Hi, I'm new here so I haven't had time to work on this page yet. I have been a stalker (fan) of the site for about a year. After following loads of input and advice I am in the recreation chicken business...hen house and run done and have received three eggs so far!!! (8.29.11)
It is now Nov 30, 2011. I receive about 6-7 eggs per day from my 8 hens (one isn't laying...younger than I thought I guess). One bird refused to use the nest box for a couple months (I have two), instead laying on the floor or outside in the run. Everyone else seemed to get the concept but not this one. I would have to look around every day for the hidden egg. Putting a box on the floor did nothing but create another perch. Ugh. Lately she seems to lay in the box like the others, but I still look for the errant egg. Still working on the coop, I severely underestimated the work. I quickly insulated it just before a freak snowstorm before halloween (19 inches). I have installed a light on a timer which seems to annoy them but production remains fairly consistant. They get the light on in the morning around 6 and from 4pm to about 7 pm. I have put in a small heater with a thermostat and have only used it purposely on one very wet day to try and dry them off a bit (they stayed out in the rain and looked miserable), otherwise it should only trigger at freezing. I am still debating whether to use it at all. More and more I am considering a poop board since they seem to poop in the same spot under the roost and it would make cleaning a little easier (deep litter method with DE occasionally, so far so good). The water can is my biggest headache. Seems impossible to keep clean. For now I leave it in their secure run on a cement block. I have tried a couple different methods inside the coop and it just becomes one big mess. So their feed is inside (hanging about a foot off the floor to keep little critters at bay) and their water is outside.
They have 24hr access to a very secure 6x10 run but seem very miserable in there, bored to tears. They love getting into my fenced garden most days which is 20x30, pure joy. They run around, hunt for bugs, dust bath, etc. I am working on a 20x40 run for them for next year as they will devestate the garden if this continues. The 6x10 run is reserved for when I am not home or can't watch them.
So far they love treats such as watermellon (makes for messy poop but they enjoy it), pumpkin, strawberries, grapes (limited but a favorite and they will chase each other for them) and noodles (whatever is left-over). I sometimes make them oatmeal breakfast on colder mornings and they love it. I have to make two plates to allow the shy birds a chance (two of them are at the very bottom of the order and almost get shunned). Occasionally they get a worm or slug I find, and one girl really seems to be expert at getting them...somehow she always wins and she is not the head hen. Most days I give them scratch, not so much as a meal, but rather for something to do. They eat the corn first then over time go back to hunt for other stuff. If they were human they would eat dessert first...wait for more dessert, then finally, reluctantly, eat their meal.
When they see me they come running, which was my intent. I feel I can coax them back home should they get out, as they know me as the one with treats. There are times where I refuse to give them anything except the feed so I know they are getting a balanced diet. They are spoiled rotten.
No predation problems thus far but I have heard of fox in the area and one day we had a huge black bear, but fornuately he was easy to scare off. One of my dogs remains somewhat interested (used to watch them for 8 hours a day) as he sometimes goes by to try and scare them at the fence, and the other chocolate lab could care less but I wouldn't trust him alone with them, he is purely food driven and loves to get the sqweaker out of every toy and doubt he would make an exception for the chickens.
Dec 15 - last few days we have been getting eight eggs from eight birds!!! It has been below freezing but I guess they are happy with their set-up.
Jan 19, 2012 - Happy New Year. Winter has set in, but mostly in terms of sub freezing temps. We have yet to see any real snow. The birds seem happy and winter weather doesn't seem to phase them. I insulated the coop and still have a heater available, but for the most part they endure the temps. We had a mild ice storm that turns to very cold rain and the chickens really couldn't seem to care. They looked funny sliding on the ice and then pathetic as they were wet. They have full access to the nice dry coop but seem to prefer being outside. We were averaging 7-8 eggs a day (for 8 hens) but since the cold settled in we are down to around 5 a day, not bad. Freezing water remains to be an issue and I don't like the daily chore of watering, but I need to also collect eggs before they freeze and crack so it isn't a bad chore. I need to find a more suitable container as various plastic water dishes eventually crack (thinner ones anyway). Typical that I leave town when one of the chickens becomes sick. She acted a bit odd (quiet, just sitting) before I left and I guess that behavior got worse (not coming out, not going in, just sitting (but still laying). I suspect she got sick from something and needed to rest, or she hear her leg or foot or both and preferred to be still...I have no idea. It wasn't bugs and all other hens were just fine. A little sugar water, some special individual treats and TLC and she was as good as new. Now she is very friendly and seems to enjoy being pet and held. Dunno what happened. We shall see how they like snow...eventually.