Yesterday we bought four chickens and brought them home. Two ISA Browns:
One Rhode Island Red:
And one Australorps:
The two ISA Browns are already laying (two eggs today, such a thrill) and are over a year old. The two pure breeds are not yet laying. We are keeping a close eye on these two as they are younger and are being hen pecked a bit, particularly the Rhode Island Red, which is the smallest. If it continues or there’s any blood drawn, we’re going to separate them until they are large enough to stand up for themselves.
Breeds: Hybrids v Pure Breeds
I was in two minds about which breeds to get. I’d read and been told conflicting things about how much pure breeds lay, whether they continue to lay through winter and in the long-term, and how robust they are to the elements and disease etc. Time will tell. I do love the Australorps – she seems very sweet. We called her Bowie because she has two different coloured eyes. The two ISA Browns are pushy but they are quite a bit older so I don’t know I can blame it on the breed. They seem much less worried by the move than the other two. But then the other two are now house-sharing with two chickens who are pushing them around so, it might be that rather than the move.
Protection from the Sun
The Rhode Island Red seemed pretty hot today even thought it was under 30 degrees celcius. Makes me a bit worried for summer. Got to think more about giving them better shade. Probably do a short-term solution of shade cloth over the top and down the north-facing side. In the long-run I plan to plant a couple of deciduous fruit trees on the north side of the straw yard to provide shade in summer and sun in winter. Yay, more fruit trees. Makes me happy.
After weighing up the pros and cons, we bought a coop from Very Edible Gardens rather than make one ourselves.
The coop is made from untreated Cyprus macrocarpa timber which is very solid (very heavy) and built to last. It’s well ventilated with a pitched roof, has an egg access door and a chook access door, a mesh floor for the poo to fall through, and a removal laying box. Our four chooks fit in their with room to spare.
We wanted to be able to go away overnight or for a weekend without worrying about the chooks so we are making a fox-proof straw yard for the chooks. We re-purposed a 2m x 2m arbour from our garden for the straw yard:
Moved it down to its new location, and cemented it in:
Then added skirting boards, and used a nail gun to attach chicken wire – eventually we’ll get the whole thing done so it’s all fox proof. For the moment we’re locking the chooks in the fox proof coop each night:
The arbour used to have mesh with vines growing over it. Which is the weird thing hanging out to the right. We thought the dead vine trunk would create a bit of shade and look pretty. I’m not sure how much shade it will really make and made the whole thing really, really heavy and awkward to carry.
Our coop measures 115cm (l) x 90cm x 160cm (h). The straw yard is 2m x 2m. In the next week or so we will add an extra non-fox proof run around the straw yard to give the chickens an extra seven square metres of space to stretch their legs during the day. One day I’d like to be able to let them free range, but that will be a bit down the track (after we have our veg garden fenced off).
We are using chicken wire to fox-proof the straw yard. We are laying the about 30cm of chicken wire (by staple gun) out horizontally from the skirting board at the bottom of the yard, and covering it with soil. I plant to mound up some better soil and grow greens along it that the chooks can peck at through the wire.
From what I can gather, deep litter is a method of lining the straw yard with a thick layer (30cm) of straw, and rather than cleaning it out every week, adding to it and cleaning it out twice a year. This is supposed to keep the top layer dry (keeping the chickens safe from various ailments and bugs), and the bottom layer composting. This is another thing I am in two minds about. Again, sigh, I read conflicting views on this method. I need to ask around what works for folks around here. Have any readers used this method? What sort of a climate do you live in?
Food and Water
We haven’t got our permanent vessels yet but will get some sort of rodent proof self-feeder thingy, and a large water feeder to help keep the water cool and topped up in hot weather. Photos to follow hopefully.
So that’s it, our new friends. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time so I’m really happy to be able to have these birds to care for. I feel like there is a lot to learn about keeping them happy and healthy.