Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Girls

So, you've followed along for Parts One, Two, and Three of the Poultry Palace's building.  

Now, you probably want to see who gets to live in such nice digs.  Right?

I was in such a hurry to have chickens that were laying eggs that I scoured the internet for options.  I thought I would buy birds from the local hatchery, but apparently they don't have any chicks after July.  Something about colder weather and little birds not mixing.  Go figure...

So then I searched on Craigs List.  And searched.  And talked to locals.  And posted on Facebook.  

And then I hit gold.  A guy had listed 300 (!) laying hens for sale.  I didn't want near that many, but after talking to the man, I found out that I could buy the 14 I was looking for.  He assured me they were all in good health and that they were all laying.  So, we packed up the car with the dog carrier and drove two hours to get our girls.

When we arrived, we could see why Animal Control was taking the birds.  The conditions were deplorable.  I did not see any feed or water.  It was a barren piece of land with an abandoned, old garage on the property.  And, 230 chickens were shoved into the garage.  It was crazy!!

We looked at the chickens, and though it wasn't the best circumstances, we knew we wanted some birds, and felt that we were rescuing some of them.

We packed up 14 of them and headed back home.  

After about a week, we noticed that the girls seemed to be doing a lot of preening (bird term for itching and taking care of their feathers).  After doing some internet research, and doing a few very personal checks of our chickens' skin,  we realized our girls were infested with lice.  Ewww!

Since we're going the natural route with our critters, we decided that we would try a Poultry Day Spa in order to get rid of the itchy wee beasties.  So, each chicken was treated to a luxurious 3 pool dip.  10 minutes in a vinegar/water bath, 10 minutes in a Dawn/water bath, then about 5 minutes in a rinse bath.  I would have some FABULOUS pictures, however I was elbow deep in dipping chickens and couldn't stop to take pictures.  Crazy thing?  The girls seemed to like the warm baths.  They'd make a low, deep purr while in the water.  After they were done being deloused, one of the kids would dry them and hold them close for a few minutes in the warmed coop.  The girls didn't like this part too much.  A chicken cannot regulate her own body temperature, and relies on her feathers to trap air to be warmed, and therefore warm her body.  
Wet feathers = cold, cranky hens! 

After dispensing with the wee beasties, we thought eggs would be pouring out of the coop.  We waited with baited breath for our first egg to appear.  It seemed to be taking forever.
So long, in fact, that we lovingly named the birds, "The Freeloaders."

After several different evolutions of nesting boxes, and trying several different things in terms of roost bar locations, etc. we realized that we may have bought old chickens who were past their laying days.  The girls were just not laying eggs.  We gave them grace due to the stress of being contained in an over crowded garage, and for the stress of being moved, and for the stress of the Poultry Spa, and for the Fall molt.  But, after a while, we became discouraged. 

The Freeloaders seemed pretty happy with their cushy digs, fresh water, breakfast in bed, and all the kitchen scraps they could scarf.  They didn't seem to be in any rush to give us an egg. 

Then, one day... An egg!!

While we are grateful for any eggs we receive, most of our girls still don't lay.  We get 1-4 eggs a day, usually only one.  That could be due to the age of some of the hens, time of year, short daylight length, etc.  We've decided to let them continue being Freeloaders through the winter.  We've culled a few from the flock, and will do so again after the days are long enough that everyone should be laying.  So far, culling is definitely the worst part of owning farm animals.  Feed and other costs are too high for us to raise chickens as pets.  To quote Dave Ramsey, "You don't work, you don't get paid." 

For now, we will enjoy the fresh (DELICIOUS!!) eggs we are receiving and watching the antics of silly birds. 

They are the cooky-est, funniest, most entertaining animals I have ever owned!

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Poultry Palace, Part Three: It. Is. Finished.

So, you're back for more?  Great!  Then let's carry on, shall we?

After finishing the hardware cloth flooring, Mr. Man began to measure boards to begin the roof.  The view on this particular day was spectacular.  The trees and clouds weren't too bad either!

I honestly don't know how he did it.  Not the nailing the boards part, but the figuring and measuring and making it all, well, roof-like.  I looked at the notes he'd made, and he explained it to me, but all I heard was, "Math, math, math.  Blah, blah, blah.  Nails."  There was only one thing I understood. 

Needless to say, once the day was out, he'd made the roof joists.  Or frames.  Or whatever it is called when you put up some boards, all at the same angle, and then lay the roofing materials on it.
We were able to salvage some metal roofing materials that were left on our property (sometimes it does pay to buy from, uh, less than organized or let's-not-clean-up-after-we're-done-with-a-project type people!) in order to make the roof.  Add to that some other metal bits that were around the house and property and we had a water tight roof!  

Then came the time to get all the boards onto the walls.  This was the most laborious part of the job (as if all the rest of it has been a cake walk!) as it entailed milling out each.  and.  every.  board.  for the entire stinkin' thing!  

So, Mr. Man milled as fast as his saw could go, and I measured, cut, and nailed the boards to the coop.  If I remember correctly, this process took over two days.  

Once the boards weathered on the coop, they shrunk a bit.  (First time homesteader note:  allow boards to dry after milling before using them in a project.)  The kids and the Mr. used a spray can of insulating foam to fill the holes.  Once dried, I used a small saw to trim off any extra gooshing bits.  

Then came the run.  Oh, the run!  Sounded pretty easy.  Put up some posts.  Wrap chicken wire around said posts.  Wah-lah!  Chicken run.  Um, nope.  First, we had to dig down into the hard packed soil.  AGAIN with the pick axe!!  Because we didn't want varmints to dig under the run fencing, we pick axed (shudder) down about 18 inches and sunk more hardware cloth down and out at a 90 degree angle to the fence.  

Then, we easy peasy lemon squeezy hung/wrapped/wrestled the chicken wire onto the posts.  Funny thing:  When you measure for the length of wire you'll need for your fence, it might be a good idea to take into account you'll need extra to go around the posts, or you'll find yourself "sewing" together scraps to finish said fence.  True story.

Mr. Man made a beautiful run gate out of wood scraps and chicken wire, complete with a gate latch and an "Oh, Stinker! I just locked myself in the run!" escape lever.  

And then, one day later, our chickens arrived at their new home.  But, you'll have to wait for another post to hear more about them!

P.S.  Know that if you come to visit, we will most likely put you to work.  No one is immune.  Shortly after we finished the coop, my mom came for a visit and spent the better part of two days helping me prime and paint the coop!  

Missed the first two parts of The Poultry Palace?  No worries!