Friday, March 27, 2009

A Change in the Pecking Order?

Our youngest chicken, CheepersV (7 weeks), has integrated nicely with the two older birds (12 weeks) and even the light pecking to determine the pecking order has all but ceased.

But an interesting development caught my eye. The little bird still follows the older birds around and generally stays near them but out of their way. And the older birds do boss her around when they feel the need. However, when it comes to treats (bits of kitchen scraps, bugs, etc.) CheepersV assumes the role of the middle bird in the pecking order.

When we bring out treats, one of the older birds (Mohawk) runs up eagerly and snaps up whatever we have. The other older bird paces nervously but cannot seem to muster the courage to touch the food while we're present. CheepersV not only runs up to grab the food, but she will also take food from the more shy older bird, sometimes snatching morsels right from her beak with no repercussions.

I'm wondering if this is a kind of shift in the pecking order, or if the one older bird is just not that dominant when it comes to food. Also, it makes me a bit paranoid that maybe CheepersV is really a he.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twelve Years

Twelve years.

That's how long we've been married, you and I. That's how long we've worn these tiny but significant rings, how long we've shared our names.

In that time we've changed, our lives have changed. We have two beautiful children, two cats, three chickens. We have a house now and we have a minivan for shuttling kids to school, soccer, and softball. We probably could have seen it coming, probably should have guessed we'd pass from there to here, albeit so gradually. Foreseen that we'd endure a very few hard times, fewer than our share, really.

I wouldn't change it for the world. I couldn't change it -- it's you, me, us. It's perfection.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Flock Achieved!

We officially have our flock together. Our two older barred rocks have been enjoying the coop full time for several weeks now, but the younger bird, CheepersV, has been spending her (oh please, let it be a 'her') nights inside the cage in the garage. Sure, we've been putting the little one with the big birds during the day but we pull her back in at night time because she's five weeks younger than the other birds. We were being cautious because we didn't know how they'd act once we locked them up in the coop together overnight.

But last night we decided to let CheepersV have her first "sleep over" and it went incredibly well.

We went out to check on the birds just after dusk and at first we couldn't find the little one. Turns out she was on the roost, snuggled between the two other birds. Perfect! So, even though the bigger ones will occasionally chase the little one when they're "free ranging" in the back yard (and really, it's minor stuff), at bed time, they're all buddies.

Looks like we'll get the garage back this weekend!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Miscellaneous Coop Notes

I put together some notes on my experience of building the coop, but forgot to post them. So here they are. These notes aren't necessarily limited to the "playhouse" coop (, but that's where I "learned" them:

- If you can, paint or stain or seal the wood before you build the coop. I did the sealer stuff after I built it and it was much harder/messier. So when I put on the trim, I remembered to paint it all first and it was so much easier.

- I wish I would have used more recycled items when building our coop. I spent about $350 - $400 on the coop because I just wanted to build it all "right now" and so I didn't take enough time to find the best deals on materials or search around for recycled items on "freecycle" or "craigslist" or the local scene. You can get paint really cheap at Home Depot/etc. in the "Oops" section where they put the paint mistakes, but you won't get to pick the color you want. I spent $130-ish on the roof, but you could do "corrugated" for less than half that price.

- The "playhouse" coop looks nice but it doesn't move easily. Making an "ark" type coop is better if you plan to move it more than about once a year or so. To move my coop, I'll probably need 4 people!

- The playhouse coop plans use some cedar boards "ripped down" -- But cedar is expensive and I don't have a table saw, so I used 2x3s from Home Depot that cost about a dollar or two each. It was much cheaper.

- Since I didn't use cedar, I needed to seal the wood. I use some ecofriendly stuff, but I hadn't used it before and it was messy.

- For power tools, I used a jigsaw, a circular saw, a miter saw, and a drill. I also used a hammer, some wire cutters (for the mesh), some tin snips (for the roofing), a level, some wood glue, and some other miscellaneous stuff.

- Use the appropriate size poultry staples. Do NOT get the big 1 inch staples because they'll split the wood if you're not careful, and they each take like 5 - 10 good whacks with the hammer to pound them in.

- Start earlier than necessary so that you don't have to rush to finish the coop in time for the birds to go live in it.

- The playhouse coop plans don't go into excruciating detail when it comes to the actual coop part itself, but the two videos on the net help. I ended up sort of "winging" it (see what I did there?).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Urban Chickens: Home to Roost

It took our chickens a little over a week, but they now put themselves away in the coop when it gets dark! I had my doubts -- serious doubts -- when, late last week, I went out back to put them away.

We had left the run open so they could run around the backyard, and then I got distracted for an hour or so. I looked out and saw that it was dusk, and we hadn't put the chickens away. So I went out to find them in the mostly-dark and they were no where to be found. Finally, I heard a bird cheeping and I found the two chickens huddled together in a little ball of feathers crammed into a very tiny space under a piece of left over styrofoam in the back yard. I scooped them up (they seemed to be happy to see me) and plunked them down in the coop.

That was last week.

But two night ago... Magic!

We went out to put them away and they had already climbed up into the coop and hopped onto the roost! A small victory, I know, but fun nonetheless.


The little chicken, CheepersV (who may or may not turn out to be a rooster) is growing nicely. We let her out with the big chickens for hours at a time with nothing worse than an occasional peck from the bigger birds. CheepersV is almost 6 weeks old, so she'll be moving outside permanently soon. Then... Then we get the garage back! No more cage and heat lamp and chicken poo. Ahhhh. It's the little things...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Operation Letter Writer

A few nights ago just before I drifted off to sleep, an idea popped into my head -- I suddenly felt an urge to write a letter.

Of course, I write stuff all the time, that's my job, but that's usually technical documents, email, and other assorted digital wordage. No, I wanted to actually find some paper and a pen and write a letter. Ah, but being so close to sleep, balanced on that soft cushion of time, that ephemeral moment between the two states, I decided to not get up and write down my idea. Rather, I decided to let "fate" decide whether I'd put pen to paper: if it was important enough I'd remember in the morning, I reasoned.

Then, that last bit of pesky mental ballast cast aside, I drifted off to sleep.

I didn't remember the next morning or the one after that. But three nights later, I remembered.

I looked around for paper and a pen. Pens are easy at our house, we have lots. But paper... I finally settled on some plain 'ol lined binder paper. Hardly a medium worthy of such a grand venture but I was determined to let nothing stop me.

My first letter (for surely this would be a true renaissance of letter writing) would be to my father. What a lucky man! Happy with this choice I found a few quiet moments and sat down to write.

My first three paragraphs turned out to be meta-letter comments about how it had been a long time since I wrote a letter, how I was so used to using the computer my writing had degenerated to a kind of chicken-scratch-meets-elephant-painting-with-finger-paint, and how I didn't know where to start.

This letter writing thing was much harder than I anticipated. Mostly because I felt like since I was taking the time to actually write it, it should be filled with deep meaning and clever phrasing and so on. It needed to be worthy.

Plus: no spell check or delete key.

After two pages of furious scribbling, I took a minute to read over the fruits of my labor.

And promptly threw the stinking pile into the trash.

So it remains: Letter Writing: 1, Me: 0


I haven't given up. I'm actually more determined after the miserable failure. I just need to approach it bit more cautiously this time. Maybe sneak around and approach it from another angle. But yes, oh yes, I will write a letter.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Coop: Day One

Our two 8-week old chickens are just too big for the cage we have them in so this weekend, we were determined to get the coop ready and move the birds in. We spent most of Saturday putting the finishing touches on the coop, including reconfiguring the base, adding some pea gravel, buying a bale of hay and spreading some hay out, adding various latches, hinges, and other hardware, attaching the ladder, building the roost, etc.

During all of this activity, we let all three birds roam the back yard. The trio explored the back yard and ate lots of stuff off of the ground. Chicken heaven. When we were finished, we put all three birds into the coop/run for a couple of hours as we waited for dusk.

Once the sun set we scooped up the little one (CheepersV) and put her away in a nice warm cage in the garage. We put the two big birds into the coop and closed the door. They spent their first night in the coop and seemed to like it just fine. In the morning our daughters ran out there in the rain and let the birds out of the coop (the coop and run are integrated). Turns out that the birds were not interested in using the ladder, so we had to "teach" them by tempting them with little crumbs of bread. It took only a couple of minutes and now both birds can navigate the ladder.

We hope to get the little one into the coop in a week or two, but in the mean time we have her sleeping in the cage in the garage at night, then out to be part of the flock during the day.