Happy Spring! It still feels like deep winter around here, but there is at least a lot of dead, brown grass showing now, with the snow retreating to the shadowy edges of the world. So you know what that means? Chicks. Hot chicks. Hundreds of them.
We went to Plowshares Community Farm in Gorham last weekend to meet our week-old hens and 296 of their friends and relations. The farmer, Steven Bibula, advertised on Craigslist for day-old chick and pullet sales, and Stacey of Backyard Harvest recommended I contact him. He called me back minutes after I emailed and we had a great, informative conversation on breeds and whether it was best to raise eight-week-old or eighteen-week-old pullets. We agreed on eight-weekers, and he said, “Eggcellent.” I was sold. So technically our pullets will be teenagers when we bring them home, that awkward, pubescent phase of maturation when their new adult feathers are growing in and they develop crushes on all the roosters. Sorry, ladies. No cocks allowed. We also agreed on one of each of the following breeds:
Easter Egger (sometimes called Araucana or Ameraucana)
These are all common, hearty breeds; they are good layers and hopefully not too broody. Steven and his kids showed us all 300 or so of the new chicks, who were all between one day and one week old and kept in a pen in a greenhouse. There were chicks of ten different breeds. As I said, early spring is really late winter around here, so it’s still cold, especially for a little puffball of poultry, so there was a heater set to 90° that all the chicks were clustered around. Some were bold and ventured out, peeping and pecking at the cardboard walls of the pen and checking out the new visitors. The chicks are being fed Blue Seal OrganicLife Starter feed and they’re being cared for well. This was important to us since they will be our pets and we’ll be eating their eggs, so what they ingest, we ingest. When we get them they’ll graduate to OrganicLife Grower feed and be introduced to table scraps. Yum! Obviously we don’t know which ones will be ours yet, but we’re excited to come back in a few weeks to take them home to their deluxe condo coop in the big city.
Deciding to build our coop in the garage has actually been a great economic decision. We have already begun gathering reclaimed materials. My mom found us a great interior window and some scrap wood to use for walls or a ramp for the pop hole, and some cedar beams (not pictured) for the run.
We were planning to build all the coop walls with plywood, but after visiting a farm recently and seeing a barn coop walled only in one-inch hardware cloth, we’re wondering if that might be a better choice. After all, the birds will be safe from predators in the garage anyway, and clearly the hens at this farm survived the cold winter without an insulated coop, which were our two main concerns. The coop will be built into the far left corner of our garage using a wall with an existing window for the back wall of the run. We’ll cut a hole in the vinyl siding for the pop hole and build a sliding door for it. Since the nest boxes will be the warmest spots for the ladies, I think one coop wall should be built with plywood, but Nate maintains that we can attach the nest boxes right to the beams. We’ll see once construction begins. We have until the first week of May before our hens are ready.
Nate plans to make the nest boxes out of plywood next weekend. The general rule is three hens to a nest box, so we are building two and plan to line them with hay. We will be using linoleum for the floor of the coop for ease of cleaning and to protect our garage floor. Finally we need one-inch wire for the coop walls and half-inch wire for the bottom three feet of the run, as well as additional beams and roofing. I have been searching high and low for reclaimed roofing material, either metal or plastic, but we’ve found nothing. If we have to get roofing new, that will be our biggest expense by far. If not, we estimate our coop and run will cost about $200 to build, chickens included. Nate drew up a basic plan (with the help of his design assistant), which takes into consideration human height, keeping chicken poop separate from chicken food, and ease of egg collection. With any luck we’ll get 3-5 eggs a day come August when they fully mature. Here’s hoping for happy hens!