We got back yard chickens a couple of years ago. It started with the cute chicks at the Feed Store in town and of course having lusted after my friend’s chickens, I knew just what breeds I wanted. . . 1 of everything. We got an Australorp, Orphington, Polish and an Americana aka Easter Egger. I love every one of the breeds, but I do have to admit, while they are not prolific layers, I have a soft spot for the Polish chickens. I just love the plume of feathers that cap their heads. They have a sweet but a bit aloof personality. They are just fun to watch in the yard. Corralling chickens up into crates to move them though is not so fun. I have officially been called Aunt Shannon who Chases Chickens by my 2 year old nephew. He was amused by the chasing, but me…not so much.
This past weekend we began the process of moving, tightening up the coop and changing up the fencing for the run. We had used an enclosed run that was just too small. It was 8 feet long and 4 feet wide with a height of 4 feet. Not overly huge, but we do let them free range in the yard for most of the day. This time around we decided that instead of using a completely enclosed run, we are going to put up fencing and then add deer netting if we need to over the top. This way, I can walk in there and properly maintain the run. The other system left me practicing acrobatic moves if a stray egg was laid in a random corner far from the door.
The coop itself, is made 5ft 6inches high on its stilted legs but the living space is 5 feet high and 5 feet wide with egg boxes on the outside for easy collecting…well in theory because the hens actually prefer laying in a corner of the coop where they make a nest in the pine shavings. However, they do have 3 egg boxes if they ever wanted to lay in them. There are windows in the coop that are plexiglass. We also have chicken wire “screens” so that we can open them up on nice days. There is a small access point that is drilled into the side of the coop that we run an extension cord to so that we can use heated water dishes during our Michigan winters. I do not provide an additional light source. I tend to like letting nature take its course and so the down time in egg production does not bother me. That is a completely personal choice though, you should do as you see fit and what works best for your flock and family.
We moved the coop closer to the house where we have an enclosed portion of our yard already fenced off. The coop is heavy so we had to hoist it up on to the bed of a truck to move it to where it was going. A piece of fencing was removed and we were able to drive it right to its new home. Then replace the fence after. For the new run, we added poles and chicken fencing from Tractor Supply around the coop to give the chickens their own area. I am hoping this proves to be more secure of a location with it being closer to the house as well as the perimeter is patrolled regularly by our dogs. We have a Border Collie mix and a Rottweiler. Neither actually cares about the birds at all and we have not had any incidents that would lead me to be wary of their being near each other. That being said, dogs and chickens do not always mix so it is best to know and understand your animals before integrating them.
To get ready for winter we will insulate the coop on the outside with bales of hay. While I mostly use pine for the chickens litter, I do like to add in some of the hay in the winter to give them something more to scratch around in. First though, is a bit of caulking and a fresh coat of paint for the “ladies”. Yes, I do refer to my chickens as my ladies. I just assume they are all like Mary Poppins. I am not sure where that notion came to be but I have it and it has stuck.
For my fellow chicken keepers, how do you prepare for winter? I would love to hear some of your tips and tricks. My favorite so far has been to use a heated dog water dish for the chickens’ water. It has been quite the blessing and limited the amount of pitchers of water I would have to run down to the coop after dumping out iced over water.