Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chicks in the Yard

We are 2-1/2 years into our city chicken adventure and it feels like it is time to share a quick update on "The Girls" and their progress (or should I say our progress) with chicken life in the city.  We adore them as do most of our neighbors and the neighborhood kids.  Some days I go out to check on the girls and the children have lined up their little chairs against the fence to chat with the chicks. I love opening the nest box and letting the kids reach in and collect eggs to take home for their breakfast the next day.  How great!  Making memories.

We currently have 11 girls comprised of mostly Heritage breeds:

Morning in the yard
2 - Delaware
2- Buff Orpington
2- Dominique
2 - Easter Egger
3 - Barnevelder

The breeds, and then the individual girls, each have their own characteristics and personalities.  Mostly adorable due to their endless antics but then there are the occasional times when I would like to tweak someone's beak for picking on their sister.  Sound familiar?  

Here's where the design comes into play - picked the breeds for a lovely egg basket

On a typical day the girls give us between 4-7 eggs.  We share with neighbors, co-workers, and happy clients. A basket of fresh eggs is a thing of beauty and wonder. The eggs are rich with deep yellow yolks and make the best omelettes, deviled eggs, egg foo young, quiche, frittata, eggs in hell, scotch eggs, potato salad, ... the list goes on.

Birds of a Feather - The 3 Barnevelders - Sable, Suri and Sasha

Bella waiting for me to take her off the roost
We have lost two chicks so far.  I have been to the Aviary vet twice - once for a crop issue and once for a sprained wing.  Every summer a few girls decide that they would like to be a Mom and they start brooding and sitting on the eggs.  Persistence is required to break the brooding and get them off the nest.  While brooding they sit inside the coop on the next box day in and day out waiting to hatch little ones - not eating much and not drinking.  In this heat it could spell disaster.

The mad rush for breakfast
We worm them occasionally.  I sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth on the roosts to protect their feet.  We give them oyster shell and grit all the time.  The breakfast buffet usually consists of pasta, a little cheese, ear of corn, kale, yogurt and some scratch.  I check them in the afternoon and they run to greet me, excited for their snack of greens. 

Lately Steve has been letting them out in the big yard to roam and scratch for about 10 minutes before bedtime.  11 chicks will eat every blade of grass in their enclosure so they really need some good grass time.  Just before bed (sunset) is ideal because they will always go home to roost - it's easy at dusk to get the 11 bodies to come home. Ever try to chase a chick that wants to stay out and play?  Not an easy task.

We have three levels of containment for them. 

THE COOP - most safe (designed by my wonderful architect husband) so far the coop has the best security with 2 wire covered vents at the top for air flow, a window, a pop door, a service door, a man door, three nest boxes, and two roosts with 2 layers of open wire below (easy clean up.) 

Our coop with attached run
THE RUN - semi-safe  - wood framed, wire covered sides, with a poly-carbonate roof.  We attached wire on the outside at the bottom edge, bent it out 15" or so, and then let the grass grow up through it.  This technique makes it much harder for animals to dig under and get to the girls. In the winter we add poly-carbonate panels to the outside walls providing  protection from the snow and wind.

THE FENCED YARD - day safe - large chain link fenced area with two pine trees, and aviary netting over the top of everything.  The man door on the coop opens out into the fenced yard.  They hang out here all day, scratching away, sitting under the trees, and enjoying life.  We have trapped two raccoons over night in this area and we had a small hawk find its way into the yard. This part is not safe at night but works pretty well to protect them during the daylight hours. 

They are a blast.  We love having them. They give us yummy eggs and crazy, amazing fertilizer for the garden. 

The garden with chick compost

Now for the biggest challenges or draw backs:

We have to be home at dawn and dusk - always, always, always.  Lock them up or loose them.  Who doesn't like to eat chicken???  Predators abound in our neighborhood.

Ella Fitzgerald
It's just about impossible to vacation - it's not like you can take 11 chickens and board them. We are home bound.  Be late to lock them up, forget to close the window or a door...it's trouble. It's a lot to ask of a friend or someone in the family. We haven't figured this part out yet...and the beach is calling me....

We love them.  Ella will nuzzle into my neck and sit with me for hours. Come on, how can you not love that?

Send us questions if you have any.  We are not experts but are happy to share what we have learned so far. 

Thanks for reading about our "girls" and our chick adventures!

Happy Chicks!

PS - let us know if you would like to know about how we worked with our city to keep our girls. The city was awesome - they just needed a bit of good info to work with.