Friday, June 28, 2013

Our homemade chicken coop

We've been raising meat chickens for a few years now and each year we've learned a few  things to add to our list of disasters and a few to add to our triumphs.  

Let me explain how we started.  A few years ago when we lived in the city we built the worlds most expensive chicken coop.  You can read about it here.  In many ways it was fabulous - for 6 chickens.  When you get a few more - like 50 meat birds - it won't do at all.

Every summer that we've had chickens at the farm they've been in different pens.  We would solve one problem by making a change the next year only to create more problems we didn't anticipate.  The first year we used the only pen we had available in the barn but it was a little small for the 60 chickens that lived in it.  We figured they would be outside most of the time anyway and it WOULD BE FINE.  Leaving the feed in their pen at all times was also a mistake as it caused them to grow too fast.  We didn't get the chicks until September which meant they needed 8 weeks to grow to full size which also meant we were getting into wintery weather by the time they left.  Oh dear - can you say chicken poop?  They were the laziest chickens you ever saw. They hated going outside even though we chased them outside every day.  They just sat and got fat and pooped.  End of story.  By the time they were ready for the butcher we were REALLY happy to get rid of them because the coop was impossible to keep clean. Without enough exercise and with too much food they got so big they had leg problems too so we lost a few birds in the process.

Fast forward to the next spring when we had the great idea to build them a huge pen.  You can read about that here.  It was such a good idea except now we couldn't get them to gain weight because they got TOO MUCH exercise.  They didn't have any leg problems though!.  After a few extra weeks of feed before we brought them to the butcher we ended up with really yummy but rather scrawny birds.  Sigh*  I don't think we got close to breaking even when we sold them that year.

So - lets try that again!!!  We recently purchased an old dog kennel through Kijiji - it's 5x15 feet and made of chain link with a good sturdy door.  We know from our past coops that Overkilled Fort Knox is the way to go. There can be NO WAY for animals to get in or reach in.  

We started by wiring the chain link fencing on far more securely than it was originally - we wanted to keep a dog (and others) OUT!   We used two 4 foot pieces of hardware cloth on the ground and zip ties to connect them together - slightly overlapping the pieces.  This provides a strong bottom so predator animals can't dig under the coop.

Then we wrapped the top edge of the kennel with 3 foot wide hardware cloth - attaching it with zip ties as well.  The bottom section is a full sheet of lattice.  It covers the hardware cloth on the top and is connected with zip ties again to the frame and the hardware cloth that makes up the floor.  The roof is plywood sheets cut to fit so there is a 6 inch overhang ( 4 sheets cut to 6 feet each - the roof is 6 feet wide and 16 feet long)  We cut an old tarp to size and stapled it on top.  We were going to have the tarp overhang and peg it to the ground but it made the interior too dark.  It took some creative cutting to fill in all the little spaces around the door to create a tight fit but with enough space that we could still open the door.

After adding shavings and a waterer we had to solve the problem of feeding 50 starving chickens at once without them killing each other in the process.  They get pretty excited when they're hungry.  We have multiple feeders but they never seemed enough.  I solved the problem by purchasing a new 10 foot eaves trough with ends and screwed some 1 foot pieces of an old 2x4 across the bottom to act as feet - I used four pieces.  When it's situated in the middle of the coop the chickens can access it from both sides and finally there is room for everyone to eat.

The coop is bright and airy and doesn't smell bad at all...of course I am not really an expert on that subject! There is great air flow, plenty of space but not too much space and it's a safe place for them to spend the night.  We also built the coop within sight of the kitchen window so I can keep an eye on them.

In past years we let them free range as far as they wanted to - but sometimes they didn't come back.  Our losses were just too great so this year they are kept in a large fenced area.  They still have access to plants and bugs and sunshine but they don't disappear as someones lunch!  So far this year we haven't lost any birds to predators.

We also situated the coop in the shade of several large trees.  Meatie birds are not that smart and sometimes when it's really hot they will lay in the sun and die of dehydration before they get up and get a drink.

The rake in the picture is my Chicken Encourager - I use it to gently encourage the chickens to leave the coop!

The fencing we used is something we've also used to fence our vegetable garden.  The material is a plastic mesh that comes in 50 foot rolls for less than $15.00.  The posts are a little pricey but since they can be easily moved and re-used we thought it was worth it.  You may be wondering why the fence is so short - it's only two feet tall. The fencing comes in three foot height as well but the due to a problem in the pricing for the fence posts it was more economical to buy the two foot fencing instead.  We've found that our meat birds grow so fast that they don't fly very well.  Occasionally one gets out but they never go far and the fence is more to contain them than to keep them safe from predators. 

This coop is not going to be used in the winter - it's a little too airy for subzero temperatures but it could be modified in a pinch.  Necessity is the Mother of Invention they say!  If you can get a good deal on a kennel and shop around or use what you have already have you can make a similar coop and have the fencing like this for under $450.00.  If all goes well it should pay for itself this summer and last for many years.

The chickens seem to like their new digs and are growing well!  Three tries and I think we got it right!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

100 year old barn and cistern repairs

Our 100 year old barn has long been in need of repair.  The eaves troughs were falling off, the soffit and facia were rusted right through in some places, hanging crooked in most places and the roof leaked like the proverbial aluminum sieve.  This summer is all about barn repair!

The barn has a great history to go with it.  There was another barn in it's place when the house was originally built - a large "L- shaped" wooden barn.  Sometime around the turn of the century they were using a steam powered thresher and the barn full of hay caught fire.  It burned to the ground leaving only the foundation.  The metal barn was built in it's place - I guess the fear of fire had it's impact - no more wooden barn!  It doesn't look too bad from the front since the two sides that show the most were painted at some point in the past 10 years.  The other two sides look pretty that I've tackled painting the garage and the potting shed maybe someday I'll get to the barn too.

So back to repairs.  There was no way sane and "normal" people would climb around on the roof 50 feet in the air!  We hired some Mennonite men because they said they would!.  They were a pleasure to have around and we are really pleased with the work they did.  They fixed things that they noticed were wrong that we didn't even know about.  The sliding doors for instance have never hung straight or slid properly - we just assumed that that's the way it was going to be - they fixed them and they now close perfectly.  They also cleaned many years worth of raccoon poop out of the area where the soffit and fascia meet - gross.

Leonard on the roof - 50 feet from the ground!

The fact that they are Mennonite-of-the-type-that-doesn't-drive-cars meant we had to pick them up and drop them off after work.  It was an hour drive one way so it added up but we took turns driving and somehow it worked out.  The ride was usually pretty quiet on the way home as the men took the time to sleep in between their days work and the farm chores yet to come.

While they were working on the barn they nearly fell into an old cistern.  A cistern is a large holding tank that collects water off the roof of a building so it can be stored and used - like a rain barrel but much better. I had heard that there was one around that area so I was excited - after I made sure everyone was OK of course!   I asked a neighbour who is a member of the original family if he knew about the cistern and he said it had never been used in his memory.  I am about to change that!  

I crawled in to have a look around.  It was obviously dark and damp but it looked in reasonable repair except for a few large cracks.  I checked with a waterproofing friend of ours and he told me what I needed to do in order to get it ready for use.  With an electric pump we can pump the water right into the barn into a large-water-cube-in-a-cage-thing and not need to use the house well for the animals - a real boon in times of drought.  In the winter time: no more lugging buckets from the house cistern when the pipes in the barn freeze!  It will only mean a small change in our original plans for how to direct the water with the eaves troughs.  I'll write a detailed post on how we do it when we get it finished.

I'm looking forward to completing the whole project and having a dry barn.  We have lots of work to do inside but knowing that the everything will stay dry in a down pour will make the rest of the work required make more sense.

Don't ya think the sliding doors need to be painted RED??  me too...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Garage & Potting Shed

There's been so much going on I have hardly had time to stop and write about it!  We're having our barn repaired this month but that's a story for another day.  They say the most expensive four words in renovating are: WHILE WE'RE AT IT... and that's what happened.  We had to rent a man-lift for the barn repair and it was a great opportunity to use it to paint the upper story of the garage.  After the men left for the day they would park it right in front of the garage and up and down I went on the man-lift 54 feet in the air.  It was pretty nerve wracking at first but I actually got quite comfortable up there.  In any case I was able to paint the garage without having to climb a ladder. I had some help from our friend Dan - it helped that he is already really tall and the ladder just extended his reach. (thanks Dan!)

The garage had not been painted in many years - probably about 20 from what we can piece together so the paint/stain was very faded and the wood was very dry.  It took twice as much stain as we thought it would.  The plan was to paint it slate grey but slate grey on the paint chip and slate grey in real life were two different things - there is no getting around that the garage is now BLUE.  I was trying to get away from blue but after we had already purchased the stain - blue it would remain.  I actually really like it.

Of course I had to paint SOME part of it RED.  Since I wanted to paint the whole garage red (but was overruled) I chose to do the doors.  I feel like a very patriotic American - except I'm not American.  As one thing leads to another the whole farm will eventually be painted red, white and blue.  I am still holding out for a red house - we'll see!

This little red door leads to my potting shed - now I will have to actually clean it up and "pot" something in it!  

As I was painting the potting shed door I spent some time thinking about all the people who had painted it before me.  The door is original to the farm from what I can tell  meaning that it was nearing it's 150th birthday.  It's been painted and re-painted many times - but this coat was it's first in RED.  It was a humbling thought that I was adding to the history of this door.  I wonder if someone will paint it many years from now and wonder who it was that loved RED so much!  It has many latches and old hooks and since at one time it was used as a chicken coop it has a chicken flap at the bottom.  The nesting boxes inside are still there and haven't been used for chickens in more than 25 years but there is still straw in each box.  The last batch of kittens was born in one of them a few weeks ago.

 I'm sure an analogy could be made about how our lives can look good on the outside but be terribly messy on the inside (notice I didn't take any pictures inside!)  This garage has a story all it's own related to our move here to add to it's already long history and I am so glad we could get to painting and fixing it up first - that just seems perfectly appropriate.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Little cuties - ducklings & chicks

Momma Ducks are very protective of their young and there was no getting close today so I had to take the picture through the wire mesh! So far we have 10 white Muscovy ducklings and 17 black Muscovy ducklings.  We have one Crested White Momma sitting on a nest but at the moment she is gallivanting out in the rain and I'm not sure she's planning to go back in!

Our meatie bird flock is growing well.  They have a few quail friends in there because we've run out of pens and so far they seem to be getting along well.

It's a rainy day today and most of the chickens are choosing to stay inside where it's warm and dry.

Chickens behind bars!

My new kitchen shelves and MORE canning jars!

When will I stop talking about canning jars??? Probably never!  Last week I was able to put all the older zinc lidded canning jars I had been collecting on to their new shelves.   When we first moved to the farm I needed shelves in a-bit-of-a-hurry because there were so many other things to do so I bought melamine shelving from Home Depot and lived with it for a few years.  The first the summer they were up it was very hot and sticky.  The humidity had a rather strange effect on the shelves!  They drooped on either end and I rescued my glass jars just before they slid off and fell on the floor.  How strange.  As soon as the weather improved I flipped the shelves over and refastened them all was well again. 

I had an idea for what I wanted but being somewhat inept with power tools when it comes to fine work I didn't trust myself to make these shelves.  A few months ago I reconnected with an old high school friend and his family.  After a tour their home with many beautiful built in shelves in the closets I had an aha moment!  Just the guy I needed to build my shelves.

You can see in the picture below that there is a shelf/step on the back of the main shelf.  It allows the jars at the back to stand just a little higher so I can see the contents more easily.  The jars at the back are quart sized and the ones in the front are pints.

After staining and routering (is that a word?) I have the shelves I was hoping for!

Now I have cooking inspiration at my fingertips and I can look at all those lovely jars every day.  I am missing two more pint sized ones and after searching the entire house I've come to the conclusion that I will HAVE TO go to some yard sales this summer and right that wrong!  There are worse ways to spend a Saturday morning!

If you live somewhere nearby and need something built email me and I'll give you Jerry's number!  Thanks Jerry!  I am thrilled and they look great!