Building a chicken run in Illinois

Chickens are on my wishlist for the farm. But part of what’s holding me back from getting them is the coop. I know I need to rebuild the coop and part of that is a secure, covered run for our birds. Sarah in Illinois is nearly a year into chicken farming, and she has recently added a run for her hens. She’s sharing that project today, and also looking ahead to a few more.

As I mentioned a few posts back, I was concerned with keeping my chickens free range. I loved that they could roam the yard, pick all kinds of greens and bugs and worms and have such a healthy diet. However, Blitz was becoming quite a concern for me.

I know very well that it is his natural instinct to chase and catch. I also know that the only way for us to overcome this is for me (and the other members of our family) to work with him constantly, to train him and teach him to leave the chickens alone.

It is still possible for us to achieve this and for Blitz and the chickens to live in peace and harmony, but then Steve and started thinking about how we were going to keep the chickens out of the garden this year and we decided it was time to make a chicken run.

We will not get any awards for our design or our building technique but the chickens are safe from Blitz and our garden is safe from the chickens.

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It wasn’t long after we built our run that I read that Kit over at DIY Diva was building a run for her free range chickens. Unfortunately, she lost a few of her flock before she could get them contained. I am thankful that we only had a very close call with one, and all four are doing well now.

We used part of the existing welded wire fencing to make a run about 8 feet wide and the length of the barn. Then we lined the inside of this fence with chicken wire. To support the roof we used old fence poles that we had laying around. We ran the chicken wire over the top and secured all of our seams by twisting wire ties every few feet.

Like I said, we did not use any advanced carpentry skills. If we ever get a hungry raccoon looking for a meal I don’t think that our fence will do anything but slow him down. I still make sure to close their coop door every night, and I look over the fencing often to make sure there are no signs of something trying to make its way inside.

I don’t recommend our approach for anyone with problems with tougher predators. We did not put anything underground like Kit did. Her approach was much more thorough. It is also possible that we will have to reevaluate everything if we get other predators, but for now it is keeping out one goofy pup.

I also mentioned last time that I was going to set my new goals for my next three months. So here we go. By June 30 I hope to have a few more things accomplished:

1. Light box for my mom.

She has asked me a few times to make her one and has even sent me pins about it, but I haven’t started one yet. So that will be a good project for rainy days or evenings.

A light box is basically a shallow box with a clear or opaque lid. Inside is a light and when you put something that you want to trace on top the light shines through and lets you trace much easier.

My mom loves to sew (mostly quilts) and she could really use one. I have pinned one that I am going to base my design on but I need to talk to mom and make sure these dimensions work for what she needs.

2. Grill lighting

We need to figure out some type of lighting for around our grill on our deck. I say “we” because Steve does most, if not all, of the grilling, so I am going to have him help me decide what will work and look the best. Right now, this is purely just an idea in my head and I have done no research.

3. The Garden

For my third project I am not setting a specific project. I am just going to say “garden.” The list of what needs done is so long that I am going to just group it all together and say that any work that gets done in the garden is on my “to-do” list.

We increased the size of our garden this year to 68 feet by 64 feet. With the rain we have gotten lately, we are behind on getting our potatoes in the ground.

So basically, if I am not working on numbers one and two listed above, I need to be in that garden.

I know what you mean about “garden,” Sarah. I actually think it should be “The Garden.” That’s a huge area you have. Between that, the puppy, the chickens and your other projects, you will definitely be keeping yourself busy. Hopefully the run helps to make at least a couple of things easier. It looks like it should do what you need it to. Good luck with your list.

Sunset visitors

After just over five years of farm living, the novelty of the wildlife lives on and passes through our property has not worn off.

At sunset on the weekend, we had three deer munching in the back field, and much, much closer we had one very chill deer relaxing in the centre field.

Eventually she stood up and trotted away, white tail waving.

The whitetails were waving again on Monday morning when Baxter and I were out for our pre-dawn walk. The white was all we could see as four deer headed away from us through the dark field.

They keep coming back, though, and have been in the back field each evening so far this week. And it’s still exciting every time.

A heck of a hive

Giant wasp nest on the ground

Snow melts. Grass dies. And all of a sudden things appear.

Things like a giant wasp nest.

Giant wasp nest on the ground

I’ve never seen a nest this large. Let alone one built on the ground.

Never mind knee high to a grasshopper. This is knee high to a grown (albeit not super tall) woman.

Giant wasp nest on the ground

Have you ever seen a nest this large? Is spring uncovering anything at your house?

Progress, not perfection

Sarah is making progress on her projects in Illinois. Today, she’s sharing some of that progress, as well as the lesson that it’s okay to strive for progress over perfection.

“Progress, not Perfection.”

I am not sure who said it first. A quick internet search shows many people using this phrase. My cousin is a personal trainer, and she uses it for her clients. It is a great reminder when you are trying to be healthier, but I think it pertains to so much in life.

That is what I am going to use for my personal home goals too. I did not finish any of my first three projects yet, but I did make progress.

If you look back to my earlier post one of my goals is to paint Blitz’s dog house. I still haven’t decided what color I want to paint it but that doesn’t stop me from going ahead and priming it.

Of course I had help. Because when you have a 6 month old puppy, you really can’t do anything without him being under your feet.

Or close enough to what you are painting that he gets white paint on his head and ears.

So there has been progress.

In other news, while I was out in the yard today I noticed new growth at the base of my mums.

You probably remember my massive mums from previous posts. My dad wants a few starts from it, so when the weather warms up quite a bit I will split it up again like I did last year.

When we went over to visit my parents today, my mom showed me her plans and shopping list for her garden for this year. Seeing the starts of the mums and seeing my mom’s plans made me realize, I am already behind on my garden planning this year.

I need to just keep making progress.

Thanks for the reminder, Sarah. It’s great to see the progress that you–and Blitz–are making. I love the paint in his fur. Such a helpful guy. I hope you’re able to continue making progress.

Tips to create a stylish and dog-friendly home

I recently wrote an article for homify that combines my two loves–dogs and home decor. (My husband is another one of my loves, but that’s a post for another time).

I know that many of you are also dog lovers, so I thought I’d share my tips for creating a stylish and dog-friendly home. From dog beds (complete with a trio of super cute dachshunds) to dog showers, there’s a whole range of ideas–and cute puppy photos.

I’d love to hear what makes a dog-friendly home for you.

For many people, home isn’t home without a dog…

A dog-friendly home is one that is comfortable for both its human and animal occupants. There should be a balance of style and function and–good news–it’s easy to have both.

Read my tips.

What makes your home dog-friendly? What do you wish you had that would make your home friendlier? (For me, it’s definitely a dog shower in the mudroom).

How to encourage egg laying in the winter

Back in December, Sarah in Illinois shared some of the lessons she’s learned since adding laying chickens to her farm. In the post, she mentioned mentioned that their egg production had declined as winter set in. She had a few ideas to encourage more laying, and today she’s back to share what happened.

If you remember my post a couple months ago, I gave an update on the chickens and mentioned that their egg production had declined.

I thought that it was either from lack of daylight or cooler temperatures. I was willing to try to add some artificial daylight, but that I was not going to risk a barn fire by adding heat.

I am happy to report adding some light did the trick.

I went to the local home improvement store and purchased a light socket with metal shade. All you do is add a bulb and plug it in.

I took it a few steps further.

First, I chose an LED bulb. I am serious when I say that a barn fire is one of my worst fears, and I was going to take no chances in using a bulb that would get hot.

An LED did the trick. It produces almost no heat at all. I can rest my hand on the metal shield while it is on and there is no chance of me, or the chickens, getting burned.

As you can imagine with a traditional bulb there is no way I would be able to touch the shield, it would burn me instantly.

The second thing I did was to secure the fixture.

It came with a clamp to attach it where you need light. There is a good chance that it wouldn’t move, but I wanted to make sure it did not fall and rest in the straw in the bottom of the coop. So I ran a screw into the clamp after I had it where I wanted it.

No crazy chicken antics will cause the lamp to fall.

My final step was to add a timer. I have it set to come on every morning from 6 to 7 am and again from 4 to 8 pm.

After I had all of this in place I waited.

After about a week I found 2 eggs in the box.

And then a few days later I started getting 3 eggs a day.

I even had a bonus day yesterday where all 4 chickens laid an egg.

I can say that this project was a complete success, and I have no fear of burning our barn down.

I also have progress to report on my project goals that I listed in my last post.

One of my projects is to make over my Grandma’s Saint Francis statue.

I started by scraping off all loose paint. I did not intend to remove all the paint, only the paint that was loose and came off easily.

For the most part the concrete is in good shape but it has broken off of the base.

I am sure there are products meant for this type of project, but I chose to use what we had sitting around. We had a partial bag of thin-set mortar that we had used to install tile in our house. It sets up extremely hard, so I thought that once it is painted, it may work just fine.

I really don’t know about the longevity for this use, but I decided that it was worth a shot. I mixed some water and made it thick enough that I could apply it with a putty knife.

I knew that I wanted to add a couple layers instead of one thick layer so I purposely left the first layer bumpy instead of smooth so that the second layer will have something to attach to. I waited for it to dry and hoped that it would work.

24 hours after I added the thin-set to the statue, I started thinking that it is not going to work. I think the thin-set is too crumbly and will not hold up long term.

But that’s okay. I tried it, and I will try something else and report back how it goes.

Way to give things a try, Sarah. I’m glad that the chickens’ light worked so well. It’s great that you’re able to get fresh eggs again. I would miss those! Hopefully you’re able to find something that works for your Grandma’s statue too. 

Breakfast with the birds

Chicadees at the birdfeeder

Most days, my morning starts pretty early. Too early for the sun and too early for the birds.

Which is a shame, because our birdfeeder is perfectly positioned right outside the dining room window, and I love watching the birds as I’m having my breakfast.

Over the holidays, my days started a little later and I was able to share my breakfast with a few feathered folk.

Blue jay at the birdfeeder

Cardinal at the birdfeeder

Woodpecker at the birdfeeder

The woodpecker (above) was the top of the pecking order until the dove (below) came along. Despite their reputation, this guy is not at all peaceful. He wants all the seeds for himself.

Dove at the birdfeeder

I highly recommend this simple style of birdfeeder. The birds seem to really like it, and it’s easy to fill and clean. I posted plans way back when I first made it. You can download them here.

What birds do you see at your house? Do you have a birdfeeder?

Christmas writing elsewhere

One week to go before Christmas. I. Can. Not. Wait.

We’ve hosted our annual Christmas party and done a bit of decorating. Baking and finishing off Christmas presents are on the list for this weekend.

I’ve also written a few Christmas posts for some of the other sites I contribute to.

On That Mutt I shared my tips on how to make sure your dog is comfortable during a party. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m biased when it comes to Baxter, but seeing his facial expressions during the party are worth the click in my opinion.

Here’s a sample for you: the most hopeful puppy in the whole world staring at his favourite person (Matt’s Dad) and his favourite foods (turkey and squash). He’s very hard done by, in case you were wondering. I have some actual helpful tips in the article too, not just cute dog pictures.

Baxter eyeing the buffet

Since moving to the farm, I’m embracing more and more a rustic, natural style. On homify, I wrote about Christmas decor without the kitsch.

Country Living room by Vanessa Rhodes Interiors

And since it’s been years since we’ve had a Christmas tree at our house, I also shared some ways to branch out beyond the traditional Christmas tree (although I can’t see a Christmas tree wall decal ever being our style).
Walls & flooring by Vinyl Impression

Are you ready for Christmas at your house? What festive things are you up to this weekend?

Lessons learned after 4 months of chicken farming

Sarah in Illinois has had her chickens for about 4 months. Today she’s sharing what she’s learned so far with raising laying chickens.

I was very nervous when I decided to take this on. You may remember from my earlier posts that I had done a lot of research and read several books and asked lots of questions to fellow “chicken people.”

One piece of advice from my cousin was that I was overthinking it. From what I have experienced so far, she was exactly right.

I really can’t imagine raising chickens being any easier.

Now I need to make sure to point out that I have been lucky and have had no medical issues with any of my chickens, no injuries and no pests like flies or lice. All of those problems could still happen and I will rethink that raising chickens is “easy.”

Everyone who raises chickens has different circumstances so all I could do was try my best and make notes on what to change. So here is what I have learned in my first 4 months.

Coop

The coop seems to be working very well. It had plenty of ventilation this summer and I closed off all but a very little area for ventilation this winter. The temperatures are just starting to drop here, so I am hoping they will stay warm enough.

I have had no issues with any critters trying to get in the coop. We have had several raccoons, foxes and opossum on our property this year, but we have been lucky to find them before they got to the coop.

The only thing that I plan to change in the coop is maybe making them a new door, but that is purely for my own satisfaction, not a necessity.

Pen/Enclosure

I have gone back and forth on what type, if any, enclosure is best for the chickens.

I foolishly thought that they may stay in the fenced area that I already had set up for when Treu was here. That clearly did not work. They have been fully free-range so far. I really liked them being able to have a varied diet, hunt down bugs and just over all be healthier and happier.

But then Blitz came along. Blitz is not happy with them being free-range. I can’t tell you how many times I have run across the yard to grab a chicken out of his mouth.

Lately he has been grabbing them by the tail and dragging them as far away as he can. We are working on discipline, but I think we are fighting a losing battle.

Steve and I are pretty sure we are not far from him grabbing one just right and killing it. So we are going to continue to work with him coexisting with the chickens, but we have also bought a large roll of chicken wire to enclose the chickens and protect them from puppy bites.

Heat/Light

The chickens had been laying eggs very well up to about 2 weeks ago. We still had warm temperatures and enough daylight that I was getting 3-4 eggs a day consistently.

However, as expected, their production has decreased a lot now that we’re getting closer to winter. I am getting 2 eggs one day and nothing the next.

Some people add heat lamps to their coops for them to continue to lay all winter. I will not be adding a heat lamp. I am too nervous and have heard too many horror stories of coops and barns burning down from heat lamp accidents. But I have thought about adding a lightbulb on a timer to simulate longer hours of daylight. It would produce a minimal amount of heat but mostly just give them the feeling of longer days.

Food

Since the chickens have been free range, I have not been worried at all about their food. I always have pellets handy for them, but they eat very little chicken feed when they are free to roam the yard and fields.

I did make them a feeder out of PVC pipe. I found several samples on Pinterest, but the idea is very basic.

I used a piece of 3-inch diameter PVC pipe, a “y” and two caps. I cut about 3 inches of the straight piece of pipe, this was used to connect the bottom cap to the “y.” In the picture below you can see how I stacked a cap, 3-inch section of PVC pipe, “y,” the remaining PVC pipe and a cap on top to keep out dust, dirt and chicken poop.

I fill the feeder approximately every 10 days. I expect to fill it more often as winter sets in and the chickens have less grass and bugs to eat.

Water

Right now their water may freeze over slightly overnight, but it has not been cold enough to freeze to where they can’t get water. I obviously will have to decide what kind of heated water container I am going to use and probably pretty soon.

More chickens

Yes, I plan to add chickens to my flock in the spring. I have known from the beginning that I may add to my flock.

Steve doesn’t like brown eggs. I know that is shocking. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had where people can’t believe that and swear that brown eggs are richer, taste better and are healthier. But hey, we all have likes and dislikes and his is that he doesn’t like brown eggs. So I just see that as an opportunity to add more chickens!

When we built the coop we planned for it to be big enough to house 10-12 chickens. Now that I know what raising chickens is like, I can comfortably add more and not feel overwhelmed. My plan is to add 2-3 white egg layers (possibly Leghorns) that are 3 to 4 months old.

I am not ready to attempt to keep baby chicks alive, so that is why I want them to be a couple of months old.

Clearly this was the more photogenic of the chickens. She was always in front of the camera!

Another reason to add chickens is that 4 chickens produce enough eggs that I can occasionally take some to my parents or Steve’s mom, but I don’t have enough where I think “what am I going to do with all of these eggs?” So I feel I can add a couple and easily have eggs to provide to our parents and my brother and his girlfriend.

So how do I feel after my first 4 months of being a chicken farmer?

I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience so far. If you are thinking about raising chickens for fresh eggs, do it.

Do your research, ask questions, then go for it! If you have questions for me, ask away. I will answer to the best of my knowledge with my short experience.

Yay, Sarah! I’m glad that your chickens are working out so well for you–despite the challenges with Blitz. I am so looking forward to the day when we have our own farm fresh eggs. I have to say that I’m on team brown… or blue (I love the idea of Ameraucanas) when it comes to eggs. However, I don’t really notice a difference in taste based on shell colour. I notice a difference in taste between farm fresh and store bought. I love the flavourful deep orange yolks!

Hallowe’en look back

Gourds in a wooden bowlThis is our fifth Hallowe’en at the farm. Over the years, we’ve learned not to expect trick or treaters to trek up our long driveway–but Matt bought some candy just in case.

This year, the extent of my fall decorating (I can’t even call it Hallowe’en) is a bowl of gourds on the dining room table in one of my Dad’s hand-turned wood bowls.

Here’s a look back at Hallowe’en through the years.

Our first Hallowe’en, we carved a pumpkin based on Christopher Lee’s performance as Dracula–one of Matt’s favourite movies. The pumpkin even sat on the front stoop for a little while before we realized we were the only ones that were going to enjoy it and we brought it in to the fireplace hearth.

Dracula pumpkin carving

Our second Hallowe’en at the farm was our first Hallowe’en with Baxter. He showed off his tricks to earn a few treats. I’m writing more about trick training over at ThatMutt.com today.

An eclipse coincided with our third Hallowe’en, creating a spooky blood moon.

bloodmoon1b

Last year, our fourth Hallowe’en, I created a creepy haunted forest complete with real animal skulls on the mantel. I still love this display.

Hallowe'en mantel

How are you celebrating Hallowe’en at your house? Do you decorate for Hallowe’en? Are you going trick or treating?