Why That Darn Hen Won’t Use The Nest Box!

Portable chicken ark.

Portable chicken ark.

A couple of years back, my 3 hens moved from their portable Chicken Ark to some swanky digs here at City Boy Hens. It was kinda’ like the Jefferson’s, but this time it was my three hens who were “movin’ on up!”  The Portable Ark worked well, as it provided my hens with some space to “free range” and an upper level to roost and lay eggs,  but it was a pain in the butt to move around the yard each day.

So with hammer, nails, screws and wood,  I built them a home that was fit for Queens.  I meticulously constructed their coop/run; adding insulation, electricity and 2 nest boxes.  I know that some of you may think that the 2 nest boxes was overkill for three hens, but the last thing I wanted to do was make one of my girls have to wait in line in order to deposit her daily offering.  Besides, …….I know what it’s like at the cottage with only 1 bathroom.  Inventing a new dance move in front of a locked bathroom door is no way to start the day while a relaxed occupant casually thumbs through a 3-year-old  tattered magazine.

092Anyways…..I built 2 nest boxes for the hens and proceeded to line those boxes and the bottom of the coop with fluffy aromatic wood shavings.  The shavings in the nest box would make a great landing pad for the eggs and the shavings on the coop floor would make poop pickin’ up a whole lot easier.

As it turns out, Swifer, (YES IT IS THAT DAMN HEN AGAIN)  has chosen  to not make any distinction between the wood shavings in the nest box and those on the coop floor.  In fact, I think she feels the coop floor IS HER NEST BOX because she deposits her egg on the coop floor EVERY morning.  But worst of all, she had taught Rosie that this practice is acceptable.

I am proud to say that I have managed to “re-train” Rosie to use the nest box by  always keeping a plastic egg in one of the boxes, but Swifer ain’t gettin’ fooled by that trick.  In fact, she goes into the nest box and pecks that plastic egg until she has turfed it out on to the floor of the coop!

“OK Swifer…..it’s the beginning of a New Year and with it comes the opportunity to bid the past goodbye and  to start anew.  How ’bout you start laying that “ping-pong poor excuses you call an egg” up in the nest box and I’ll stop decorating the coop walls with pictures of great tasting chicken noodle soup recipes!  Deal?????????????????????”

I do have my doubts……..It’s hard to teach an old chicken new tricks!

Well…..as Meatloaf sang “Two out of 3 ain’t bad!”009

Happy New Year To All!

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Getting Your Backyard Chickens Ready For Winter

After a Snow Fall

Winter is knocking at the door up here in Southern Ontario.  The leaves on the trees have pretty much disappeared, daylight hours continue to decrease and the night-time temperatures are toying with freezing.  With that said, this City Boy needs to make a few changes to our coop/run in order to keep “the ladies” healthy and productive through the long cold months ahead.

1)  Minimize Drafts063

My 3 hens have a 60 square foot run that is enclosed with hardware cloth.  This makes for a great predator-proof and airy environment in the warmer months, but too much wind does not bode well for chickens in the colder months.  Like you and me, they also really start to feel the cold when that Northern wind starts blowing.  Even with that thick  coat of down feathers, too much energy will be used to keep warm in winter when those prevailing Northern winds continue to blow.  In order to remedy this problem, most of my run is covered with plexiglass in the winter.  I emphasize most, because you still want some fresh air to circulate throughout the run in winter.  You just don’t want the strong cold winds to accompany them.

The upside to plexiglass is that it is transparent.  In other words, I can still keep an eye on the chickens in the comfort of my warm home as I write this post.  The down side is that it is expensive.  If this is an issue, then consider using plastic vapor barrier as an alternative.  The down side is that it is not really transparent, but it is relatively inexpensive.  Just make sure not to seal everything up too tight and prevent air from circulating within the run.  I recommend securing the vapor barrier on the outside of the hardware cloth with some 1×2 strapping.

2) Heat & Light In The Coop092

I heat and light my coop with a 100 watt incandescent bulb that is screwed into a secured brooder lamp (note: the safety screen on the lamp was temporarily removed in order to show the entire coop in the above photo).  I didn’t go to the effort of running electricity out to the shed in order to keep the hens warm.  I did it so that the drinker and eggs would keep from freezing.  The cost sure outweighs schlepping water out to the coop a few times a day because the drinker has frozen again.  I am also a believer in getting eggs all year-long so I do provide my hens with additional “artificial” light in order to stimulate their pituitary gland and keep those eggs coming every day.  I also went to the trouble of completely insulating the coop with 2 inch Styrofoam when I built it a few years back.  Between the insulation and the light bulb, I have never had an egg or the drinker freeze in the last two years. * Note:If you choose to light your coop, make sure to wipe the cooled bulb from time to time and NEVER use a “coated (shatter-resistant) bulb”.  I read that the chemical that is used to coat these bulbs gives off a toxic gas that can become lethal to chickens who are confined in a small area.

3)  Make a Dust Bath

Honda demonstrating for you!

If you let your chickens free range, I’m sure you are aware of their need to tear up your favorite garden and enjoy a dust bath.  You can’t blame them.  It’s ingrained in their DNA and they perform this incredibly euphoric act to not only clean themselves, but also rid themselves from the potential for lice and mites.  Don’t know about you, but free ranging is severely curtailed in the winter at City Boy Hens and the ground becomes hard as a rock. So..in order to satisfy their need,  I made the chickens a dust bath for their run.  They use it daily and wait patiently to take their turn!  If you would like a few ideas on making a dust bath, CLICK HERE.

4)  Keep Them Busy.

Snackin'

Snackin’

Chickens are always on the move looking for the next blade of grass or bug.  It’s pretty hard to find either when snow is covering the ground.  Unfortunately, idle time can sometimes lead to bullying and this can open a whole new can of worms.  So why not give your hens some extra treats in the winter in order to keep them occupied?  Every morning, I scatter a handful of scratch onto the floor of the run.  The scratch gets “lost” in the wood shavings and the chickens spend lots of time “scratching” for it.  This serves a few purposes.  First, the scratch metabolizes fast and gives them a quick energy boost for heat.  Second, it helps “satisfy” their need to forage.  Lastly, it helps keep their toe nails trimmed which will prevent overgrown  nails and potentially distorted feet in the future.  But remember, scratch should only be used as a treat.  It does not have the same nutritional requirements as regular layer feed.

I also supplement their layer feed with chopped up spinach, carrot peelings and tomatoes.  This is a great “nutritional” treat that will help to keep your chickens healthy in those non-free ranging months. I’ve also strung a cabbage up in the run from time to time and the chickens love to peck at it for hours.  Just remember, these foods should be given as “treats” with the primary food still being layer feed.

5)  Humidity

Animals in confined quarters that poop with the frequency of chickens can sure raise the humidity level in a coop.  Unfortunately, this can lead to frost bite on combs and wattles if the temperature is too low and the humidity is too high.  As stated earlier, it is essential that fresh air is circulated in the coop.  You don’t need a lot, just a bit of movement that replaces the stale moist air with fresh “drier” air.

Humidity can also be decreased by regularly cleaning up of poop in the coop.  Some folks use a drop board under the roost and that works great.  I just pick it up with a cat litter scooper every morning before heading off to work.

But if you really want to keep track of the humidity level in your coop, you could purchase a portable weather station and keep a sensor in the coop.  This will, not only let you read the relative humidity, but also inform you of the temperature in the coop.  I’m not embarrassed to say that I have checked the read out a few times on those nights when the temperature dipped down well below freezing!

-10C outside and 6.4C inside the coop at 7:54pm.  Nighty night girls!

-10C outside and 6.4C inside the coop at 7:54pm.

So….there you have it………..my 5 recommendations for healthy & productive hens throughout this coming winter.  I’m going into my second winter at City Boy Hens and I’m glad that my experiences from last year have taken a lot of the surprise out of Old Man Winter’s bag of tricks. I’m no expert, but I’ve learnt a lot from the Winter of 2012.  “So……… bring it on Old Man Winter!  We’re Ready!  Oh…and ladies….don’t you be worrying.  Just keep pumpin’ out those eggs……I ‘ve got you covered!”

*If you would like would like more information on my coop/run CLICK HERE.  Feel free to drop me a line if you have any further questions!  I will do my best to get back to you in a timely and knowledgeable manner.

Tucked and Hidden Away

A Year in Review

Well…..we made it through a year.  The hens have officially been at City Boy Hens for the last 13 months.  For me…it’s a big deal.  Not because the hens are 1 year old, but rather, I or something else, haven’t managed to kill them in that time.   In the last 12 months, they have survived cat and owl attacks, an attempted break in by a raccoon, one weasel close call at the cottage and two red tail hawks that continue to circle the backyard at home looking for a take-out chicken dinner!

The hens have also moved from their first accommodation – The Chicken Ark- which I made last Spring, to  permanent swanky digs that didn’t have to be moved around the yard each day. They, like the Jeffersons, were “Movin’ on up!”

Portable chicken ark.

Portable chicken ark.

The Run

I kept the new digs toasty throughout the Winter by constructing a well insulated coop which generated heat via a 100 watt lightbulb.  The light was on for the better part of the day and this kept the eggs and drinker from freezing. If you would like more info on these accommodations, check out my page: https://cityboyhens.com/laying-eggs/coop-run-requirements/

There are still no signs of  lice or mites on the hens and our dog, Stanley, has yet to develop a taste for raw chicken.  The transition to the cottage in the summer was pretty easy except for some stinky poop on the way up and some aggravated hens who wouldn’t stop squawking when we stopped for a burger.  As I have said before, they love meat!

As Spring continues to tease us with the expectation of warmer and dryer days, I look forward to returning to the cottage in the months to come and watching the hens free ranging down at the beach.  In the mean time, the neighbours at home continue to get the freshest of eggs when there’s surplus and my friend Ted continues to call me the Chicken Man.

I guess it’s like anything in life.  You reap what you sow.  With that said, wouldn’t it be easier to just get some eggs, salami, cookies, pickles or whatever at the grocery store?  From a time perspective, the answer is yes.  But, I’ve learned a lot in my trade-off with time.  Satisfaction, pride in accomplishments, successes with small failures, and the opportunity to share with family and friends have made every moment worth while.  I’ve also met a lot of great people all the way and it is great getting to know you all.

My blog has been up and running for the last few months and I am amazed at the interest.  It has gone to places in the world that I will never reach.  Thanks to all for spending some of your valuable time at City Boy Hens.  As Spring unfolds, I look forward to sharing the progression of my  vegetable garden at the cottage and  some canning posts on making jams and preserving asparagus, peaches, pears, olives, peppers and more as we move into summer.canning

So….the hens are one year old.  Though they all started laying at different times, I think we’ve received around 650 eggs and counting since Honda got the ball rolling last July!  In the end, we’ve all survived.  In fact, I believe we thrived!  My only regret…….the odd Saturday sleep in to 8 o’clock would have been great!

1 Week's Work!

1 Week’s Work!