Chicken Scratch Fever

We ordered chicks!

The order is in, and we will become the parents of three baby chicks the week of March 17.

In a stunning turn of events, we ended up switching hatcheries at the last  minute. I was having trouble confirming that we could pick up such a small order with the original place, and stumbled upon Meyer Hatchery in Ohio. Not only do they allow three-chick orders, they had a large variety of rare birds to pick from. Plus they are only a two-hour car ride away.

We ordered these chicks:

  • Black Copper Marans: Matt picked this one. This large bird (hens are 7 pounds) is known for its large dark brown eggs. Marans originated in western France in a town by the same name. They are foragers that generally do not cause much damage from scratching. They are known as docile, calm and quiet birds.
  • Dominique: I picked this one. I love its zebra-like black and white plumage. The bird originates from Haiti, and is hearty in both extreme heat and cold. It also likes to forage, and is especially docile. Dominiques lay medium sized brown eggs. Poultry lovers have been hard at work to increase the numbers of this breed, which had nearly become extinct.
  • Olive Egger: Both Matt and I are curious about this hybrid breed. Olive Eggers are bred using many different types of chickens. In this case, the line comes from a mix of Leghorns, Marans and Ameraucanas. The special blend results in green-colored eggs. It’s hard to know what the bird will look like, but we are guaranteed green eggs. There is little information about the bird’s temperament.
Black Copper Marans

Black Copper Marans

Dominique

Dominique

Olive Egger chicks

Olive Egger chicks

Finally, the chicks will live in our basement under a heat lamp probably until May. At such a young age, they cannot regulate their temperature, and we will need to wait until their feathers fill in before we can leave them outside.

Now that the order is in, I’m so excited.

I still have a long list of things to do:

  1. Finish the coop. Our friend Eric is coming in this weekend to help us build the two windows and finish up the loose ends.
  2. Pass inspection. The City of Ferndale will be stopping by next week to check out the coop. I’m feeling hopeful that we will pass.
  3. Build a brooder for the chicks.
  4. Buy bird stuff, like chick starter food and pine shavings.

Oh yeah. And I’ll have to plan a road trip to Ohio. Sweet.

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Prepping for chicks

y we picked up a heat lamp and bulbs, a couple of latches and a baby chick waterer.

Today we picked up a heat lamp and bulbs, a couple of latches and a baby chick waterer.

While we still things to finish on the coop, today Matt and I refocused on our incoming chicks.

With the chicken coop inspection a week away, and chicks expected at the end of February, we figure things are about to start moving fast. We realized we had no choice: It’s time to start multi-tasking our chicken prepping. So we hopped in the truck and headed north to the nearest Tractor Supply Company (about an hour’s drive away).

We scoped out the chicken department and quickly determined that we were not the only ones preparing for babies. The wood nesting boxes (which we really wanted) were sold out, as well as chick-sized feeders. Still, I was able to get a heat lamp and bulbs (which will keep the chicks warm until they can regulate their own temperatures), a chick-sized waterer, a hook latch for inside the chicken run door and a more substantial latch for the lid of the nesting box.

The last item we got: a 10-gallon metal container with locking lid to store the chicken feed. I already ran it out to the coop, and it fits perfectly under the hen house.

We still have a moderate list of things left to do on the coop, but the most important task is to finish building the windows before inspection. Next weekend, that will be our goal.

The doorway to victory

Doesn't she look lovely?

Doesn’t she look lovely?

Still in my pajamas, I joined Matt to trudge out in the snow and ice to install the hen house door.

And with the last screw put in a hinge, we have an almost-finished chicken coop!

We still have an assortment of small details that we need to tend to before the girls arrive, but for now I firmly believe we have accomplished enough to welcome inspection day.

Victory is ours!

A peek inside.

A peek inside.

Victory and defeat

After a winter thaw, we found 3 inches of water in the run.

After a winter thaw, we found 3 inches of water in the run.

The day started out with great optimism. We were going to finally build the hen house door.

When we walked out to the coop to take final measurements, we were met with a flood in the run. As the weather warmed, bringing rain storms to melt the foot of snow out back, it transformed our yard into a swimming pool. We measured 3 inches (!) in the run alone.

The frame fits!

The frame fits!

In all fairness, we’re not done with the run yet. We plan to fill it with tube sand, which would help with drainage. While initially alarming, I told myself there’s nothing I can do right now. Since it’s mid-January, I’m guessing we’ve still got a few more snow storms before the ground gets a true opportunity to thaw out.

Since we’re getting the chicks in March, and they’ll live in our house until May, that gives us plenty of time to drain the pool.

So after shaking off the shock, and snapping a few pictures, Matt and I retired to the basement to build the door.

We had struggled with the design. Really struggled. We looked at countless variations of the Wichita Cabin Coop, and for months just couldn’t figure out the construction.

Then about a week ago, it was if an angel visited Matt. A chicken angel. Suddenly he had a vision. It was clear what we had to do.

malletSo today we went about putting it all together. We build a basic frame out of 1×4 wood, then reinforced the frame with 1×2 wood. Then we laid in tongue-and-groove pieces that we stained last night. Matt cut some pieces shorter to accommodate a window. I helped by putting in the screws.

The final product is gorgeous. Much better than anything I could have imagined since we started this project.

Installation is tomorrow!

The hen house door.

The hen house door.

Inspection date set!

inspection

It’s official! We will have the chicken coop inspected Jan. 29.

Yesterday I received a call from Ferndale City Hall asking when I planned to submit my permit application. I was confused since I had just filled out paperwork in October. She politely explained that I had submitted for 2013, and it is now 2014. She also said I could set up an inspection date when I turned everything in.

When I went to city hall, the clerk noticed that I never had the coop inspected last fall. “You have to get that done within 30 days of pulling a permit,” she said, with a smile.

“Thirty days to build a coop?” I asked, incredulous. It’s taken us almost three months to get it to this point, meaning we still need to complete the hen house door. As novice builders (we had zero experience when we started this project) I couldn’t imagine finishing it at a faster pace.

“Yes, thirty days,” she said. “That’s really all it should take.”

I bit my tongue, then said: “I’m building a palatial estate.”

The clerk laughed.

“You have some lucky chickens,” she said.

Since the inspector is on vacation next week, I decided to schedule the inspection for Jan. 29. We still have a few things to do before he arrives.

While I was finishing up my paperwork, I asked the clerk how many Ferndale residents have applied for chicken coop permits. She quickly counted, then said, “Twelve.” When we filed our initial papers last fall, the clerk told me we were the 10th household to file. It seems our chicken revolution is taking hold!

In chick-related news, I heard back from Cedar Creek Hatchery, where we plan to get our hatchlings. The owner told me he expects to start having chicks in late February or early March. He suggested that I call back then and set up a time to pick up our special delivery.

It seems just around the corner.

In the meantime, I’ll have plenty to keep me busy. Once we finish the hen house door, we still have some trim to finish, and need to install the chicken ramp along with mesh on the two windows. We’ll also have to build a brooder to house the babies until they are strong enough to live outside.

Because, yes. We will have babies in the house!

Mystery snow prints

What the heck?!? Who left these paw prints in the run?

What the heck?!? Who left these paw prints in the run?

As Snowmageddon descends upon Detroit, Matt and I decided to carve out a run for our dog Charlie in the back yard.

While I was doing some maintenance shoveling, I stopped to admire the chicken coop. As I stepped closer, I noticed a bunch of paw prints inside the coop. Instantly I was alarmed.

I walked inside the run to get a better look. The paw prints were everywhere. I wondered if a cat or raccoon was trapped inside. Cautiously, I peeked under the hen house and looked at the ceiling, half expecting a possum to drop on my head.

The mystery critter gained access to the chicken coop run by easily hopping into the open hen house then jumping through the chicken door (seen to the back left).

The mystery critter gained access to the chicken coop run by easily hopping into the open hen house then jumping through the chicken door (seen to the back left).

But I found nothing.

This situation demanded serious study. I pulled out my iPhone and dutifully took photos. Placing my hands on my hips, I twirled my head around and wondered what happened.

Then I saw it.

The unfinished opening into the hen house. Of course! We still need to finish the outside door leading into the hen house, along with the guillotine door for the chickens that allows then access into the run. When I stepped outside and looked into the open hen house, I found evidence of how the mystery critter gained access to the coop.

The good news is that after months of toiling and debating the best way to build this final door, Matt came up with a genius design. We will build it next weekend. Funny enough, after all the worry we invested into the hen house door, it will probably only take us a couple hours to construct.

So we are in the final stretch of our general build, which will allow us to get an inspection. We will have lot of little things to do,  but they are simple projects that can be done in the snow or much later in the summer months.

In the meantime, the coop looks majestic covered in snow. It’s exciting to think that just in a couple months we’ll have peeping additions in our home.

A close look at the evidence.

A close look at the evidence. Bunny prints?

Installing the door

Jilli and the seriously awesome chicken coop door. It's rock 'n'roll, baby.

Jilli and the seriously awesome chicken coop door. It’s rock ‘n’roll, baby.

So we installed the door. I’m impossibly excited about it.

Matt installs the door. Yes. We now have a door!!

Matt installs the door. Yes. We now have a door!!

It looks awesome. I mean, we had an idea it would look good, but now that it’s in place, it just looks so official. We really have a chicken coop in our yard!!

The install only took about 10 minutes. We already had screwed one side of the hinges onto the door. So we used paint sticks as spacers on the bottom of the door (to create a level gap), then screwed the other side of the hinges to the coop. Then we installed a simple door latch that I bought at Home Depot. Right away, it worked like a charm. It caught the latch, and locked the door tight.

Of course there’s a catch. I chose a door latch that works great closing/locking the door *from the outside*. But if I’m inside the coop and the door closes, I’m locked inside. Brilliant move, Jillian.

This is the latch we used (on display at Home Depot).

This is the latch we used (on display at Home Depot).

This development has given me great anxiety. I imagine myself locked inside the coop with a blizzard bearing down, no way to escape except to destroy the great handiwork we’ve put into it. Sigh.

Sensing my distress, Matt offered to install a string pulley system that would allow me to unlock the latch from inside the coop. What a guy. Seriously.

So now, all that’s left before inspection is the hen house door. We’ve saved the hardest task for last. But I’m hoping that we’ve created enough momentum to bust through our hesitation. My goal was to have the coop ready by the end of December. I’m not quite sure that’s gonna happen. But I have to say I am glad we managed to get so close. Yes. This is a victory.

This is what the coop looks like now.

This is what the coop looks like now.