Category Archives: Coop

Summertime Blues

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An unusual year we’re having. First, we had spring, a season we typically only see mentioned on the calendar. Now, here we are in late summer, when the grass is usually brown and crunchy underfoot, and we’re setting rainfall records. Fifteen inches in July alone, and we’ve had more rain in the past seven and a half months than we were projected to have for the entire year!

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m grateful for the rain after years of drought. And like everyone keeps saying, “It’s nice to see the lakes full.” But really. Everything in moderation.

The tomatoes are spindly and growing ever taller, searching for nearly nonexistent sunlight. The mosquitoes have organized and are demanding better wages and flying conditions. And the ground is so saturated that the rain in recent weeks has just been running off in torrents, filling the ditches and damaging the roads.

Oh, and weakening the trees. Which is how we ended up with three down in our yard a few weeks ago. A weird storm came out of the northeast, and I’m guessing we were hit by a microburst. Whatever it was, it did some major localized damage. Besides our big pine tree and two tall oaks from the woods behind us, the wind took down the last of our neighbor’s three huge oak trees (all three gone within a year!), then crossed a field and felled four large trees in one yard on the other side.

Our splintered pine tree. We'll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Our splintered pine tree. We’ll be putting in a line of Leylands or Thujas soon for privacy on that side of the property.

Both of the oaks behind the house landed on the power lines, and one came down smack dab in the middle of the chicken tractor, killing two hens and trapping two more, while four managed to escape from the wreckage. Because the downed power lines were draped over the whole pile, I couldn’t even rescue the Marans hen I could see, let alone search for any other survivors. Fortunately, when the power company guys (who must have been very nice) arrived the next day, they got her out unharmed and put her in with the escapees I’d already captured.

Tree on tractor

Looking at this, I’m still amazed anything survived. The Marans hen was trapped in the corner on the left in this picture.

We stayed at my parents’ house until the power was restored, so it was two days after the storm when I found my little red partridge Silkie under the splintered tractor, alive, but with one foot crushed under a 2×4 that had a lot¬†of weight pressing down on it. We got her out, but I really didn’t know how much damage was done and what her chances of recovery were. After a few days of rest, though, she was running around with hardly a limp. Now you’d never know she had been injured.

Crushed tractor

Here it is after the tree was semi-cleared by the power company. The Silkie was sitting quietly in the corner on the right, apparently waiting for rescue.

The destruction of the chicken tractor has really exacerbated our overcrowding problem, since all of the girls from the tractor have had to move into what had been the portable extended run for the main coop. I sold my five Buff Orps last month and hope to sell the ten Silver Laced Wyandottes this weekend. At that point, we should be back down to a manageable flock size. Oddly, most of the ones I’m keeping are the older hens. They’re just still laying too well for me to get rid of them, and obviously people buying adult hens would rather have the younger ones.

In the midst of all the mayhem and losses, one of the two surviving Gold Stars from this spring has started laying. It’s amazing to see how the cycle of life carries on in spite of what must seem to those chickens like nearly apocalyptic events.

Not bad for a first egg!

Not bad for a first egg!

Life goes on inside the house, too. Ben is working an insane number of hours because of “back to school,” so we probably won’t get to see much of him until late September. The 47-mile drive tacked on to each end of his 10+ hour workday certainly doesn’t help. He’s only had three days off in the past month, so his homecoming is a big deal every evening. The Boy is always waiting to open the door for him and tell him the latest news, and The Baby lights up and starts trying to push off of me to reach him. Daddy is pretty popular in these parts.

I’m staying busy with kids, critters, and the everyday. What life might lack in excitement, it more than makes up for in cuddles, giggles, and kisses.

Thirty-Nine Weeks

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Thirty-nine weeks, and I am beyond ready for this baby to get out of me! I’m quite certain that God deliberately makes the last few weeks of pregnancy this uncomfortable so that labor will be a more welcome prospect. At this point, even though I know about the sleep deprivation that awaits me, all I can think of is being done with these itchy stretch marks and the claustrophobic-in-my-own-skin feeling. Plus, I want my Boy to be able to sit in my lap again without sliding off my knees!

I’m hoping to labor at home for as long as possible this time, because last time I didn’t feel the need for an epidural until I was lying flat on my back in a hospital bed with nothing to think about but the discomfort. But I ended up hating my epidural and hope to avoid it altogether this time, so I want to stay active for as long as possible! Still, I’m trying to keep all of the animals fully fed and watered in case we do have to head to the hospital quickly for some reason. Do you have any idea how much food two nursing rabbit does and eight growing baby bunnies go through? They seem to view a full food dish as a personal challenge, so keeping them prepared for us to be gone for a couple of days is not the easiest thing.

I do have to mention that we had a small poultry tragedy this weekend. The hen I removed for egg-eating spent the last week or so living the life of a happy free-ranger. We called her Mabel (or Marbles, as The Boy said at first), and she had a great time digging through leaves, tearing apart the straw bale in the carport, and laying eggs (which she never ate) in the compost bin. She also insisted on sleeping there, although there were plenty of safer places she could have roosted. The Boy loved the novelty of having a chicken that came running over as soon as we went outside. On Friday, we came home from a trip to the grocery store and found her digging through the straw in the carport again. My Boy went over near her, and when I called him to go into the house, he said, “Oh, just let me explore with Mabel!” It was pretty cute. Unfortunately, on Saturday night, something found her sleeping spot, and on Sunday morning, all we found were feathers. I hate losing any animal, especially one with so much personality, but I’m really glad she enjoyed these last couple of weeks so much.

The one good thing about losing Mabel is that it lets me know that our coops are secure, because there are obviously predators around. We’re still making improvements, but at least the coops are already doing their most important job well.

My mom got 18 new chicks last week — 6 each of Buff Orpingtons, Ameraucanas, and Black Australorps. It’s very hard to not be getting any of my own right now, but maybe later in the season I can add a few. My Boy is absolutely in love with the little dibbies and handles them so gently. Here he is cooing over one of the little Ameraucanas.

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He’s going to be such a wonderful big brother. Hopefully he’ll be one by the next time I write here!

Nesting

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This third-trimester “nesting” thing? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to have something to do with cleaning my house, doing laundry, putting meals in the freezer, and generally preparing for the arrival of Baby #2.

Instead, my nesting seems to be centered on… well, nests. And chickens. And by the time I’m done with that, all my energy is used up, and I collapse on the sofa and hope that I’ve solved all the problems and tomorrow can be about nesting for the benefit of the humans in my life.

While the front partitions have cut down drastically on the egg-eating, we’ve still found remnants of a broken egg here and there. Yesterday, I caught a Golden Comet who seemed a little too interested in what was going on in the nest boxes. She was craning her neck to peek over the front of the box while other hens were going about their business, and I was pretty sure she was the same one I’d found standing over a broken egg last week.

I grabbed her and put a zip tie on one leg so I’d be able to keep an eye on her, and sure enough, this morning I went up and found her sitting on a roost all by herself, watching a hen in the nest. While I stood there, another hen jumped out of a nest at the far end of the coop, and by the time I got there, the Comet was off the roost, across the coop, and peeking over the partition at the fresh egg. I grabbed the egg and put a golf ball in the nest, and she hopped right in and started pecking at it. Right in front of me. The brazen hussy.

So right now, she’s hanging out in solitary (also known as the compost bin) with food and water while I figure out what to do with her. I’m hoping that a few days on her own will be enough to break the habit. If not, I guess things will have to get ugly.

And of course, now that I’m getting close to having one problem solved, another one is cropping up. We have a hanging metal feeder with a 30-pound capacity under the front of the coop, and for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been finding a lot of feed on the ground. I haven’t seen how it’s happening, but yesterday, Ben put 20-25 pounds of laying pellets in the feeder, and today, there’s about an inch left in the bottom. The rest is spread over about half of the run.

Obviously, when the feeder is full, it’s too heavy for them to spill by jumping onto it or bumping it. It swings freely, so I can’t see how they could scratch the feed out in such large quantities. I can’t raise the feeder, because it’s already hanging directly from an eye hook by a carabiner clip. And there’s nowhere else in the coop or run to hang it. I’m really at a loss as to a) how they’re making the mess and b) what to do about it.

For the time being, I’ve removed the feeder so that they have to eat what they’ve spilled. And I’m trying to decide if I can cut a piece of hardware cloth that will fit in between the tube and the outer rim. But if anyone else has any suggestions, please tell me!

The baby bunnies are as cute as baby bunnies always are. I suppose it’s because of having another baby of our own on the way, but we seem particularly susceptible to the cuteness this time around. So we’re hoping to find homes for these litters instead of putting them in the freezer. Lucky little critters — their arrival was well-timed.

Anyway, the animals are keeping me busy, but I keep hoping that tomorrow will be the day that I white-glove the house, fold all the clothes, and make a bunch of meal plans. And maybe this time, it’ll be true.

Life Among the Cannibals

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I’m still fighting this egg-eating behavior with my girls, and it’s gotten really frustrating! Most sources advise culling the individuals doing the eating, but I’m afraid the problem is too widespread for that. I’m determined to break the habit instead of getting rid of half my flock, but they aren’t making it easy.

They refused to lay on the platform system we built last month, so I took that out a few days ago. But they will not leave the nesting material in the boxes. Doesn’t matter if I use wood chips or straw or how many times I replace it, they scratch it all out within a couple of hours and end up laying on bare boards, which of course leads to cracked eggs, which leads to continued cannibalism. Plus, the broken eggs in the boxes mean that the intact eggs I do manage to find are covered in goop and have straw and dirt stuck to them.

I’ve been collecting eggs very frequently and taking as many as possible right out from under the hens before the others get access to them. Still found evidence of multiple broken eggs every day, so yesterday I added boards to the front of one set of boxes. I hoped this would contain the straw as well as make it harder for them to see eggs in the boxes and therefore less tempting to jump in and eat them.

This morning, it was obviously working. In the boxes with the high front partitions, I had seven beautiful, clean eggs in nests of beautiful, clean straw, while in the other set of boxes, the little bit of straw they hadn’t scratched out was filthy and had three dirty, goop-covered eggs in it.

Probably don’t need to mention that I immediately went and found more boards to add to the front of those boxes, removed all the nasty straw, and replaced it. And by early afternoon, I had two beautiful, clean eggs in one of those nests. I don’t know yet if this will be a long-term solution, but it’s working for now.

Catching Up, Starting Fresh, and Just a Little Bit of Showing Off

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The holiday season always flies by, but for us, anyway, it was especially crazy this year. We had a couple of pretty major projects going on in the house — finishing up the new room for The Boy and his soon-to-be little brother, turning his old room into a guest bedroom, and general touch-up, cleaning, and reorganization of the rest of the house, which has felt like a combination of a storage unit and construction zone since we started work on the new nursery.

From the moment we got the tree home, all The Boy could talk about was putting the star on top. He needed Daddy's help, but he got it up there!

From the moment we got the tree home, all The Boy could talk about was putting the star on top. He needed Daddy’s help, but he got it up there!

Christmas was lots of fun since The Boy was so very excited about it. We celebrated with my family the Friday before, and let me just say that it’s a good thing the world did not end that day, because I would have been very upset to miss out on my Mom’s famous standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. Then on Christmas Eve, Ben’s family (who were in town visiting his grandparents) came over to have dinner and to see all that Ben has been working on around here. ¬†Christmas morning was nice and quiet with just the three of us celebrating together one last time.

So excited on Christmas morning!

So excited on Christmas morning!

Outside, we’ve been breeding rabbits, cleaning chicken coops, rebuilding nest boxes, and spreading what seems like half a ton of chicken and rabbit “contributions” on the garden area. Anticipating life with a 4-year-old and a newborn, we’re planning to keep things very small gardening-wise this year — mostly large pots close to the house for things we use the most (tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, etc.) and feed sacks for growing potatoes.

Egg production has been spotty for the last few weeks due to the frequent changes in weather. The girls also got into the nasty habit of egg-eating recently, probably because one or two eggs got broken around Christmas Day when schedules made it difficult for me to collect them as frequently as usual. This is why we ended up altering the nest boxes, adding a ramp and partition for the eggs to roll down and under, so that they end up in a nicely padded spot where they’re much less accessible to the hens.

Sweet, crazy Silkie.

Sweet, crazy Silkie.

We realized about a month ago (after moving the last of the bossy SLWs from the chicken tractor to the large coop) that two of the Easter Eggers we’ve raised this year are roosters. Crazy, right? Apparently they were too hen-pecked by the slightly older pullets to ever assert their masculinity, and honestly (maybe for the same reason), they didn’t even look like roosters until the past few weeks. Now, they’re making up for lost time and conducting multi-round crowing competitions anytime between 11:00 p.m. and dawn. At least one of them definitely needs to go.

The Boy snuggling with Dickens, his favorite cat. No, this photo doesn't "belong" here, but who cares?

The Boy snuggling with Dickens, his favorite cat. No, this photo doesn’t “belong” here, but who cares?

There should be a couple of litters of baby bunnies arriving this weekend, although we haven’t decided yet whether they’ll be ending up in the freezer or the classifieds. I haven’t been able to cook rabbit since getting pregnant — something about the tiny bones reminds me of dissecting things in high school biology class, and every time I try to handle one I end up smelling formaldehyde. Completely baseless and psychosomatic, I know, but I can’t seem to get past it yet. Hopefully the crazy will go away after the baby is born.

It’s sinking in now that this baby is coming next month. This pregnancy has flown by and lasted forever at the same time, and I’m ready to see his face. My first pregnancy was a surprise, and I was too naive to know what to worry about. I miss being naive. This time I’ve known from the beginning that I wouldn’t feel safe until I could hold this baby in my arms. We’re almost to that point now, and while I’m dreading the sleep deprivation I know I’ll be dealing with by March, I also can’t wait to hear that first cry and snuggle with another newborn.

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My sweet baby — can’t wait to see this face in person!

So, back to that new room we’ve been working on since last fall. I think we’re finally ready to post before and after shots! Ben has done such beautiful work, and I’m really proud to show it off. When we moved in, the room had old, funky-smelling, green carpet and this strange, indoor/outdoor feel, mostly due to the exterior siding on the walls. the old sliding glass door leading to the living room, and the window looking into our master bedroom. It had apparently once been a screened porch, and when they turned it into a sunroom, they didn’t change it much. (Nor did they insulate it much!) We ripped out the carpet and put down vinyl flooring, painted the walls a light blue, and basically put the whole room at the bottom of our priority list. So here are pictures starting with the “before-before,” through the “before” and the construction process, and a bunch of “now.”

The room when we moved here in October, 2010.

The room when we moved here in October, 2010.

Lovely view of the "Before" living room through the glass door.

Lovely view of the “Before” living room through the glass door.

Our temporary fix for the room. That window looked into our bedroom, by the way.

Our temporary fix for the room. That window looked into our bedroom, by the way.

Windows and door opening into the carport. Lovely.

Windows and door opening into the carport. Lovely.

Exterior siding partially down, drywall going up. The window's days are numbered...

Exterior siding partially down, drywall going up. The window’s days are numbered…

The two large windows into the carport had to go. They added nothing to the light or the view. The Boy was thrilled by the huge hole in the wall.

The two large windows into the carport had to go. They added nothing to the light or the view. The Boy was thrilled by the huge hole in the wall.

Look, no more window! Now I have a door directly into the nursery from our room.

Look, no more window! Now I have a door directly into the nursery from our room.

New floor going down. The Boy loved the sound underfoot and crab-danced back and forth.

New floor going down. The Boy loved the sound underfoot and crab-danced back and forth.

Flooring is down, light is up. Huge improvement.

Flooring is down, light is up. Huge improvement.

It's almost unrecognizable. Seriously, go back and look at the first pictures. It's amazing.

It’s almost unrecognizable. Seriously, go back and look at the first pictures. It’s amazing.

I wish my bedroom had these windows!

I wish my bedroom had these windows!

Cozy crib. I'm in love with the tree branch decal.

Cozy crib. I’m in love with the tree branch decal.

New French doors into the living room!

New French doors into the living room!

The Boy's "new" bed. The quote above it is from Thoreau: "All good things are wild and free."

The Boy’s “new” bed. The quote above it is from Thoreau: “All good things are wild and free.”

Tree branch

Crib and tree branch again. Still love it.

The Boy's "new" dresser. I love this, too.

The Boy’s “new” dresser. I love this, too.

So happy. This isn't a huge space, but it's finally useful, and it's more beautiful than I ever thought possible.

So happy. This isn’t a huge space, but it’s finally useful, and it’s more beautiful than I ever thought possible.