Sunday, April 29, 2007

Henhouse update

The henhouse is now 99.5% done. I am really excited, as are the young hens. I've taken a bunch of photos of the various features of the house, but as always the blog isn't good at allowing me to label photos, so please try to match the description with the photo as you go. They get more and more out of synch as you read down!

This is a front shot of the henhouse with attached henport. You can almost see in this photo that there are 8 wingnuts and bolts holding the entire front of the henhouse in place (one is visible in the sunlight near the top left). This will allow us to take the entire front wall off once a year or so to do a big cleaning of the coop. Also, note the elevated food sled to prevent the need to stoop under the henport to swap out food or water buckets.

Close-up of nifty dual purpose door bar. Keeps the door bolted up, or very tightly down, depending on how you use it.

The front and rear walls have vent covers below the roof line that can be opened to allow a cross-breeze, or closed to retain heat in winter. These pictures show the front left side closed, then opened. You can tell the rear vent cover is open in the second picture (hence the bright rectangle of sunshine in the center of the photo). I'm short one hinge right now so that vent cover is still waiting to be completed.

The egg door is now fully integrated into the fencing of the chicken run, and weather stripped. We'll eventually put a nicer doorstop in than that piece of yellow string, of course.

The back of the henhouse opens up into the vegetable garden with a large "maintenance door" that we installed. This allows Matt and/or me to clean the henhouse out with easy access and adjust the inside of the henhouse if that becomes necessary. This also permits the hens to access the veggie garden if I so choose. When I opened the door to take the picture, Mrs. Tweedy decided to visit me and you can see her in that last photo.

The food sled was a neat idea I had. I didn't want to have to lift heavy water or food buckets at a funny angle when they were under the chickenport. So I designed a little food sled (complete with rounded runners and a slatted top) to allow me to easily slide the heavy stuff out from under the chickenport like a drawer. The open design prevents mold or other yuckiness from building up under the sled. Also, it is suggested that you elevate the water to prevent poo contamination and this accomplishes that as well! I haven't found just the right size bucket for the food yet, so only the chick feeder is up there right now. Soon though, I hope to put about 20lbs of food on the sled, and about 15lbs of water. I hope the sled technology is as handy as I think it will be.

The only thing remaining is the anti-hawk netting I purchased on Ebay. Once it is installed (and I purchase one more pesky vent hinge) I'll put the very final results up on the blog!

Profiles: Biggie Rockette

Biggie Rockette may be my favorite hen. She is plump, friendly, bold, and really funny to watch. She loves to come and hop up onto my lap and seems to enjoy being held.

Biggie (and Littles) are both really soft, attractive birds. Their feathers are a neat black and white striped color that makes them really look snazzy in a subtle way. Biggie in particular has always been a very outgoing hen- she runs right up to me whenever I go into the chicken pen and often pecks at my pant cuffs or shoe laces. In a nice way.

Biggie is expected to be a very good egg layer. The "Plymouth Barred Rock" is one of the oldest and best known egg laying breeds that originated in the USA. Her eggs will be either pale chocolate brown, or a pale pinky brown, and they are guaranteed to be quite large.

When the gate is open, Biggie likes to sneak past me and run out into the lawn. This is scary because I fear that Lucky will try to "retrieve" her. I try not to let her do this naughty breakout that she so enjoys, but she has made it out twice in the last week by sneaking past my feet when I'm busy carrying water or feed. Luckily, Lucky was inside both times (not a pure coincidence). Soon, the young hens will be big enough that I will be confident I can let them out with Lucky under close watch to teach Lucky that they are not to be messed with. He's learned that lesson with cats and babies, so I don't forsee chickens being all that different.

Because Biggie is bigger, bolder, and a little more red in the comb than Littles, I do still fear that she might possibly be a rooster. This is really unlikely but the proof will not come until she either crows (AAAAhh!!!) or lays an egg.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Addendum to Mrs. Tweedy and Pot Pie

As my sister pointed out, I did neglect to include forecasts of egg production for Mrs. Tweedy and Pot Pie.

Mrs. Tweedy is a Rhode Island Red, which is a breed well known for huge egg production in quality and quantity. She is expected to lay an egg every day for about eight or nine days, and then she'll take one day off. Then the cycle repeats. If she lives up to breed standard, she should produce the largest, brownest, and most plentiful eggs of all our chickens. This is one of the reasons I'm not too worried about her being stunted- she has a long way to fall before she would be less productive than say, Beldar. Technically, her breed is classified as "prolific" layers.

Pot Pie is an Americauna, or possibly an "Easter Egger." Both these breeds are actually mixes of several breeds that pretty much always include Aracana bloodlines from Brazil. As a mix, it is hard to say what she'll lay. Most likely, her eggs will be either pale olive, or pale teal-blue in color. They will be bigger than Beldar's, but smaller than Mrs. Tweedy's. Pot Pie should be a pretty good layer, but she isn't a "production" chicken like the Rockettes or Mrs. Tweedy so we expect her to lay eggs for about four or five days before taking a day off and starting over. Her breed is classified as a "good" layer.

The official laying classifications go; poor, fair, good, very good, prolific. Beldar is a "poor to good." We are hoping she is an overachiever.

Hope that fills you all in. I'll profile Biggie Rockette tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Profiles: Mrs. Tweedy

Our Rhode Island Red hen Mrs. Tweedy had a rough start in life. First, she attacked her only friend (Pot Pie). Then she suffered from the runs for a few days until we put her on chicken parasite medication. Once she started to get better, she instead developed pretty awful constipation for about three weeks. You haven't lived until you've watched a three ounce baby bird go red in the face trying to poo. Terrible. I force fed her molasses to give her some relief, which seemed to work. What have I become?

We think all those issues made Mrs. Tweedy who she is today- highly dependent on Pot Pie for moral support, very pushy when it comes to food, and kind of skinny. She still has not caught up growth-wise; she's bigger than the Rockettes (who are a week younger than her) but distinctly smaller than Pot Pie. Pot Pie should be noticeably smaller than Mrs. Tweedy- their breed's average adult weights are 6lbs for Pot Pie, 8lbs for Mrs. Tweedy.

Mrs. Tweedy is an aggressive, active hen. She loves treats (especially cream cheese) and will hop up onto my arm or leg to get closer to the source. Once she gets a large tidbit she usually goes running through the pen, shrieking. This seems to be a form of gloating. It is really funny.

Her feathers are becoming a really lovely deep russet brown and her tail is finally growing in. I hope that someday she'll overcome her early nutritional issues, but I guess if she ends up a little runty I will just accept her for who she is.

My friend's dog Ricka likes Mrs. Tweedy, and Mrs. Tweedy likes Ricka. Awwww...

Next up: Biggie Rockette

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Profiles: Pot Pie

Pot Pie is the plumpest, sweetest, and least focused chicken. She is not curious and seems extremely cautious. She has a rather disconcerting beak-eye coordination problem that results in a total inability to snatch treats off a surface. This disability makes it very painful and fraught with peril to offer her something from your fingers- she grabs a little pinched bit of your flesh and pulls hard on it, thinking she had finally gotten what she wants. It hurts.

My mother astutely reminded me that Pot Pie was the chick that Mrs. Tweedy pecked in the eye, so she hypothesized that the eye pecking incident precipitated Pot Pie's apparent vision issue. It is also possible that Pot Pies awesome little cheek fluffs keep her from seeing below her beak, thus making it really, really hard for her to see what she wants to peck at.

Thank goodness Pot Pie just isn't that interested in treats. She's more interested in drinking water, staring off into space, avoiding new things, and clucking in the form of a question. She's the only chicken that has learned to cluck so far, and every cluck or coo that she emits is in the form of a question. I think she thinks she is on "Jeopardy!"

Alex: "These are the three favorite noises of six week old Americauna hens."
Pot Pie: "Cluck cluck? cluck? cluck? Coooooo? Squeee?"
Alex: "Correct!"

Last but not least, Pot Pie is Matt's favorite chicken. She is soft, beautiful and calm- Daddy's little hen.

Next profile... Mrs. Tweedy!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Profiles: Beldar

I've decided to profile each chicken in turn on the blog. I'll start with Beldar, one of the young Polish hens.

Beldar is rapidly becoming the most talked about chicken. While we all love Pot Pie for her quiet gentleness, cute clucking, and fuzzy little cheeks, Beldar is far and away the most bizarre conversation piece. Everyone marvels over her. She is a sight to behold, even at only five weeks old.

Beldar is a fearful, spastic young hen. She excels at running full speed into stationary objects like fences and rocks. On Sunday, Matt and I watched her run full speed, headlong, into the external wall of the coop. Her navigation skills may in fact be impaired by her amazing hairdo- there is no question that she has the poorest peripheral vision capabilities of all the chicks in the flock.

If she manages to survive in spite of herself, she'll lay medium size white eggs. Really, she won't need to justify her existence with edibles however. We like her just for comedic relief.

Next up: Pot Pie!

Monday, April 16, 2007

So proud of my girls

Yesterday I put the final touches on the henhouse, including running the extension cord with a heatlamp into it, as well as putting mesh on the ventilation holes. Then I filled it with pine shavings, and added eight chickens.


The chicks were great, though. It got into the mid-twenties last night but the henhouse held its heat and in the morning, it was still in the mid-fifties inside their snug little house. They looked calm and happy. I was thrilled.

They can't hang out outside unsupervised yet because some of them (Beldar and Pria) still fit through the fence. Also, I don't have my anti-hawk meshing yet, so they would be too vulnerable to aerial assaults. This evening when I got home from work, I let them all out for a few hours while I read on the deck and watered the gardens. As dusk fell, and the robins started to sing, all the girls quietly started to gather in front of the open door to the lit, warm, henhouse. Would they go in? Are they becoming responsible young hens?

GASP. Littles Rockette decided it was time. She marched through the open door and settled deep into the soft shavings. Ahhhh... so warm. Bedtime. Everyone followed her lead, and I quietly crept up after them and shut the door.

My chicks are growing up so fast! It is bittersweet. It seems like only yesterday, they were like this;

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Glamour shots

A friend of mine has a nice digital camera and she reads the blog. She came to my rescue yesterday and we did a fantastic photoshoot of the chicks. The photos are awesome.

Sadly, the blog site here doesn't really let me label the photos very well, so you'll have to just remember this order; Rosie hunting for bugs, Beldar in his "bald eagle" pose, Mrs. Tweedy plotting world domination, Biggie being forced to hold still, Pria pouting, Zippy enjoying the lovely dirt, Little being her neurotic self, and Pot Pie getting a fresh sip of water! Remember- you can click on any photo to zoom in on it.

Friday, April 13, 2007


The girls (or whatever they may be) were all out in the sunshine today looking particularly funny and very photogenic. I even had a friend over that could have helped me take some really great portraits. But noooooo... the camera is very thoroughly missing. I have a sneaking suspicion it is sitting in a certain '99 Subaru Outback parked three and a half hours from here in Belgrade, Montana. Arg! No pictures until late next week unless I'm wrong and the camera shows up somewhere in the house, which is totally possible but I did look pretty hard for it.

Anyway, the other news is that I did some research into sexing crested breeds (the Polish). Turns out that the crest develops fuller, fluffier, and rounder in the females when the chicks are still young. Eventually the crest of the mature rooster is far bigger and foofier, but when they are chicks it is the female that gets to look fabulous.

Oops. Given this information, I am almost 100% positive that Beldar is a hen, and Pria is a rooster. I would show you why... but no camera this week. Damn. Is it against the rules to swap their names, or am I now doomed to have a hen with a white afro named "Beldar?"

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Girls... all I really want is girls

The boys (Lucky and Matt) are gone for the week and all the feminine energy around here is fabulous. My fears for Biggie Rockette are still there (why does she always look so perky and alert? And those short tail feathers? Hmmm....) but the rest of the older chicks are still looking hen-ish and also quite fabulous. Both Rockettes are becoming delightfully stripey and sleek, and the Wyandotte sisters are starting to look spotty and elegant all at once.

Mrs. Tweedy has a sort of "wet" looking head right now because of the way her feathers are growing in. It is very awkward and makes her look lizardy or even dinosaurish. Pot Pie is almost 100% adult feathered and she looks amazing. She also coos softly when you pick her up- very endearing.

Last but not least, the polish. I have no idea on their gender, but Matt and I have decided that they look like an unholy union between Albert Einstein and a Bald eagle. But smaller and freakier.

Pictures to come at a later date.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Happy Easter!

The chicks had another big day out today- even Beldar and Pria got to revel in the 70 degree sunshine. Beldar, Pria and "Little" Rockette can all squeeze through the fencing pretty easily, so we have to keep an eye on the flock and place boards along the base of it to keep Lucky's curious snout out of their safety zone. It was Beldar and Pria's first time out of the house and gosh was it exciting! They scratched in the dirt, ate dirt, ate grass, fluffed their feathers into the dirt... oh boy!
We finally built the chicken ramada to keep the snow off them in winter, rain off them in spring and fall, and blazing summer sun off them in the summer. It is a neat little addition to the chicken run and one that they already really enjoy.

This is a front shot of the whole chicken palace- ramada, covered side patio, and henhouse. I took it from the far plum tree covered corner of the chicken's run. The henhouse is not yet open for business because it still needs a light bulb for heat and light, mesh along the roofline ventilation, and some weather stripping along the doors and flaps. The chicks will probably move in about three weeks from now, which gives Matt and I plenty of time to do these last few adjustments.

Saturday, April 7, 2007


We worked on the coop today in the gorgeous high 60's sunshine. We put in the fencing, gate, finished the staining on the henhouse, and generally did a bunch of yardwork. After we were done, we let the girls hang out in their sweet yard. The Polish chicks are still too little to go outside- they seem to be growing slower than the other breeds. Soon, though, they'll be big enough!

The Wyandotte girls (Zippy and Rosie) really liked taking dirt baths in the sunlight. After Zippy made a particularly wonderful dirt bath site, she let her sister Rosie share in the glory of it.

Lucky is totally fascinated by the chicks, and he continues to stare intently at them, and whine profusely, no matter what!

All the ladies of the Radwood Chicken Experience in the coop, so happy together!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

GRE Question

If you have 6 chicks that each have a 1 in 10 chance of being male, and 2 chicks that each have a 1 in 2 chance of being male, what is the chance that one of your chicks is male and the rest are female?

First person to get this right and post it as a comment wins a free signed photo of Pot Pie.