Building Chicken Coops

To say that I am not a carpenter is a huge understatement. I am quite sure that I have never built anything in my entire life. When B and I first started the idea that we would separate our chicken breeds from the others, we wanted to find a chicken run and house that was simple and cost effective. If you aren’t careful, you can spend a LOT of money on a chicken coop and run.

We decided to do some research on designs that we liked, and proceeded with building our first coop. The first coop we made was supposed to be for full grown birds…. Ultimately it was a failure. At least, it was a failure for what we intended it to be for.

For our design, we wanted to stick to a simple box where our birds could roost for the night, lay eggs, and be sheltered from the weather. The first coop that we built measured 6 feet long, 4 feet tall, and 2 feet wide. We intended for this coop to be split in the middle, and shared between two runs so that two kinds of chickens would share this space. Hindsight is 20/20, and we quickly realized this would not be nearly enough space for full grown birds. Even for the few we planned to have in each chicken run. Along with the design flaw of the first chicken coop, we immediately noticed a couple of things that we wanted to do differently with our second run. I stress again that neither of us are carpenters or builders.. With the run itself, we stapled cattle panels to 2×4’s, and bent them into a “tunnel.” We then attached the board to the back side, attaching our chicken coop to the backboard. We covered everything with chicken wire, and we were done. We recycled a door for the front of the coop, with the idea that this would be our entry and exit into the run/coop.

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Our rudimentary “first try.”

Our second run/coop was a little better. For version 2.0, we put three T-Posts down each side and ran a cattle panel on each side, securing it to the T-Posts. We then put three more cattle panels covered in chicken wire over the top in a “tunnel.” We used wire for the front and back, and then we decided to move our tiny little “first draft” chicken coop over to the second pen. We removed the divider in the middle of this little coop, and viola. We now have a grow out pen for our chicks that we have hatched that aren’t big enough to go with the grown hens but are too big for our brooders. The smaller coop is much more suitable for our smaller chickens in their grow out pen, and we built a new chicken coop for the adult chickens.

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Our second run, under construction.

For our new coop design, we went with a 4x4x6 box for our hens. Each box is plywood, reinforced with 2×4’s for stability. Each coop has a roosting bar inside, and a couple of brooding boxes as well. Some people out a brooding box for each chicken in their coops. We did not do that. Most of the time (almost 100% of the time) chickens will only use one or two of the boxes inside the coop. It was unnecessary to put more than two in each coop for the amount of chickens that we have in each coop.

Now that we have got our design down, we can focus on making minor improvements and adjustments. For example, we will go back to add a better roof for the coops so they last longer. We have looked at a lot of commercial chicken coops, and they are quite costly. Of course it does help that we have a lot of the wire, T-Posts, and cattle panels on hand. A lot of this design was considered because these are the materials we have free access to, simply re-purposing the supplies we currently have.

When looking at commercial chicken coops/houses, we have found them to be way too small and not cost effective at all. A lot of “good” ones cost $200+ and are quite tiny. We love having the ability to play around with our design to make improvements and build houses for our babies with materials that we have on hand.

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Getting To Know Our Chickens: Black Copper Maran’s

Good morning, and welcome to “Part Two” of my mini-series, Getting to know our Chickens. I am excited to be telling you what I know about Black Copper Maran’s today.

Maran’s are a popular bird among “chicken people,” and we are partial to the Black Coppers. The reason these chickens are so popular is due to the fact that they are “chocolate eggers.” This means the eggs they lay are deep chocolate brown. This color of egg is highly sought after. Black Coppers (BC’s) are known for laying the darkest brown eggs.

BC’s are good for our farm for several reasons. First of all, they are good egg layers. On average a BC will lay 3 eggs per week, or 150-200 eggs per year. Second of all, BC’s are considered to be a hardy bird during the winter months. The flip side of that, however, is that they are NOT considered to be a hardy bird during the summer months.

BC’s are not considered to be an especially docile bird when compared to other breeds, but they are known for going “broody.” Broodiness is an excellent quality in a chicken. Broodiness is when a chicken will sit on the eggs to hatch them. Broodiness is rare in a lot of chicken breeds, and being a good mother hen is rare as well. Although we do have a hatcher and incubator for hatching our own chickies, it is nice to have hens on our farm who would make good mama hens if we decided to let them hatch naturally.

What we like most about the BC’s is their looks. Traditionally, male BC’s are black bodied with copper feathers around his head and saddle. Females are almost completely black, having only a bit of copper around their heads.

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Our Copper rooster, in with all of his ladies. We currently have him with Copper hens and Ameracauna hens.

BC’s have an interesting history. With a lot of breeds, their lineage is clear. What breeds were mixed to accomplish the final result. With BC’s, the lineage is not that clear. During the 12th and 13th centuries, English ships came to port in French towns. When they docked, the crew would generally release their game roosters who had been victorious in fights. The game roosters would then breed with “swamp hens,” and this was how the original Marans came to be. The local farmers began breeding the offspring with other local birds in the 19th century, selecting for egg size and coloration.

During this time, WWII brought on a steep decline in interest in the birds. Luckily, individual breeders continued breeding and working with Marans. Although BC’s remained popular with individuals, there was not a clear standard for these chickens. In the 1990’s, breeders got together to set clear standards, and there began to be world wide interest in the breed. In 2010 Black Copper Marans were accepted into the American Poultry Association’s Standard of Perfection. They are one of the most sought after breeds, due to their unusually dark colored eggs.

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Black Copper Maran eggs are the darkest eggs you can find. 

Chicken Farmer

When we first started the adventure of having chickens, we never dreamed that it would be as in depth as it has grown to be, or rather that our interest in raising different chickens would become what it has become. Initially, we wanted chickens to eat the fresh eggs, and eat our own free range chickens as they stopped laying eggs. I am not sure, to be honest, where that stopped and our new adventure began, but here we are separating out our breeds and building new chicken coops.

When we got our first chickens back in late summer, we had a smattering of random chickens. We had Americeunas, Buff Orphingtons, Lavender Orphingtons, Rhode Island Red’s, and a smattering of others. From there, we have purchased some more chickens and traded for others. Over the winter, we had a massive decline in our chickens, as you may have read in our previous post, titled Rhode Island Red.

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Our newest rooster, a Lavender Orphington

Since the weather is starting to get nicer, we have gotten a little ummm… chicken crazy. After hatching our Red’s in the smaller incubator, B decided that we needed a bigger incubator. We had looked for several used ones and decided upon a good used one. The one we purchased is actually meant to be used as a hatcher, where you put the eggs to hatch after they have been in the incubator for the allotted amount of time. The chicks will hatch there, freeing up the incubator for more eggs. The hatcher we bought has 6 racks, and can hold up to 600 eggs for hatching. The nice thing about the machine that we purchased is that it can double as an incubator.

We purchased some hatching eggs from several different people. First we got 4 dozen Buff Orphington eggs, and we plan to keep around a dozen of the ones that hatch for our personal stock. We also purchased some pure Ameraucana eggs, which we will keep about half of. We have Lavender Orphington eggs in the incubator, along with a few mottled Orphington eggs. We recently put in some eggs from our new Polish chickens as well.

Over the last two weeks we have acquired several new breeds.

First, we got our trio of Polish chickens: one rooster and two hens. They are currently residing in the dog house and pen that we had set up when we first got our two Great Pyrenees. We love looking out at their weird hair, and they have obviously settled to contentedness as they are already laying daily.

Second, we got some  Black Astrolorp pullets. At least they were supposed to all be pullets. We are about 99% sure that one of them is a Roo, but that is not confirmed at this point. The Astrolorps are an Australian chicken, and are well known for laying brown eggs. They are basically an Australian Orphington. These guys are perfect for our flock as they are hardy in the winter, and lay dependably. They are also considered to be a rare breed.

The third big addition to our flock is the addition of a Copper Maran Rooster. The Copper is a great addition, and he will serve two purposes. With him, we will be able to keep our Ameraucana’s and our Copper hens all in the same pen with the Copper roo. Copper will be able to fertilize both breeds of hen and we will still be able to distinguish which egg is from which bird, which will tell us which babies are in the eggs. Copper’s lay dark eggs, and from them we will get full blooded Copper chicks, of course. The Ameraucana’s will lay the blue/green eggs, and from them we will get a breed called Olive eggers.

Overall, we are quite excited about our chickens. Although we haven’t resorted to naming them yet, that just MAY be the next step. We are learning as we go, and growing our flock. We can’t wait to share the next step with you!

Snow Day on the Farm

As a kid, we all loved getting snow days. School was canceled, and we all got to play in the snow: building snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, etc. As an adult, however, we don’t really get snow days. A few weeks ago we had some bad weather in our area, and I was called off work. My husband, however, was not called off work. On a farm, the work never ends and there is no such thing as a snow day. If anything, there is more work on a snow day.

During the winter, our daily chores include feeding hay and grain to the cows. With our snow days we do typically feed extra hay to the cows, as they can lay in the extra hay and have some kind of warmth and protection from the wet and frozen ground. We have to count and check our cows daily to make sure that none of them are sick or hurt. If a cow gets sick, they can go downhill quickly. It is really important to do the daily checks so we can catch illness immediately. Mineral tubs are important to check daily as well, and refill as needed.

When the temperatures are below freezing, we also have to add chopping water to our list of daily chores. The cows need water, and we usually take a couple of extra hours to chop the top of the water so the cows can get a drink.

Now that we have started adding smaller animals to our farm, there is extra work that comes with that as well. The ducks really like to make a huge mess in their environment. Our daily chores now include cleaning up their messes, and providing them with fresh food and water. We are ready for the ducks to be a little older, when they will be more free range. Even with them free ranging, our daily chores will include cleaning up their messes AND will eventually include roosting them at night.

Our baby chicks are quite the project, making sure they are fed and watered, warm and happy. We happen to have a perfect little place for them in the barn where they are pretty well protected from the outside weather and critters. This helps a lot. With hatching our own chicks it takes longer to get eggs from them since they do not start laying until 5-6 months. However, we are excited with our new adventure of hatching our own babies.

The incubator itself is a daily chore as well. We found a good deal on an incubator that is a manual turner. This means the machine does not turn the eggs for us, so we must check the eggs every 4-6 hours and turn them ourselves. We also check the water levels in the incubator to make sure there is enough humidity for our growing hatchlings. The batch we have in the manual turner right now will be the first batch hatched from this incubator. Up until now we have been using a smaller incubator that only holds 24 eggs. This first batch will basically be our trial and error run.

Our full grown chickens do require daily chores as well, even though they are free range. We have found that when we feed our puppies the chickens will swarm them and eat the dog food. We now feed the chickens at the same time in effort to avoid this. Their water freezes on the cold nights too, of course. Checking for eggs is a daily chore, although our stubborn chickens like to lay their eggs all over the place. Thankfully, we have got most of our chickens roosting in their coop at night instead of on the back porch! B is working on some new coops this week which will give them a lot of space to move around, but they will be more contained and protected from hawks, raccoons, and other predators… (I’m looking at you, neighbor’s dog!)

Even on snow days, a farmer’s chores never end. They are on call 24/7, and the work is always there waiting for the next day.

Rhode Island Red

Since we got our first chickens, we have been a little obsessed with getting more chickens. An almost daily conversation we have is what we want for the future of our chickens. The chickens originally started out as an experiment that I wanted to do, it has quickly grown to a project that Bryan is more excited about as each day passes.

We have had mostly failures with our chickens thus far. We lost a lot of the first, second and third batches of chickens that we brought in. We have had issues with hawks carrying off the chickens, a neighbors dog killing our feathered babies, and the normal chicken illnesses that had taken some others. Mix this with extreme weather conditions, and chickens that are less than ideal for the wet and cold winter we have had, and we are down to about 15 chickens at the moment.

We have been talking about getting some more chickens, in the hopes that they will be laying eggs by mid to late summer. This led us to reach out to a local chicken raiser who happened to have 2 dozen Rhode Island Red eggs ready to go in an incubator. We purchased the eggs at a steal, $3 per dozen. On average, even the chicks go for about $3 per chick. So we are basically paying 25 cents per chicken and then hatching them ourselves. We brought our babies home and put them in the incubator.

The incubator is one that we found on Amazon, and we have used it before. We love it! It works well, and was reasonably priced. We have talked about getting a bigger incubator in the future, but for now this one suits our needs. The one we use is a JANOEL incubator. It holds 24 eggs at a time. Here is the link to the one we purchased://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=wrinklefarms1-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B06XX5P6VX&asins=B06XX5P6VX&linkId=b517bb21585eef6e0c21f15906cd1f12&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

The main features that we looked for when buying our incubator are: temperature regulation, automatic egg turning, and ability to see the eggs hatch. The one we picked met all of our expectations on this front. We LOVE that we can look in at the eggs at all times. When we hatched our last batch of chicks, we could also hear them inside of the shells before they hatched.

We are excited to see our Red’s grow. We are partial to the Red’s for our farm for several reasons. First of all, they are good about consistently laying eggs year round. Not all chickens do this, and many breeds stop laying eggs in the fall and winter. Second, Red’s lay brown eggs. This is important because many people feel that true farm fresh eggs should be brown, and not white. They aren’t wrong. Third, the Red’s are a good and hardy bird for our harsh winters. They do well in the cold.

Overall, we are very excited to start with our new batch of Red’s. There will be some changes coming to Wrinkle Farm, which will hopefully decrease the amount of chickens that we are losing.