These are my adventures turning the shed into a coop for a batch of Easter Egger chicks...
November 28, 2012:
We have an old shed on the property, divided into three sections with two doors.
One of the sections is 10'x10', perfect for a huge batch of chicks, though I ordered only 25 from Meyer.
I first moved an immense slab of concrete that was blocking the door (bottom left in the pic below).
Then the door came open easily. Inside was kind of a mess. Cobwebs, wasp and hornet nests, nails, roof material, pigs feet (yes), mouse poop. It all had to be attacked with a broom. There was some kind of storage shelf with a rats nest and hornet nest all over it.
There is this cool old work table that was left in the shed, too.
After all the sweeping was done, I set up the cardboard for the brooder and put the pine shavings with a little bit of straw inside.
Over the next few hours, I gathered oak leaves that had fallen in August and dumped them around the brooder.
When the pullets get older, I'm planning to turn the old workbench into a set of nest boxes and broody boxes.
For ventilation, I'm going with the 2-4in slits along the top of the shed under the roof for now, though if I figure out how, I'm thinking of cutting windows into the NE and SW walls, putting hardware cloth over them, and installing wooden panels that can be open or closed depending on the weather.
I'm going to make another stop at the hardware store sometime this weekend for an extra heat lamp, some straw bales, some grit, and a few thermometers for good measure.
The chicks should arrive December 4-6!!
November 30, 2012:
I bought an extra heat lamp, for added warmth during the 20˚F weather and in case the first one has an emergency outage, which I hope won't happen. I also ran the extension cord out there (not really legal, but the kids need to be warm!) and made sure both lamps worked and were in their proper places so that they wouldn't catch the shed on fire (kind of a funny joke but kind of an actual danger).
I also bought four bales of straw and fit them into my Subaru! The hens helped me unload when we got home.
I gathered more leaves and filled the entire floor with 6in of leaves. Then I placed three of the bales of straw around the edges of the brooder to keep it nice and toasty, as well as put down a thick layer of straw on top of the leaves. My disobedient hens helped me mix the two layers while my back was turned.
The completed setup looks really cozy.
Once they get big enough not to slip through all the strange nooks and crannies in the barn (2 weeks or so), I'm going to open up the cardboard and let them venture into the wide world of... the rest of the shed!
Today I also installed the "straw guard" along the bottom of the nest boxes, as well as the "roost prevention plank" to make the openings only 8in high and discourage roosting. Next will be the perch that they can jump onto before stepping through the opening into the nest box of their choice.
December 12, 2012:
The chicks have arrived!!!
I ordered 25 Easter Eggers from Meyer, and they sent 2 extra. 1 was dead when I opened the box. 2 were weak, probably squished by the others during their two-day journey, and needed some extra TLC before they could join the others in the brooder.
Here are the two weaklings and their dead sibling:
They can't really stand up.
First the darker one learned to drink on its own:
The blond one falls asleep in my hand:
The blond one stands up!
The blond one walks and eats on its own:
The rest of the chicks:
I have NO IDEA which ones are which! They pretty much all look like the same color patterns to me. Chipmunk of various shades and dark feathers. They look a lot like my last batch... which was mostly colorful, splashy roos. Yikes.
December 16, 2012:
The two weaklings did not make it They just got sleepier and sleepier, and finally died. We think they got trampled when the others decided to pile in the shipping box.
While this is sad, I do still have 24 healthy ones to care for, and they are growing so fast! Already starting to feather out on the tips of their wings and they're not yet 1 week (they will be tomorrow).
Last week they learned about oatmeal and scrambled eggs. They also learned to eat out of my hand! Every time they see my hand palm-up, they dash over expecting more food. I sing to them, I say Hey Chickens, I kiss the tops of their heads (I am salmonella immune). They are still very nervous at being held (they start shaking and peeping loudly immediately), but I hope they'll get better with time. Unfortunately it's very difficult to make sure that I hold every single one each day. What's ended up happening is that I hold the few that wander my way, and let the shiest chicks linger far from my hand. I hope that when I let them out into the shed in a week or so they become friendlier as I will literally be able to walk among them and have them jump on me if they please.
Here are some more pictures of the kids.
So far the weather has been cooperating and it hasn't been too far below freezing, but next weekend is supposed to be in the 20's with the windchill in the teens... brrrr. I'm going to place a blanket over part of the brooder in the hopes of keeping them extra warm on Friday night. So far, the chicks are handling the cold (70˚F under the lamps at night) very well.
December 23, 2012:
Just a quick update! The chicks are doing very well, still a bit of poo stuck to their fuzz butts but none that are truly pasting. The past two days have been one huge 7˚F windchill storm, with snow blowing so hard it got under the tin roof and swirled around in the shed. Friday night the 21st I was worried that the power was going to go out. I gathered the chicks into their box within their box under the heat lamps, and then lifted them out and started grabbing two at a time to place into a rubbermaid bin. They were terrified that their world was gone, but I put them in the basement with no heat lamp, where they fearfully snuggled in the 70˚F until morning. My logic was that if the power had gone out, the temperature in the shed would have quickly dropped to below freezing, whereas the basement is insulated and would stay around 50˚F, especially with the residual heat of the heater down there. But the power only went out for a few minutes on Friday, and Saturday morning the 22nd I put them back in their brooder. Though it was still stormy, I knew that if the power did go out I would know and be able to run outside and bring the chicks inside where it was relatively warmer.
It was at this time that I really wished I had a wood stove (though we do have a wood furnace in the basement, it requires electricity in order to blow warm air throughout the house, but the chicks might have been okay down there if I could have figured out how to work the **** thing).
Saturday morning I also began getting the room next door to the chicks ready for the hens to temporarily invade. The poor hens had been wet and cold and huddling all day Friday, and I wanted to give them a dry place out of the wind where they could scratch and peck. After much straw hauling, board getting, baby-gate-attaching, feed and water moving, I put the hens in a big box and then dropped them into their new habitat. They thought it was great, for about five minutes, and then they got upset that they didn't have a choice between inside and outside. They escaped while I was gone, and when I came back the chicks were in a terrified ball while two of the hens, Zoe and Liz, scratched around in the deep litter around their brooder. I put the hens back and had no more escapees until this Sunday morning the 23rd, when Snow escaped well before sunrise to scratch around in the litter and freak the chicks out again.
Last night, the chicks' water froze, so it was a bit of work defrosting and refilling it. However, the temperatures under the two combined heat lamps stayed around 80˚F. The only reason I am worried about the chicks is because ever since the emergency basement situation, they have been freaked out all the time for apparently no reason. My presence is enough to send them into the corner. The bravest few will still come to my hand to eat oatmeal, but as soon as I go to pull it away they flee to the opposite side of the brooder. They will be 2 weeks old tomorrow, and I'm really just hoping this is a case of the "terrible twos" as well as their trauma and that they'll get over it, with time and oatmeal. This is my second batch of Easter Eggers, and I have to say that they seem really flighty, though I have no experience with any other breeds as babies, so I really couldn't say.
The wind has almost stopped today, and though things are cold, at least there is calm.
December 25, 2012:
The chicks' Christmas present was that they were allowed out of their cardboard brooder and into the scary world of the shed!
They thought that the bale of straw was the most exciting object they had ever witnessed.
They ran away.
They fluffed up under the lamp.
They flew around like crazy birds.
They nibbled some grass.
These are mostly my scaredy cat pullets:
The escape artist cockerel:
Mixture of the kids:
The single comb cockerel (disappointing, he will have to be eaten):
Sipping from the water:
Zach was not too sure about their antics, but he tried really hard to be a good dog.
The two bravest cockerels came exploring:
The chicks are 2 weeks old as of yesterday, and already they've feathered out more than my last batch (except the hilariously fluffy cockerels, of course). I can't wait to see them as fully mature adults. No idea what colors they'll be, though I assume I'll have quite a few of the "golden head brown partridge" type that most Easter Egger pullets turn out to be. Still no idea on the boys, though. Meyer advertises the black and white colors the most, but this batch has none that look like the pictures online. What I'm really dying for, and which I will probably never get from hatchery batches, is some butterscotch colored birds (basically white with golden leakage). Guess I'll just have to breed some!
January 1, 2013:
Just had to give a quick update. The chicks were 3 weeks old yesterday and already almost fully feathered out. The goal is for all the fluff to disappear by the time they're 5 weeks, and I think we can do it. Mostly it's for their own safety in case the power dies and they have to weather a freezing or below night without the lamp. They're getting too big to fit in a rubbermaid in my basement.
I took out one of their heat lamps today and they were a little distraught, because the temperature isn't as hot under the lamps. However, pretty soon they were flying onto the tops of the straw bales and then crash landing onto each other over and over again, pecking at the fresh food, discovering cabbage. Doing chick things. They can now reach the waterer (propped up by two layers of bricks) without any steps up.
They're still skittish, but now they recover faster from their "freakout" moments. I can stir the bedding and add new, and in a few seconds they'll be back, scratching around in the litter.
I'm a little unhappy with pine shavings. I've never used them to brood chicks before, and they tend to get stuck to the chicks' feet with a wad of poo. This doesn't really happen with straw, though I will say that the pine tends to keep the smell down! I'm adding a new sprinkle of bedding almost daily, which seems a little excessive, but I just hate when it starts to smell, and I really don't have enough ventilation in the shed.
I am re-thinking the workbench-as-nestboxes idea, since I kind of want to go with wall-mounted boxes to conserve floor space. We'll see how that one plays out.
The plan is to build two pasture pens before February (might not happen), one where the increasingly aggressive roosters can go to finish growing and wait to become dinner, and another where the pullets and breeding cockerels can go to live out their lives until I find a more permanent solution. I'm definitely going to be selling any pullets that I don't want in my breeding program at 6 months old. The sooner I can get these chicks out of the brooder the sooner I can put more in!
For now, they are still fuzz balls.
January 8, 2013:
Yesterday one of the chicks died It was 4 weeks old to the day, healthy in the morning and dead by the afternoon, same size as the others, its crop empty. I think we're having problems with coccidiosis, or possibly "random death syndrome." I'm struggling with the decision on whether or not to treat. We don't believe in preventative medication, and my potential customers would be much happier with a bird that never touched medicine in its life, though I know that in many cases that means losing a bird. Or 50. I'm definitely worried for these guys, but as of right now we're doing apple cider vinegar in the water and yogurt. So far it's just 1 bird dead (and a cockerel at that), but I hear that the worst deaths happen at 10-12 weeks. I might have to let this batch work itself out, which means I could see more than half of them die of cocci, which is sad for the chick momma in me, but might be the best thing to do in terms of staying medication-free. We'll see. I'm holding off on ordering another batch of chicks to raise in the adjacent brooder until I work out what to do about this cocci situation.
The alive chicks have been feathering out and growing up. They aren't quite as scared of me as they used to be. Recovery time after a freakout continues to get shorter. They don't like it when I hover over them at all, but they are usually pretty relaxed if I'm sitting down or squatting. The cockerels love to eat out of my hand, but most of the pullets are still wary about that. I'm eager to see their true personalities emerge at 5-6 months. I really hope that all of them get to grow to that age.
They have moved up to two layers of bricks under their waterer instead of one, so that tells you where their height is! They have also moved into the "big boy" feeder that is off the ground so shavings and poo don't get into it. I no longer have a lot of the draft-guards set up, and that makes me wonder if the one chick died because they still need those.
Most of the pullets are close to being fully feathered, but the cockerels are taking their sweet time so I'm reluctant to reduce the heat. Instead, I think I'll keep it warm, and let the pullets sleep on the periphery and the cockerels luxuriate in the warmth. Luckily, we have a lot of really incredible weather coming our way--a January heat-wave to thaw our hopeless hearts! It's going to be so balmy that I'll have to turn the heat lamps off during the day and leave only one on at night; otherwise I might bake my poor kids.
They are actually terrified of direct sunlight because they haven't been exposed to it much, since I can't open the door because they will get out and the cats will get it. I really hope they get over that. I might have to build them a little pen off of their shed so they can explore the outside world without getting hurt/injured/lost. Maybe by 8 weeks they will be less tiny?
As of now, they are no longer fuzz-balls...
My "porcelain" cockerel.
My single-comb very slow feathering cockerel.
Pretty black and white bird.
Black and white cockerel.
Hopefully little pullet.
The black and white cockerel again.
Little brown head again.
Another hopeful black and white pullet.
Fluffed up cockerel, but not the one that died.
My beautiful red-headed hopeful pullet.
My pretty blue/black/brown/red cockerel.
Please wish them survivor luck!!
January 12, 2012:
So far all 23 remaining chicks are alive and healthy!
We cut a small hole near the top of the shed for a little bit of ventilation:
Don't worry, it's got hardware cloth nailed across it!
And here's my screen door that does not yet work:
If I could get it to stay on securely, I could leave the wood door open all day and let the breeze flow, then close it at night for predators.
The chickens look great! They're fully feathered, minus the slow-feathering single-comb cockerel (did I mention he's for eating?). They're really easy-going around me, but they love to scare each other by climbing on the bales of straw and flying across the room. I thought they would outgrow this, but thinking back on the last batch, they were almost 4 months before they outgrew the obsession with flying.
You ready for these cuties? I've got most of them sexed. Looks like another bad percentage of pullets (7-8 out of 23), but we'll know for sure when they're older. I'm convinced that the ones that died at the beginning (during shipping and right after) were all pullets, and that one of these cocky cockerels running around is my meal maker cockerel.
Cockerel (typical pullet coloring with dark red on wings)
Cockerel (the single-comb baldy)
(From top to bottom) Cockerel Pullet Cockerel Pullet--great example of goldhead/brownbody and blackandwhite coloring in both males and females
My attack rooster...
January 22, 2013:
The power went out last Thursday evening, which meant that the heat lamp for the chicks went out too! Since the weather said it was only going to get down to 20˚F, and since they were too big to fit in the rubbermaid in my basement anymore, I decided to let them huddle together overnight.
When I went out the next morning to check on all the animals, it was 10˚F. In the shed, all the chicks were huddled together in a corner. I thawed their water and refilled their food, and soon they were running around like crazy chicks, chirping and flying. They have since passed many below freezing nights in the shed and done just fine. I'm so glad I had them mostly feathered out by 5 weeks old; otherwise, I'm not sure how they would have done in the intense cold. Last night it got down to 12˚F, but with power restored, their heat lamp was back on too. However, I noticed that most of them had avoided sleeping directly under the lamp, which means that after the 13˚F tonight, their heat lamp is not returning.
Yesterday they were 7 weeks old. At 8 weeks, I'm going to post photos of everyone so that we can do a full evaluation of the pullet to cockerel ratio. Hopefully then it'll be a nice day and they can go play outside for the first time in their little chicken lives.
January 29, 2013:
The chicks had a blast playing in the sun today, but still didn't stray far from their coop (not a surprise, since there's almost no green forage to speak of). The wide world might have been okay, except for the strange hens, cats, dogs, and airplanes. I saw a hawk before the babies did and managed to make the cooing aerial predator alert sound just right so that they all scurried for cover back into the shed. Of course, then they didn't want to leave their coop again for the whole rest of the day.
I took some pictures for the purpose of sexing them on Monday, and posted them in a thread. There are really too many photos to post on here. Looks like I have a decent amount of pullets, so I'm happy.
The cats stalked the chicks a bit but didn't make any serious moves on them, probably because the chicks are already so big. I'll keep a close eye on them for another few weeks, and then maybe we'll have unsupervised free range time.
February 11, 2013:
The kids have reached sort of a plateau in maturity, though they are eating and drinking more than ever. They have finally gotten to free range the majority of the day. And, despite the neighborhood animals coming over to visit, there have so far been no losses. All 23 teenage babies are alive and well. The possible pullets have turned into definite pullets, and the possible roosters have shown themselves to be male. One of my boys actually crowed yesterday morning, at 9 weeks old! Another of the boys has started tidbitting his sisters, which makes me want to keep him (that brings us up to wanting to save 4 of the roosters). We'll see who's temperaments look good as they get closer to slaughter, which will be 12 or 16 weeks depending on how big they get. They are loving their free range time.
Pullet on the left, cockerel on the right.
They were pecking at the cat's feet.
The first boy to tidbit the girls.
This false gold laced kid turned out to be a pullet!
It was really windy outside.
February 27, 2013:
The kids are doing very well! Next week they will be 12 weeks old! I've got to take photos of all the teenagers so that I can update the page on sexing them.
I integrated my main adult flock in with them in the shed, after installing roosts. Interestingly, the hens won't use the workbench nestboxes. Instead, they go out and climb back into the boxes in their old pasture coop, then go to sleep in the shed. The little ones integrated fairly smoothly after almost a month of free ranging just outside the adult run (aka my garden). All the chickens immediately knew where they were in the hierarchy, and there was very minimal pecking.
One of the cockerels is extremely aggressive with the pullets. This is the same cockerel who started crowing at 9 weeks, and the boy who's almost grown out his hackle and saddle feathers at 11 weeks. Early developer? His behavior looks like he's attempting to mate with them, but is instead attacking them. His favorite pullet, Nala, screams really loud even before he touches her, so it makes for some interesting sounds in the coop.
At 12 weeks, the boys are still a little small to butcher. I will probably monitor the feather development and try to cull chickens when they don't have pin feathers coming in, hopefully making plucking a little easier.
Our farm is growing so fast that we barely have enough room for all of the critters!
Cockerel I'm keeping:
Creampuff my pretty pullet:
Nice false gold laced bird, but no beard or muffs:
Final Notes: All 12 pullets and all 11 cockerels of the 23 made it to 4 months old. I decided to process all but 2 of the cockerels, who I still may sell or process depending on their behavior. So 9 boys in the freezer. I sold 2 of the pullets that weren't my favorite colors to a friend, and integrated the remaining 10 girls into our new coop with the old hens. The young EE girls have all settled down now that they're closer to laying age, and are very calm when I walk through their coop. As soon as they turned 5 months I started getting tiny blue-green pullet eggs in the nest boxes! I have one that lays brown eggs (the false gold laced girl in the photo below) and a few that lay olive eggs.