Sunday, May 5, 2013

Spring Cleaning the Hen House and New Perches

Nice clean coop with new perches <3

It rained for days. A steady heavy soaking rain. I thought it would never end and was getting ready to start building an arc! Thankfully the rain finally stopped and the sun came out. I am so thankful to see the sun! The animals around the homestead are too. The chickens and turkeys have been happily clucking away and looking for bugs. They have been soaked and pathetic looking for days. I am always inspired to get things clean and new after long rains. The rain cleans everything outside and makes it new, so it only seems fitting.

The chicken coop is mostly water proof, but it has large windows to help cool it during the miserably hot summers here, and so when the wind blows the rain comes right in. I use the deep-litter method. I clean the coop out about twice a year and then just add pine chips when needed in between cleanings. It works wonderfully! Because pine chips are added fairly frequently, the chicken poo dries up and there is no smell. The only time it smells is when it gets wet, which it definitely did over the last few days. It was nice to get it cleaned out.

Compost out of the bottom (ground) level of the coop.
My garden will LOVE this!
I don't go all out when I clean the coop. I don't spray it out or use cleaners. Chickens poo and it tends to get on stuff. That's life. Moisture is what makes it icky, so I don't like adding more moisture to the system. I also don't like using chemicals in my own house because it isn't healthy, so I don't see why I should use them out there either. I use vinegar to clean out the feeders and waterers periodically, but that's about it. My chickens are happy and healthy, so I assume I am doing a good job. I push my wheel barrow over to the coop and use a gardening hoe to pull the shavings out into the wheel barrow, which are then emptied into the compost pile. When I am done with the top of the two level coop, I shovel out the bottom level. The bottom level is directly on the ground. The chickens end up scratching a lot of the pine shavings down to the bottom level, which start to decompose because they are in contact with the dirt and all of the wonderful microorganisms living there. I end up with some beautiful compost! My garden will love all of this black gold!

After all of the shavings are cleared, I use Hi-Yield to dust the inside of the coop. It can also be used directly on chickens, pets, livestock, or veggie plants. It has the same active ingredient as Frontline and kills pests such as lice, fleas, and ticks. Like I said earlier, I don't like using chemicals. I feel better about using this than Sevin-Dust on my animals though, which is what many people use to rid chickens of lice. I put it in a sock and plop it around on the floor and the walls and then cover it with fresh pine shavings. It is also easier to dust the birds like this. I have heard of putting a chicken in a bag up to its head, putting some dust in the bag, and then shaking it. It cracks me up just thinking about it. I prefer to shake-n-bake my chickens when I am eating them, not when I am dusting them. My roosters would never forgive me for embarrassing them like that in front of their ladies!

I took out the automatic feeders that I built last year. Water kept getting inside of them and molding the feed. I much prefer the round red feeders. The chickens and turkeys can all gather around it at the same time. More feeder space with less space taken up by the actual feeder. The automatic feeder had apparently looked like a good place for a momma mouse to have babies. The chicken and turkey hens got them the second I moved the feeder. I hate to kill babies but I don't want mice living in my chicken coop and apparently the hens were fine with taking care of that problem for me. I put a thin layer of pine shavings back in the bottom and filled the top up. Much will be scratched back to the bottom level, and I will keep adding more to the top. It will be cleaned again in the fall when I start getting everything ready for winter.

While I was working in the coop, I decided it was a good time to add the perches that I have been meaning to add for ages! Because the new hens are going to be added to the hen house in the next few weeks they will need a place to roost. I thought about using 2x4s but prefer to give them something round. It seems like it would be more natural and comfortable on their feet. I raided my bonfire pit and cut up limbs that looked to fit the bill. I nailed a 2x4 onto the floor of the coop, approximately at mid width. Then using one of my favorite "tools" I zip-tied them together to form ladders. The 2x4 keeps the base of the ladders in place, but will allow me to easily remove them for cleaning. Einstein and a couple of the ladies were trying it out already when I went to check on them for the night. Hopefully the new girls will have plenty of room to roost when they are added to the flock!

While I am on perches, I never mentioned what I pulled together for the turkeys a couple months ago. They enjoy their roost too, which unlike the chicken roosts, is made of 2x4s. I basically made a saw horse.  I have had to reinforce it a couple of times because the turkeys are very heavy and once it starts leaning it topples over! Most of them enjoy perching on it at night, although some still insist on sleeping on the ground. Can't please everyone!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

PVC Hoop Chicken Tractors

PVC Hoop Chicken Tractor with Automatic Waterer
I finally put the finishing touches on the newest chicken tractors. As with all of the others, these are a definite improvement over the two that I built last year. One of last year's was super sturdy, but must weigh 300 lbs, and is very difficult to move. I've started just calling it "The Tank". It is our brooder tractor. The other was very large (20ft L x 14ft W x 7ft H) and very light for its size, but was not very sturdy (Hoop Coop). That one has been placed in a permanent spot and the turkeys live there now. The new hoop tractors are both sturdy enough to hold up to being moved AND are light enough to move around easily by myself! The main change I have made to these other than the size, as opposed to the turkey hoop coop, is that I added a wooden "spine" to it and thus had to place the doors to the side rather than in the middle. This adds so much more stability! The turkey hoop coop has a pvc "spine" and keeps trying to collapse like an accordion. I need to add a wooden one to it in the near future to stabilize it.

The new hoop tractors are also fairly large (10ft L x 6ft W). The main issue I have found thus far is that they are just a tiny bit shorter than I would like. I'm tall, and they are just high enough to make it impossible to walk in bent over so I have to bend and crouch, which results in more of a waddle than a walk. The chickens seem to be really enjoying them! I have separated the roosters into one and the hens (as well as the st. run silkies, and the 3 emergency brooder babies who are smaller than the rest, 2 of which are roosters) into the other. There are around 21 chickens in each one. They are not super predator proof, as I only used chicken wire on the bottom and deer netting on the top. I built the large hoop coop the same way. I keep them close to the house, though, and so far I haven't had a problem. The dogs do a pretty good job chasing most animals off, and alerting me to the rest. Honestly, other peoples' dogs have been my biggest problem and they can get through almost anything if they want to badly enough.

Moving the chicken tractor made easy with PVC
 I move them at least once, by try for twice, a day. They are pretty light so moving them sideways is simple. I have attached a short rope to each end and just lift and slide one end over, and then do the same to the other. Moving them backward or forward is a bit more difficult when just dragging with the rope. Luckily, when moving "The Tank" around I figured out a trick. Watching all of those documentaries came in handy! Ancient peoples used logs to roll heavy stones to where they needed them. That is how the druids built Stonehenge and the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids. I use large width PVC instead of logs, but the idea is the same. Just pry the coop up, stick PVC under it in a few places, roll the coop, and when a piece pops out the back take it around and put it back in front. It was really difficult for Brad, Keegan, and myself, to move "The Tank" together by lifting or dragging, but I can move it by myself by rolling it! These coops just take a piece on either side, and only to make my life easier. I have dragged them from one end of the yard to the other by hand, but I didn't like the blisters the rope gave me.
The lil' ladies' new automatic waterer
Close-up of the automatic waterer fittings

The newest addition to the new chicken tractors are the automatic waterers. I built a wooden frame onto the top to hold the bucket securely when I am moving the coop. I put it in the front so that I can easily dump and clean the bowl. The bucket being on top allows gravity to provide the pressure for the water flow. I added a quick disconnect and shut off valve to allow me to easily remove the bucket and clean it. It really isn't needed though, as this type of waterer already has a quick disconnect which stops water flow, at the bowl. It is so much easier to fill the 5 gallon bucket once every day or two, than refilling waterers at least twice a day and then worrying about them being out of water. It has already been getting pretty hot and the summer's heat is really going to be dangerous. I like that I can add ice to the buckets to cool the water when it gets really hot, as well.

The tractors have been in service for about 2 weeks and the waterers for 2 days. I am very happy with them so far. Hopefully they will stand the test of time.