It's a foggy, drippy morning here in Omak, WA. and we're still in the planning stages of our new chicken venture. We're a family of five with homesteading aspirations: a smiley, rambunctious little guy that finds the wonder and joy in every little thing, a horse-crazy young lady excited about 4H, a vigorous young man (who is now taller than his mother at age 12) that loves to hunt and carve with his pocket-knife, a mother with extensive gardening/composting and food preservation experience, and her husband...he of the mad, mad carpentry, BBQ and MacGyver-ish "skeels". Our 4 1/2 acre place has a 4 stall 2 story barn that is currently vacant save for a tack-room full of tools and one 20-something foot boat on a trailer. The house is a renovated 1915 farmhouse with a usable cellar for food storage. We're new to this place, so everything we do this year will be from scratch (pardon the pun and we're thrilled with the opportunity to create self-sufficiency and lessen our dependence on mass-produced goods. We've been a homeschooling family for years and this year we're trying something different at the kid's request. Who knows about next year?!? We've studied, oohed and ahhed, carefully selected, schemed and planned and here's what we've got: One 12x12 horse stall in the barn will be converted to a chicken coop. It already has a dirt floor and is partially enclosed: we will cover the remaining side with plywood to half the height and the remainder with chicken wire, frame it for 2 doors (one to the interior of the barn and one to the exterior) and separate the space for heavy breeds and bantams. The nest boxes will be on the long interior wall, and we'll use canvas curtains over the chicken wire windows to control ventilation/drafts. We intend to use the deep litter method inside, and use the outside run for composting, adding as much of the maple leaves, pine needles, and garden scraps as we can. It will have access to the pasture, which is much of the acreage and is electrified with 3 lines, the bottom 1/3 also enclosed with chicken wire. The 100x50 ft garden will be adjacent to the outside run and the pasture, where there is already irrigation. I'm glad we're settling in this first winter: we've had a chance to observe that while it is still cold inside the barn it does not freeze and the ground is very dry. This is good news, both for the chickens and as a place to store all the squash and pumpkins from the garden this season. The pasture, however, is a muddy mess now as the snow melts into big puddles. I must figure out a way to keep a portion of the outside run dry through the winter. The more we read about keeping chickens in cold weather the more determined we are to keep them without supplemental heat if at all possible. To that end, we've chosen the stall on the south east corner of the barn: it will be first to get sun in the morning and will receive plenty of shade in the blazing parts of the summer afternoons thanks to a very large and very messy pine tree that casts a welcome shadow. We've kept ducks and geese in the past at a different location that were ordered from Murray McMurray hatchery. We had a great experience with them and have chosen to purchase our chicks there as well to be delivered in mid-April. Our choice of chooks depended on many criteria: egg color, foraging/free range ability, cold hardiness and beauty. A visit to the Okanogan County Fair last summer inspired in 2 of the children a desire to show chickens (and ignited a chicken fever in Mama), so we've also chosen some bantams. On our list are Wyandottes: Blue Laced Red, Silver-Laced, Columbian and Golden Laced. A Buff Orpington, a Barred Rock, a Cukoo Maran, an Ancona, a Light Brahma, an Araucana, and a Red Leghorn are the rest of the heavy breeds. The bantams are Mille Fleur d' Uccles, mottled Cochins, Silver Penciled Rocks, and a Silver Spangled Hamburg. Since much of our husbandry depends on the use of an outside run and access to the pasture even in the winter, we're not fretting much about the interior size of the coop..only that we provide a partition to divide the big girls from the wee ones, with different nest boxes, roosts and feeders and supplemental heat if they really need it. We aren't much concerned with an excess of egg production either, as there are ample opportunities to sell the surplus and we can easily eat 18 or more in a week. We will have but one cock: a Golden Laced Wyandotte...the kids have already decided to call him Carl. Any barnyard babies that make it to butchering age without any help from us will go in the freezer. Funny how all that space has everyone thinking of acquiring critters. Our young lady has been promised a horse..this year will be her year. Grandma's sheep will have a baby (or 2) in a month or so...this lamb will join us after it's been weaned and eldest son plans to show it at the Fair. I'm thinking some Guinea hens would be a welcome addition, as our primary concerns for flock protection are from hawks and owls. There is a dead tree in the pasture that has to come down for that very reason. Eventually, we'd like to have muscovy ducks for meat/bug patrol and a trio of Buff American geese. We don't have any cats because of allergies, but we do have 2 terriers that do a fantastic job of killing mice. They will have to be sternly desensitized to the chicks and closely monitored. One thing that concerns me though is the spread of avian diseases in the barn: with no cats, there are bird's nests all up in the rafters. How do I keep them out? It is impossible to shut up every entrance to the barn with so many open stalls, even if we do keep the doors closed..but I would prefer not to in the summer because of the heat, anyway. And song birds nesting in the barn will attract owls/hawks even more. Any tips on how to keep them out would be greatly appreciated. I was thinking of asking friends for all their unused CDs/DVDs and hanging them from fishing line in the doors/stalls to scare the birds from coming in in the first place. Would this spook the chickens too?? I've used BYC extensively during this our planning and preparation phase and I look forward to corresponding with anyone else that has found themselves inexplicably fascinated by chickens...I'm rather amazed that I've lived this long without them! Any comments, suggestions, tips or experience with chickens in this neck of the woods or otherwise would be very much appreciated.