The Police Are Handing Out Sheep

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A week ago, there was a knock at my door…at 8AM.  Police officers.

“Ma’am, do you own a white goat?”

“Yes.”

“Is it missing?  There’s one jumping around on Poplar.”  (That’s our main drag through town.)

Nope.  Goats don’t ROAM like a dog that gets loose.  And, they stay in pairs.  So, I was pretty sure it wasn’t mine.  Even if someone had taken Sylvie down there, Lily would be raising Cain in the backyard about being alone.

I checked.  Two goats accounted for.

The police were just about to leave, “Ma’am, Animal Control won’t take the goat and we can’t find the owner…Would you…”

I finished the sentence for him, “Goat-sit for you?”

“Yes, ma’am.  Please.”

This arrived in the back seat of a squad car, behind the bars….

IMG_5451She’s  freshly shorn, so she belongs to someone, but the owner has not yet surfaced.

Things I’ve learned about sheep:

  1. Sheep MOW.  Dang, my back yard looks great.  She doesn’t want the leaves, like the goats.  She wants the lawn.
  2. Sheep eat a lot more than goats and bring out their competitive side. (Goats so FAT trying to keep up.)
  3. Sheep poop in plops, not pellets like goats.
  4. Shorn sheep look remarkably like goats, except the tails. (Note the droop.)
  5. Sheep are less social.  Goats try to get in the house.  Sheep are standoffish.

Baaaaa…..

How We Liked the New Nest Box

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What is that thing?

IMG_2482What are you doing in there?

IMG_2478We all must know.

IMG_2483Move over.

IMG_2488Hasn’t killed anybody yet. Must check it out.

OK, enough of the chicken POV. Initially, things looked promising. They were curious about the new box and kicked the tires around for a few hours, so to speak.

When it came time to make a deal, though, they chickened out and started looking for old familiar places to lay. They sat in the new box, but no eggs. The eggs began turning up in weird places, on shelves, in corners. Anywhere they could make a nest EXCEPT the new box.

I had blocked off the shelves (it’s an old storage/playhouse) with improvised barricades, but they overcame the barricades with great persistence until I knew it was time for more drastic action.

I removed the shelving and took out the straw, basically eliminating any place other than the new nest box.

Finally, I started to see results. Stripped of their fallback locations, they reluctantly began to lay in the new box. Yay!

It’s been about a week now with the new arrangement and they’re getting more and more used to it. I have eggs again and all is well in the coop.

For the moment.

 

Roll-Out Nesting Box

Chicken Time-Out wasn’t much of a success.

First, there’s the problem of having to catch an angry chicken first thing every morning.

No amount of coffee can prepare me for that.

Second, I think there may be another culprit. My smartypants Rhode Island Red laid an egg on the top shelf of the coop yesterday morning and was proceeding to roll it over to the edge (a seven-foot drop) when I grabbed the egg and saved it from a desperate fate.

The only thing that would get to the bottom of this would be a chicken cam or dawn-to-dusk surveillance and while I admit to being a bit obsessive I’m not going to those lengths.

The fact remains: I refuse to feed eight hens seven days a week for only seven or so eggs a week.  Not happening.

I did not whine my way through a Long, Eggless Winter only to endure a Long, Eggless Summer.

The next possible solution to try was a roll-out nesting box, which is exactly what it sounds like; the hens lay their eggs on a slanted surface and gravity takes them away so they can’t get to it.

I looked at a couple of homemade roll-out nest box plans online that used plastic storage boxes but decided to use materials I already had. So I made a few rough sketches and went out to my scrap lumber pile.

For the base I made a rectangle of 3/4 inch plywood with a length of 2X4 attached to the bottom to elevate one side to make the eggs roll down to a catchment area.

In my coop I don’t have rear access to the nest boxes so I decided on a front-access egg-collecting box. The eggs would roll forward and into a box beneath a hinged door.

Here is a photo of the back showing the 2×4 attached to the plywood base. Ignore the dividers at this point, I just wanted to show how the base is simply a rectangular plywood board made to slant with the addition of a couple of scrap lengths of 2×4. Also please ignore the pieces of plywood under the 2x4s which I was using to help make the driveway level.

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Here it is from the front. You can see it has no 2×4 in the front, which makes the board slanted.

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There are four dividers which form three nesting areas. The dimensions of the dividers are based on the 12? x 12? recommendations for nesting boxes. Because the sides rest on the floor, they needed to be taller than the center dividers. I made these two side boards about 4 1/4? taller than the two center dividers to adjust for the height of the 2×4 and the 3/4? plywood. I cut them on a slant to keep hens from roosting (and pooping) on top of the nesting box. They are also 12? deep.

The width of the individual boxes is a little more than 12? because my plywood was already cut and I didn’t want to cut it just to make it perfectly 12? per box. Chickens don’t care.

I made the box in two separate pieces so the top could be taken off for cleaning and so it would be easier to move. I used a scrap piece of luan for the roof and nailed it to the dividers.

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Once the roof was complete, I made short sides all around the base to form the part of the box where the eggs would roll.

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It’s difficult to attach these from the top, so I turned the plywood base over, clamped the side boards to the (now) underside, and screwed them in from the bottom.

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Flipped back over, I could then attach the box cover. I used a pair of small hinges I had lying around. The eggs roll under this catchment area where the hens can’t get to them.

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The roof/divider unit fits over the base. It could be fastened with nails or screws, but I left it separate.

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Since using nesting material such as straw or wood chips would keep the eggs from rolling and defeat the purpose, I cut a piece of fatigue mat (you can buy it by the foot at home centers) to cushion the egg drop without getting in the way of gravity.

The chickens had a hard time getting used to this. Check back tomorrow when I post on how the intro to the new box went over with the hens.

Great Little Backyard Coop

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We’ve learned the hard way, that a “free range” chicken is pretty much a “dead” chicken.  Out of 15 chickens we’ve owned.  We have 4 left.  Four were predator deaths.  One was old age.  Six were killed by their own stupidity: hanging themselves on fences they couldn’t quite jump, ramming themselves under fences they couldn’t escape, chasing dogs, fighting goats for domination of the yard, etc.  So that, and the constant splats on the back porch convinced us to get a Precision Pet Products Hen House Chicken Coop.  We actually got ours on sale at Tractor Supply for under $200.

It assembled in under an hour.  However, don’t drag it across the concrete after you build it; the wood is soft.  See below.

IMG_1002Also notice the bricks under the coop.  The wood is SOFT, y’all.  So unless you’re yard is bone dry year round, you will need to put it up on something.   We built two brick outlines so we can hop it to the next square for scratching variety.  If you don’t toss straw in there, though, you would need to move it every few days.

Totally unnecessary is the Retractable Wheel Kit.  The whole thing is so light, my 8 and 10 year old can put it anywhere I want.  However, be it known that the ramp WILL pull away from the screws when you lift it (or roll it on that wheel set).  If you plan to move it often, do secure that ramp, bottom and top.  In the top picture, you can see that our ramp is gone.  We gave up reattaching it when we realized the chickens could just jump up there anyway.

Below you can see there are an assortment of doors on this contraption.  To the right is the “big door” that you can almost crawl into.  The window door is almost never used by us.  Under the window door is a tray that pulls out for easy cleaning.  The next box in the back has it’s own door and there’s a little door on the opposite end.  All that is super-convenient for cleaning and feeding.
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Overall, we’ve been very pleased with the coop.  We’ve had it for months.  I would like to add on the Chicken Coop Extension Pen some day to give the girls more room.  (It seems too cramped in there for four chicks, but I’m sure they much prefer being ALIVE to having unlimited elbow room.)  That and there’s no ROOST.  Chickens want to sleep in tree branches.  This coop doesn’t come with a roost, but you can buy a Roosting Bar or just wedge a dowel in there.

Egg-Eater Blues

About a week or two ago, the daily egg count began to take a dive.

I might collect five or six eggs one day, next to none the next day. A couple of days I literally collected no eggs.

Some days several, some days one or two. I found a couple of half eaten eggs and some scattered shells here and there.

It all pointed to one thing: we had an egg-eating chicken. Maybe more than one.

So I started hanging out in the coop, you know, catching up on the latest gossip, scooping the latest poop. It’s been raining a lot, too, so I even got stranded in the coop during a downpour and decided to stay and watch the chicken dynamics.

My observations all pointed to one thing, rather, one chicken: Barney

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Barney is a Barnevelder we hatched from an egg. She is a beautiful bird, the only one of her breed in our flock. Like most “onlys” in my experience, she’s a bit of an outsider, but usually seemed to get along pretty well with the others.

I don’t know how she discovered she could eat eggs, but it probably started with an accidental broken egg. And since that was DELICIOUS, she started making them crack deliberately, pushing them around, making them crack into each other, knocking them out of the nest box onto the floor, etc. Smart, yes. Too smart? Yes, too smart for my liking.

My first response was to stand in the coop on and off all one day to keep her out of the coop once she’d laid her egg and I’d collected it. Every time another hen would go in to lay an egg, she’d fuss all around her, waiting impatiently to get the egg, even getting into the nest box WITH the laying hen, practically sitting on her.

So I started running her out, over and over. I’d toss her out into the run. She’d pretend to walk around scratching for a couple of minutes, then sneak back up the ladder to the coop. I’d hide while she poked her head in, then when she thought the coast was clear, I’d pop out and shoo her back down the ladder.

Before you suggest I get a hobby, let me remind you this IS my hobby. I am a hobbyist chicken pesterer.

My second response, because pestering chickens, wouldn’t you know it, gets old after a while, was to put together a separate enclosure within the chicken run made out of chicken-wire panels I already had on hand. I put Barney in there with her own food and water and went into the house.  My house, not the chicken house, for a change of pace.

When I went out a few minutes later she was back in with the general population, eyeballing me suspiciously, but with a glint of self-satisfaction in her eye.  She’d flown over the top, apparently.

Today, after spending too much time monitoring the nest boxes, and STILL catching her literally with shell on her beak as soon as I let my guard down, I am now on my third response.

Chicken Time Out.

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It may be humiliating, but she has water, feed, snacks, and proximity to the other hens. I can move her jail around to fresh ground like a chicken tractor and I’ll put her back in after the others finish laying, but for now we’re trying this.

It’s better than the soup pot.