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.


Anonymous said...

Aha, the undertaking moves apace.

It sounds as though your coop may prove fairly well buttoned-up. If it's intended for both ducks and chickens AND if you intend to increase you hen count, a caveat:

Consider wintering your ducks separately from your chickens. The concentrated fumes from the latter's urine will, in time, cause the former to go blind. Dubious reward for "Daffy's" (ever comedic & entertaining) machinations!

You'll find that your hens, once laying, will devour many times the amount of grass you'd imagine possible. Feed them cracked corn, let them forage for greenery and the odd bug or two (thousand), and you're free from messing with the not so organic laying mash ... and its expense. Your yield may prove less, but your quality will be far greater. If you switch from laying mash to corn, expect a disruption in egg output ... ergo, the expression, "off their feed."

Point being, if yet possible, orient your penning to allow for regular changes of range. Once the hens are grown, your pen's ground will quickly resemble the moon's surface. Think in terms of terms of the locus of points around, say, the lower left corner of your pen rectangle with the henhouse as the focus... resulting in four clear "footprints" around a small coop. At some point they'll start looking for a good dust bath, too.

Taken together, c-corn and ample grassy range, will yield superior eggs. You needn't be alarmed by the orange-ish cast to their yokes, btw, that's the way they should look. Hmm. You'll also, I imagine, find that you have a very high incidence of multiple yolk eggs. The only amendment that your hens will likely need will be a calcium source. Save the "used" egg shells, let them dry thoroughly, crumple them to confetti, and then put the results into a dish in the feeding pen...NOT the roosting/ laying area(s). Their shells will be far thinner than what's likely familiar. However, you are concerned with nutritional content NOT shipping durability. Worst case, supplement with a calcium source; got a neighbor with dairy cows?

Apposite: Should you find yourself with "questionable" milk, add that to the hens's fare. You'll find chickens, by the bye, to be the quintessential omnivores.

No matter how many times you go through the cycle with new hens, prepare to be abashedly euphoric when "your" first egg arrives. Ample excuse for champagne corks popping and a tasteful victory dance. You'll be astounded, too, come spring, when the little dears fairly trample you en route to their first fresh grass forage.

BTW, in my earlier comment, I neglected to explicitly note that any assistance that I might provide would be gratis. Presume that you can derive my PM from my earlier post. (These comment boxes can get a tad tedious.)


Anonymous said...

Jim, even if the comment boxes are a bit tedious, those of us following farmboy's story also find your insights to be rather valuable as well. Please consider still dropping information here for those of us who are interested, too!

lpc said...

Farmboy, Jim, I agree with David. I may send something PM but really enjoy the ongoing conversation, anecdotes and bits of information.

Myself, I live in NW GA and am just about to undertake building my chicken lot. So much to learn, so little time! I am a VUID (voice user interface designer) -- I script out and tune those delightful automated telephone applications that every one loves and cooperates fully with. Seems the farm life has a strong appeal for the geek, eh? thought had been to make the fenced lot mobile...that I could pull to a new spot with a tractor. My husband is adamant that free chickens will just mess up the porch, the cars, the yard, the garden, the universe etc etc. But a rotating lot in sections makes more sense, especially in our hilly environment. We don't get much in the way of real winter here, so I am less concerned about heat than about providing a clean and safe place. Coyotes we have a'plenty. Jim, what do you consider ample range? I am only talking 4 or so hens and a rooster. And, can a goose or two be included or is that a bad idea?