Having an electronics geek for a husband has some distinct advantages. First came the lighting and watering system for the greenhouse, then the lighting system for the chickens linking three chook houses into a 12-volt battery and a small solar panel. Back in the winter, we upgraded the chook compound defences and included an electrified fence along the top. This required a car-battery to run it, so Paul went on to EBay and acquired a large 20-watt solar panel.
Tag Archives: chicken coop
Since last October, we have had two flocks of hens, the main flock consisting of the Black Rocks, Bluebelles, Warrens (joined by Mabel the tail-biter at Christmas) in the large house and run, and the rescue flock in the small house and run. With chicks rapidly growing, we knew we would have to merge the flocks so that we could free up the smaller house for the growers. I was not very happy about this, as Gracie Ginger Ether and Doris formed a nice gentle group, with few arguments and no pecking order; I was doubtful that they would be happy in with the main flock which had a strict hierarchical structure.
Pecking order in a flock of hens is no laughing matter. Betty established herself as chief hen when she was about 18 months old, Hetty defers to her and occasionally gets pecked but mostly keeps the two Bluebelles in order. Bluebelle Polly is the guardian of the coop at dusk, patrolling the perch and pecking at a lowlier hen who deigns to hop up onto it; Bluebelle Molly keeps the Warrens, Dolly and Lily, in order. Lily was bottom of the pecking order for a long time, and was cowed and subdued around the other hens, but when we introduced Mabel at Christmas, Lily suddenly had someone to peck, and she has grown in confidence. Mabel is a wiley bird, though. She is submissive and deferential around the larger older hens, but is not completely browbeaten by Lily; and whenever the two flocks were let out to roam, Mabel gravitated towards her old flock because she knew that they were still her inferiors. I never quite understood why, when we removed Mabel, the smaller flock did not then produce a new leader; perhaps they were all so relieved at Mabel’s departure that they decided that they did not need one! But why do they not stand up to her now?
The two flocks have known each other and mixed without too much trouble for months. They are let out together each afternoon but they tend to each have their favourite spots in the garden so can largely keep out of each others way. If they meet over a handful of seeds, the smaller flock will defer to the larger to avoid trouble, although Ginger has been getting a little bolder lately. I worry that once they are all in the same house and pen that there will not be enough places they can get away from the “big” girls and will end up huddled unhappily in a corner. The house is more than big enough for all eleven hens, in fact it could house 20 although we might have to add another nest box and perch for them to be completely comfortable. Continue reading
I have never considered myself to have “an addictive personality”. I don’t smoke, drink only a little wine to enhance and complement food, and think gambling is a mugs game. But when it comes to chickens, well yes I think I am addicted or at least obsessed. Six lovely friendly remarkable hens was just not enough, I wanted more, and so I hatched my plans.
Our six ladies had really outgrown their house and we wanted to give them something larger, with a bigger secure pen. The first task was to get the pen built, and the local firm who had worked for us before were engaged to build it, 15 metres square, of 6foot high welded mesh buried 18inches into the ground. This would give us a (hopefully) fox-proof environment where we coud leave the hens while we were out at work; they would still be let out to enjoy the rest of the land when we were at home. The site we selected was sheltered by large hawthorn trees on the western side, protected in winter from the prevailing winds, and providing excellent sunshade and dustbathing facilities during the summer.
A bigger house and pen would also allow us to expand the flock, and we spent a lot of time driving to coop builders and comparing the build quality of the offerings. It looked like we would have to spend £600 at least to get the size we wanted, and even then each one we saw had one or more features we did not like. In the end we decided to build our own, and we would use high quality materials and build in all of the features we wanted. We designed the house on the back of an envelope and started on Easter Saturday 2010, visiting a small timber merchant in Huddersfield and carefully selecting wood and fixings. By the end of the Easter holiday weekend we had completed the floor of the house, 8ft by 4ft. We spent at least one day every weekend working on the project; sometimes taking a trip to buy more wood or fixings, sometimes not being able to work on it at all. It took over half the garage and the cars lived outside for weeks as there was no room for them.
The plan was to finish the house and move the flock into it, then clean and renovate the old house and fill the smaller house with rescue hens. They would recover their feathers and build their confidence, and eventually would join the “old” girls in the larger house. The summer wore on and we were no closer to finishing the new house; I kept watching the British Hen Welfare Trust release dates for Yorkshire, but there were none available, and even if there were hens to be had we didn’t have the room ready. Eventually, at the beginning of August, we finally erected the new house, fixing it to the ground with Metposts. The house looks great; being on 18 inch legs, there is room underneath for the chickens to shelter, dustbathe, etc. We first built a ramp, covered in chicken wire, but they still found it too steep and slippery, and we had to rethink. With some spare wood, we constructed a small staircase; this was much better! They had to be encouraged up the stairs with grapes, but at least they made it to the top!
The ladies were very interested, and kept going in and out of the pophole, and chattering excitedly; but when it came to bedtime, they trooped back to the old house! We tried again the next day, but again they preferred their familiar surroundings. So we had to take matters into our own hands. That night we let them go to bed as normal in the old house, ate our tea, then went outside with torches and opened up the old house by removing the roof. There they all were on the perch, very calm considering we had just put them in a very vulnerable position. Paul led the way with the torch and I carried them one by one to the new house. They were a little intrigued but hopped up onto the perch and settled down very quickly. So far so good. The next morning I got up early and went to let them out. At first they were confused by the steps, and hesitated over each one. It took a long time for all six hens to descend from the giddy heights down the steps, but only Polly bottled it completely; she took only two steps and then flew off the staircase! Nevertheless, they seemed to manage OK, and used the nestboxes during the day, so did not find the steps too difficult for that. However, come dusk, they were all waiting at the gate to be let back to the old house! I had to show them with a torch the way to their roost, helping each one to climb the steps again. This went on for a couple of days, and then finally it clicked and they were happy to go to bed themselves. Success!
They loved the new run, the hawthorn trees had always been a favourite spot before we built it so we knew that it was a good place have it. The soil underneath the trees was dry and fine, so perfect for dustbathing, and when in leaf perfect shelter for rain or sun. Now we had to organise some rescue hens before autumn set in, as the cold winds on our hill would not be good for semi-naked hens!