The Poultry Airstream”

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I think the world finally remembered that it’s February. These last few weeks have felt disturbingly like April. It’s been beautiful and mild — there are daffodils blooming in the front yard, in fact. But we really need a good cold spell if we don’t want to be overrun with nasty little things like fleas this summer.

Egg production is back to normal after two weeks of frequent rain and constant mud seemed to throw the girls for a loop. I’ve dug a new drain, so we’ll have to wait till the next good rain to see if it solves the problem.

We were down to just one egg a day for the better part of a week — in fact, on one terrible day, we didn’t have a single one. I thought the short daylight hours were finally catching up with us. But for the past five or six days we’ve been getting anywhere from 10 to 14. Again, from 15 hens, that’s pretty impressive.

Ben’s spending part of the weekend building a chicken tractor. We’ve decided they need to contribute more, so they’ll be helping us with yard work now, too. OK, they won’t actually be mowing, but whatever chickens we add this spring will be aerating and fertilizing the back yard, 32 square feet at a time.

A chicken tractor, or mobile coop, is a pretty cool device. It can be as primitive or as fancy as you make it, but in a setting where chickens can’t be allowed to free-range because of neighbors or predators, it gives you the best of both worlds. The birds are safely confined, but the mobility of the tractor lets you move them to a new area every few days, avoiding the poor drainage/ mudpit effect we’ve been dealing with in the permanent coop.

You provide food and water, of course, but the chickens also scratch through the grass, leaves, and top inch or two of soil, eating insects and subsequently fertilizing the freshly aerated ground. As long as you don’t leave them in one spot for too long, it makes for a very happy yard. And as an additional bonus, the eggs get a serious flavor boost from the more natural diet.

Our new tractor is 4’x8′ but has 64 square feet of living space. The bottom is open to the ground, with 30″ walls of chicken wire. The rest of the 36″ wire will fold out against the grass to discourage predators from digging under the frame. The “roof” of the run is the floor of the coop, where the roosts and nesting boxes will be — one side of the roof will flip up for easy access. The ramp from the run to the coop will be able to be drawn up and closed at night, a nice extra precaution against any critter who might be tempted to dig through in spite of the wire overlap.

So far, the weight of the frame is manageable, although there are still some heavy materials to be added. But we’re planning to put wheels on the corners, so I think it should be possible to move it around the yard on my own.

I’m really excited to see how it will work, because it seems like a simple, self-contained solution to a lot of little problems.

(I’ll post pictures of our tractor once it’s complete, but all the photos in this post are from the fabulous collection at TheCityChicken.com Go check it out — she’s collected a gallery of almost 200 different tractors in all shapes and sizes and levels of complexity!)