Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken Water Nipples

Yeah! The chicken water nipples that I ordered finally arrived in the mail today.

I used an old 5 gallon bucket and a lid (the kind with a small pour spout hole in it). I drilled out 6 evenly spaced holes in the bottom using an 11/32" drill bit, then screwed in the nipples by hand until they were fully seated. Put the lid on and hung the bucket from the peak of the hoop house, and filled it with water using the small hole in the lid. It occurred to me that if you don't put a lid on it, a chicken might drown in the bucket. It also keeps the bugs and debris out of the water.

When I hung it I used a flat nylon tie down with a hook on it and just hung the bucket handle on the hook. That way I can easily remove the bucket with out untying anything. The hardest part was hanging it at the right height so that the chickens can reach it but not too low. Now that I think about it, a ratchet tie down would work nicely to be able to adjust the height as the chickens grow.

It took the chickens all of about 5 minutes to figure out how to use them. One curious cockerel started pecking at one of the red nipples and was surprised when water came out. Soon others followed suite (as chickens always do) and before you know it they were all happily drinking away.

Now when I move the hoop house the water bucket will come along for the ride. And 5 gallons should last them all day so I don't have to worry about re-filling it 3 times a day. The best part is NO POOP in the water like you get with a bowl or font. Between my sliding feed trough and my hanging water bucket, my chicken chores are a breeze now. All I have left is to build a bigger roost bar system that is suspended off the ground.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Maran Chicks

On a totally unrelated note, we bought 5 Maran chicks from our neighbor Rick at about a week ago. They have been living in a clear plastic storage bin brooder but I moved them yesterday into one half of the big white brooder box. They have lots of room now and are pretty happy in there.

This is the original guy that I hatched from my home-made ice chest incubator. The other 5 are a couple days behind. We gave him a stuffed animal to keep him company when he was all by himself. (An eagle, really?!? You would think that I could have found a stuffed chicken so close to Easter time, but no such luck.) Now this little guy has taken on the role as protector of the flock (we are convinced that he is going to be a rooster). Any disturbance and he cranes his neck to see what's going on, then rushes to the intruding hand, etc. and begins pecking at it.

My original intent was to take advantage of one of our layer hens that went broody and put some eggs under her. Then she could raise them and we will have some fresh new layers next year. However she came off the eggs after about a week. I didn't think any of them would make it cause the eggs were barely warm when I found them and I had difficulty getting my incubator to stabilize on a good temperature for a few days. So out of 6 eggs I got this one little guy. I couldn't leave him alone so we bought the other 5 as soon as they hatched. Now we have 3 Black Copper Marans, 2 Blue Copper Marans, and this one guy somewhere in between, as he is from a different blood line. I thought he was black but now he looks gray when compared to the other chicks.

Week 5 - Its a Chicken!

Well the chicks turned into chickens over night. Yesterday I swear they looked like large Naked Neck Turken chicks, but the chicken growth fairy must have sprinkled pixie dust on them overnight because this morning they look like pullets. They are exactly 29 days old and going through feed like mad. Their feet and legs are huge, and one of them is walking funny and I am worried about them eating too much. I was just with holding food at night, but I think I am going to ration how much feed they get during the day as well.

A couple of them managed to squeeze underneath the back of the hoop house (the ground was fairly uneven) and tried to escape, but my wife (in my absence) braved the hot wire on the gate and rounded up all the escapees and blocked off the gap. This morning I screwed a 2x2" across the bottom of both ends. This makes it much more difficult to drag the hoop house to fresh grass, but I guess I have to wait a few more weeks or rig up a wire flap or something. 

I was pretty sure that I could get away with not moving the hoop house for 2 or 3 days at this stage, but to my surprise, the grass was pretty well used up in one day, even at their small size now. Their first two days in the hoop house I moved it a half length. This morning I moved it a full length. Moving it is a pain cause I have to pull out the feeders and water and the roost bars (I just screwed some branches to a couple 1x2's and just leaned it up against the back wall)

I gave up on the 2 red plastic 24 inch feeders. Its ridiculously difficult for me to get them open, they are always covered in mud and poop, and they are no longer big enough for the chickens to all eat at once. So I built two new 5 foot long feed trough out of a ten foot piece of vinyl rain gutter this morning (but I am only using one right now). Because I was too cheap to buy the plastic ends and sealant, I had to cut some wooden ends out of 2x4's. The hardest part was coming up with a disrupter so they don't bill the feed out or walk all over it and poop in it. I bent some 2 inch welded fence wire into a peak and attached it inside the trough. Seems to work pretty well so far.

I want the feeders to move with the hoop house so I mounted the trough on a 6' cedar fence board and attached an eyelet on one end with a foot of small chain and a spring clasp (from an old dog leash) that hooks the feeder to an eyelet inside the front of the hoop house near the door. This way when I pull the hoop house, the feeder gets pulled right along with it. And I can easily un-hook it and pull it out if necessary.

I am still waiting for the "chicken nipples" that I ordered to arrive so that I can hang a water bucket as well, but for now they just have a large bowl that I have to rinse and fill twice a day. I also need to build some larger roost bars and get them off the ground as well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Week 4 - Getting Bigger

Today the chicks are 22 days old, and they are starting to look like little chickens instead of big chicks. They are almost completely feathered out and are flying and running around like crazy. No losses or sickness that I can tell. They seem to really enjoy being outside with room to roam and forage and enjoy the sun shine (it rained all day yesterday).

I raised the roosting branches a little higher the other day and put a step behind the heat box to encourage them to get used to jumping up on top of stuff and roosting.

They have been foraging and eating lots of grass as well. The grass in the pen started out about 8-10 inches tall and is now down to 3 inches in just one week. Today I start switching the feed from 23% Chick Starter to 20% BTG Grower. I bought 300 lbs. yesterday, I just hope that is enough to get through another 3-4 weeks. I am filling both of those 24" feeders twice a day now. By the way, I am only using locally milled "Dr. Jim Z's (Zamzows) Premium - All Natural Feed". Its the "Highest Quality Hand Crafted feed that is Medication Free, Urea Free, Meat and Bone Meal Free, and Pesticide Free. I get it at the Feed Mill in Meridian Idaho.

[UPDATE] Well Saturday was very warm and the grow out pen is about worn out. The grass is down to the ground and the poop is starting to smell. So we moved the chicks from the grow out pen into the hoop house. It was more work than I expected. We cornered the chicks in the pen and caught them one at a time and put them into a large dog kennel and then wheel barrowed them out to the hoop house in 2 batches. This was a good opportunity to count them and all 46 were there as expected.

The single chick that I gave to my friend Mary is also doing well and is helping to raise a bunch of day old chicks that she hatched out of her incubator. The meat chick is so large that the hatchlings apparently think that it's their mother. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hoop House Build

Well (finally) here are some pictures of my hoop house! Several folks have asked me for plans but this build was done ad-hoc so I didn't really have any plans to share. So, here are some links to a few different plans for building a similar hoop house/coop: 

The basic idea behind pastured poultry is to move the chickens to fresh grass each day. So the pen needs to be light enough to pull with a rope by a single person or a riding lawn mower. Lots of people use a 10x10' pasture pen that is only 2 feet high. I chose a hoop house over a pasture pen because I can walk inside to change out the feed and water, catch chickens, etc.

It has an 8x12' foot print and is 6' high, enough to be able to walk around inside. It is basically made of 3 "ranch panels" (4 gauge galvanized welded wire) that are pushed up into a hoop inside of the pressure treated frame. I put a heavy duty U.V. protected tarp over the back 8' leaving 4' open (covered in chicken wire) for sun and ventilation. I covered the perimeter with 4 foot high chicken wire in case the tarp rips or I want fold it up on the sides. Attaching the chicken wire was very laborious, even using wire "zip" ties. Make sure to use the black (U.V. protected) ones.

The ends were the most difficult part to figure out. Chicken wire by itself is not predator proof and the ranch panels were too cumbersome (and very sharp at the ends) to use. I have been saving this piece of 3/8" ACX plywood for years and finally found a good use for it. I just tacked it in place and traced out the hoop and cut it to fit. I did not want it to become a 3 sided parachute in the wind so I put in a foot of chicken wire near the top of the back so the wind will go through it. The A-frame 2x4's are to keep the ranch panel at the peak in place and help support the plywood as well. I probably need to put some stain or paint it or it won't last very long.

My son's dog "Moo Moo" (cause his coloring looks like a cow) for some perspective of the size.

The door on the front is almost 3x6' and has sprung hinges (screen door style) and two locks. I purposely made it swing out so that if a predator tried to get in it couldn't push its way through. Later on I added some left over heavy wire fencing to the door and the front to beef up the chicken wire. Next time I will use plywood or 2" welded wire covered with chicken wire for the ends.

LESSON LEARNED: Chicken wire sucks. Use alternatives when ever possible.

Nice and cozy inside, yet some sun and lots of ventilation. I think I will add some roost bars at the back and I need to build a feed trough (maybe out of plastic rain gutter) and get some "chicken nipples" for a 5 gallon water bucket. I will hang the water bucket from the peak near the door to make it easy to change out. And the feed troughs will probably sit on the corner braces so that they move with the house when I pull it to fresh grass each day.

Turns out that my new neighbor across the street raises Black and Blue Copper Marans (very dark brown eggs) and Ameraucana (blue Easter Eggers) on his small family farm ( and is making some decent money at it selling chicks this spring. He asked me to build him one or two of these hoop houses for his extra cockerels. I ended up using 5mm under-layment plywood on both ends but had to primer seal it because it wasn't exterior grade plywood. Here it is just before I put the tarp on. Its a little different but probably stronger than mine.

Week 3 - Grow Out Pen

I decided that the brooder box is not big enough for 50 chicks through 3 or 4 weeks. So I started working on a "grow out pen". Next to the shed there is a 12x20 foot section that is very well fenced with 2" welded wire. So I added a layer of 1" plastic mesh that I had laying around to the front half, and wired up a 2 foot high border of scrap OSB plywood around the perimeter of the back half and across the gate (so that I can step over it but the chicks can't get out). I put a tarp over half the area so they will have shade and dry ground.

The best idea came from Mary, was to build a "heat box" rather than using a 250 watt heat lamp. A heat box is 3 to 4 foot square, a foot high with a roof but no floor, and a small gap at the bottom for the chicks to be able to get under neath. I wired it up with two regular old 60 watt light bulbs on opposite ends on the inside near the top. I also screwed a cedar board over the gap at the bottom on the two back sides so that it will contain the heat better and give them safe corner. Not only does the box keep them warm, but it also provides them shelter and protection from cats and hawks, and uses less than half the electricity of a single heat lamp.

LESSON LEARNED: Use a heat box in a confined area rather than brooder box.

Yesterday the chicks were 2 weeks old and just way too big for the brooder box. So I decided it was time to move half of them to the grow out pen. I tried to pick out the ones that had the most feathers. I ended up with 24 in the pen and 22 left in the brooder box. Here you can see them in their new home for the next week or two.

I sat and watched them carefully for an hour or so. At first they were very timid and took near 20 minutes to come out of the box that I moved them in. Then they finally started to check things out. It was really fun to watch them explore and flap their wings and run around. Some were even flapping and chest bumping with each other, probably learning how to be roosters. You can see a few chicks just under the heat box in these pictures.

My layer hens were extremely jealous to see these guys eating in front of them, so I threw some scratch for them in front of the pen so that everyone can get to know each other. Maybe the chicks will learn some "chicken behavior" from them, who knows, can't hurt.

This guy is Mr. Curious. I watched him (he has a distinguishing white breast) as he was always the first one to explore around the back side of the heat box, out to the back corners of the pen, then he came right up to my layer hen, "Beakers", without any hesitation. Could be that he is brave, could be that he is curious enough to get himself in trouble. We will see.


The first half of the chicks did so well in the pen that I moved the other half in to the pen 3 days later. I was worried about the cooler weather (40-45 degrees at night) for the first night with each move, but all survived and are doing great. I cleaned the disgusting pine shavings out of the brooder box and cleaned up the mess in the shed. Now both my compost bins are full.

The chicks have almost finished the first 50 pound bag of feed (25% protein BTG starter), I am going to put them on 23% protein chick starter for the next week or so to reduce the protein content some. Then they will all get moved out to the hoop house. I still haven't posted my hoop house build. I will do that soon.

And we got a pair of goats, "Brownie" and "Granny", to eat down the grass and weeds in the pasture. That was another whole adventure! I had to add a hot wire to the pasture fence to keep the younger one from getting her head stuck in the fence. Some how she managed to squeeze it through, but then the angle of her horns didn't allow her to back her head out. It was a major struggle to free her without cutting my fence. After the fourth time I put her on a cable tie out until I got the hot wire finished. It took her all of 5 seconds to figure out the hot wire, I about died laughing when she hit it with her nose and jumped 6 feet straight up in the air. She won't do that again.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Week 2 - Problems

The morning of day 7 or 8 I found a second dead chick in the brooder box. Others looked sickly and one in particular was very lethargic. The chicks looked bloated and unclean, and some of them had poop stuck to their butt. I pulled out one chick that looked bad and my wife and I cleaned him up real good, as he had poop all under his wing and it was getting nasty.

Worried that we would lose more chicks I called my chicken friend, Mary at The Hen Connection. She immediately came over and took a look at the chicks. First order of business was to with hold food for 4 to 5 hours as they were apparently eating themselves to death. Second we cleaned all of the "poopy butt" off of the chicks. If it hardens on the chicks, they cant poop and will literally explode inside. Yuck! Then we decided to lower one of the heat lamps an inch or so to keep it warmer in the brooder box. But the most important decision was to with hold the food at night to keep them from over eating, especially on 25% protein BTG starter feed.

LESSON LEARNED: With hold food at night with meat chicks.

As expected the lethargic chick died that afternoon, and I gave one chick to Mary so that leaves 46. But I am happy to report no more losses since, and they are looking great now. No more poopy butt or severe bloating. And they are feathering out nicely.

By day 12 the pine shavings in the brooder box were getting gross so I cleaned them all out and added some fresh shavings, but I need to buy another bag and do it again soon. The chicks are so big that they are making a huge mess, and I have to check their food and water 3 times a day now. This guy is a huge for his age.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Week 1 - The Chicks Are Here


I got the call from Pine Pride Hatchery this last Tuesday (3/27) that my 50 Red Star Ranger chicks were ready to be picked up. I really wasn't expecting them for a few more days so I was a little unprepared. Since I was in the middle of a construction project in the garage, I decided that the brooder box needed to be moved into the shed. This was a good decision in hind sight since it is secure and draft free, no loud noises like power saws, no paint or car fumes, etc. Moving that box by myself however was no small feat. Thank God for the wheels that got it 90% of the way. I added pine shavings, set up the feeder and watering jar, and turned on the heat lamps.

I picked up the chicks from the hatchery mid afternoon and the drive back home was uneventful except for some occasional peeping. My wife helped me put the chicks into the brooder box, one at a time and gently dipping their beaks into the water trough. I have read that this helps them to know where the water is. Of course my wife took about 5 minutes with each chick giving them lots of love and cooing over them. Telling her that we were going to be slaughtering and eating them in 12 weeks didn't seem to matter much to her. Just wait till they are big enough to start making a huge mess and then we will see how cute they are. Anyhow here are a few pictures from day one.

Okay so they are pretty cute now. But I know whats coming soon. Poop, and lots of it. 


The chicks are doing well. No dead or sickly chicks, and the temperature must be good cause they aren't bunched up or keeping away from the heat lamps. I cannot believe how active they are, running back and forth from the heat lamp to the food and water. I also put some branches in for them to climb over and to roost on. They are very curious little guys. They love to peck the plastic thermometer (probably because it has a large red indicator) and seem fascinated by it. I am also amazed how at just a couple days old they instinctually act just like my adult hens, preening themselves, scratching the ground, backing up and looking down for something to eat, etc. I could swear that they are bigger too. Most are starting to develop their wing feathers.


This morning I found one dead chick. I expect to lose about 5 chicks so this is no surprise, but what is surprising is that we haven't lost any until today. I think its my fault though because I had to go and monkey with things yesterday. I decided to put the heat lamps on a chain so that I can adjust the height easier than with them sitting on the lid, especially when the lid gets opened. Since they seemed to be doing so well and not staying under the lamps very long, I removed the second lamp. It was a really nice warm day too so I opened the window on the shed. Well last night a storm rolled through and I forgot to shut the window, so they probably got too cold and one of them bought the farm. I put the second heat lamp back up this morning.

LESSON LEARNED: Too hot is better than too cold. If the chicks can move away from the heat lamp, leave them alone.

Also they are going through more food now. This morning the feeder was empty. As soon as I filled it all 49 chicks were going like gangbusters trying to eat. I realized that I need another feeder. I added another small feeder until the frenzy was over. I will be buying another large feeder this afternoon, and I guess I need to check and fill the feeder more than once a day.

The chicks are getting much bigger too. The wing feathers are filling in and now I can see tail feathers starting to come in as well. This big guy is a good example.