Saturday, November 17, 2012

Farm Girl is Getting Things Done

Chicken coop and one sideyard.
 The chicken coop is finally DONE! Well, 99.9% done. I will be adding some more PVC panels on the side as I remove them from the old chicken tractor but the roof is done and the chickens are safe and comfortable. So, I count it as done!

The chicken coop is 6'7"X5'X5'5" and it has two yards running along two lengths of the dogyard which is 18' square. The coop is framed out with wood and chicken wire. The roof is green PVC panels. The inside walls are covered with feed bags (tyvek) with two of the walls (the two leading to the yards) only half solid so that the chickens and I can get in and out. The yard in the picture is covered over most of it's length with a chicken wire "roof" and the end near the gate with PVC rope zizzagged. The yard on the other side is protected from the top with more PVC rope zigzagged and woven. The covering is to keep hawks and muscovies out and the chickens in. The first few nights the chickens were in their new housing, they did find a way out -- I never figured out how, I just would find them roosting on the dogyard fence and have to put them back. They seem to have stopped that now.
Happy Chickens!
 As this picture shows, the hens are happy! Two bales of wheat straw I'd salvaged to use as mulch started sprouting so I put them in the chicken yard. The hens are happy as can be with that! They also received a big chunk of pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. I purchased the pumpkin from Holden Brothers Produce market for $3! I'll be getting more next week.

I know some of you are thinking that the chicken coop is not very secure against raccoons, possums, and such nor very warm for the chickens. To the first concern I say this -- I can not build Fort Knox. I read of so many folks trying to build an enclosure totally secure from predators. Such efforts have mixed results and cost tons of money. From my limited experience, neighbor dogs and hawks are my two main predators and this coop protects against both. I may find that I have problems with raccoons, possums, or snakes but I hope not. I don't see how I could entirely protect against them anyway. Now, as for the second concern -- no this coop is not an airtight, fully insulated Taj Mahal. Chickens don't need all that. They need to be out of the rain and strong winds. The rest their feathers and metabolism will take care of. Airtight coops which are all the rage with backyard chicken keepers allow ammonia and other fumes to build up which harms the chickens' lungs. So, the intention with this design is to allow my chickens to be healthier and more robust than more pampered chickens. Time will tell if I'm right as this is all a learning process.

View of dogyard & chicken yard
Oh, the blue tarp is there to keep the dogs from terrorizing the chickens. We are also teaching the dogs not to bark at them. They are actually learning to watch and not bark. The chickens watch the dogs, too! Just this morning, I went outside to discover a pow wow going on involving the dogs, the chickens, and the ducks. They had all gathered near each other and appeared to be communicating some plan or other. None are talking so I don't know what they were cooking up but apparently the rabbits were not invited as the powwow took place on the opposite side from the rabbitry!

We are hoping to fence in the remaining backyard this winter so that mother can just let the dogs in and out from the back door rather than taking them by leash to the dogyard. With her physical limitations, this process is becoming more and more dangerous. I got a good deal on 13 4x4x10 posts and now I just need the fence wire or other material for the fence. Once the backyard is fenced, the dogyard can be converted to other uses. Ideas for it include raising meat chickens or raising Nigerian dwarf goats in it. We go back and forth on the goat idea. The main sticking point is whether we want to be having to milk goats twice a day everyday year around. Probably for next year at least, it will be used to raise meat chickens. The goats are definitely further into the future than 2013.

So, with the chickens finally settled, it's on to the next set of projects. I have a never ending list of projects, one of which is some upgrades to the rabbitry. The upgrades for the rabbitry include changing out the cage supports. Currently the cages are set on sections of fence wire but this is not a good solution. For one, the wire stretches causing sag and shaking. I'm going to use some of the PVC pipe I have in abundance at the moment and make supports for the cages. The other thing I want to do if figure out a way to secure the plastic used to protect them from rain in such a way that it isn't constantly flying up and over the top. I have a few ideas to try on that front.

The other rabbit project I have brewing is to set up a system to grow fodder for the rabbits. Basically, growing wheatgrass and barleygrass for them. This is another project where I'll be using my supply of PVC pipe. I've been reading a lot about the benefits of fodder and there are youtube videos about the process. After much searching, I finally found a source for feed grade wheat. Once I have that, I can begin. They say that there is a 1:15+ ratio when growing fodder -- 15 or more pounds of fodder results from every pound of grain. Now, that is a great way to stretch the feed dollar while simultaneously providing even better nutrition! More on this in future blog entries!

I also have the beginnings of an orchard to plant, the Back-to-Eden garden project continues, and I want to try my hand at propagating the gardenia and azalea bushes. I ordered a bunch of tree seeds to try to grow -- lilacs, dogwoods, mulberries, and "silk trees" (aka momosas). Someone on the organic homesteading list is offering sunchokes for sale and I want to get those as well. And, my seed list for next year is growing by the day! I am so praying for a great year for the homestead in 2013!

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