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…

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Coop

I have spent more time trying to decide on a coop than you can imagine.   There are the over the top coops and the totally recycled coops.  While I absolutely love the look of a beautifully constructed wooden coop, I know that means a lot of maintenance and potential for wet wood and mites (yuck).   I stumbled upon the Eglu coops last year and was completely intrigued by the design and ease of cleaning.  The down side to the Eglu is everyone here in the U.S. that ‘does not’ have one for some reason talks about how terrible they are and how for so much cheaper you can build a wooden coop.  I do realize that, but also realize that wood rots.
We purchased the plans to The Garden Coop, I really like his design and the plans are very straight forward with lots of pictures (always helpful).  I thought this would look nice in our backyard and looks to provide a lovely space for hens to live.  However, I kept getting a feeling in my gut that Eglu would be the way to go with a custom walk-in-run (“WIR”).   Since I’ll be the one cleaning, I may as well make it as easy on myself as possible.  I reached out to a handful of Eglu owners and every single person sang its praises, not one person had a negative thing to say other than you definitely need to build a larger run than what comes with the coop.  I was driving my husband mad, I couldn’t decide.  Thank you to Girl Rural for all her patience with my endless coop questions.

I finally decided last week we’d go with Eglu and build The Garden Coop minus the hen house for our WIR.  Next plaguing question was do we get the Eglu Go or the Eglu Cube.  Can you believe how difficult I’m making this for myself?  A few people I reached out to had two Go’s and were quite happy.  It seems everyone starts with 2-3 hens, and then adds 2-3 more.  This sort of addition is called chicken math.


 I really only wanted 3 hens, so the smaller Go made sense, but along the way we decided we wanted to add some Silkie bantam hens to the 3 laying hens we intend on getting, so as you can see we already have chicken math going on and need more space.  The Cube would be the big winner as it states it can hold 10 chickens, but honestly, I wouldn’t put more than 5-6 in there as we have long winters.

Next up, ordering the coop, oh the excitement and anticipation.  I contacted Omlet’s customer service as I know these can be on backorder as they are shipped from the U.K. – this could totally change things if there was going to be a long wait.  I spoke to the customer service representative who was a delightful English gal and placed my order for the Cube last Wednesday and low and behold to my surprise the local Greyhound station called Saturday morning and said we have your 5 boxes here ready for pick-up.  What a pleasant surprise, I had no idea we’d get it so fast.
Eglu ships their coops over in a container from the U.K. and are then shipped to you via Greyhound Package Express to the nearest Greyhound station to where you live.  The Cube comes in 5 rather large boxes, but did fit quite comfortably in the back of our mini van with the 3rd row seat taken out. 

The Cube comes in a variety of fun colors, red, purple, orange, yellow, pink and green.  I opted for green as I thought it was fun and would blend the best in our back yard.  My daughter was hoping for purple.  Right now the 5 large boxes are sitting in our garage waiting to be put together.

My favorite coops.



  Inspiration for the set up we plan on building with our Cube:


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The journey begins...

It’s been a few years since I was bit by the backyard chicken bug.  A few years ago my daughter who was 4 at the time and I were watching a documentary and saw a glimpse of some backyard hens and my daughter said, “mom, why can’t we get some chickens?”    For some reason this always stuck in my mind.   Why couldn’t we get some chickens, we certainly had the space in our backyard, we are trying to be more green and after researching our local ordinance we could meet the restriction of having a coop 100 feet from our neighbors. How neat would it be to venture out to our backyard and gather up fresh organic eggs?   In addition, what a wonderful experience for our kids to care for an animal (I do realize that I will be doing the caring) that will in turn be a pet that provides us with pure organic food and the added bonus of entertainment.

I flip-flopped last summer on whether this was something I really wanted to do, gotta love my husband, he was all for it, but I knew that these would be ‘my chickens’.  Was I really ready to add to our zoo of a dog, a fish and a hamster?    It basically came down to the fact that I could not decide on a coop.  The wooden coop versus the English Omlet Eglu coop which has eaten more of my time than I care to admit.  Instead of the chickens last summer I focused on a garden that turned out a great yield for a total novice gardener.   As summer turned into fall, we decided to wait.  This unusual warm snap of weather we had this last month triggered the mother hen in me and once again I’m spending hours upon hours researching chickens and coops on:  Backyard ChickensMy Pet ChickenOmlet U.K. Forum all wonderful chicken resources.

My daughter who is now almost 7 now must be a mind reader because as I was thinking chickens she found my book, “City Chicks” and dumped it on my lap a few weeks ago and said, "can we PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get chickens this year?"  My 16 year old stepson was just as anxious to finally get our chicks.

What the heck now is a good of time as any, right?  And so the journey begins…