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Poultry Odyssey: The First Ten Months

Last May we did a tour of backyard chicken coops in Raleigh, The Tour De Coop.  It was a birthday present from my partner, Paige, that we’d drive around all day and do background research for our own backyard flock.

I’d long expressed an interest in backyard chickens and was thrilled when she was also interested in starting a flock.  It helped that the city council in Durham, NC had recently passed a bill permitting residents inside the city limits to have up to 10 chickens (no roosters), as long as certain steps were taken to coexist with neighbors respectfully — things related to the location of the coop relative to property lines or neighboring buildings, etc.  (Our neighbors have been very supportive.)

In August or September we finally got on the ball, and after talking about it, decided to buy a kit coop online.


Mail Order Simplicity

It didn’t take any time at all to put the kit together. It came it two boxes — the hutch in one, flat packed, about 90% pre-assembled; the coop in another, again, about 90% assembled.  Within about 10 minutes, we had a little situation for our chickens.  Our plan was to procure some juvenile birds from someone locally, and hopefully start getting eggs before winter set in.

We weren’t terribly concerned about “bio-security” living where we do, but we should have been.  Not two months in, one of our birds was taken in broad daylight by a raccoon (it was actually a cloudy day).  About a month later, we lost another.  In both cases, it was our fault.  During the day we’d let the birds roam around our yard unsupervised.  I’d open their coop about 8 a.m. and by 5 or 6 p.m., they’d trundle back into the coop, go into the hutch and roost on a pole in there.  It was a great situation, but our yard provides no security from raccoons or cats or dogs that may be wandering the nearby woods.  This began a several month period during which I tried various methods to keep them contained during the day.  Luckily, winter was coming on and they would spend much of it in their coop.

Being bantams, and now only two in number, their 15-square foot coop plus hutch was plenty big, but they were used to foraging for much of their diet and except on rainy or snowy days, I felt very bad about keeping them literally, cooped up.

Winter Day

Snow Day

Coop lit up

Christmas Lights

Around Christmastime, the nights started getting colder.  We’d read about putting a single bulb in their hutch but I decided to play a little and hung some large bulb chirstmas lights in the coop instead.  They could still sleep in the dark in the hutch or roost under a bulb in the coop.  Depending on the night, they variously did both.  As the nights got still colder and winter wore on, I eventually took this string of lights out of the coop and put a 40-W bulb in the hutch.

Coop with a Run

Chicken Run

Around February, the “cooped up” chickens were starting to get to me, so I put up a run.  I got some T-posts and an 80′ roll of chicken wire at the local hardware store and encircled their coop with a run about 25′ x 10′.  It worked great for about three days, until one of the girls learned that she could fly right over that chicken wire.

Several weeks later I returned to the store for some 8′ tall T-posts, and proceeded to hang a second row of chicken wire (I had plenty left over on the roll).  That lasted another few days before the chickens figured out that by jumping up on their coop they could easily fly over the 6′ tall fencing.

A several month-long battle ensued during which I attempted to keep them inside the run during the day, and closed their coop up at night.  Around March, one night I didn’t latch the coop and raccoons scaled the run and got into the coop.  We lost our third chicken.  That was the end of our patchwork attempts at bio security and urban chicken keeping, in a raccoon zone.  It was also a sign that we needed more chickens.


Baby Chicks in a Brooder Box

In late April, our four chicks from MyPetChicken.com arrived, and I set up a little brooder in our back bathroom. As they grew, I moved them to a much larger brooder pen in our crawl space by the car port, but both were similar in construction (IKEA cardboard and a heat lamp, with pine shavings) and effectiveness. And in May, construction began on our big coop.

Temporary Housing

Temporary Housing

Under Construction

Under Construction

By the end of May, our lone chicken was parading around in her coop, which was based on designs we found on the Web and a fellow who documented the heck out of his own backyard coop project. A few weeks later, when our new girls were old enough, we used the old coop fencing to put the four chicks into the coop with the hen who was by now laying an egg a day, regularly. They got acquainted quickly, and two weeks later, we removed the partitions and they now live in the coop altogether. Big chick-chick is on the top of the pecking order, but in a few months when the chicks are larger than she is, I expect a re-ordering of the lineup.

Finished Project

Chicken Coop 3.0

Our backyard chicken experiment continues to this day. Then next project will be to construct a chicken tractor, so that we can return the girls to foraging and keeping our yard and garden free of ticks and fleas and other icky critters.

Related: Backyard Chickens on Burkbum.com

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