Week five: Drawing blood

Gigi's nose, between her beak and comb, sports a small scrape. I got this shot by laying on my belly in the run.

Gigi’s nose, between her beak and comb, sports a small scrape. It’s healing nicely after applying some Neosporin.

Sunday started out simply.

With temperatures in the 70s, I planned to re-stain the coop. I also knew the warm weather would be perfect for the chicks to spend the day in the run.

After getting everyone settled, I put on some music and started to paint.

About a half-hour in, a neighbor stopped by with her large golden retriever. I didn’t think anything of it, knowing our dog Charlie loves chasing this dog all around the yard. As I was carrying on a conversation with my neighbor, while painting the inside of the hen house, I heard a crash followed by wild bird screeches. Thinking the chicks were just spooked by the golden retriever, I continued painting.

Nellie has a scrape on her nose, too.

Nellie has a scrape on her nose, too.

A couple hours later, once my neighbor left, I checked in on the girls. As I picked up Nellie, I immediately noticed blood on her beak. It appeared that the skin between her beak and comb was scraped raw. Concerned, I picked up the other two birds, and saw similar injuries on their beaks.

For a moment, I slipped into denial, and thought maybe it was just watermelon on their faces. But after dabbing Nellie’s beak with a wet washcloth, I realized they all were scraped up a bit.

My theory is that when the golden retriever and my dog excitedly approached the coop, the birds all lost it and freaked out. I imagine they flew up into a cloud of wing feathers, and perhaps ran into the wire mesh that kept them safe from the dogs.

Their injuries gave me a chance to break out the first aid kit. I took a small amount of Neosporin (with no painkiller in it) and gently rubbed it on their beaks. Surprisingly, they did not fight me.

When I checked a couple hours later, their scrapes already appeared to be on the mend.

Matt has teased me about having a comprehensive first aid kit just for the chickens. But today, I’m grateful I took the time to pull it together.

Playing Florence Nightingale to my chicks is a worthy trade off.

Loose ends

The coop now has solar-powered party lights!

The coop now has solar-powered party lights!

With the weather finally warming, and the birds growing super fast, our minds went to finishing some of the loose ends so we can move them to the coop.

On the list: build roosting bars for inside the hen house and install brackets for the feeder and waterer.

The two roost bars are now installed!

The two roost bars are now installed!

Roosting bars

Matt attaches a brace for the lower roost.

Matt attaches a brace for the lower roost.

Since the highest roosting bar will be next to the guillotine chicken door, we couldn’t attach the bar to the wall on both sides. So instead, I bought two 16-inch brackets that we installed to the back wall of the hen house, then screwed a 2×4 to the top. We placed this roost 36 inches off of the floor.

The second roost we placed lower, at 25 inches, and about 15 inches in front of the back roost. The reason for the spacing is to make sure roosting chickens on the high bar can’t poop on the chickens roosting below.

Matt installed this lower bar attaching to both walls of the coop. To secure it, he fashioned a small brace on both sides using scrap wood.

We chose to have the wide part of the 2x4s facing up, since I had read that chickens like to sit on their feet while they sleep (and probably don’t want to worry about balancing on a skinny piece of wood as they doze). I’m all about making my chicks more comfortable.

A close look at the roost brace, made from scrap wood.

A close look at the roost brace, made from scrap wood.

Before we transition the chicks out to the coop, we will also make a shorter “nursery” roost that will be easier for them to climb on, probably about 10 inches tall. Once they get bigger, the other roosts will be easier for them to use.

Brackets for the waterer and feeder are installed!

Brackets for the waterer and feeder are installed!


Installing the brackets for the feeder and waterer was pretty straight-forward. Matt screwed in one bracket close to the ramp, then we added a second one so there would be about a foot between the two containers. I wanted to make sure the chickens could comfortably walk between them.

We bought 3-foot sections of small-link chain to hang the feeder and waterer. However once we had everything ready to go, the hooks we bought for the chains wouldn’t attach to the bracket. So that’s something we will have to troubleshoot. I’m sure if we head back to a hardware store, we’ll find some sort of hook that will work.

The chain works well because it is adjustable. This is important so we can raise the containers as the chicks grow. The food and water should be at beak-height. Right now they are bending low to eat and drink from their baby containers, but I know they forgive me. It won’t be for much longer.

I’m connected!

As a closet tech geek, I’ve been quietly monitoring the temperature inside the coop for a couple months. I use the AcuLink Internet Bridge and actually have three sensors, including a second one that’s on the outside of the coop and a third that I keep in the brooder. Sadly, I’ve been having some trouble with my coop sensor since shortly after I got the weather station.

Yes. I drilled a huge hole in my kitchen floor just so I can know the temperature out in the coop.

Yes. I drilled a huge hole in my kitchen floor just so I can know the temperature out in the coop.

I’ve spent hours on the phone with super pleasant and amazingly patient support techs, none of whom could solve my dilemma. I narrowed the problem down to this: the wire mesh in my coop is causing interference and my coop is just too far from the internet bridge.

So today, I got serious about fixing the issue. It was a long shot, but my last shot.

I bought a 25-foot ethernet cord, and fed it into my basement. Then I drilled a hole into a small storage room and fed the cord through. Next, I drilled a hole through my kitchen floor, and pushed the ethernet cord up through. I plugged in the internet bridge, and then the ethernet cord. I watched as the blue light started to flicker. This was a good sign.

Almost immediately, the brooder and the outside coop sensors appeared on the dashboard. But not the inside coop. I waited another five minutes, then refreshed.

To my amazement, it worked! For over three hours, I have received regular updates of temperature and humidity inside the coop. I’m totally crossing my fingers that the updates continue to arrive.

I really don’t want to drill another hole in my kitchen floor.

A closer look at the party lights.

A closer look at the party lights.

All lit up

To top off the day, we added solar-powered party lights along the roof line of the coop.

Matt loosely stapled them into place, just in case we need to replace a string. We had enough to go around the north-facing side, and the front of the coop. (Somehow we failed to calculate the exact length of what we would need to go all the way around the coop.) We plan on scouting out a couple more strings to finish it off.

And now we wait for the sun to set. We’ve done enough for one day.

Of course, as darkness descends, you’ll catch me peeking out back.

I want to see the coop all lit up!

Slideshow: The chicken coop build

It took us almost four months — through snow, rain and sub-freezing temperatures — to complete building the chicken coop. But you can watch the whole process here in just a few minutes!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Week four: A breakthrough and bald spots

Lookie ma! I'm on your arm, and I'm not freaking out!!!

Lookie ma! I’m on your arm, and I’m not freaking out!!!

Loretta’s been playing hard to get.


Every time I reach in to pick her up, she runs screaming. Once I have her securely in my hands, she frantically wiggles her wings free and beats them until I put her down. I was convinced she hated me.

Until tonight.

I managed to pick her up, then allowed her to steady herself on my arm. She took to the new perch, and settled. I softly ran my fingers over her back feathers and her tail. Amazingly, she let me.

After a few minutes of this, I gently placed her back in the brooder. Then the unthinkable happened. She let me pet her. I rubbed her chest, and smoothed her black feathers.

Is her wall beginning to crumble?

n see a small bald patch below Nellie's ear. All three chicks have matching spots.

You can see a small bald patch below Nellie’s ear. All three chicks have matching spots.

Bare spots

When I got home tonight, I noticed a bare spot beneath Gigi’s ear. I checked, and she had a matching spot on the other side, as well.

One by one, I looked at each bird, and they all had these small patches beneath their ears.

Of course I worried.

I saw no blood, so I didn’t think they were caused by pecking. And since they all had them, it had to be normal, right?

So I went to BackYardChickens.com, and found nothing in a search. I tried Google. Nothing but balding babies. Then I decided to start my own thread on BYC.

After explaining the situation, and posting a photo of Nellie, I got a quick response.

“That’s completely normal. It will develop into their earlobe as they get older. :)”

And with that, this mama hen promises to stop worrying.

At least for tonight.

Chicken acrobatics

Nellie, Gigi and Loretta and tuckered out from a day of play.

Nellie, Gigi and Loretta and tuckered out from a day of play.

“MATT?!?! Can you come downstairs?” I had to scream it three times before he heard me. “I’ve got a chicken on my back!”

He found me bent over at the waist, with Gigi proudly perched on top of me.

“How did that happen?” he asked, not expecting an answer. He gently cupped her gray feathers with both hands, and brought her to his chest.

Gone are the days when I could pick up a chick with one hand. They are growing like weeds, and quickly start flapping their wings if we don’t hold them just right. In this case, I tried to hold Gigi with one hand so I could rub her chest with the other. In no time she escaped my grasp, and scurried up to my shoulder. In a blink of the eye, she walked down my back.

Just moments before all three girls has been sleeping. They had a long day — almost five hours — out in the coop. We even had visitors, some friends who soon will build their own chicken coop. Their two boys had a blast crawling through the sand playing with the chicks. After our friends left, the chicks continued to fly back and forth, testing their wings, and chasing each other. No doubt they were tuckered out.

Once I brought them inside, I had a special surprise: Watermelon! Their first non-chick food treat. I cut out a wedge for them and put it in the brooder. They walked by it, indifferent. I was flummoxed.

So after an hour, I sprinkled some of their chick food on top, and they instantly started pecking away. Soon they discovered the sweet red flesh, and gleefully pecked small holes in the watermelon.

So after all of that excitement, no wonder they were pooped.

For now, I will let them get their rest.

What’s that saying about letting a sleeping bird lie?

Good advice. Unless I’m up for some chicken acrobatics.

NAME UPDATE: With all the amazing name suggestions we received during the contest for Loretta, we decided to lift one of the runner-ups to give Baby Girl a proper moniker. We decided to call her Nellie. Special thanks to Stacey who suggested the name through WordPress.

Meet Loretta!


The votes were flying in, and we finally have a name for our Black French Copper Marans.

Meet Loretta!

This name, nominated by Kerry Hamilton Smith, won handily with 26 percent of the votes.

Three names tied for second place, each taking 13 percent of the vote: Kentucky F. Chicken, Nellie and Pipsqueak.

Great thanks to everyone who suggested fabulous names, and who took the time to vote in our poll.

Most of all, a little black bird is extremely grateful.

Loretta the Setta is strutting her stuff.

Charlie and Baby Girl go nose to beak.

Charlie and Baby Girl go nose to beak.

Warm weather

With temperatures topping 70 degrees, we have been bringing the chicks out to the big coop for some outside time.

At first, they huddled together under the ramp, but they quickly grew curious. They fully flapped their new wings for the first time, taking flight across the run. They ate gravel by the beakful, and managed to knock over their baby waterer in the excitement.

Today we saw Gigi attempt to take her first dirt bath, which chickens do to keep their feathers clean. She also led the crew over to the ramp, and climbed up a few rungs to show them how it’s done. Baby Girl was intrigued, and tried it out on her own, stopping just long enough to poop on the second rung.

I also opened the run door and allowed Charlie to watch the chickens without a barrier. He was calm, and listened well. Matt picked up Baby Girl into his hand, and allowed Charlie to sniff her. It was a gentle affair; no whining, no shaking, no licking his chops.

This all is great progress.

Before we know it, Charlie will be cuddling with the chickens.

And soon, the birds will be big enough that they can hold their own against our 24-toed cat, Cora.

All in good time.


Top 10 chick names: The final vote!!

The girls: The Marans (lower left), Gigi (top) and Baby Girl.

The girls: The Marans (lower left), Gigi (top) and Baby Girl.

Excitement is in the air. The birds are fluffing their feathers. And one chick in particular is much, much closer to finding her name.

Our Black French Copper Marans can’t contain her excitement.

The competition was fierce, and right down to the wire, but we finally have the final choices of chick names.

All the entries were lovely, and the top 10 are exceptional.

Now it all comes down to you.

Please vote for your favorite name. We will keep the polls open for 48 hours, and announce the winning moniker Friday night.



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