Our Chickens are Preparing the Garden

This past weekend we put our chickens into their new mobile coop, and found them a nice space in our garden area for them to prepare.  It’s a bit of an experiment, but I think it will work.

Here in Wisconsin the weather is still pretty cold in March and April, and our average last frost date in my area is the 1st week of May.

So what are the chickens doing?  Chicken things!  Scratching, digging, pooping, and spreading anything that’s put in their reach.  Here they are on day 1.

chicken garden week 1

By the time we are ready to plant, this area will have the vegetation removed, be organically fertilized, and will have a nice layer of mulch spread out, all via chicken power.  No tillers, no backbreaking work with a shovel.  Just chickens doing what they like best anyway.

I’ll update with a photo each week as this area is transformed into a nice area for a garden to be planted.

 

 

New Mobile Chicken Coop is Ready

We tried our first chicken tractor last year and it worked out well enough but it really was only big enough for 10 birds or so.  It started out as a straight tractor, but as the season moved on and the birds got bigger we ended up just using it as a mobile coop.

You can see it below, surrounded by premier1 poultry netting.

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As a mobile coop it worked ok, but had some limitations:

  • Small wheels made it kind of tough to move over rough ground
  • It was easy enough to move 8′ at a time (every day), but when it was time to move it across the farm, it was tough going
  • Our bigger birds (such as pioneers/red ranger meat birds) weren’t able to get up into the roosting area very well
  • Insuffient space for nesting boxes if we wanted to have laying-aged birds in it

So this year I’m trying a new design, based on the one created by Justin Rhodes at Abundent Permaculture.  You can find his build instructions here.

This new design should fix the problems above:

  • Big wheels make it go over rough stuff no problem
  • Plenty of space for our layers and room for more
  • Open floor means manure goes where it belongs – on the pasture
  • Nesting boxes easily accessed from outside the coop
  • Plenty of easy to access roosting space

Here it is, all put together and ready for its maiden voyage!

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The birds will move in this weekend, and we’ll put them to work fertilizing and preparing the garden right away.

 

 

Building a… hmm, what’s it called?

I’ve been quiet lately.  We’ve been busy with work, kids, new puppy, and building a….  not sure what to call it.

People around us, at work for example, say it’s a farm.  But don’t you have to plan to sell food if you’re a farm?

For a while, I toyed with the word ‘homestead’, but that’s not it either.  Homesteads are pretty serious.

Ultimately, I think we’re just having fun growing our some of our own food and doing something that feels incredibly wholesome.

It started last summer when we got a few chicks.  Caring for them was so easy and so satisfying, especially when that first egg arrived in January.  By February/March we were getting more eggs than we could handle, so we started giving them to neighbors and coworkers.  It’s fun to share, and worth much more as goodwill gestures than $3-$4 a dozen =  $12-$16 a week.

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Then we got the itch to start a garden, and it’s amazing.

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We’ve made lots of mistakes, but you have to start and every mistake is an opportunity to learn.  Every meal now has something we’ve grown ourselves, especially kale and lettuce but also some peas and carrots.  And the tomatoes are coming, and the jalapenos, habaneros, onions, garlic, brussel sprouts.  And maybe even a few raspberries and blueberries.

In April we received our first batch of meat chickens – we ordered 15 birds from Murray McMurray hatchery.  We received 16 Red Rangers and one other rare chick that the hatchery throws in.  One needed to be culled after she got hurt and couldn’t walk, but the others are doing great.

birds

We’ll be processing them in late July at 12-13 weeks of age.  I’m not looking forward to it, but we feel that we should process them ourselves.

And finally, we are getting four Clun Forest sheep – 3 ewe lambs and an older ewe – at the end of the month.  Here they are with their brothers & sisters at the breeder’s place:

clun

Along the way, I’ve started to become super interested in all the plants growing out in our pasture.  At first I just saw grass and weeds, but I’m started to appreciate better what they are.  Weeds are nature’s way of repairing damaged soil, and we’ll see if we can help out with some carefully managed gazing and manure additions.

So…  what do you call that?  I think I’m just a guy that likes learning and doing things himself.

First Egg!

One of our ladies laid her chickens laid her first egg – very exciting!  Unfortunately, it wasn’t in great shape when I found it:

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I’m a little disappointed we can’t have this first one for breakfast, but over we are excited nonetheless!

How old are the chicks?  When this egg was laid: 21 weeks, 2 days.

What a difference 4 weeks makes!

Our 8 chickens are about 5 weeks old now and we’ve had them out in the grass the last couple of days during the day.  They love it!

What’s really amazing is how much they have grown – here are two videos, the first at about 1.5 weeks and the second from today at 5 weeks of age.

1.5 week chicks play ‘grasshopper keepaway’

5 week chicks enjoying the grass and wary of the suspicious human with treats:

Chicks are here!

I got the call from the post office at about 6:45 this am letting me know that the chicks we ordred had arrived!  Drove down and picked them up – even before the folks there opened the door to the back room I could hear them chirping.

They came in a small box (we only ordered 8 chicks).

This is the box that the chicks were shipped in

Inside, they had some comfy bedding and were all huddled up!

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We put them into their brooder and at first they stayed huddled up (it hadn’t had much time to warm up yet so they were a little cold), and I checked each of them to make sure they weren’t ‘pasted up’ or anything like that.  Showed a few of them the water and a few mins later the food.

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A few hours later they are adjusting well, eating, drinking, pooping, and exploring!  We sprinkled some crumbles around to give them something fun to do.  One of them decided to push a bunch of food out of the food dish so I spread that around for them to peck at too, they seem to love it!

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Here’s a closeup of one (I think it’s an Easter Egger?):

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Anyway – adventures ahead!

DIY Chicken Coop

It’s been a while since I posted.  My family and I moved to a new home and we’ve been busy settling in.  The new place has ~10 acres of property, so there is an unlimited list of outside projects scratching the ‘maker’ itch! And since it’s summer, they are a great way to spend time outside getting some fresh air with the kids.

One of the things that we are excited about is being able to keep a few chickens for fresh eggs. In fact, we ordered chicks and expect them to arrive this week!

We plan to use some sort of mobile coop during the warm months, but for the Wisconsin winter I decided to build something a little heavier and hopefully more suitable to the winter. Below are a series of pictures of the build so far…

Early framing in the garage

Very early framing done. The beams on top are just balanced in place so we could get a visual of what it might look like

Some more framing in the garage

Some more framing in the garage

More framing in the garage.  At this point it was starting to get heavy enough that I was worried about being able to move it outside!

More framing in the garage. At this point it was starting to get heavy enough that I was worried about being able to move it outside!

Move outside and framed in the floor of the enclosed area where the chickens will sleep

Move outside and framed in the floor of the enclosed area where the chickens will sleep

Added the flooring.  The child was happy to have something to climb on.  :)

Added the flooring. The child was happy to have something to climb on. 🙂

More framing

Framed the nesting box door, chicken door, put in most of the roof beams

Here's the framing from the back

Here’s the framing from the back

Didn't take any photos for a few steps.  Here you can see we got the roof on, and the siding on the enclosure walls as well.

Didn’t take any photos for a few steps. Here you can see we got the roof on, and the siding on the enclosure walls as well.

Here you can see the window added, and what will be the front door ready to go.  The front and back walls will both be on hinges so the whole thing can open up for cleaning, repairs, and whatever else is needed!

Here you can see the window added, and what will be the front door ready to go. The front and back walls will both be on hinges so the whole thing can open up for cleaning, repairs, and whatever else is needed!

Started building the nesting box.  These side cuts were tricky for an amateur like me!

Started building the nesting box. These side cuts were tricky for an amateur like me!

Here the nesting box is framed and I've started adding some of the siding

Here the nesting box is framed and I’ve started adding some of the siding

Hey, that turned out ok!

Hey, that turned out ok!

Nesting box attached to the side of the coop.  Also, the front wall is screwed in place (hinges to come soon).

Nesting box attached to the side of the coop. Also, the front wall is screwed in place (hinges to come soon).

Added in some walls.  I'm told that chicken coops are pretty fun to play in!

Added in some insulation and walls. I’m told that chicken coops are pretty fun to play in!

Got the back door built and hinged on.  The hook will be replaced by a latch soon!

Got the back door built and hinged on. The hook will be replaced by a latch soon!

Put in some dividers for the nesting box.  Smartest thing I did here was to make the pattern with some cardboard first, and then cut out the plywood.

Put in some dividers for the nesting box. Smartest thing I did here was to make the pattern with some cardboard first, and then cut out the plywood.

Here's the view of the nesting boxes from where  the chickens will be.  I hope these look cozy enough...

Here’s the view of the nesting boxes from where the chickens will be. I hope these look cozy enough…

Kids still think the coop should be for them!

Kids still think the coop should be for them!

Found some very inexpensive laminate flooring and decided to use that for the floor.  Hopefully that makes it a little easier to clean out?

Found some very inexpensive laminate flooring and decided to use that for the floor. Hopefully that makes it a little easier to clean out?

Ok, that’s all for now.  We keep chipping away at it every day, but there is still a ton to do!  The chicks should arrive in the next few days, but thankfully we have a few weeks to finish up before the chicks move out of the garage.