Thursday, September 29, 2016


Rocky laid the first egg. Yes, the chicken we thought was a rooster turned out to be a hen. Good thing we didn't cull her. She laid a full week earlier than expected so either she was a bit older or just precocious. 

For those who are also new to chickens and wondering about how you tell when they're getting ready to lay, we did have some early warning signs. First she squatted in front of me and let me gently pet her back feathers (none of my chickens likes to be touched - normally they run away if you reach for them). Then, a couple days later, she did the full-on butt-in-the-air position. Three days after that she laid her first egg. It was small but perfectly formed. 

So, egg #1 was laid on Saturday September 24th. 

The squatting behavior continued and then, Tuesday the 27th, Rocky took herself off to the coop for some alone time.

Waiting patiently
Rocky in the nest box
I've left the golfballs in the nest boxes to act as lures. And they're working. Both times Rocky went into the box she formed a circular nest around the balls. And then she formed a new nest for her egg. I had no idea it took so long to lay an egg. We waited a good 15 minutes before we had to leave for an appointment. The egg was there when we got back several hours later, so I don't know how long it actually took. But longer than 15 minutes, I can tell you that.
Golfball on left, new egg on right
Compared to a store egg, size large
Rocky's egg
Our egg has great yolk color and a nice thick white.
Store egg and Rocky egg
I scrambled some store eggs in with Rocky's egg to get enough volume for breakfast which means I have no idea if there was a flavor difference. I wish I'd scrambled just our egg so I could taste test it. Oh well, I'm sure there will be many more to come. The other hens are supposedly old enough as of yesterday. Not a single one of them is squatting yet though so I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Painting the pop door

See? I said more decorating would occur...

Chris decided the outside pop door needed some help. The chickens decided he did.

Heading over to check out the artwork
"Hi. Whatcha doing?"
"He says he's painting a chicken..."
"A chicken? What chicken???"
"That chicken?"
"I'm prettier than that. Paint me!"
"What do you girls think?" "It's got no face!"
"Shhh, don't rush him"
"Bah. Maybe if I'm closer it'll help"
"Put a little more red in the wattle"

Friday, September 16, 2016

The New Chicken Coop

When last we left we were just finishing the platform for the new coop. Now, obviously much has happened since that long ago post. And here's the magical journey that got us to the end.

First, we picked the location for the new coop. Then we sort of leveled the ground and built a platform. Then we built walls. We wanted to use the siding from the original coop so we wiggled a few things around to suit the adjusted layout (I flipped the nest boxes and pop door sides). Took a bit longer to get it all laid out and built, but saved us much money on materials. 

Unfortunately, things can easily go wrong when doing that kind of thing. For example, can you tell what's wrong in this photo?

Sad face on Chris - why?
If it's not obvious, there is no way that siding is going to match the door and window openings. We built the wall correctly, then installed it backwards. Argh. It was like a losing game of tetris. Fortunately we had an extra piece of siding and were able to recover without having to take the wall back down.

The original coop also had red tin on the roof. All of the tin on the property is black. Can you guess? Yup! Painted the tin black and it looks great, or at least looks good enough given that it's not particularly visible except from one specific direction.

The fine art of making it work
We changed the direction of the run too. It used to run straight out from the coop but we decided it would look less imposing and provide better shade if we turned it 90 degrees (this is why we wanted to paint the roof tin; at this angle, it's visible when you drive up to the house).
Attaching the run
The chickens in the meantime did all kinds chicken stuff. They found the build to be very interesting and once we started letting them up there with us, it was hard not to trip over them.
Checking out the new pasture
There are lots of windows for ventilation and both the front and back eaves are open to air. Every little gap has been covered in hardware cloth (boy, that took forever) and the run is secured with it too. We buried the cloth around the run to prevent digging underneath the walls and it's as safe as we're able (or interested) in making it.

The big front door lets me get inside for cleaning (I can stand up in there) or just filling the internal feeder and waterer. And I can easily reach the ropes that operate the pop doors without having to enter the run or coop (a big improvement over the temporary coop).
The coop is 6x7 and the run is 7x14
Inside I created a big roost that lets them easily hop up to the highest bar. The bars are each at least 4 feet long so there is plenty of room for the chickens to claim position. And it's positioned so they roost right in front of the clean-out hatch that we put at floor level. Cleaning is now super easy - open the hatch and just scrape the poop into the transport tray. We installed linoleum on the floor and it makes it wonderfully simple to clean up.

The nest boxes are just to the left of the roost bars. I'd seen suggestions that chickens like their nest boxes dark so we positioned them underneath the windows. They open from the outside so I don't have to get in the coop to gather eggs and I've already got them set up with straw, dried oregano, and golf balls as fake eggs. The birds should start laying this month so I'm prepping early.
Nest boxes to the left
We moved the PVC feeder that we made from the temporary coop and attached it a bit lower on the wall in the new coop. Having it at ground level has resulted in much less mess. I'm feeding the crumblet in here - they're now eating it no problem. A small bowl of grit is also visible in the photo. I'll add a bowl of oyster shell once they start laying.
Everyone needs a front stoop - rock in front of pop door
The pop door from the coop into the run is way off the ground so we needed to put in a ladder. I had made a ladder out of branches for the temporary coop and decided to do so again. I did learn a few things though - like have many more branches than I thought necessary, use larger diameter branches, and put a small platform of branches in front of the door. This gives them a good grip as they pause before entering the coop. And they always pause before entering the coop. There is typically a traffic jam at the door.

I also made the ladder to easily detach from the wall so I can clean up in there without banging it. The pop door to the outside is right underneath the highest part of the ladder so it's out of the way too.
Big ladder
In the far back right corner of the run is a man-door so I can go inside and clean or check on the birds.
Checking out the new abode
And I've already started on the decorating. I had a pair of old garden clippers with an awesome red handle.
Repurposed weed clippers
Some minor modifications and they're now a nifty handle on the main door.
Aren't they neat?
I'm sure there will be more decorating to come. This area will be very visible once we get the garden in place up there and I plan to spend lots of time enjoying it. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Kayaking on the Hudson

I have a favorite place to kayak on the Hudson River. It's near Moreau State Park and it's wonderfully peaceful - no ski boats or jet skis, just kayakers, canoes, and the occasional trolling motor on a fishing boat. 

It was a very calm day on the river. Little wind. Slow current. Bright sunshine.

So quiet!
We saw tons of snails, flowers, birds, nests, and fish. No eagles this time though.
Extremely clear water
 A fantastic way to spend a morning.
Photo effects!

Monday, September 12, 2016

It's a glamorous life...

In my last post I mentioned that chicken keeping always looks so wonderful on Pinterest. Figured I'd do a bit of the "keeping it real".

I do a full cleaning of the coop every Saturday morning. Note the glamour: respirator mask (chicken coops are dusty, dirty, and full of chicken poop); fresh bedding flakes (dusty); cute ladder that's supposed to have climbing flowers on it by now (chickens ate the plants); completely barren pasture area (despite frequent moves of the fencing); muck boots (did I mention the poop?); bug hat (flies???). 

And here I am, hat, coat, muck boots, and sundress (!?) putting away the chickens for the evening when it was raining. Just because the weather is foul doesn't mean the animals don't need care. 

Am I complaining? Only in jest - I fully realize that I've got it easy compared to real farmers (Grandpa was a dairyman). But I also wanted to put it out there that animal keeping isn't all pretty pictures of colorful chickens against a bright green background. It's also cleaning crap, heading out in bad weather (oh boy, can't wait to post photos this winter), and dealing with husbandry and pasture issues. 

Is it worth it? Well, so far I don't have a single egg to show for this, and eggs are cheap at the grocery anyway. Eggs aren't really the purpose - they're a nice bonus. The purpose? Trying something new, experiencing life, having a hobby, and getting entertained by simple creatures who have surprisingly well-developed personalities. So yeah, I guess it's worth it - despite my eggless state. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Chicken update

Update: the chickens are doing well. 
Thank you.

Okay, so yes, the chickens are growing, clucking, pooping, and exploring. They're getting to explore because we (mainly Chris) spent a good bit of time and effort working with Cooper to get her to realize these things were part of the family, not prey. 

It appears to have worked
Just hanging out. 
She can't quite figure out what they're doing though. They keep pecking the ground so there must be food there, right? But when she checks it out there's nothing there but grass and dirt. 

We're keeping a very close eye on their interactions, but so far so good.

Why are they in a barren area instead of working the garden? Because, chickens.
They're not always out free ranging though. If we're not home they're confined to their pasture. Not because of predators - the fence isn't high enough or tough enough to keep anything determined out - nope, it's because if left out on their own they inevitably end up on my porch. And they poop. A lot. No one ever seems to mention that in all those cute chicken Pinterest photos.
Let us out!
But they are out quite a lot and my feed bill has dropped dramatically now that they are foraging. They still have free access to store-bought food for all it's nutritional completeness, but they simply don't eat as much of it. After all, they're getting grasshoppers, moths, crawling bugs and anything green that seems even remotely edible.
Bugs galore at the edge of the wood
The cat is not impressed
The driveway: a source of grit, cherries, and bugs
They quickly found the nice grass and garden area (after all, it's right near the porch). I've been very pleased with their behavior in the garden. The plants are established so they're not uprooting them when they scratch and they're eating the bugs and weeds around them.

Grazing on the lawn
The new coop is finally done and I'll post pictures of that soon. Really looking forward to working on something other than chicken coops! And also really looking forward to that first egg. Should be late September - woo hoo!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Building the bass case

Chris plays the bass in a band. When he goes to gigs or open mic nights he was always worried about banging up his instrument because he only had a soft case. So he decided to build a new one that would be a bit more durable. 

He used spalted maple from the property as well as some cherry that he had purchased previously. Then he cut foam to perfectly cradle the bass. 

Carefully cut to fit
 Obviously he couldn't have blue foam as his interior so he passed it over to me to cover with fabric.
In the work room
I bought some dark grey fleece with a nice feel to it and started figuring out how to make it adhere to the wood and foam. Glue. Lots of glue.
The cat helped
It took a little while to get it all glued and assembled because I had to weight it down and let it dry before moving on to the next segment.
"Sure it's not a cat bed? No? Okay, I'll help weigh it down."
More glue...
 The interior came out pretty nice and now Chris is doing final fitting on the lid and decorative trim.
Much better than blue foam.
I admit to concern that the glue won't hold up to repeated ins and outs but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Going to the Washington County Fair

We have a fantastic Agricultural Fair near us. We look forward to it every August and do our best to attend on the day they do the antique tractor pulls (also the same day they do the draft horse competitions which are great to watch too).

Not too much weight yet
These tractors are real work horses. Some have been restored, some are still being used in the fields.
One of the few non-John Deere tractors
Taking a break from the tractor pulls, we wandered through the many, many exhibit barns. Chickens, pigs, goats, cows, horses, home goods, wildlife exhibits, and art displays.
A bat house 
Butterfly and Wren houses
Eastern Phoebe - we need some of these
The wildlife exhibit also had a scat display. Strangely fascinating and we learned what was pooping at the edge of the porch - a toad!
Um, poop?
They had a bunch of displays dealing with farming & homestead practices - cheese making, egg separators, looms, fence post digging, and ice harvesting, to name just a few.
So now I know how to figure out my egg size
We always go early, get lunch at the firemen's stall, and head home early afternoon before the crowds get too heavy. This year we even remembered to bring a sun umbrella - an excellent idea in mid-August!