AboutI write and illustrate children's books, among other things.
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I’m not sure what’s so great about this one spot in the yard, but when we let the chickens out, they usually end up there and stay. It’s where we dumped a bunch of leaves last year, so I assume the bugs in there are good and ripe. Though, on Sunday, they did venture out much further in the yard than usual. We were letting them run around while doing yard stuff, and they were busy being chickens. It’s apparently a full time job.
Agway was blowing out any trees that they still had in stock, so I got a peach tree and a plum tree for $15ish each, instead of $70ish. It seemed like a good deal until I had to dig the holes to plant them. That stuff I have heard about rocky New England soil was NOT an exaggeration. I dug up enough rocks to fill one of the buckets the trees came in, and that’s not counting the little ones I threw back. Here’s a pile from one hole.
THRILLING! I even dug one up so big I put it in the stone wall, just like a real farmer.
(It’s the dirty one.)
Still no eggs from the chickens, but I suspect they will start laying any day now. Unless they’re hiding them to mess with my head. I wouldn’t put it past them. I have looked into their eyes and seen treachery.
Boss Chicken had a real bug up her cloaca yesterday. They all were being kind of dickish to one another for some reason, but Boss Chicken needed to stay on top. That’s why she’s boss. There was a lot of jumping, chasing, puffing of feathers, and weird squawky noises. I think they are probably all worked up about Back to School Savings, or Fall Fever, which isn’t really a thing the way Spring Fever is.
Spazzy chickens are fine until they decide the boy human needs to be bossed around. Boss Chicken kept charging Graham, who despite our pleas to stand his ground, kept trying to get away. After a couple of times, I finally had to grab Boss Chicken and let him come over and pet her, and everyone had to be friends again.
Happier times before the ugliness:
This weekend was really nice. Perfect weather to be outside, or to be a chicken.
They had predicted 70mph winds on Saturday night, and I thought, “So long coop roof,” but we were fine. Lots of rain, but the roof could take it. It was really beautiful the rest of the time. My two sunflowers that did not get eaten by damn chipmunks (or caterpillars, who tried to kill them but failed) bloomed Saturday morning too.
Anyway, watch your step, Boss Chicken. This guy has been watching you.
Not really, but the chickens split into two camps the last time we let them out. It’s like a reality show, so this is probably all the doings of the producers. Like Paradise Hotel, but for chickens. Remember Paradise Hotel?
Initially, they clumped as usual. They’re really looking like grown-ass chickens these days. One of the Mandrell Sisters has her comb getting really developed. Not that you can see it here.
Then one group headed into the front yard, while the other stayed in the “bushes” as Graham calls it, which is anything that is not yard, mainly the overgrowth of pricker bushes and bittersweet.
We didn’t have to do much wrangling this time to get them back in, so my arms continue to heal from last time. A guy I work with was freaked out by my arm and asked if it was o.k. “Yeah, it’s fine, it was just a chicken,” I said, and that was totally not the response he was expecting.
Boss chicken imitates his reaction here:
What’s almost as hilarious as the chickens is Batman here trying to pet them.
Too soon? RIP Sherm. Anyway, the chickens are in the coop! It’s not 100% done, but it’s done enough for rock & roll, as they say. Here’s Suzy Creamcheese en route.
The chicken inspector approves!
Anyway, this weekend was long, but we got it done. My mother in law came both days and helped. Saturday looked like we were going to make really good progress, and then of course it starts pouring, cutting things short. We did get all but one corner of the “apron” in place. That’s where you put hardware cloth on the ground for two feet out, to keep anything that wants to dig into the run from doing so. Like so:
Anywhere there’s an overlap, we secured with zip ties. You can stitch it with wire, but that might be the only thing more annoying than zip ties. We had little hooks made of wire to help loop them through, and it still was tough. My fingertips are also a delightful array of tiny puncture wounds from the edges of the hardware cloth. I didn’t have gloves that fit snug enough to wear during this. Yay! So anyway, we did a lot of this, then it rained. Boo. Crap. Dog fudge.
Sunday was another day. I got up early and did the last corner of the apron just to smote its ruin on the mountainside. Then we zip tied some more, and set to work tidying up any loose ends that might result in an insecure run.
After my uncle’s chickens getting wiped out, and his subsequent idea that electric fences are the only way to keep out raccoons, I bought a small one for the coop. (I trust him. He’s a scientist. He specializes in volcanos that shoot raccoons.) I have been seeing a lot of roadkill raccoons out there, so they’re around. And maybe coming back to life to eat my chickens. I have now gone one day without zapping myself. Let’s see how long I can keep this up. I bet not very long. It doesn’t kill anything, it just zaps enough for the animal to realize this is not a good idea and to go elsewhere. Hopefully we don’t even need it, but I don’t want to take chances after all the work I’ve put into this.
Electric fences need a ground rod pounded into the ground. You then run a wire from the electrifying thingy to the ground rod. Ground rods are comically oversized. Ours was 8 feet long. Seriously. After about an hour of hammering with a regular hammer and making no progress between two of us, my mother in law ran to the store right before closing, and got a sledgehammer. That helped. We still have about four feet to go, though.
I figure I’ll hammer it a few times every time I go out there, and in like a year it will be all the way down. Because of all the hammering, I can barely use my arms today. I feel like a T Rex.
Once the fence was functional, it was time to move the ladies. This involved also freaking them out. Chickens seem a little high strung.
Here is the coop, clean and unspoiled one last time:
Then filled with bedding and a Mandrell Sister.
Here’s Suzy Creamcheese looking freaked by herself in the run. We decided to just stick them all in the coop for the night, since it may have been too much. Once the flock was broken up, they were all agitated, but they calmed back down once everyone was accounted for.
After the reunion, there was a lot of happy wall-pecking, so that was a good sign.
So, last night I was awoken by an alarm from down the street going off. I thought “man, that electric fence is high-tech!” Then I remembered I had heard this once before, and it’s either the gas station or sports bar. I went back to sleep. Then I heard what sounded like a raccoon gorging on chicken. I awoke to our obese cat with allergies snoring.
In the morning, I went back out, and was greeted by more happy wall-pecking. I said “Hi chickens!” through the vent, and they all starting peeping happily. Their god had returned!
They took a while to warm up to going outside though. Lots of peeking, but not much bravery.
Boss Chicken was the first one out, and almost immediately ate a tick. IT BEGINS. Hopefully by day’s end she will have eaten a bag of ticks. When I left, she was still the only one in the run, but was eating bugs like gangbusters. Collin said the Mandrell Sisters were out there too when she left. Hopefully tonight they will all be there, and will go back into the coop without issue. But I suspect I will be rolling in dirt and chicken crap trying to grab a chicken in the far reaches of the undercoop area.
In a couple of weeks they will be used to their home, and we can start letting them out for free-ranging, under serious supervision, though. At one point Sunday there were three hawks circling overhead. Step off, hawks.
Well, the stupid remote thermometer thing seems to have broken already. Or the remote sensor has. I’ve done all the troubleshooting stuff they suggest, and as you can see, dashes where the temperature should be.
A refreshing 74 in the kitchen, though. I guess I know why this was on clearance, but I also am beginning to think anything to do with wireless and chickens is a bad idea, if my recurring chickencam drop-outs are any indication.
This weekend I worked on the coop floor. Before:
Next: add plywood taken from a weird box built around a sink in the “day care” room.
Then, rip ugly linoleum out of one of the bathrooms, release incredible mildew smell, clean the linoleum, clean the bathroom floor, then put the linoleum in the coop.
I’m going to put wood trim along the edges to hold it down. The thinking here is that it will be easier to clean, and will keep the floor from rotting out longer.
The most important thing that was done this weekend was the purple steps.
Every trip in and out of the coop is going to be fabulous, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Graham is really happy about these. I am really happy that he likes purple, as every time he tells me it is his favorite color, I know Rick Santorum’s butthole puckers a little, but he doesn’t know why. OMG PURPLE IS A GIRL COLOR.
Part of the front is going to be the other bathroom stall door, with a window cut into it, and this will open for more ventilation. Then, if we really need to, I can also open the whole front to air it out. This will probably be really handy when it’s time to clean.
I put an acrylic sheet in that window frame after this was taken. They will get lots of nice light in here. I should probably raise the rent because of that.
I was having anxiety dreams about securing the run last night. This morning, as I held Boss Chicken, I thought about how everything is going to be fine. Then Boss Chicken crapped in my hand. Obsess about their safety, and this is how they repay you.
I ordered an egg basket and it came yesterday. You know what? Egg baskets are kind of expensive. Old ones even more so. Apparently there is a weird market for vintage egg baskets I had not ever had any reason to think about until now. A lot of new ones look like the same buckets they give you at the driving range, and I wasn’t so jazzed about that either. I finally managed to find an old French on on Etsy (where else?) for $10, which I think is about as good as I will be able to do.
I am going to put all my eggs in this, I don’t care what anyone says. Egg laying is a ways off still, and I probably don’t need a basket for it, but let me enjoy this.
I also got a remote thermometer so I can keep track of how hot/cold the coop is.
What yes, that is a can of “Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls!” Anyway, it was much cooler out there last night than it was in the house, but I suppose that is because it is missing two walls still. This device was on clearance, so who knows how well it would work. There are ones that measure humidity also, but they cost a lot more and were not on clearance.
These chickens will not stop growing.
Even the Mandrell Sisters have the escape bug now.
Hopefully I can make a lot of progress on the coop this weekend, but don’t hold your breath. I have to put in the floor, roof, and front and back walls.
When I went out to put the thermometer in the coop, I ran across a “forest cockroach.” Apparently, there are roaches that live in leaf litter, and boy do we have that. They are tiny, and only rarely get in the house. Not like the gigantic horror movie ones we got from time to time in New York. Here is a poem I wrote about one of those.
Harm no other living creature
except when the cat proudly enters the room
with the biggest roach you’ve ever seen in her mouth
a roach so large that when it turned its head and looked at your wife
she decided it was an animal rather than an insect
and it was now up to you to dispatch with the beast
Three hits with a rolled up magazine later and you’re still chasing it
having switched to a shoe for more firepower
It was easier to give up a lifetime of hamburgers
than it was to kill that goddamn bug
It’s been a tough week for coop progress. I need to buy some stuff before I can move ahead, and I don’t have the time to do that right now. However, I found a pretty sweet idea for a nesting box.
It would be a lot of work to get it home, and modify it to fit the coop, and there are some probable legal aspects to think about, but it would be cool. Right now I am thinking I will go the bucket route for nesting. A popular thing to do is to use a 5 gallon bucket on its side, and put bedding in there. Plastic is going to be much easier to clean than anything else (let me repeat once more that chickens crap with reckless abandon) and the ice cream place down the road tends to sell their buckets for really cheap at a certain point in the summer. I need one to make a larger feeder for the coop also, so I can probably get a bunch, and then even though I’m spending money, it’s not a lot, and it’s recycling, so that’s good. And at least 85% of the coop was made using stuff I already had or got for free, so that’s still a good amount.
My son keeps asking why the chickens aren’t in their house, even though it is obviously not finished. I suppose he has watched too much Star Wars, and thinks that since the second Death Star was operational while only being partially constructed, everything is like that. I don’t have those sorts of minions. But this may also mean that he views me as a Darth Vader/Emperor type, when I am obviously Lando, the administrator of this facility.
Or on the internet, anyway. There was a lot of action while I was out, so strap yourselves in. I took Thursday and Friday off last week to work on the coop. I now have a neck that’s about the same color as a football.
Here’s where we were about July 3rd. I had cut the pallets forming the base of the coop down, because I realized it would make everything too tall. The rule seems to be that if you make it hard to clean, you will not clean it. I don’t even like cleaning easy things, so I knew it had to be shorter.
Thursday I painted the pallets. Let me tell you something about that. It sucks. But it got done because I get things done. As I was out there, I kept seeing ticks walking all over the ground and anything that touched it. “You,” I told them, “You are why the chickens have come.” They think I’m joking, but soon I will unleash my chicken fury on them.
Then I got to work on the sides, which used to be the bathroom stalls. I did the insides some random color that I think was left behind by the previous owners.
Then I read an article about how much ventilation chickens need. It basically said, “think about how much you think you need, and then double it.” Chickens can deal with the cold pretty well (depending on breed) but moisture is a big problem. They can get respiratory infections if it’s too moist, and their poops are “mad moist” as the kids say. The chicken kids. So I added some vents.
The back of the vents is covered with hardware cloth, and the vents are put in with wing nuts so if it’s too drafty I can put a filter of some sort in there to lessen that, but keep the air flowing. (I still need to run that idea past the chicken messageboard community.) And don’t worry, there will be more vents than that in the end.
Saturday we got more red. I used all the paint we had on the base, but it wasn’t quite the right red. Now it is.
It would be hilarious to make the swingset into a chicken coop, but both my son and mother in law (who gave it to my son for his birthday) would have something to say about this. Anyway, the red looks nice.
Sunday my parents came. If they hadn’t, I think I would be in bad shape, since the next few steps really needed a bunch of hands. It probably could also have used anyone who knew what they were doing, but we made it work.
This will be the front, where they come in and out of the run. That is my finger in the upper left. I will have more vents here, and might even rig up a solar fan to move more air. This faces South, so it will get good light, but that can also mean more heat.
Here our model demonstrates the back door.
He is only doing so because I didn’t tell him there was a big snake right there earlier.
Not as big as this one hanging out by the materials pile, though.
This illustrates about how tall it is. Perfect for me to keep hitting my head.
So then where he is standing will also be covered in hardware cloth for the run. That will be the most expensive part, since that’s hard to recycle. The hardware and paint have been the most expensive stuff, as most of the wood was recycled, except for some 2x4s.
How are the chickens themselves? They’re chickens, alright. Boss chicken continues to try to fly across the room with mixed results. Graham has accepted that those are in fact the names I have given the chickens, and asked me if Suzy Creamcheese was in there the other day. She was!
While all this was happening, the garden went insane.
These are supposed to be tiny pickling cukes, but this is huge! I pickled it regardless.
Lacto-bacillus in the house! Er, jar. I threw some farmer’s market garlic in there too. Lacto fermentation is also what happens in the bowels when certain people drink coolatas. This one will be more delicious, one would hope.
Now I’m back at work touching technology indoors and it is not as much fun as this chicken stuff, even though I so have no idea what I’m doing with tools. I am o.k. with drills and screws, and maybe even saws. Give me a hammer, and it’s like Whac-a-mole for fingers. I’m hoping to have the chickens outside by the end of the month at the latest. They are getting big, and can go outside now. So get out there, you chickens, you.
I will be using pallets for most of the framing, but it is going to have to be a little more secure than this, given how many predators live in our area. We were just trying to get an idea of what sort of size we were dealing with here.
Let’s see the healing power of chickens, as demonstrated by my father.
Before: I feel kind of bummed. Why are you putting this chicken on my hand?
AFTER: OMG CHICKENS!
This morning when I reached in to grab the feeder, a chicken jumped right onto my hand. I guess my plan to pick them up a lot so they would be friendly might have worked too well. “Can’t come into work today, chickens want to hang out.” That’s a legit excuse, right?
I was so busy this weekend that I didn’t get a chance to go to Agway to get the chickens another “peckin’ post.” However, the grocery store had tiny pie plates, and I had read that they liked pecking at shiny things. So I hung one up for them.
Note that they cannot get far enough away from it. I imagine they will come around. It makes a really satisfying sound when struck. I threw some dandelion greens in there this weekend too, but they haven’t figured out that bit yet either. However, remember when I discussed crossing the line from “that poop is cute” to “run to the hills to escape the poop?” I think we may have crossed that line recently. As the chickens grow, so does the size of their “leavings.” You may find this hard to believe, but I have anecdotal evidence to back it up.
In order to build the coop, I also have to clear all this out.
I’m not sure what this weed is, but it’s everywhere. It’s very easy to pull out, and surprisingly light. (“Is that that tube stuff?” my father asked as I was pulling some out. It’s very tubey.) There’s just a ton of it.
If you know what it is, I’m all ears. As far as I’m concerned, it’s compost.
The radishes seemed ready to pick, as the greens are HUGE. However, the radishes themselves left me unimpressed.
That is my real hand, by the way. Not a comically oversized fake hand to fool you into thinking it’s a tiny radish.
Chickencam is going to be my Waterloo. Our house is made of cinder blocks, which don’t help wifi reception on other parts of the house. The house is laid out weird, also. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve, but we’ll see. I am going to try to set up a repeater, but like everything else I’ve tried, it may not work. The camera part works fine, but what good is it if the images don’t get onto the internet? I’ll tell you. Not very good.