Thursday, June 26, 2008

Home on the range

Well, my very "rustic" looking coop is usable. Need to put some hinges on the main door, fix the last bit of roof and cut a "bird door" but the birds have been living in it for a few days.

I've been letting them out when I get home at about 6:00pm and locking them up for the night at 9:00. They're smart enough to go inside when the sun begins to go down. It doesn't get dark until about 9:30 so they're still safe at that time.

Starting today, though, I decided to try leaving them out all day. Not exactly free range, but they're not "cooped up." Yes, that was a pun :-)

The pen is about 10'x30' and includes a juniper bush and some other small bush I can't identify and long grass. I came home to find the hens hanging out under the juniper, having flattened the 2' high grass into a nest.

These crappy pics are taken with the camera in my phone since I lost my Fuji camera. I also started digging a small pond for the ducks. It's only about 20 gallons right now, but eventually it should be about 2'x6' or so and a foot deep. Small enough so I can fill it easily and drain to clean it out periodically. Wonder how much mud they'll create!

The ducks love the "pond." They'll jump in, swim around and then hop out running around screaming at nothing and jump right back in. Now I know where the Daffy Duck character came from!

I also put two 4-foot roosts in the coop. Right now, they're fairly close to the floor since the birds are still fairly small, but I will raise them later so the bottom roost is higher this weekend. They have already surprised me with how high they can jump.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Coop almost done!

Finally I decided that this thing will never be done if I only use scrap materials. Recycling is a noble goal, but not if you never get to the finish line.

A quick trip to Lowe's and now I finished the roof (used leftover shingles from when the house was re-roofed after a hailstorm) and the floor. The floor is made from 1" thick white oak floating over a dirt bed. I was originally going to have a dirt floor with chicken wire to keep predators from digging in, but the wood was already there (my wife gave up on the bridge she was building for the little stream at the bottom of the pasture)

Tomorrow the birds should be moving in. The chicks are getting to be pullets now (hopefully no cockerels) and are almost too big for the cabinet-turned-brooder. The ducklings have been living in a big doghouse for a week now since they are definitely too big for the brooder.

Should post some pix if I can find my camera!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Can I get anything done?

Today I was supposed to fence in the half-built coop so I could get the ducklings out of the garage and give the chicks some more room in their brooder box. .

However, our 3-year old filly had other ideas. After lugging tools & materials to the spot, I look up to see her happily chewing on long grass outside the pasture fence!!! Damn horse!!! So now it's off to find a lead rope and some treats so I can get her back inside and temporarily fix the spot where she broke out. Did I mention I could see storms approaching from the west?

So once I get her back in with the others, it starts to rain. Scratch getting anything done tonight.

Anyway, in my never-ending quest to get some kind of tech in my chicken-farming efforts, I decided I'm going to build a solar-powered night-light for the winter months. Supposedly keeping the days longer helps the hens continue laying into winter, and this way I don't need to worry about running power out to the coop. The solar cells are "free" from some broken (as in car ran over them) driveway lights.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Less is more?

My birds are 4.5 weeks old today. Ok, let me backup.

About 4 1/2 weeks ago I picked up my seven Rhode Island Red day-old chicks and two Mallard ducklings. The ducks were an afterthought -- I like ducks and they are hardier than chickens, but I knew absolutely nothing about them. Why seven chicks? Well, I've never raised chickens before and I thought I'd lose at least one. Happily, they're all doing great! The duck(ling)s are HUGE. I had no idea they would grow so fast.

Since they all needed to be kept at 95F for the first week and decreasing at 5 degrees/week after that and I have a background in designing control systems, I figured that rather than adjusting the heat lamp every week like everyone does, I'd design a temperature controller.
So I spend a few nights with temperature sensors and microcontrollers and software and finally get this thing working the day before I pick up the birds. Then I realize that it would be cycling on and off constantly so I might as well just do it the old fashioned way.

Strike one for the technological option!

However, I do want to track how they grow on feed & pasture, the number of eggs I get over time and so on. This means I'll probably be writing a software program to help do all this stuff (notebooks are so 20th Century).


Ok, first of all this has nothing to do with being afraid of technology. I'm an engineer; I live on a farm; I like good quality, fresh eggs, so I put the two together.

Somewhere along the line I figured that raising hens would be easier if I let technology do the heavy lifting. Hey, if the big guys can use GPS controlled combines, at least I can use electronic controllers to keep the brooder temperature constant.

So let's see where this leads...