Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Late Winter and the Chicken Coop

I sometimes feel frustrated when trying to vet an idea online in that an idea that seems good two days or even a month in might be a total bomb a year later. This post is to help anyone thinking about a permanent chicken coop.

First, in Vermont, chickens are pretty limited in outside time in winter. If they land in deep snow, they just sit there and freeze. Extra ranging space must either be sheltered or at least shoveled. If you have been following the blog, then you know our new cow shed is incomplete and the chickens, Violet, and the twins are sharing the shed that was supposed to be for the chickens only this winter.

There were a few days in January that were so bitter that we made sure Violet could get into the shed/barn all day. That means the chickens were confined to their smaller coop area, because otherwise Violet would get into their coop and eat all their food. Bad for the chickens, bad for Violet.

Now Violet and the calves are confined to the shed. The chickens actually began eating the calves' soft baby hooves the first day, so they were once again relegated to their small coop. This coop was never intended to be the only space for the thirty chickens, and it got smelly after very little time. Even really the cold nights last week did not freeze all the water in there, and the wet is where the main odor is. We've put down hay to trap what we can, but it's not ideal.

We did manage to open their outside door, which had been frozen shut and completely impracticable. With the spring thaw, there was enough clear ground that they could happily range outside. Today and tomorrow, we're supposed to get in the neighborhood of 12" of snow. Again, because the March sun is stronger, this snow will not stick around too long- most likely. But spring in Vermont can be a fickle thing; we could have another foot of snow now and again for at least a couple of weeks.

I still think the permanent coop is easier on the chickens. They are easier to train; it took only a day or so before they learned that we do NOT want them going through the people door, which is the door we had been using for them all winter. They are not picking at each other much, though that sign of stress is evident. The red hens in particular are picking at the brahmas and cochins. All the ladies are still laying in the nest boxes, which is much preferable to having to search for eggs in a dirty coop.

And their coop is dirty. If you already keep chickens, you know how filthy birds are. I can tell this is not an arrangement a bird would make in the wild. I keep a paint scraper in the coop so I can scrape the accumulation of droppings off the top of the nest boxes and roosts. Their water often has poop in it because they perch on the side of the bowl. (We have to use a plastic/rubber bowl in winter to deal with frozen water two to three times a day.) I think we should figure out a different door configuration that would make dealing with the accumulation of bedding easier. The bedding is SUPPOSED to build up in the winter; it actually helps heat the coop a bit. However, the door just gets more difficult to operate, especially now that there's so much cow bedding on the outside of the door. I will also look at ways to give them a little more wind protection without completely destroying circulation. The shed was supposed to be board and batten, but the battens never got put up. I would like to get battens on the whole shed.I would also like to make their outside door different; I would like to be able to open it for ventilation even if there is snow piled outside. I would like it to be arranged such that we COULD tend them from that door if the need ever arose again.

I do NOT like this arrangement for the chickens, but next winter will be different.We can certainly finish the cow shed between now and November, so the chickens can again have this entire sheltered space next winter.

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