Since the weather hasn't been conducive to more than a few moments of chicken appreciation at a time, especially when the best hours of the day have been spent in the office, it was well past time to do some routine chores around the barn yard, so on a sunny day during my two week vacation, the ladies and I spent some quality time sprucing up the coop.
This is the view from just inside the nest box door. You can see the nest platform with wood chips in the foreground, and the long flat board that extends from the nest box which is the perch for roosting. In theory, the chickens spend the night on the perch, and only go in the nest box to lay an egg. In reality, they sometimes like to sleep in the nest box. I don't blame them; it's cozy and soft. The problem with this is that chickens poop during the night. If they are on the perch, the poop falls to the ground, if they sleep in the nest box it gets mixed in the wood chips and makes the nest box gross.
One special feature of my chicken coop is the hole in the nest box floor. This is where I can insert a bottle of water with a special red nipple in the lid, that allows the chickens, from below, to peck at it and get a drink of water. In theory, this allows the chickens to have clean water on demand, and allows me to move the coop without having to worry about spilling the water. In reality, the chickens prefer to drink from a bucket, I move the coop infrequently, and the bottle of water freezes in the winter anyway, so, I took it out, and now I have a pointless hole in my nest box for eggs and wood chips to fall through.
Well, the hole isn't entirely pointless, as it provides a handy way to scrape all the dirty wood chips from the nest box with a hoe. Still, I have been meaning to do something about this hole for a long time, and decided this was the big day. What I needed, was a nest box liner. What to use...?
Ah ha! Scrounging in the nearby shed, I found a roll of posters I have been
hoarding saving, and decided that one of the posters would provide more use as a nest box liner than it does being rolled up in the shed. I let Mrs. Hall and June decided which to use, and they both agreed that Wildflowers of Kentucky fit their style quite well. We spent some instructional time reviewing the flower photos before placing the poster in the nest box.
The back of the poster has some nice write-ups about each flower depicted on the front, and a helpful diagram of the parts of a flower. Knowing the reputation chickens have for braininess, I decided that the hens might prefer some educational reading material while they are sitting in the nest box waiting for their egg to arrive, so I placed the poster with the back facing up.
Even after I filled the nest box with clean wood chips, I thought it was nice that we could still read about the wild columbine, which we have in the garden and is one of my favorites.
I spread the dirty wood chips around inside the coop, and put a layer of clean chips on top. Some winters, I have placed the coop on top of the garden, so the wood chips and chicken poop could remain as fertilizer. But, even if I don't do that, it's not hard to rake up the chips and droppings and spread them around my garden, so this year I left the coop where it is, since it's a relatively level and sheltered spot.
Another feature of my chicken tractor is the white and red feeder bucket that hangs from the bottom of then nest box. In theory, I can fill this feeder with more than a weeks worth of food and the chickens have access to all the clean food they want, and I don't have to worry about spilling the food when I move the coop. In reality, even when the coop door is shut, the numerous house finches that live in our neighborhood find a way to eat up all the chicken food. I don't mind to share, but those guys are so greedy! So, I put grit and oyster shells in the feeder instead. The grit is the grey rocks in the picture above, which the chickens can eat for their gizzards, which grind up their food instead of teeth, and the oyster shells are the white bits in the photos, so they can eat extra calcium and make strong eggs shells. Every morning I throw cracked corn and chicken food pellets on the ground for the chickens, and as soon as I walk away the the house finches descend from the nearby trees to join the chickens for breakfast. Sometimes I turn back around and shout "boo!", just to watch them scatter. Silly birds.
When preparing the chickens for winter, not only do I plug in a heated water bucket to make sure their water doesn't freeze, I also lean a piece of Plexiglas on each side of the tractor to add a little extra protection from the elements. From what I've read, chickens can handle extreme cold as long as they aren't wet.
Notice the little wheels on the front of the tractor? I exchanged a dozen eggs from Helen and Mrs. Hall for the wheels, which allow me to sort of roll the tractor into position. That was my first chicken egg barter, so I thought it was pretty exciting.
To complete the coop clean up, I added a little edible decoration for the chickens to enjoy - the cranberry and popcorn strands that we made with my nieces and nephew for my Christmas tree.
They looked nearly as nice on the coop as they did on my tree. It took Mrs. Hall a few days to figure out that there was popcorn on the her house, but as soon as she did she decimated them. The cranberries didn't go over as well.
Thank you for joining me on this unscheduled chicken coop tour! Anybody else have nifty things about their chicken coop they would like to share? It won't be long before I'm designing a bigger coop for my future flock at the farm, so any lessons learned would be appreciated.