With the last bit of summer running past us, I decided to embark on a large pre-winter project: running an electrical line out to the chicken coop.
Why do chickens need electricity, you ask? Mostly so I can plug in a heated water jug. I just don’t have it in me to run fresh water out to the coop three times a day in freezing weather.
Having power in the coop also gives me the option of hooking up a small radiant heater, in case temperatures drop below zero. I’ve heard that most chickens are hardy down to this temperature, but I’d like the option to add a bit of heat if things really get cold.
So, to run power out to the coop, first I needed to get a permit from city hall. A neighbor and his cousin (an electrician) offered to help with the project.
This morning I rented a trencher to dig a 24-inch trench from the house to the coop. It took Matt and my neighbor to wrestle this 600-pound machine across the yard. But we now have a trench that we can lay the electrical line in.
In the next week, I’m hoping we can add a power circuit in the house, and set up the rest of the line.
My goodness, these chickens are spoiled!
After returning the trencher, I checked on the girls. I found all three in nesting boxes, working on their daily offerings!
Exactly two days after we received our first eggs from the girls, today we were greeted with another gift.
A green egg.
I knew Gigi was holding out. With eggs from Nellie and Loretta, it was easy to do the math. Two brown eggs meant we were waiting on Gigi’s coveted green egg.
In her showgirl style, Gigi bypassed the nesting box and laid her olive egg in the middle of the run.
Nellie also produced another light brown egg today. That’s two eggs in two days for her. I’m wondering if that’s why she’s been so cranky and bitey lately. Hmmm.
So far the eggs are really small, but that soon will change. Before long, they should grow to medium egg size.
You know, green eggs and ham is starting to sound really good.
Two eggs in one day?
That’s how our first special delivery arrived this evening.
As soon and Matt and I got home from work, I went out back for my daily egg check. I wasn’t really expecting anything; the last two weeks had come up empty every time.
And then I saw it. Nellie’s light brown egg in the far right nest box.
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
As I steadied myself, my eyes glanced over to the left nest box, … and there sat a second egg!
Both are small, about half the size of an extra large egg.
But they are easily identifiable.
Loretta, a Black French Copper Marans, will eventually lay dark chocolate brown eggs. The one she offered today is still on the light side, but her eggs will quickly darken up. And since Gigi, our Olive Egger, will lay green eggs, it was easy to deduce who left the second lighter brown egg.
After handing the day’s bounty off to Matt, I grabbed a handful of scratch and threw it into the run.
“Well done, girls!” I said, as they eagerly pecked away.
We don’t have quite enough for an omelette, but Matt and I will have a special celebratory snack tonight!
Tonight, Loretta squatted for me!
In chicken-speak, this means she’ll be laying eggs in the next week or so.
For some reason, she wouldn’t come out of the coop today. Normally she’s the first one barging through the door. But it took coaxing, and finally me just picking her up and putting her outside.
That’s when she did it.
Loretta, facing away from me, knelt down and slightly outstretched her wings. I had read about this behavior, and immediately recognized it for the good news it is.
I welcome any and all good news, especially after I unexpectedly spent three days in the hospital this week. Matt was a real champ, staying by my side in the hospital and still finding time to take care of the chickens while I was laid up.
More good news: I have a visitor — my brother Bryan who just arrived from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
It wasn’t long before he was hen pecked.
I showed Bryan the girls, and the chicken coop, which was not finished when he last visited in December. Gigi, Loretta and Nellie cooed and called out to him. They wanted out of the coop, so I opened the door.
Bryan pulled out his camera, laid down in the grass, and let the girls get up close and personal. Nellie tugged at the strings hanging from his shorts, and Gigi cautiously pecked at him. Loretta eyed his toes before trying to take a bite.
None of this fazed Bryan, and he got some great photos of the girls.
Tomorrow, I am taking Bryan for his first trip to a Tractor Supply Co. I need to pick up a few things to prepare the nests, since eggs are around the corner. On the list are layer ration feed and a bale of hay to put in their nests. I’ll probably open the nest part of the coop sometime this week. It’s suggested to wait until the birds are 18 weeks old before giving access to nests, and that will be a week from today!
How did we get from those baby fuzzballs to almost laying eggs?
My babies are growing up so fast!
It’s a backyard chicken keeper’s worst nightmare.
That barnyard smell.
For the first month, it was totally fine. Then one hot, muggy day, after a heavy downpour, it arrived. I had to be standing literally at or in the coop, but the smell was undeniable.
Of course, I freaked out. I worried about it getting worse, and possibly upsetting my neighbors. Trying to be helpful, Matt took a walk by the coop and said he couldn’t smell a thing.
Could it be possible I imagined the whole thing?
A couple days later, after another rain, Matt finally admitted he could smell a slight barnyard smell.
I quickly figured out that the smell went away when the sand in the run dried out. But when it rained …
As with any other dilemma, I consulted the Google Machine.
I learned about proper drainage, and using pelletized lime to combat smells. Then I discovered Sweet PDZ.
Marketed as a horse stall deodorizer, I found Sweet PDZ also is safe to use in chicken coops. It works by absorbing and neutralizing ammonia in the chicken waste.
Apparently, other people had the same idea because I had trouble finding it in stock. We finally tracked down a bag at a Tractor Supply Co. about an hour’s drive away.
By the time we returned, I was anxious to see if this stuff works.
I had already gotten into a routine of scooping out the chicken poop on a daily basis. So I started with a light cleanup, including of the bazillion feathers the girls shed each week.
The PDZ directions said to use 6 cups on the first application, then 1-3 cups for maintenance. So I used a coffee mug to spread six cups of the powder on top of the freshly cleaned coop sand. Next, I used a metal rake to mix it into the sand.
But the big test was with the next rainstorm, which came a couple days later. It was a huge storm, that splashed lots of water into the coop sand.
And when I went out to take a big sniff?
It smelled like heaven.
In the blink of an eye, my girls are almost grown up!
Tonight, as I let them out for their evening stroll, I saw all three are sporting big combs atop their heads. Also, wattles now hang below their chins. The combs and wattles are bright red, too.
These changes signify that the girls are almost full-fledged chickens. In fact, “egg watch” will begin soon.
Chickens begin laying eggs at 18 weeks old, which is just over two weeks away. It’s hard to believe that day is almost here.
I’ll be on vacation the week before eggs will arrive, and I’ll need the time to prepare. I need to open the nesting box, where the girls will lay their eggs. I have kept it closed off to prevent them from pooping in the nests. I’ve heard it’s best for them to discover the nests just as they need them, and to associate it with, um, nesting!
I’ll also have to pick up a bale of hay to fill the individual nests.
At 18 weeks, the girls also will switch over to layer feed, which will have an adjusted protein ratio plus added calcium to help strengthen the egg shells.
It’s a bit of work getting the girls ready for prime time.
But cue the lights.
Loretta, Gigi and Nellie are ready to strut their stuff.
If I ever had any doubt before, I now know the chickens are in charge.
Up until tonight, they were just humoring me.
After dinner, I let the girls out for a quick evening stroll in the yard. They sauntered over to a cave-like bush near the house, and set up camp.
Matt and I gardened, then I took a lengthy phone call with my brother. It had been about an hour, so I thought I’d put them back in the coop.
I grabbed the Stand-n-Scoop poop-picker-upper, and walked toward the bush. Like a shepherd uses his walking stick, I use the Stand-n-Scoop to gently guide the chickens back to roost. I don’t touch the chickens, but use the black and pink stick to point them in the right direction.
I quickly saw Loretta wasn’t having any of this. She squawked, and ran back into the bush. Loretta and Nellie quickly followed suit.
This went on and on for about 15 minutes, until I gave up.
I went into the house and grabbed a popsicle.
“The birds put away?” Matt asked. I was hot and frustrated.
“So you just left them out there?”
I paused. I knew what he was asking. I left them out there vulnerable to predators, most specifically hawks. I didn’t know what else to do.
I watched them from the kitchen window, and they all seemed fine. They threw themselves to the ground inside their cave clubhouse, taking luxurious dust baths. Surely a hawk couldn’t spot them in there, I tried to tell myself.
I went out again and tried to round them up one more time. No luck.
So I waited until dusk, which was 9:12 p.m. tonight. Before I got chickens I had heard that they naturally roost at sundown. And wouldn’t you know it, they lined up, just like clockwork.
At first they huddled at the door of the coop, then Loretta went in first, followed by Nellie. Gigi was busy pecking at something, but quickly followed suit once she saw she was alone.
A few weeks ago Matt jokingly suggested that we needed a butterfly net to catch the chickens.
Now I’m thinking that’s not such a bad idea.