Monday, July 23, 2012

The Chickens Have a Home!

It’s FINALLY done.   Yahoo!  The chickens have been in their new humble abode for about 2 months and seem to be thriving.  We are down to 4 chickens from our original 7.  Three ended up being roosters (2 of our Silkie’s and our Barred Rock) which is a bummer, we had grown so attached them (will post more about that later).   The jury is still out on one of 1 of the Silkie’s and our Easter Egger is looking a little roosterish too, I’m hoping I’m wrong. 

For awhile it seemed like the project that wouldn’t end.  By far, my least favorite part of this project was the hardware cloth, yuck.  It is piece of mind though knowing they are safe and sound which is totally worth it, just a complete pain to install.  Knock on wood, there hasn’t been anything trying to get in so far.  We buried the cloth about 10’ down.

We used the plans from The Garden Coop for our run and purchased the Omlet Eglu Cube for the coop.  I really can’t say enough about The Garden Coop plans and the structure itself.  It looks awesome, it really does.  It was great having a supplies list and measurements.   We extended the length of the run to 12’ since we had room.  I thought maybe my husband and I could do it ourselves, but luckily my brother-in-law offered his help which made the process a whole heck of a lot easier as he is quite handy.  Not having any major construction experience I think we could probably have built it on our own, but it would have taken a whole lot longer.  John, the owner from The Garden Coop, was very helpful whenever we had any questions and e-mailed me back very quickly.  Can’t recommend The Garden Coop enough, really!!

In addition, I really like the Eglu Cube, cleaning it is super easy and they seem to like it.   It really is a lot bigger than it looks.  I did some modifications which I’ll post about later until they start laying.  I didn’t want them sleeping in the nest area which I guess is common, so I took the separator out until we are closer to when they give us some golden eggs.  That’s our running joke as the cost of this chicken experiment was not a cheap one, so we just know golden eggs are coming our way soon J

We have had record heat this summer here and quite honestly the Cube stays pretty cool.  To look at it you would think it would be an oven but amazingly, the temperature is much cooler inside then on the outside.

Here’s a picture diary of building our run – enjoy!

This is the before space.  This was a perennial garden that I moved in the spring.
The boys hard at work.
Framing all done.
Structure was moved to its final home.
Burnt grass from the roofing panels on a 90 degree day.  Within an hour grass was fried.
Coming together - SLOWLY...
Made roof panels per suggestion from Northwest Edible blog
Awesome stairs!
Attached panel from Eglu Cube I wasn't using to be able to attach Eglu's water Glug. 
Installed some shade fabric on top of roofing panels, seems to really help shade the girls.
Framed opening to Cube.
Secured the stairs to frame.
The Golden Egg door =)
All done!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Integrating Chicks – Can’t We All Just Get Along?

With much trepidation, I took both sets of chicks out of their brooders and put them together in one big dog cage brooder.   The Silkies were 5 weeks old and the new girls (Easter Egger, Buff Oprington and Barred Rock) were 2 weeks old.   I put in the Silkie’s sand box that they love and a new sand box for the little girls.  I added the two feeders and two watering stations

From this --

 To this --

I pulled up a chair and sat and watched.  Each group went to a side of the cage and huddled together looking totally stressed out.  This lasted about a ½ hour, nobody moving very far from their team.  Then, little miss sweet Fluffy started pecking up a storm at the news girls feet.  I totally thought she’d be the last to bully.  I put some cut-up apples in the brooder knowing it would distract the Silkies for a bit and the new girls just huddled together in the corner looking totally freaked out.

After the apples were gone, the pecking started right back-up.   Now what the hell do I do?  The new girls were so much smaller than the Silkie’s.  After researching online, I find out the chicks should be the same size before you integrate.  What?  I guess I should of looked into this before integrating.  Keeping up two brooders was not something I wanted to do, plus the new girls were outgrowing their brooder fast, so they were going to have to get along.

Then it dawned on me we had another smaller dog cage.  I took a side to that dog cage and put it down the middle of the big cage.  The big girls were on one side and little girls on the other side.  Whew!  It worked out great because the little ones could fit through the gate and go over and check out what the big girls were up to, but could run back to their side if they needed to get away.  It was driving the Silkie’s mad they couldn’t get to the other side as they were too big.  The first one to go over and check out the Silkies was our Easter Egger, she intently watched one of the Silkies take a dust bath.  My daughter decided to name the Easter Egger “Brave” because she was the first to venture out from the other side.

Goldie sneaking over to steal some of the Silkies food.

I kept them separated for a few days, at that point the little ones were going back and forth pretty freely.  I thought the separating panel could come down.  I took it down and all hell broke loose again.    This time I put it back up but tied it to the top of the cage so the Silkie’s could get back and forth too, but not super easy.  I did this for two more days.  It seemed odd to me they could each go to the other side, but for some reason, they liked that divider there.  Then one night I saw ALL the chicks huddled together sleeping in the Silkie’s sandbox.  I swear I was like a proud momma, I just couldn’t believe it.    After that night I took the separation gate down and they’ve been getting along just great ever since.   They still pretty much sleep in their sand boxes, Silkies on their side and new girls on their side.

If anyone is combing chicks a couple weeks apart, I highly recommend the set up of the larger dog cage with the separation gate between the flocks, it really worked out great.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother Robin & Her Babies - Happy Mother's Day!

We were fortunate enough this spring to have a robin lay her eggs in a nest that happened to be eye level off our deck. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The New Girls - A Rocky Start

We picked up our three new chicks, an Easter Egger (“EE”), Buff Orpington (“BO”) and Barred Rock (“BR”) from Belmont Feed.  Once home we placed them in the small brooder where our Silkies lived for their first two weeks.  Being a novice chicken keeper, I was thinking I’d just separate the Silkies from the new girls for just a couple days, then integrate them.  Now that I had the new chicks, it was definitely going to be more than a couple days before integrating the two flocks.  The Silkie’s were huge compared to the new tiny girls.

3 week old Silkies on left - New chicks on right

So now in our dust filled dining room I had two brooders going, one with our three week old Silkies and the other with our new mixed chicks. 

I was up late cleaning the day after we picked up the new chicks and as I was headed off to bed, I checked on them one last time and noticed something was off.   The BO just didn’t look right.  I had been noticing throughout the day that the EE and BR were snuggling and eating/drinking together, but the BO just seemed on its own, mostly face down sleeping.   She was very unsteady and just could not keep her eyes open.  I do know that chicks fall asleep standing up, but something was wrong.  I pulled up a chair to watch through the little brooder window to observe some more, my sleep would just have to wait. 

After watching more closely, I noticed that in a matter of a day, it looked like the BR and EE had already grown, but not the BO.  I had been checking for pasty butt throughout the day and found all the girls did have a little, the BO did have more than the other two chicks.  Upon checking her again, I noticed her vent (where they poop from) was sticking out a bit.  I’m not certain whether this was my fault from maybe being a little too rough with cleaning or if it happened on its own.  Now in a panic at 12:30 a.m., I boot up the laptop and turn to BYC  for some trusty advice.  I sat for ½ hour just watching to see if she'd poop and she didn’t.   Upon the advice of BYC, I put a Q-tip in Vaseline, then gently inserted into her little vent (she didn't like that).  I put her back into the brooder, meanwhile the EE and BR kept pecking at her face.  They just wouldn’t leave the poor girl alone.    I took the BO out again and filled a little bowl some water with Sav-A-Chick and Probiotics.  She drank a ton, then her eyes literally popped open and she had a small poop.  Hooray!    

 I can’t tell you how excited I was that she perked up, what a relief.   As soon as she finished her water she started chirping and didn’t stop - like 45 minutes of non-stop annoying chirping.  I put her back in the brooder so she wouldn’t get cold and the EE and BR started totally bullying her again.   It was now 2 a.m. I decided this was out of my hands and in the hands of Mother Nature; I did what I could to help her.  Off to bed I went with a nagging feeling that I was going to wake up to a dead chick.  I was sick to my stomach.

I came downstairs early the next morning so I would beat my 6 year old to finding a dead baby chick and low and behold, she was just fine.  I don’t know if it was the Vaseline, the Sav-A-Chick or what, but thankfully she seemed okay.  She’s still a little smaller than the other two, but they now all seem to get along.  I laugh that she’ll probably end up being the biggest, yet for now she’s the most petite.

I do have to tell you that the novelty of getting pooped on has worn off a bit with the family.  Even with using old towels, the chicks always seem to miss the towel and poop on your hand.   These new guys are not getting as much TLC as the Silkies did or as many visitors.   Therefore, I do try to make sure this new batch is used to getting their cheeks pinched and cuddled as much as possible. They really are just so incredibly precious.  This is the cutest they will ever be. 

Meet the new girls.

BO (2 week old)

BR (2 weeks old)

EE (few days old)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chicks in the House

The excitement, the preparation, the unknowing of how will I know how to take care of these little creatures was not that unlike bringing home a new baby, okay maybe not a baby, I guess more realistically a puppy =).    Oh my goodness, these tiny narcoleptic fuzzy butts are adorable.  When they say these chicks grow over night they are not kidding.  At first, I thought there was just no way to tell these four chicks apart, but within a matter of a day or two, they each started talking on their own distinct looks and personalities.

Being that these four Silkies are not sexed, at day 1 we were already guessing who the rooster(s) would be, I hope there aren’t any, but the odds would mean there is probably at least one or two.  We think two!

Lilla already with attitude
Lilla has been the biggest since the first day, she was the only one we could tell apart.  She is always eyeballing everyone, poor little Fluffy just avoids eye contact and scurries away when Lilla tries to show her who is boss.   Look out when it comes to those meal worms, she’s a vulture.  She makes the most noise when out of the brooder.  We have our suspicion that Miss Lilla might actually be a roo.


I swear Sarah started getting her foot feathers before any of her other feathers, it’s hysterical, you see this little tiny chick with these crazy feathered feet.  Sarah is the second largest and so pretty.  Not the friendliest and squawks quite a bit when out of the brooder.  We suspect that Miss Sarah might be a roo.


Super sweet and certainly more petite than Lilla and Sarah.   Snowflake and Fluffy are nearly the same size, but Snowflake has an odd little brown patch next to hear beak.  She doesn’t mind being held at all, but talks quite a bit.

Surfer Girl Fluffy


The most petite of the flock and absolutely beautiful, super sweet disposition as well.  She’s my daughters favorite so she gets the most cuddle and picture time.

The chickens have been handled so much, I really hopes it pays off later.  They are such scaredy cats, the first time I put chopped up strawberries in a little bowl for them it took them ½ hour to figure out it was a delightful treat.  They all ran around like crazy, like oh my gosh, something new is in here, now what do we do.  I wish I would of seen who took the first bite, because after that it was a total ruckus of each chick trying to get the most strawberries.  The most hysterical thing is that they’ll chase each other for what’s in the other chicks beak when there is an entire dish of strawberries at their feet – not the smartest. 

They really are a sweet cohesive group, they all snuggle-up to sleep in the sand, not because they are cold, I think they just take comfort in being snuggled up together.  I’m happy to say that there really hasn’t been any major drama. They really do make me laugh, who would of thought!

They are 1 month old today.  We have a mixed batch of three chicks that are one week old, an Easter Egger, Buff Orpington and a Barred Rock that will be joining them in the big girl brooder shortly.  I’m anxious about that, the Silkies seem to get on so well, I can only imagine the drama of adding the new girls.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fire in the House - Brooder Mishap

We knew our 4 Silkie’s would be arriving soon, next up would be setting up their home sweet home a/k/a brooder.   I knew I wanted their brooder to have a large window so we could watch Chicken TV and also wanted to make sure our dog would get used to seeing the chicks as well. 

We got ourselves a 17 gallon Rubbermaid tote and cut a window and inserted a piece of Plexiglas.  I then cut a whole in the lid so we could put a metal grate on top which ended up being a side to one of our dog crates.  In the book “City Chicks” the author recommends a Reflectix brooder blanket for the top to control warmth and air control.  I ended up using a thick piece of cardboard wrapped in tinfoil, this worked well to keep the brooder a nice toasty 95 degrees.

Brooder Supplies

  1. Rubbermaid Tote
  2. Piece of Plexiglas
  3. Fluker's Dimmable 75 watt Clamp Lamp
  4. 75 watt red heat light
  5. Aspen Pine
  6. Metal grate for top
  7. Large piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil with hole cut in center for lamp
  8. Chick Feeder
  9. Chick Waterer
  10. Organic Chick Starter
  11. Probiotics
  12. Sav-A-Chick Supplement
  13. Small digital thermometer
  14. Small chick sandbox (small Tupperware container)
  15. Almost forgot.....lots of duct tape.
Brooder was all set, just waiting to house some baby chicks.    Hubby was at work, I was moving some perennials in the yard.  My daughter was in and out of the house playing on the swing set and helping me transplant the perennials.  I walked into the house and smelled smoke.  In a panic I ran to the laundry room, upstairs, downstairs – where the hell was the smoke coming from?  For lack of better words, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off , I know poor choice of words but that’s all that comes to mind and that’s exactly what it looked like.  The fire alarm didn’t go off, but there was definitely something on fire.

THEN, I see smoke billowing from the dining room where the brooder was housed.  My dear daughter, who is 6 ½, had turned on the light, placed it inside the bottom of the brooder and walked away….  What a scary experience.  It scared the absolute hell out of both of us.    I’m so grateful I caught it in time. 

Check out the 3" burn through the plastic and on our dining room chair –

The kicker is I had just had a talk with my daughter a couple days beforehand about the brooder light and how hot it would be and that she was not to touch it once the chicks arrived as she might burn herself or the chicks.    She apparently forgot.  In all honesty I think in her mind since the chicks weren’t in there yet, it didn’t count.  I have fault for having the darn thing plugged in when it shouldn’t have been.

Chicks were coming in two days, now what?  Good ‘ole duck tape to the rescue.  All duct taped up and good as new.  I still need to figure out what to do about the chair.    She has not touched the lamp since – lesson learned.

All Patched Up!

After that moment had passed, I thought what in the hell am I doing getting chickens?

Fast forward a few days and our chicks are in their new humble abode, Buehrle is watching some Chicken TV!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pickin' Chickens

Now that we knew we were getting chickens, the next question was what breeds do we choose for our backyard flock.  There is such a variety to choose from, it can be quite overwhelming.   Temperament was something very important to us.  Having kids and wanting this to be a good family experience, I wanted a flock that would be good layers, great temperaments and cold tolerant. 

There are some excellent resources to help the backyard chicken novice in the breed selection process.  I found the following to be incredibly helpful:

Based on these resources, we decided on the following breeds*.

Buff Orpington
Orpingtons are big, friendly dual-purpose birds originally developed in the UK, and for many small farms Orpingtons are the only way to go! They're friendly and cold-hardy due to their fluffy plumage.

Barred Rock
Barred Plymouth Rocks or "Barred Rocks", as they're called, are one of the most popular dual-purpose chickens on small farms today. Their heritage is unclear with reports of different crosses, but what is clear is that they're very friendly, great layers of large brown eggs and able to withstand cold weather quite nicely.
Easter Egger

Easter Eggers are not a breed per se, but a variety of chicken that does not conform to any breed standard but lays large to extra large eggs that vary in shade from blue to green to olive to aqua and sometimes even pinkish. Easter Eggers vary widely in color and conformation, and are exceptionally friendly and hardy. Since they are usually quite friendly to children and humans in general, they are a great choice for a family flock.

*Breed information and pictures from My Pet Chicken.

On a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, our family watched the PBS documentary called,The Natural History of the Chicken” on Netflix.   Towards the end of the documentary, there is a story about a white fluff-ball of a chicken named Liza who wanted nothing other than to be a mother.  The story is based on an article written by L. Joseph Tauer called, "Call Me Chicken"It is a beautiful heartwarming story about a Silkie bantam chicken with an incredible heart.   From that very moment we knew we needed to add a Silkie to our flock.  After further research, we learned Silkie’s are supposed to wonderful chickens for children and are considered the lap dog of the chicken world.  Since a Silkie is a bantam breed which is a smaller chicken than a regular sized chicken, we would need to add at least two.  By having just one smaller chicken, she would run the risk of getting picked by the bigger hens. 

We now have gone from 3-4 chickens to 5-6 in the matter of a 60 minute documentary.

Belmont Feed and Seed  is a wonderful resource for the Chicago backyard chicken enthusiastOn another Sunday afternoon we took a ride to Belmont Feed and Seed to look at the baby chicks they had in stock, we were not quite ready to bring any home, but wanted to actually see and hold some chicks.  The owners were so incredibly nice and helpful.  We came to find out the following week they’d be getting a batch of white Silkie’s.  The owner recommended that if we wanted at least two Silkie hens, we should get four chicks as they are hard to sex and quite possibly could end up with a couple roosters.  When buying locally or through an online hatchery you can usually buy your chickens sexed to prevent getting the unwanted rooster, however Silkie’s are a breed that is very difficult to sex.   My huge concern was what would we do with a rooster if we ended up with one or two for that matter.   The owner said they would gladly take back any roosters or if we ended up with four hens, they take two hens back and find them homes.  This was a relief.
It was becoming a reality – we REALLY were getting chickens…