So here we go! I've been on BYC for several weeks now, doing lots and lots of research! I've thought through everything and wanted feedback on my plans, as well as answers to a few questions.
I live in Western WA, pretty mild. Summers generally max out in the 80's, with maybe a few really hot days. Winters get down to a little below zero, with mild to heavy snowfall once or twice per season, in general. Lots of rain, of course :)
Regarding predators, we have coyotes, foxes, racoons, owls, hawks (I've only ever seen one smallish hawk over our house, and it was being mercilessly attacked mid-air by 2 crows) and a rare eagle. I also know we have bears, though I've never laid eyes on one personally. I'm on 5 acres, though only a small area is cleared - the rest is woods with lots and lots of tree cover and vegetation (ferns, huckleberry bushes, wild blackberries, huge old maples and cedars, lots of stumps, etc.)
We have 2 big dogs (an 85 pound rottie mix and a 110 pound American Bulldog/Boxer) who spend their days outside in a large fenced dog run adjacent to the house (though it's on the opposite side of the house from the chicken coop). We also have 2 cats that go in/out, but they're mostly in unless the weather is really nice. The dogs are very intruder-aggressive, are always on alert and bark and chase other animals away, but have shown no aggression towards our cats nor have they ever killed anything in our woods (chipmunks, etc.) They've also shown no aggression towards DD's guinea pigs, lol. They're all bark, no bite :)
There are also several large neighborhood dogs, all on invisible fences, but between all these dogs they do a great job keeping wild animals away. We've never spotted one on the property or in the neighborhood. One of our neighbors with dogs also keeps chickens and neither their dogs nor our dogs have shown any aggression towards them (and their birds free range and they haven't had predator issues at all). And our 2 cats are the biggest wussies ever - they jump at their own shadows (that's what living a sheltered indoor-only life for several years can do to a cat!) But obviously we would proceed with caution before allowing any of our animals interaction with the chickens.
COOP: So, after much pondering, I've decided on a really cute Suncast resin shed from Costco, which I'll convert into a coop. At $699, I just couldn't beat the price. It's 7' x 7', has two opening windows (which I'll cover with hardware cloth for security), ventilation in the roof and double doors in front. It has an attached floor, so it will be quite secure, and I'm thinking of raising it above ground level, or at a minimum I'll set down concrete below it for added insulation and protection from moisture.
I plan to use the deep litter method and will build free standing roost bars and nesting boxes that can easily be pulled out for annual deep cleaning. I want to avoid drilling/cutting the resin. I hope to raise everything up on legs so that there's still floor space underneath - for example, build a shelf on legs that's maybe 2' above the ground and set the nest boxes on top of that, so that they don't take up floor space. I'm still sorting through creative ideas.
CHICKENS: I've ordered 10 chicks from Meyer for delivery in mid-August. 9 hens and 1 roo. They are an assortment based on desired egg colors and, well, just my own whimsy :) I got 1 golden campine female, 1 welsummer female, 1 cuckoo marans female, 1 blue laced red wyandotte female, 1 EE roo, 2 EE females, 1 ancona female, 1 golden laced wyandotte female, and 1 barred rock female. Should make for a fun and colorful assortment! Eventually I may also want to add 3 silkies to the mix, once I find a good breeding source, because my DD adores them. My wishlist also includes a buff brahma, salmon faverolle and a BC marans, so DD's silkies may not make the cut, lol - I only have 49 square feet of coop space to work with!
GOALS: Eggs, pets, garden help, and fertilizer! Eventually, I'll probably let them breed so that I can select new hens to replace the older hens for egg production. Favorite birds will remain pets for life. Non favorites may be culled for food, or, if I don't have the heart to do it (which I very likely won't), given away. Newly bred birds, same thing - extra roos and hens will go to the stew pot, or be sold/given away. This is so that I don't exceed max occupancy for my coop (and if I eventually do, I can always add on for more space - I've read a lot about chicken math!)
RANGE PLANS: My overly optimistic goal is to allow the birds to free range over our property during the daytime (with simple fencing to keep them out of the veggie patch and other areas we wish to protect). I know, I know - predators may prove to be a problem. If that happens, I'll surely rethink my plan and will have a plan B on standby (fenced run). After reading "Chicken Gardens" I'm so inspired by what the birds can do for me with regards to weed and insect control, fertilizer, etc. And I truly believe this is healthiest for the chickens. That being said, I'm also entertaining the idea of using electric field netting as a moveable perimeter that we can change every week or two, which doesn't protect from hawks but will protect from the 4-legged predators who may be tempted to come during the day. As for hawks, there will be loads of places for the chickens to take cover, and hopefully the roo will alert them.
And, if our dogs prove to be good with the chickens, we may eventually put them on an invisible fence for added daytime predator control. At night, of course, the chickens would be locked in the coop, and I'd add something like solar night eyes or predator preventer and a scarecrow (saw that someone used a beauty store head with a scarf and sunglesses on a stick body, love that idea, lol) as additional predator deterrents.
I assure everyone that I'm taking the predator issue very seriously and will be very proactive about prevention and alternate options if we lose any birds. But I won't know if total free range will work until I try, right?
With the chicks arriving in August, can I just devise a brooder inside the shed/coop and keep them outside from the beginning? It should be quite warm that time of year (stays warm through October), and the location of the shed will be shaded, so it shouldn't get overly hot with the windows open. I would add a temporary small adjacent covered run until they're big enough to have supervised free range time, and eventually unsupervised full time free ranging. I can run a power cord to the coop easily because it'll be very close to the front porch, which has outlets - I was thinking of getting a Brinsea EcoGlow 20, if I can ever get my hands on one - they're always sold out!
I've read that adding light inside the coop will help with egg production in fall/winter months (and being this far north we have a lot of darkness in the fall/winter). Has anyone used solar landscape lights for this purpose - will they be bright enough? While I can run power to the coop temporarily for the babies, I won't have permanent power and would need something solar or battery operated with a timer. Any suggestions? How bright does nighttime lighting have to be in order to get any benefits?
Should I order a couple more roo babies so that I can watch them grow and select the "best" one, rather than hope that the single roo I got meets my needs, and risking the chance that he won't and I'll have mature hens with no roo? The excess roos can be rehomed, or whatever. If this is a good idea, any recommendations as to breeds other than the EE roo I already ordered? I was really hoping for an EE roo so that I could eventually breed some olive eggers in addition to more EE hens - so maybe just order 3 EE roos and keep the best one?
I'm 100% certain that DH and I will never ever be able to butcher our own chickens. NEVER EVER. Anyone in Western WA (I'm out on the Peninsula - Tacoma/Gig Harbor/Bremerton area) know of anyone I can hire to do the deed? Ideally I'd bring the chickens to their location, pay the fee, and return the next day for clean and bagged birds. A referral would be greatly appreciated!
I think that's it for now!