Monday, May 25, 2020

Poultry Power

It started innocent enough. Jean's friend in NH asked if we wanted chickens, and of course the answer was, "yes!" They gave us a small coop and all we needed to do was build an enclosure and get a permit from the city...

Well, that started me down a path that involved reclaimed chain link, a nail gun, rain water collection and more, all to build a (hopefully) impenetrable chicken fortress. Before I get into the chicken compound, let's meet the girls. Jean's friend Lauren has about a million hens (not really), and she chose four absolutely beautiful birds for us. And they are:

Betsy (as in Betsy Ross) is an Ameraucana, and according to the Ameraucana breed was derived from blue egg-laying chickens, but they do not have the breeding problems inherent to Araucanas. In addition, rather than ear tufts, they have muffs and a beard, and are very hardy and sweet. They lay eggs in shades of blue, and even have blue (or "slate") legs. Less rare than Araucanas, they are still quite rare and only available through breeders at this time. They should not be confused with Easter Eggers, which can lay blue and green eggs, and do not conform to any breed standard. However, many hatcheries continue to call their Easter Eggers "Americanas" (and other various misspellings). If you are interested in showing your birds, make sure that you have true Ameraucana or Araucana.

Wellie is a Welsummer which, according to Cacklehatchery is a Dutch breed named after the village of Welsum in Holland. Developed in the 1900's it was first imported into this country in 1928 for its large brown egg. The Welsummer eggs will vary in tints of dark brown eggs and most of the eggs will have a real dark speckled pigment in the egg shell. The Welsummer is a large, upright, active bird with a broad back, full breast, large full tail and a single comb. Welsummers have a docile and friendly personality. The famed Kellogg’s Rooster was a Welsummer chicken. The Welsummer roosters are glorious with their beautiful shades of red and black. They are a fast growing bird and a very rare breed here in the United States. Admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1991.

Goldie is a Gold Laced Wyandotte. says that The Wyandotte breed was created by four avid poultry men (H.M. Doubleday, J. Ray, L. Whittaker and F. Houdlette). It was named after a helpful and generous Indian tribe of the area – the Wendat (later known as Wyandotte). Their desire was to create a bird that laid well but could also serve as decent table fare, in other words a great utility bird. At this time many chickens around were not the best layers and were pretty tough and scrawny. Although people did eat chicken, it was not top of the list to consider because of its unappealing traits. Many types of chicken were used in the genetics of the Wyandotte, but since no records were kept, it appears unlikely we will ever know the true composition of the Wyandotte. It is suspected that the dark Brahma and the silver spangled Hamburg were involved along the way, but no-one knows for sure. Now as for the Golden Laced Wyandotte, this was created by Joseph McKeen of Wisconsin. He started in 1880 when he crossed Silver laced Wyandottes with a bird described as “a black-red patterned fowl called a Winnebago”. His project was declared successful in 1888 when the Gold Laced Wyandotte was accepted to the APA.

Olivia, The Olive Egger. describes Olive Eggers as chickens that are produced from a crossing of breeds. Like Easter Eggers, crossing a blue egg layer or chicken carrying a blue egg gene (i.e., Ameraucana, Araucana) to a dark brown layer/gene carrier (i.e., Marans, Welsummer), you will get a layer of olive colored eggs. Breeding results can vary depending on what types of breeds are used and if they are pure. Olive Egger chickens will vary greatly in appearance, body type, etc., and are not an official breed with a set of standards. However, they are becoming quite popular with breeders and backyard enthusiasts as a way to diversify egg colors in your egg basket.

As of this writing, we have had the chickens for one day and we're already seeing that they have different personalities. I'm sure we'll learn more about them as they settle in to their new home. And, speaking of their new home...

It was almost one year ago that we picked up the coop from our friends in NH. We drove it home, plopped it in the front yard and then my mind started spinning. I wanted to build an enclosure that would connect to the coop to allow the girls to walk around, but they would still need to be confined. I wanted to make sure that they'd be safe from predators as there are foxes nearby, some cats that wander through the yard, hawks and eagles that patrol by air, and fisher cat are apparently also known to this area. I wanted to make it good for all weather and I wanted it to last. My buddy Glen helped with a set of plans and soon the free coop had me buying lots of wood (pressure treated and not), poultry fencing and hardware cloth, corrugated sheet metal roofing, concrete, and lots of hardware, Then, to make construction easier, I needed a nail gun and staple gun, and then, I outgrew my original air compressor so I needed a better compressor. And a miter saw. And some folding work tables, And then I needed to build a rain water collection system so I'd have easy access for water. And...

And then, I decided that the original coop we had was too small, so I decided to build a bigger one. One with insulation and venting and easy access for cleaning and a door on a timer and removable nesting boxes and auxiliary storage.

I used as much scrap wood and supplies as I could, from cedar shingles to an old window, and the framing is all from old pallets. The construction of the coop itself was definitely a "figure it out as I go" process, but I think it came out pretty good.

One of the reasons it took so long to finish was, of course, that I demo'ed our kitchen and back room to start the ball rolling on a major renovation in the house. But don't worry, I did the grunt work only, and the skilled work was done by professionals.  Anyway, while that was going on, my basement was almost completely inaccessible and my garage was full of stuff, I couldn't wrap up the coop until all that stuff was done, and that's a whole other story.

We had to get a permit from the city so our neighbors knew we were getting chickens and I felt like a loser because it was taking forever for me to finish the chicken plaza, And while, a little thing like a global pandemic put a wrinkle in my ability to get some final supplies, when a final layer of hardware cloth was lawn stapled to ground surrounding the enclosure (to prevent anything from going up to the edge and then trying to dig in), construction was complete--it was time to get the girls!

I also built a "chicken tractor" which is a portable enclosure on wheels to let them explore different parts of the yard. In many places, chickens can just roam freely, and I hear that they will rarely go beyond a 50ft radius of their coop, but we live next to a busy street and we've got the aforementioned predators, so our permit requires that they be enclosed at all times. Simple enough. I'm going to let them get used to their main house before I take them in their mobile home...

Now, truth be told, I have no idea what I'm doing, I've read a bunch, but for the most part I'm going with the "it can't be that hard" philosophy which is of course almost always wrong. 

Expect more chicken news including their live web cam channel!

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