Dog Hair House: Purveyors of Fine Poultry & Other Stories

piminuse

Songster
Jul 17, 2020
359
1,482
161
Portland, OR
HEADS UP: this is a long post with lots of pics. I'm treating this more as a journal/journey than a "quick update" thing and will post the first few "chapters" over the next few days. If you like to read about boring things then by all means continue...

Chapter 1: the Long Beginning that My Husband Saw Coming, But Was Too Polite to Fight Against


There comes a time in every gal’s life when she needs to don her sexiest/sexy-ish (sweatpants are en vogue now) outfit, fix her hair up into something nice, approach her partner and say, “ya know--I’m really bored in quarantine and I’m getting chickens to help me cope.” The husband may grumble, he may say that you’ve already had chickens before and even protest! Just know that once you shove a couple of yellow floofs into his hands that all his crankiness will melt away and he’ll be right beside you digging out trenches for hardware cloth and rinsing poop off the patio.

Or at least that’s been my experience. Except I didn’t do my hair and I’m pretty sure I was wearing the same PJ pants for the __ day in a row. Quarantine had hit us hard just like it had so many other people. We’re a married couple in our early 30s with our own house on a quarter-ish acre in the bustling burbs of Portland, OR (or just outside it, anyway). We’ve got 3 dogs, a cat and a whole bunch of hobbies including gardening, video games, cooking and illustration. Typical PNW peeps. Except a month of doing all your hobbies to your heart’s content, finishing all the major home projects that we’d pushed off and spending too much time in unwashed PJs was really starting to drain us.

IMG_20200415_173757.jpg

Everyone was getting pretty bored of quarantine...

As Easter approached I kept seeing more and more ads pop up for baby chicks CL, and my mom was awaiting the arrival of her new chicks at her ranch down south. Maybe we could do chickens again, I mused. We had chickens at our old home in another county with different chicken ordinances. Chickens had always been on the roster for the new place, but they were never a priority because we had adult things to do like Bills! House renovations! Errands! Social obligations! COVID had swiftly altered our way of living and with a newly cleared garden and a whole lot of time on our hands I figured it was the perfect time to bring on the yard birds. Husband was not so enthused. Sure, he liked the old chickens at the old place, but he was pretty hands off and we got the old girls full grown. In his mind me raising new chicks meant US raising new chicks.

After a few days of melodramatic whining and leaving tabs of chicken breeds open on his laptop he conceded and said that we could bring on a few birds, but they were solely my responsibility. I don’t have kids so this may constitute as the happiest day of my life (let’s not bring up our wedding please). The gal who sold them to me had posted on CL that she had extras due to her 4-H activities being cancelled (along with so many other things) and she needed to offload them ASAP. None of the breeds in her little tractor were what she had posted online and none of them were the ones I wanted. Goodbye dreams of silver flashes from Barred Rocks. Goodbye dreams of roly-poly Faverolles... Hello to my new little peepers: Bluebell the Andalusian and Daisy a BCM whom I bought for $5 each.

IMG_20200416_100110.jpg

Poor Bluebell was already hitting her ugly stage at only one week old!

I spent the next hour listening to their frantic peeping on the drive home. Once I got into the garage the Husband was there waiting and gently lifted the little buggers out of the box. They fell asleep instantly in his hands. Swoon! I knew I married this man for a reason. A few days later we picked up Clover the Barnevelder from another feed store (along with a RIR and Cuckoo Marans as a B-day gift for a friend starting their own chicken journey) and a few days after that and another run to Wilco where I had to scoop up Poppy Girl, the last Buff Orpington chick in the bin. I originally wanted six birds, but after too many disappointing trips to the feed store to see empty bins and too many hatcheries being sold out I settled on a modest flock of four.

We started brooding in a little plastic tote while we rearranged the garage and searched for our old dog crate. Within a week the girls were bounding around a nicely sized playground of pine shavings, sticks and lots of poop. So much poop. I’d never raised fresh babies before, so the amount of sh*t these little nuggets could produce was kind of impressive. The dust was more so. Everything, EVERYTHING within a 3’ radius was coated in dander and dust on the daily. It was like that scene from the Lion King with Mufasa explaining the Simba about the size of their kingdom being everything the light touched except it was our entire garage covered in stinky, awful poop-soot. Husband rigged up a nice cardboard buffer for the edges to bring some semblance of cleanliness back to the garage and to help mitigate any fires from the heat lamp.

IMG_20200424_152450.jpg

The gang's all here! L to R: Clover, Bluebell, Daisy and Poppy.

Then came the hunt for the coop. I tried to convince Husband that building a coop from scratch would be 1. Cheaper and 2. Better. He didn’t bite. We set a budget of $300 and got to hunting which was an ordeal because if we thought finding chicks during a pandemic was difficult, boy were we gonna have a hard time finding a coop! Fortunately, our local Wilco had a single pre-fab in-stock for $299 (a whole $1 savings for us) and we drove down to snag it. We were a sight to see disassembling the packaging and squeezing the panels into our little Mazda sedan. We chose a spot in the corner of our yard next to an old pine to provide shelter and still be visible from our back patio. A few coats of paint, some caulking and some additional support bars were all we needed to setup the new humble abode for our birds.

IMG_20200507_130045_1.jpg

First field trip outside under the watchful eye of Pancake, the old ranch dog.

This whole time I was doing extensive research on raising backyard chickens including picking up one of my new favorite books and lurking this website. I learned that Andalusians were escape artists and didn’t want to risk losing Blue to the neighbor’s dogs, so we planned on adding a larger run instead of free-ranging as we originally planned. We broke ground under the pine and began the laborious, painstaking, awful, sweaty task of building our 10’x10’ covered run with plenty of vertical space for Blue to jump and fly to her little heart’s content. Total build cost was close to $500. It hurt, but I kept my “told you so” to myself as Husband grumbled about how much more sturdy the run was compared to the pre-fab.

The end of May snuck up on us and suddenly our little floofs were gangly teens too big and boisterous to be confined in the crate. We were like excited parents taking our kids to their first day of school when we let them out to explore the whole run for the first time. Blue was the most curious and charged out, flapping wildly, with Daisy and Poppy squawking behind her. Clover, always the cautious one, decided that the smaller dimensions of the pre-fab run suited her just fine.

MVIMG_20200617_173301.jpg

Big pile of sticks = easiest, cheapest chicken jungle gym

A few days after their initial introduction to the big run and we figured it was warm enough to let them stay in the coop overnight. We locked them in, went inside and turned up the TV to drown out the shrill peeps of terror coming from the coop. Early the next morning we opened up the hatch to see a puddle of sleeping chicks all alive and comfortable contrary to the screams from the evening before. It took Blue two days to figure out that the coop was home and to march the other gals into it at night. We were so proud!

MVIMG_20200706_135229.jpg

Yogurt is a good incentive to head back home every night...

The dogs had been watching the chickens grow up right alongside us. They would circle the prefab like hungry sharks, jabbing their noses into the screen until we scolded them or gave them a quick spritz from the hose. One by one our boys fell into line and became less excited by the birds. They weren’t new any more. This lack of interest emboldened us to try and free range under supervision for an hour or two in the evenings and lo-and-behold the dogs were more excited about eating the chicken poop than the actual chickens themselves. The original 1-2 hour timeframe slowly morphed into 3-4 hours then all day with Blue dutifully taking the girls back in at night around 6pm (she’s an old soul). Success!

IMG_20200616_200402.jpg

The chickens were a favorite attraction for Meatball the Pitbull
Keeping chickens became normal. My husband returned to work and I added on the daily poop-scooping and feeding to my list of chores. I found normalcy and a quiet joy in the tedium of washing the dishes while I watched my little birds through my kitchen window. The girls were now a staple in all my scenery. When I gardened they were on the other side of the fence peering through with charming curiosity. When I BBQ’d store bought chicken I joked that Daisy would be the next one on the chopping block if she didn’t stop her squawking. When Poppy would peck at the dots on my flip-flops I’d kick them off and pet her with my feet. And I wasn’t the only one enjoying these little vignettes of faux farm charm. Every day after work the Husband would come in, change into his outdoor shoes, grab a beer and head outside to chill with the cheeps. We were happy.

It’s easy to think that the lazy days will last forever, especially when things are shut down due to a global pandemic. Suddenly caring for four birds wasn’t that much of a chore and I was feeling feisty...

To be continued!
 

CaliFarmsAR

Crowing
Apr 26, 2019
2,538
4,842
307
HEADS UP: this is a long post with lots of pics. I'm treating this more as a journal/journey than a "quick update" thing and will post the first few "chapters" over the next few days. If you like to read about boring things then by all means continue...

Chapter 1: the Long Beginning that My Husband Saw Coming, But Was Too Polite to Fight Against


There comes a time in every gal’s life when she needs to don her sexiest/sexy-ish (sweatpants are en vogue now) outfit, fix her hair up into something nice, approach her partner and say, “ya know--I’m really bored in quarantine and I’m getting chickens to help me cope.” The husband may grumble, he may say that you’ve already had chickens before and even protest! Just know that once you shove a couple of yellow floofs into his hands that all his crankiness will melt away and he’ll be right beside you digging out trenches for hardware cloth and rinsing poop off the patio.

Or at least that’s been my experience. Except I didn’t do my hair and I’m pretty sure I was wearing the same PJ pants for the __ day in a row. Quarantine had hit us hard just like it had so many other people. We’re a married couple in our early 30s with our own house on a quarter-ish acre in the bustling burbs of Portland, OR (or just outside it, anyway). We’ve got 3 dogs, a cat and a whole bunch of hobbies including gardening, video games, cooking and illustration. Typical PNW peeps. Except a month of doing all your hobbies to your heart’s content, finishing all the major home projects that we’d pushed off and spending too much time in unwashed PJs was really starting to drain us.

View attachment 2348103
Everyone was getting pretty bored of quarantine...

As Easter approached I kept seeing more and more ads pop up for baby chicks CL, and my mom was awaiting the arrival of her new chicks at her ranch down south. Maybe we could do chickens again, I mused. We had chickens at our old home in another county with different chicken ordinances. Chickens had always been on the roster for the new place, but they were never a priority because we had adult things to do like Bills! House renovations! Errands! Social obligations! COVID had swiftly altered our way of living and with a newly cleared garden and a whole lot of time on our hands I figured it was the perfect time to bring on the yard birds. Husband was not so enthused. Sure, he liked the old chickens at the old place, but he was pretty hands off and we got the old girls full grown. In his mind me raising new chicks meant US raising new chicks.

After a few days of melodramatic whining and leaving tabs of chicken breeds open on his laptop he conceded and said that we could bring on a few birds, but they were solely my responsibility. I don’t have kids so this may constitute as the happiest day of my life (let’s not bring up our wedding please). The gal who sold them to me had posted on CL that she had extras due to her 4-H activities being cancelled (along with so many other things) and she needed to offload them ASAP. None of the breeds in her little tractor were what she had posted online and none of them were the ones I wanted. Goodbye dreams of silver flashes from Barred Rocks. Goodbye dreams of roly-poly Faverolles... Hello to my new little peepers: Bluebell the Andalusian and Daisy a BCM whom I bought for $5 each.

View attachment 2348106
Poor Bluebell was already hitting her ugly stage at only one week old!

I spent the next hour listening to their frantic peeping on the drive home. Once I got into the garage the Husband was there waiting and gently lifted the little buggers out of the box. They fell asleep instantly in his hands. Swoon! I knew I married this man for a reason. A few days later we picked up Clover the Barnevelder from another feed store (along with a RIR and Cuckoo Marans as a B-day gift for a friend starting their own chicken journey) and a few days after that and another run to Wilco where I had to scoop up Poppy Girl, the last Buff Orpington chick in the bin. I originally wanted six birds, but after too many disappointing trips to the feed store to see empty bins and too many hatcheries being sold out I settled on a modest flock of four.

We started brooding in a little plastic tote while we rearranged the garage and searched for our old dog crate. Within a week the girls were bounding around a nicely sized playground of pine shavings, sticks and lots of poop. So much poop. I’d never raised fresh babies before, so the amount of sh*t these little nuggets could produce was kind of impressive. The dust was more so. Everything, EVERYTHING within a 3’ radius was coated in dander and dust on the daily. It was like that scene from the Lion King with Mufasa explaining the Simba about the size of their kingdom being everything the light touched except it was our entire garage covered in stinky, awful poop-soot. Husband rigged up a nice cardboard buffer for the edges to bring some semblance of cleanliness back to the garage and to help mitigate any fires from the heat lamp.

View attachment 2348109
The gang's all here! L to R: Clover, Bluebell, Daisy and Poppy.

Then came the hunt for the coop. I tried to convince Husband that building a coop from scratch would be 1. Cheaper and 2. Better. He didn’t bite. We set a budget of $300 and got to hunting which was an ordeal because if we thought finding chicks during a pandemic was difficult, boy were we gonna have a hard time finding a coop! Fortunately, our local Wilco had a single pre-fab in-stock for $299 (a whole $1 savings for us) and we drove down to snag it. We were a sight to see disassembling the packaging and squeezing the panels into our little Mazda sedan. We chose a spot in the corner of our yard next to an old pine to provide shelter and still be visible from our back patio. A few coats of paint, some caulking and some additional support bars were all we needed to setup the new humble abode for our birds.

View attachment 2348127
First field trip outside under the watchful eye of Pancake, the old ranch dog.

This whole time I was doing extensive research on raising backyard chickens including picking up one of my new favorite books and lurking this website. I learned that Andalusians were escape artists and didn’t want to risk losing Blue to the neighbor’s dogs, so we planned on adding a larger run instead of free-ranging as we originally planned. We broke ground under the pine and began the laborious, painstaking, awful, sweaty task of building our 10’x10’ covered run with plenty of vertical space for Blue to jump and fly to her little heart’s content. Total build cost was close to $500. It hurt, but I kept my “told you so” to myself as Husband grumbled about how much more sturdy the run was compared to the pre-fab.

The end of May snuck up on us and suddenly our little floofs were gangly teens too big and boisterous to be confined in the crate. We were like excited parents taking our kids to their first day of school when we let them out to explore the whole run for the first time. Blue was the most curious and charged out, flapping wildly, with Daisy and Poppy squawking behind her. Clover, always the cautious one, decided that the smaller dimensions of the pre-fab run suited her just fine.

View attachment 2348126
Big pile of sticks = easiest, cheapest chicken jungle gym

A few days after their initial introduction to the big run and we figured it was warm enough to let them stay in the coop overnight. We locked them in, went inside and turned up the TV to drown out the shrill peeps of terror coming from the coop. Early the next morning we opened up the hatch to see a puddle of sleeping chicks all alive and comfortable contrary to the screams from the evening before. It took Blue two days to figure out that the coop was home and to march the other gals into it at night. We were so proud!

View attachment 2348139
Yogurt is a good incentive to head back home every night...

The dogs had been watching the chickens grow up right alongside us. They would circle the prefab like hungry sharks, jabbing their noses into the screen until we scolded them or gave them a quick spritz from the hose. One by one our boys fell into line and became less excited by the birds. They weren’t new any more. This lack of interest emboldened us to try and free range under supervision for an hour or two in the evenings and lo-and-behold the dogs were more excited about eating the chicken poop than the actual chickens themselves. The original 1-2 hour timeframe slowly morphed into 3-4 hours then all day with Blue dutifully taking the girls back in at night around 6pm (she’s an old soul). Success!

View attachment 2348128
The chickens were a favorite attraction for Meatball the Pitbull
Keeping chickens became normal. My husband returned to work and I added on the daily poop-scooping and feeding to my list of chores. I found normalcy and a quiet joy in the tedium of washing the dishes while I watched my little birds through my kitchen window. The girls were now a staple in all my scenery. When I gardened they were on the other side of the fence peering through with charming curiosity. When I BBQ’d store bought chicken I joked that Daisy would be the next one on the chopping block if she didn’t stop her squawking. When Poppy would peck at the dots on my flip-flops I’d kick them off and pet her with my feet. And I wasn’t the only one enjoying these little vignettes of faux farm charm. Every day after work the Husband would come in, change into his outdoor shoes, grab a beer and head outside to chill with the cheeps. We were happy.

It’s easy to think that the lazy days will last forever, especially when things are shut down due to a global pandemic. Suddenly caring for four birds wasn’t that much of a chore and I was feeling feisty...

To be continued!
Oh wow! I love your chicken and dogs!!
 

piminuse

Songster
Jul 17, 2020
359
1,482
161
Portland, OR
Chapter 2: Meet the Meat Birds, and Aren’t All Birds Technically Meat Birds?

I was getting that itch. It started off small--perusing hatchery sites to plan for new additions for the following year, watching videos of other people’s chickens scrambling across a field, chatting with my mom about her new dozen birds in a myriad of colors...I was glowing green with envy at everyone living their best chicken life and me stuck at home with only 4 birds who liked my husband more than me.

MVIMG_20200616_195918.jpg
How can a 5'4 gal compete with her Husband who is basically a giant perch for the girls...

I had convinced him that a few egg layers would be a good addition to the household when quarantine went down and egg price went up and while we were a ways from collecting eggs I was scheming my next move to justify chicken math. The price and scarcity of meat steadily increased and I started chatting with Husband about alternative sources of protein and our impact on the food chain. We agreed that while we’re not ready to take the plunge and go full vegetarian we can probably limit our meat intake. I took it a step further and brought up the idea of eating meat that we ethically raised ourselves--literally “farm” to table. A little nudge for more chickens under the guise of self-sufficiency and I had him on board.

After convincing the Husband that I wanted needed more chickens, and with the idea that these new birds were going to be a quality raised heritage breed, I started shopping around for reputable breeders in the area. I’m super bougie--I’m a Millennial after all-- and knew that if I was going to eat a bird I raised then it had to be one of them swanky French breeds. Our search for Bresse went bust, but I found a kid a few hours south of us that had Barbezieux. Rated as the #3 tastiest bird in the world I figured it would be a good test run before we aimed for #1 the following Spring.

The kid with the birds pulled up beside my car outside a darkened strip mall in a little town I’d never been to. He had a crate in the back of his pick-up filled with a flurry of feathers that bounced around excitedly; a blur of black and white. He had brought down all his remaining Barbezieux and a couple extra birds, the new designer Mosaic breed, because he thought they would be interesting as meat birds and he had a surplus from his last hatch. Husband trusted me to make the drive alone and to come back with only four birds. I don’t know about y’all, but four birds ain’t going to fill my freezer. I’m also chicken greedy. As I drove home with more than the promised four chicks peeping in a box in my passenger seat all I could think of was, “well this is going to be a fight.”

Except it wasn’t. Husband knows me too well. I wordlessly emptied out the contents of my box into the freshly cleaned and sanitized dog crate in the garage and felt like a guilty magician with a bad trick to play on him as one bird after another flapped out. When the deed was done six inky Barbezieux and three mottled Mosaics chirped cutely at us and all he could do was sigh and put up his hands in defeat.

IMG_20200719_141745.jpg

How could I say no to free chickens--especially beautiful Mosaics?!

We brought the new birds on just as Summer kicked into high gear and temperatures hovered in the 90’s in the garage. This would have been great for wee little babies fresh from the egg, but for a bunch of 5 week olds it was just a little too toasty. After 3 days with the garage door open and Husband convinced that some mean kid would sneak in and snatch our bicycles I made the executive decision to move them out onto the patio where temps were floating around 80 in the shade.

It was still hot. The Barbezieux dwarfed the Mosaics and the biggest of the bunch, henceforth known as Big Chungus, was panting non-stop. But the heat became my second-most concern once I noticed that one of the Mosaics and one of the Barbs were hunched up like they were cold. For the first few hours I shrugged it off as just adjusting to the new digs, but as time went on and the others kept rushing around while these two huddled up with their little heads shrunken into their shoulders I started to suspect it was something more insidious.

Of course Coccidiosis had to happen to my very expensive cheeps. That’s not to say that I only valued them because of their monetary value, but rather that I planned on eating those birds, dang it! I wasn’t going to let some poop parasite wipe out my new flock. The heat was actually on my side since it forced the birds to drink more water spiked with meds, but unfortunately I did lose a little Barb girl. It was a moment to reflect on how fragile chicks are and how vigilant chicken keepers need to be. Sidenote: 5 week old chicks fit perfectly in dog-poo bags if you're ever needing a way to dispose of them...

IMG_20200723_121754.jpg

The Mosaics were kept in a separate container since Coccidiosis hit them harder and they were half the size of the Barbezieux. They looked so sad!

But the little Barb wasn’t going to be the only death we had to reckon with that week. Our curious, fearless, beautiful Andalusian girl, Bluebell, had started to slow down right when she should have been ramped up for laying. We had noticed the positive changes in her first--reddening of the comb and waddles, crouching when approached and shuffling around the nest boxes even in the heat of summer. Her first egg was due any day and we were super excited to see it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen.

Blue slowed down. Normally she was always zipping around the yard, squawking or flapping at the other girls and staring down the dogs or my Husband for treats. Then she wasn’t. She sat in the coop doorway and watched the other girls leave without her. They didn’t even seem to notice that the bossy Blue wasn’t ushering them from this side of the yard to that like she usually did. My first thought was that I had somehow transferred the Cocci to the big girl’s coop and she was feeling the ill effects of that. I had already done a precautionary dose in their water, but figured I would need to put her in the sick bay and manually dose her. For two days she lived in a little tote bin on my dining room table refusing to eat or drink and standing listlessly in her own watery poo. I made a mush and force-fed her hourly to try and get her strength back up. I kept her in the dining room during the heat of the day and ignored the stink wafting house. I wanted her to live, and not just to get my eggs, but because I liked her.

IMG_20200730_101349.jpg
Blue before quarantine. She never stood still, so this pic is what tipped us off that something was wrong.

I’m going to interject a moment and give my philosophy about chickens. They aren’t pets, but they’re not quite livestock to me either. I’m way more involved with chickens than with any other animals I’ve raised for food. They get to live the high life while they provide their service, and when that’s over it’s done. Rehomed or soup pot. Hell, I tell my dogs, who are absolutely my children, that if the apocalypse happens I’m eating them before they eat me. We give our birds names, cuddles and treats, but ultimately they’re serving a utility. Or at least that's how my big, bad ego tried to spin it. Even before Blue got sick I started thinking about the long haul and how I would let this one retire and live her life peacefully eating sunflower seeds on the patio. Blue was so smart, so feisty, so full of personality that she became a full-fledged pet and I was rooting for her.

It took me two days to figure out what was wrong, and it was purely by happenstance that I stumbled across another thread on BYC that eerily mirrored Blue’s symptoms. It pointed me towards sour crop/impacted crop and instantly went to check on my girl. Her crop was swollen, but I hadn’t noticed since her head was drooped over it. I opened her beak and didn’t smell anything, but when I moved her a bit mush dribbled out. I spent TWO DAYS blaming coccidiosis and force fed a chicken who couldn’t get anything past her crop. She must have been so miserable.

Husband got home and I told him my suspicions. We did some more online sleuthing and saw that crop massages and regurgitation are the top results, so we trusted Doctor Google. We watched exactly one 9-minute video and felt that was all we needed to fix the problem. Husband vigorously rubbed her crop and tilted her forward and...she began shaking violently. He dropped her out of surprise and she flopped around, seizing for almost 30 seconds before sighing and going limp. She’d aspirated. Our best intentions didn’t beat out our lack of experience and our favorite chicken was dead.

C’est la vie, c’est la mort.

It was a sobering moment. There was still so much to learn. We picked her up gently, stroked her feathers a few more times and set her down on a lawn chair. I knew that Husband blamed himself--he had been the one holding her and rubbing her crop. I was blaming myself too. I should have done more research before trying any self treatments. I reminded myself of my chicken ownership philosophies and steeled my resolve. "We could honor her by eating her", I mentioned, knowing that Husband wouldn’t get behind it. He’s more sentimental than me. But not enough to hold a burial. We didn’t want to dedicate a spot in our hard-as-nails clay soil yard to any birds. A few days ago we chucked a Barbezieux in the trash and right now eating Blue was the only alternative to the bin.

Ultimately, we opted for the trash. Husband had a few reasons against prepping her for meat: she was still small, we weren’t setup to process her and he was reeling from the whole thing. We put her in a bag and into the trash she went. Unceremoniously. Do I feel bad about it? Yeah, a little bit. I regret that we did the disservice of not better researching her condition before bumbling and botching the whole thing. I regret that we wasted the opportunity to honor her body by eating her. But we learned from it and that knowledge is the best take away. Later in the week when I went into the garage to take out the trash I promised to Bell that we would do right by our remaining and future birds and thanked her for the lessons she taught us.

IMG_20200723_172224.jpg

Thanks, Bell.
 

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