Queen Prissy

When the chicks were tiny, Vaisala stepped up as if she were planning to be the “mama bird”, but I think she just wanted to be the first bird named.  I no sooner started calling her Vaisala, or Vee for short, than she stopped standing out in the crowd.  I’ve read since then that this declaration of being “lead chicken” doesn’t usually take place until the girls are at least out of the angsty teen stage.

Which is where they are now.

I’ve also read that the hen who takes on the role of “mama bird” will be a bit more showy.  Sort of like a Rooster replacement, without all the crowing and attempts to make baby chickens.  It appears right now that Prissy is destined to be the Queen of Remote.  Her wattle is longer than anyone’s and her comb is coming in nicely.  And she just inserts herself into positions that say, “HEY, I’M IN CHARGE HERE, OKAY?”

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To her credit, Prissy is a beautiful bird.  She is a Golden Comet.  Her main feathers are deep cinnamon and her tail is pure white.  She has a gorgeous collar of red and white that sits on her shoulders like a royal cape.
She also has a Polish Eye that encourages you to take a step back, just in case.

A few days ago I was finishing up the cleaning and had the coop door open.  Suddenly there was a WHOOSH! near my head and I turned to find myself eyeball-to-eyeball with Prissy!  She flew up onto the door frame without so much as a “by your leave” and stood there daring me to make her get down.

Prissy is catlike in her affection.  She will often jump up onto the mini coop to be stroked and talked to.  But God help the person stupid enough to try and pick her up!  Priss is loud like a rooster, that’s for sure.

Don’t tell the rest of the girls, but I think she may be the prettiest of the flock.

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LOretta, the Lovebird

I’d just about gotten down to the end of chicken names and chickens to name when Coop Daddy decided we needed a Loretta.  Of course, can’t say that name without immediately adding, “in your heel high shoes and no-neck sweater” which is how The Beatles song goes, according to the Rosales triplets.  To be fair, The Trips were all of three or so when they determined this is how the lyric goes and they’re in high school now, but it’s still one of my favorite memories of them.

I had an Easter Egger in need of naming, so Loretta she became.  To be correct, the name is pronounced with emphasis on the LO.  And you have to drag it out.  LO………retta.  Sheli calls her Lo Lo, which works as well.

LOretta is kinda tall and skinny, like you’d expect a LOretta to be.  And she can be very affectionate.  She’s also nosey as hell and sometimes a snarky little bitch.  ALL attributes you’d expect to find in a LOretta.  But she is a pretty girl and I usually forgive her pretty fast.

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Lo has the typical marks of an Easter Egger.  Her feet are gray instead of yellow.  Her little butt kinda just drops off at the back, like those poor women with NO junk in the trunk.  Her ears are tufted, an endearing hallmark of Eggers that I call “chicken cheeks”.  Lo loves to have her cheeks fluffed.

A few weeks ago, I came into the coop with food and Lo got so excited, she flew up and perched on my shoulder like a parrot.  I’m not sure which of us was more surprised.

Egg Watch

The girls turned sixteen weeks on Monday.  According to the brochures and books, they are “officially” laying age.  But then, all the books and brochures also say that anytime after sixteen weeks but not before their combs and wattles turn bright red.  The books and brochures also suggest that the “lead” or “mama” bird will have the brightest red comb and wattle.

So…

Last week I emptied the coop for cleaning and to give Coop Daddy a chance to change up the roosts.  We initially put up two roosts about a foot apart with one about a foot higher up than the other.  Don’t you know every single chicken wanted to be on that one, which meant a lot of fussing and shoving and squawking at bedtime.
We were also in hot pursuit of the resident rat, who had the audacity to be out of the building when I pulled the nesting boxes out for a wash.  Don’t worry, my pretty, we’ll get you yet!

Coop Daddy fashioned two new roost poles, equal in all ways, and installed them in the coop where the previous arrangement had been.  I finished cleaning and disinfecting (I don’t know if it’s really necessary to disinfect every time I change out the shavings, but I like the smell of tea tree oil mixed with white vinegar) and moved the nesting boxes and ladder back into position, then tore open a fresh bale of pine shavings and commenced spreading.  When I was finished, the coop looked and smelled so much better!  And the nesting boxes were filled with shavings and ready for chickens.  I even positioned a fake egg in one box so the girls would have their ticket to the clue train.

It’s hard not to be excited about getting eggs.  It’s also a bit uncomfortable knowing we’ll be getting roughly a dozen eggs a day.  I guess I’ll need to get a lot better at cooking, eh?

Next morning I had fewer chores to do, so I took my camera down and hung out with the chickens.  I managed to get photos of most of the girls, so I thought it’d be fun to do individual posts.

At this writing, Coop Daddy is working on a chicken ladder and a couple of swings.  Can’t have my girls getting bored while they wait to lay!

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Contrary to the images seen on Pinterest, chickens poop on stuff. All over stuff. And it doesn’t wash off so easy. So there.

The Egg Lottery

Our chickens are coming up on twelve weeks.  Most of them are looking full and fat, but a couple are just skinny girls.  They all eat, so I’m not sure exactly why some aren’t as filled out as others.  Maybe they just don’t eat as much.

It’s another six weeks, at least, until the first eggs should appear.  By then it will be cooler weather and I’ve read that it is best to buy chickens in the fall so that they mature over the winter and are set for laying just as warmer weather comes.  Well, live and learn.
Already some of the girls are getting redder in the face, which is one mark of maturity.  None of them have full combs yet and only one has much of a wattle.  They are still quite young.

Even so, my sister and mother are already betting on what day the first egg will appear.  It’s silly to predict.  But I think it would be great fun to try!  So, I am holding an Egg Lottery.
When do YOU think the first egg will appear?

Sister and Mom predict September 12th.
I say October 23rd.

To help you out, the girls were hatched on June 5th.  It generally takes hens 16 to 20 weeks to begin laying.  There are numerous factors that determine when and how well chickens lay eggs.  One such factor is light.  Chickens are called “long season breeders” because they come into production as the days get longer.  This will be a HUGE factor with my birds since they will be reaching maturity just as the days are getting short.  But I’m willing to bet I get at least a few eggs before hard winter and the shortest days hit.

What do you think?

The Beauty of the Balancing Act

The chickens are eleven weeks old now.  Pretty much twenty-somethings in chicken age.  They are establishing themselves well in the coop and run and making all the necessary changes needed to become “hens”.
My habit is to go out in the mornings and open the coop door so they can all fly out and spread their wings.  Much like humans do when leaving their beds, chickens stretch their legs and spread their wings and make all the noises you’d expect a stretching, spreading chicken to make.  Unlike most humans, they also make a lap or two around the chicken run each morning.  I have no idea what that’s about, unless it is just the joy of having so much space after being crowded onto a roost all night with fifteen of your closest chicken friends.
Once they are out and about, I lower the feeder, which then signals breakfast and the rush back through the door to eat.  I usually leave them at that and make my exit before someone realizes I still have a healing mosquito bite on my leg they might need to peck.

It is still hot here in North Texas and I feel bad for anyone or anything that doesn’t have air conditioning to escape to when the temps top out in the high 90s.  That includes the chickens, although I’m sure they would much rather be outside than in, no matter the temperatures.  I usually take them a treat at midday to make up for not installing a/c in their coop.  The treats vary, depending on what I have to hand and how hot it is outside.
From the start, I’ve used a dish I made from a bowl and a flower vase, originally put into service as a water dish for bees and butterflies in the garden at our old house.  The inverted flower vase fits over a piece of PVC hammered into the ground.  The PVC keeps the dish upright and balanced and at about the right height, it turns out, for chickens to feed.

Last week, they got frozen watermelon.

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When I went out to fetch the dish, no morsel of watermelon was found.  They ate melon, seeds, and rind!

I noticed, since changing their food from chick feed to finishing feed, that a couple of my girls have started eating feathers. A quick check on the chicken forums let me know this is a sign of protein deficiency, so I started putting yogurt in their dish and they devour it.
It’s been kind of fun to see what they will and won’t eat.

I’ve been watering down the ground in the run since hot weather set in.  It helps the girls stay cool while softening the packed sand.  Once I have a nice soft spot, I set to work with the hoe and rake to break up the crust of hard dirt and get the nice earthy stuff to the surface.  Then the chickens take over, pecking and scratching and churning the dirt into a nice fluffy area.  In the process, they unearth worms and bugs and roots, which keeps them happy and helps them learn to forage.
The downside to having them in the run and not free-ranged is that they have decimated every available green sprout and shoot.  I’d rather they have some sort of greens and not be fed just the bagged chicken feed, so I’m looking for solutions to that as well.  Yesterday, Mike, aka Coop Daddy, helped me rig up a cabbage tether ball for the girls to play with.

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I didn’t take a photo of the whole cabbage.  But this is what it looked like hanging from the run ceiling after the chickens had polished it off!  I guess they like cabbage well enough.

Coop Daddy finished building nesting boxes for the girls this weekend.  Yesterday I took everything out of the coop and cleaned and disinfected it.  While the ladder was outside, the girls pretended to be Bald Eagles.

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Once the coop was clean and dry again, we moved the nesting boxes inside and set them up on concrete blocks.  I won’t fill them just yet, since the girls aren’t quite ready.  I was curious to see what they would make of them, but at bedtime they filed up the freshly cleaned ladder to their freshly cleaned roosts and totally ignored the additional furniture.

In another few weeks they will be ready to change foods again and start ingesting oyster shells in preparation for egg production.  I am excited for this phase of the journey, since fresh eggs was the reason to get chickens in the first place.
Although, I have to admit I will keep them for entertainment value regardless of the eggs.

Lucy, I’m Home!

A week ago Sunday, we finally moved the girls to the coop.  It seems a bit impossible that only six weeks ago, actually seven now, I first brought home a cheeping box from the Post Office and set up chicken keeping in Mike’s shop.  It has been like no other animal experience I’ve had to date.  And I will say it is something I can see myself doing until I just can’t any longer.

When we upgraded the brooder from a large cardboard box to a metal water trough, we also moved from the work area of the shop to the actual apartment where I could better control the temperature.  But it became very clear, early on, that a heat lamp in early summer in Texas was pretty much a waste of time.  I dispensed with that around week four.  In fact, I decided that turning off all of the lights, and pulling the food, was a good way to prep the chicks for the move to the coop.

I didn’t think that one through very well.  Sixteen hungry pullets flapping and squawking their way to the front of the chow line can, literally, knock an under-caffeinated old gal on her ass in about 2.2 seconds first thing of a morning.

I never did get the hang of slipping the feeder under the bird-proof netting undetected.

However, birds used to flying to the rim of the tank at the first sight of net-free space are much easier to snag and stuff into the Rubbermaid tote for transport.
Ahh…  payback is sweet!

I had read that, to make sure your young birds know where to find their food and water, you should keep them in the coop for a few days.  Well, I suppose I have a flock of overachievers because they found the food and water in quick order, then lobbied their little hearts out to be set free.  On the second morning, I left the coop door open to see what would happen.  By day’s end they had mastered leaving and returning to the coop unaided.  And then the games began.
It’s been pretty hot here so far this summer.  The coop has a south/southwest orientation, so it catches the late day sun.  Not a good spot when you consider metal walls, even if they have been insulated.  Not to mention, the water tends to heat up pretty fast in the hanging waterer.  Good shade is a commodity until somewhere around four-thirty or so.

My habit is to go out to check on the girls twice a day, around lunchtime and again about three.  On the third day, I found about half of them out in the run, snugged up against the shady side of the coop in a row of holes they’d scratched in the dirt.  The rest were still inside the coop, doing much the same thing against the opposite side of the same wall.  Except the ones inside were panting hard and looked miserable.
A quick scan through suggestions for cooling off chickens convinced me that the open air, hot as it was, was the best place for them.
They already associate me with food, so the sight of the feed bag is normally enough to make them come running.  But those hot little chickens didn’t have a run left in them.  At least, not until I went in and started trying to encourage them to come outside!
One or two came willingly enough.  Just scoop them up and set them outside the door.  Another one put up a fuss and repeatedly hopped right back up and inside no sooner than I’d turned my back.  I finally started shutting the coop door.  Which gave me no less room to operate, but did keep those chickens willing to be chased out no “out” to be chased to.
Mike built the roosts along one wall of the coop, roughly eight feet across, with one about four and a half feet high and one about six feet up.  We use half of an old wooden ladder to give the girls access to the roosts.  They’re great.  Unless you have to duck down under them to grab a bird.  Coming up and whacking your head is bad enough.  Coming up and whacking your head and knowing full well you now have chicken shit in your hair is well on the far side of disgusting.
I lost count of how many times I bumped the waterer.  Or how many times I hit my head on the metal feeder that I’d raised to avoid spilling.  The massive rainfall we’ve had this summer has kept the humidity around 80%, so I was soaked through in the ten minutes or so it took me to collect and relocate a handful of birds.
But, finally, all sixteen chickens were outside and seemed to be cooling off.  To be safe, I refilled the waterer with fresh, cool water and hosed down the dirt in the run.

I was a proud chicken mama when I went back later to open the coop door and all of my little sweeties came running.

I seem unable to be convinced that all the chickens are present and accounted for unless I count them three times.  On the evening of day five, I repeatedly came up one chicken short.  As they had the day before, the girls brought themselves in at day’s end.  Except one.  I made a couple of loops around the coop before I finally saw her, Daisy, just rounding the corner ahead of me.  And the chase was on!
She has repeated this infuriating little scene every evening since.
Last evening, Sheli was here to help put chickens away.  True to form, Daisy ran.  When she realized I had help, she took to the high ground and ended up on the roof of the mini coop.  Sheli and I made eye contact and came at her from two sides.  Daisy neatly flew up and over my head and landed at a dead run.  Damn bird.

All in all, things were going as well as I could expect.  And then, last night, I needed to drive into town to be available to meet the washing machine repair tech at Sheli’s apartment this morning.  Just as a nasty storm was moving in.
The chickens had never been in a thunder storm.  I worried they would be scared enough by the thunder and lightening to end up with broken legs or wings.  It was hard to drive away.
Three inches of water came down during a two hour storm.  And the worst thing I found when I checked this afternoon was a mudslide on the same side we’d excavated a few weeks ago after another such deluge.  Unlike my lightweight birds, I sunk over the soles of my heavy boots in mud trying to walk on that side of the run.

Well, if that’s the worst thing that ever happens, I still see myself keeping chickens as long as I’m able.

A Rose, by any other name, is still a chicken.

By now, most of the chickens have names.  Or rather, twelve names have been chosen.  However, only a handful of birds have actually been given names.  Those birds have also been banded, so we know who’s who.  I am waiting for Claire and Emma to make their choices before I name and band the rest.

I knew from the start that there would be a “Prissy”, because my sister requested that name and there should always be a Prissy in a flock of hens.  The name brings back memories of Looneytunes on Saturday mornings (as well as Saturday nights, once I realized that adulting wasn’t as much fun as childing).  She was the old spinster hen in love with Foghorn Leghorn.  And I can still hear her voice all these years later.  “Welllll…”  We’ll see which one acts most like a Prissy.  She will not be getting a rooster to fawn over though!

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Miss Prissy of Looneytunes fame.

Since there are six Golden Comets, at least one had to be named for an actual comet.  It was too easy to leap to Halley, so I did some research.  At two weeks, one bird was acting very much like the Mama Bird of the flock and always coming forward when I approached the brooder.  She had a well-defined “v” on her head so it wasn’t much of a leap to go from “Vee” to “Vaisala”, the name given the P40 comet discovered in 1939.  That search also led me to the name of German astronomer Caroline Lucretia Herschel.  So, there’s a Lucretia.  I was told that Lucretia is really a Latin name, so of course she had to have a girlfriend to hang out and gossip with.  Therefore, Shakira made the list.  Viasala wears a red band, Lucretia wears green, and Shakira has an orange one.  And there had to be a Henrietta, but I don’t know which bird she is yet.

Justin wanted to name one Donald (for the duck, not the dumbass).  I explained that they’re all girls, so he settled for Daisy.  His second choice was Leia.  He picked the two whitest birds, one Comet and one Egger, and we’ve banded them in white (Daisy on the left) and blue (Leia on the right).
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Early on, my Bestie, Elle, asked for a “Nugget”.  My mom wanted “Loulou”.  Those two names will stick, but they haven’t found a bird yet.
Sheli wanted “Birdie”, who will be called Birdie Pruitt, of course.  You can’t have a Birdie without a Bernice, and her name has to be Bernice Matisse.  Birdie has a pink band but Bernice hasn’t been selected yet.
Mike, aka Coop Daddy, recently suggested we have a “Loretta”, and I’ve got my eye on which bird should have that name.

I guess it seems somewhat childish to name chickens.  But they all have personalities and they will be as much a part of our lives here as the dog is.  Not entirely pets, but more than just animals we keep.  They are so much fun to watch!

Since they’ve learned how to fly up to the top of the brooder, Mike agreed that a couple of higher roosts might help take the edge off until they can finally be moved to the bigger coop.  But, as he predicted, it simply gave them a higher starting point.  I found out just how easy we’d made it for them the morning after the new roosts were added.  As per my usual routine, I took the net off as soon as I went in to check on the birds.  I turned my back long enough to enter the kitchen and, when I turned back to pick up the waterers and feeders, I was greeted by a handful of chickens lining the top to the brooder.  One, unnamed to protect her bold little butt, even flew onto the counter.

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We are closing fast on moving day.  It really can’t come soon enough.  The mini coop has been a great addition since it gives the girls time outside in the fresh air and grass.  It also allows us to turn off the air conditioner in the apartment and to let the room “air”.  I can’t wait to get the brooder out of there and clean that apartment!  I’ve been careful to disinfect as I go, but it’s still the temporary home for sixteen chickens and it smells like one.

Eventually, I will have photos of the individual birds.  But that will be after they’ve been relocated and have finished growing into their adult feathers.  And I’ll be putting their names on the coop somewhere.  I need to find the basin for their dust baths.  And we’ve got a bit more work to do to secure the coop and run.

All in due time, I suppose.

Nugget
Daisy
Prissy
Henrietta
Birdie Pruitt
Leia
Loulou
Lucretia
Vaisala
Shakira
Bernice Matisse
Loretta

Our babies are growing up!

The feeders I received with my “brooder starter kit” worked great for the first couple of weeks.  But as the girls have grown I found myself wasting a LOT of feed trying to clean the shavings and poop out of it.  For a few days, I just shook out the remains and let them scratch for the food.  But I found when I changed out the shavings that most of that just went straight to the bottom.
So I picked up a new feeder last weekend and, so far, it has proven to be a great choice.  They do still get poop in the food, mostly because they insist on standing on the feeder.  And there are always shavings to clear out.  But I’m not having to pour any food out and that makes me very happy!
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The brooder is still in the kitchen of the shop apartment.  I have access to hot water there as well as electricity.  The brooder is on a tile floor and the birds can’t get to the carpet.
I go out at least twice a day to change out the water and check on the birds.  I’ve managed to get them outside several times now, but moving them is beginning to be a real challenge.

Last week we spent quite a lot of time in the coop, doing repairs.  I wanted the birds out there as well, since we were having some fine weather and it wasn’t too cool for them.  With the interior coop renovations at a standstill for now, we’ve moved on to shoring up the areas of concern with the outer coop, which I suppose is more properly called the run.
We’ve learned that the previous owner of our property wasn’t much of a carpenter after all.  Most likely, he had a set of plans and a materials list to work from.  The idea of this coop is perfect.  The framework is all treated lumber, the joints are supported by joist hangers, the central supports are six-by-six posts and the walls are all made of hardware cloth.  I don’t know if the hardware cloth goes below ground as it is supposed to, but there is a continuous concrete footer all the way around the perimeter.  Most of the construction was done pretty well.  But there are warped boards and several have lifted with age and exposure to the heat.  And the hardware cloth gaps in several places where it no longer meets the wood.
All of this will need to be corrected to prevent predators from getting to the birds.

It’s been getting increasingly hotter and the humidity has been off the charts.  So, working outside presents some challenges.  We do have some great shade and take advantage of that when we can.  The mini coop sits in the shade, which can be a bit cool for the birds, but works better than putting them in the sun.  At least they can get to the upper floor of the mini coop and huddle up when they get cold.
That makes moving them back to the brooder a snap!  Just close the door at the end of the ramp and they have nowhere to run.

Except that some of the birds are on to me and know that’s what I want, so they absolutely refuse to go up the ladder.

The last day we worked on the coop, we discovered we would need some supplies and Mike took off for town to grab what we needed before Lowe’s closed.  I was busy planting an herb border on one side of the coop.  When I finished, I sat down near the mini coop to watch my girls.
By now, all of them understand scratching the ground to expose little delicacies like bugs and worms.  The leaves we spread on the coop floor last fall harbor lots of these and the chickens have had a lot of luck adding variety to their diets.  Three or four of them also know how to dig out a nice dirty spot for bathing and this is what they were busy at when I sat down.  Two had managed to dig holes big enough to fit into and were happy as clams just cuddled into the earth.  Overhead, four or five chicks were busily scratching and eating little white worms, calling out in delight each time they discovered something.  The rest were huddled upstairs.
I decided this was likely a sign they were too cool and decided to take them back to the brooder.

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Thirteen chickens, hereafter referred to as the “good” chickens, availed themselves for easy capture.  Three, now known as “those nasty bitches”, did everything in their power to avoid being caught, including trying to fly out the top door while my head was crammed into it!

I transferred the thirteen to the brooder with fresh food and water and went back for the bitches.  Lucky for them, two had lost their nerve and were waiting in the upper coop.  That last one though…
I started with trying to coax her with food.  She was likely full of bugs and worms and not hungry.
I plucked a nice long blade of green grass and wiggled it enticingly before her.  She wasn’t in the mood for greens.
I whacked the flat of my hand against the screen and told her to run for it.  She shied to one side and turned her back on me.
I found a small stick and attempted to “shoo” her into the other, less open, side of the mini coop.  She jumped over my stick and gave me the Polish eye.

By now, I was drenched in sweat and my mood had totally soured.  I considered leaving her until she agreed to go upstairs where I could catch her.  But I wanted, very much, to be out of jeans and boots and into a swimsuit, parked on a raft in the pool.

I went for a bigger stick.  When I got back, she’d changed her mind and was waiting patiently for me to pick her up.

Six of the girls have been named and banded, but I’m waiting on our granddaughters to come out and pick their birds to name, so the majority of them are nameless.  They are getting their head feathers and, based on the colors we’ve got, are going to be very pretty birds.

 


Most know how to fly to the top of the brooder.  And they are definitely starting to assign their pecking order.  It appears all of the Sussex will be low-roost birds.  The Comets, while happy to come forward to have their chests stroked and eat from my hand, are still a bit timid and will likely be middle-of-the-flock birds.  One Comet, our “Vee” who is now called Vaisala (after comet 40P, 1939), is the boldest of them but has stopped acting like the mama bird.  Surprisingly, the Easter Eggers are the most aggressive and bold of the lot.  One in particular, an as yet unnamed and unbanded bird, insists on jumping into my hand any time I reach into the brooder.
I try to pick them all up in turn.  I want them to trust that they won’t be harmed and to feel safe being handled.  I still feed them by hand, as a treat for me more than anything, which gives me a chance to see the feather development up close and to determine which birds are going to be easily handled.
We stopped using the heat lamp last week after the nighttime temps began to hold above 75°.  I turn the kitchen light on each morning and it stays on all day.  I turn it off at night and the room goes dark as pitch.  Initially, the girls called out in alarm and discomfort, but they now settle in and get totally calm.

I have NO idea what they do after I leave the shop!

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I thought I was done with teenagers!

At three weeks, cute little chicks have lost roughly half of the downy yellow fluff they are wearing when you open the box they shipped in.  In place of the fluff are feathers.  Beautiful mixtures of rust and roan, gold and cinnamon, chestnut and cocoa, black and white.  Their ears are visible.  Some have combs beginning to show at the base of their beaks.  Their feet are big!  And some chicken feet are a strange olive green.  I didn’t know that last bit.  I thought all healthy chicken feet were yellow.  Live and learn.

By three weeks, the babies have grown out of the Chicken Little stage of cheeping loudly in despair and delight.  They’ve learned a few new sounds, but haven’t reached that chuckling cluck of a fully mature hen.  They do have a cute little chirp reserved for happiness.  I hear it most when the feeders are full but the chicks are still half-empty.  It’s the sound I make when I settle down to a dish of ice cream.  Or a plate of tacos.  I’m not sure I actually articulate the sound.  But if I did, it would sound like my partially-sated chicks.

Three-week-old chickens are curious.  They run to your outstretched hand to see if you have treats.  Or to peck at you.  The hand that feeds means nothing to a three-week-old chicken.

They are also getting very brave.

At three weeks, wing feathers have been around long enough to let their ultimate purpose be known.  And chickens are birds that like to roost.  High up.  Regardless of whether you want them up on the rim of the brooder or not.  Wings will get you up there if you are brave enough to try.

So far, three or four of them are brave enough.

Which means we’ve had to insure against flight risk.  We designed a net to cover the brooder tank that very closely resembles a seine net.  But it works like a charm.

The chickens are adjusting.  They still freak out just a bit when I cover the tank.  If I don’t let them see the wood parts, they handle things more quietly.  Lets hope it’s always so easy.

The guide that came with our chickens calls weeks three and four the “teenage” phase.  That wasn’t something I considered when I decided for keeping chickens.  I thought I was well-past dealing with teenage angst.

Three-week-old chickens aren’t cute and cuddly anymore.  Their heads resemble a cross between an over-processed home permanent and a bad haircut.  Their wings are mostly feathered and lovely, but their tail-feathers have gaps that look like some disease-riddled potted plant.  They are clumsy, usually putting one foot in the feeder and the other in a pile of chicken shit.  Simultaneously.

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And they smell.
Like a young man on the verge of puberty.
With a load of poop in his shorts.

But then they calmly perch on their little practice roosts and fluff out their wings feathers and settle down.  And, like watching a child fall asleep after a trying day of “why” and “mom”, you have to smile because they’re so damn ugly they’re cute.  And they’re finally, thank goodness, not trying to fly around the room.

I will build you a house…

When we realized there was a sizable chicken coop on the property we were buying, I think we just assumed we’d get some chickens and commence chicken keeping.  I got a subscription to a chicken magazine and bought a book.  I bookmarked a couple of websites and a blog or two.  And, after actually reading a good bit, I realized there was going to be a whole lot more to this than just sitting back and waiting on the eggs to start rolling in.

A much closer inspection of the nesting area of our coop brought the realization that the original owners weren’t nearly as generous with housing of their animals as they’d been with themselves.

The outer coop is a lumber structure with posts set in cement.  The walls are hardware cloth and, for the most part, it is a sound building.  There’s one gaping hole in the roof that can be easily repaired as soon as we figure out who will be climbing up there with the hammer and nails.  One wall has need of some patchwork.  The entry door is warped and needs a new pair of latches.  And something must be done to alter the path of the sand that lost its grass anchor to the big trucks that tore up the hillside during the building of the new barn.
The inner building, where the chickens nest and roost, is the area of most concern.  It has metal walls on two sides and hardware cloth and timber for the other two.  There’s a heavy door, with two locking latches, and both knee and noggin knockers.  The floor is mostly pave stone, although these are uneven and there’s a low spot near the door that tends to collect moisture.
The previous homeowner constructed a wood frame about four feet high and covered the area with heavy plywood.  He went to the trouble to cut quarter circles of heavy plywood for the walls of the nesting box and even glued the parts together with water-proof epoxy.  The problem is that the frame and nest box took up the entirety of the space, except for about four inches on each end.  And it was just one big box with a deep corner.  No privacy.  No ceiling.  And, worse yet, a sheet of cabinet-grade plywood was bent into the space to form the back of the box.  Behind that, leaves and spiders and whatever you can imagine collected.
Above that, the gaps where the metal sheeting met was filled with foam insulation.  But otherwise, there was nothing to deter the cold wind of winter or the stifling heat of summer.

We started by ripping out the floor of the box, intending to leave the frame.  But there was so much wasted space.  So, we ripped it all out.

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I power-washed the building from ceiling to floor.  Then disinfected it with a solution of water, vinegar, dish soap, and tea tree oil.  I wanted to pull up and reset the pavers, but the corner ones are set in cement.

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Next we covered the inner walls with sheets of styrofoam insulation.  Then we covered those with plywood sheets.  It isn’t our finest work.  But it’s a lot cooler in there now and my guess is that winter won’t be nearly as fierce as it might have been.

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We finished this part today.  Next we need to fashion our nest boxes.  We’ll have three rows of four boxes, each one twelve inches square with a perch for easy entry and a ladder along one side to make reaching the top row easier.
Those will only take up one wall, so the roosts will be on the other wall.  I’m hoping to repurpose an old wooden ladder we brought from the farm.  The back legs are gone so it is ok for leaning up against something, but not so good for standing open and climbing on.  It will make a great roost.  If it fits.  Under it will be a poop catcher of some sort.  I still don’t know since the roost itself isn’t quite finalized.

Meanwhile, we bought a mini coop so the chicks can start spending time outside.  It’s a bit crowded, especially after the feeder and waterer go in.  But they’ve already learned how to climb the little ladder and fly back down.  They like to huddle up on the upper floor when they are chilly.  And at least one chick has already started taking dust baths.

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We’re about three weeks away from moving them into the big coop.  And, after last night’s almost three inches of rain proved too much for the sand floor of the outer coop, I think we’re going to need every day of that time to get this place ready!

Here’s to sunny days that aren’t too hot to work outside.