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.

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?

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!

Growing sunflower seeds

It’s been neat to watch the sunflowers go through their various stages of growth.

More than a month ago you saw the cheery blossoms.

A couple of weeks ago, the seeds started to come in. The spiky flowers in the centre of the blossom dropped off to reveal the tightly packed seeds.

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds

It was about this time that the local wildlife seemed to discover the sunflowers.

I had hoped to get another photo this week, but the flowers have been nearly picked clean. Most of the seeds have been consumed.

The biggest culprits are the blue jays. Any time I walk past the garden, at least six jays erupt from the sunflower patch. We’ve also spotted chipmunks and squirrels.

So it appears that we may be buying bird seed again this year.

 

Happy fall from Illinois

Lots is happening in Illinois this fall. Sarah is here today with a whole bunch of updates–and some very exciting news.

Happy fall! I thought this week I would give you a review of what has been going on around here and a little sneak peek of what we are preparing for.

Harvest is in full swing here. Steve has been working long hours every day in the combine. It seems like every field on my drive to and from work is either already harvested or has farmers in it working hard.

The view from our house is opening up since we have fields on all four sides. But I have to admit; with or without crops our view isn’t too bad.

The chickens are doing great. They have become very comfortable here.

Maybe just a little too comfortable.

I can pretty much count on getting two eggs a day from them.

From everything I have read, four chickens should average about three eggs a day. So I think they still have some room from improvement. We have been catching grasshoppers from the fields for them and they have learned who brings them the treats. They follow us around the yard all of the time.

One project that we are currently working on is building a garage inside of our pole barn. I have decided to do one large recap of that when we finish, but here is a hint of what we have been working on including pouring a concrete slab for the floor.

And finally, if you follow me on Instagram you already know the most exciting news: we are adding four legs to our family. I will give him a formal introduction once he joins us, but here is my first picture with him on the day I picked him from the litter.

Our house is about to get a whole lot busier.

What does fall look like at your house? What crops grow in your area? Any suggestions on introducing the new puppy to the chickens?

Aaah! That is very exciting, Sarah. New chickens and new puppy all in one year. You’re more ambitious than me. As cute as that fluff ball is, I think I’m most jealous of your fresh eggs and your new garage.

Chicken update from Illinois

Sarah in Illinois has made it through her second week of raising chickens. She’s back today to report on what she’s learned and how things are going. See her first post introducing her flock.

So far things with the chickens couldn’t be any easier. Each morning I open the coop, make sure they have water and some food. Each night they return to their coop about 7:30, and I close it back up. That’s it. They are not laying eggs yet. They should be old enough in the next couple weeks so I look for eggs every day just in case.

I will give you a quick tour. We made a coop inside one of our barns.

I have access with both a full door and a lid to lift off of the nesting boxes.

The chickens have a roost with plenty of ventilation. I do plan, however, to add another roost up a little higher.

They have access outside to the pen that was for Treu. I knew from the beginning that they would easily be able to fly over the fence, since there is no top to it. I was just hoping that with all the room and shelter under the trees that they would just prefer to stay inside.

Have you ever seen chickens laugh at you? I am pretty sure I have.

Here they are very clearly not inside the pen!

And the funny thing is, once they get out they don’t always remember how to get back in.

I mentioned in my last post that Toothless may be an issue. And she has been. I don’t think she has any intentions of hurting the chickens. She just thinks of them as her own personal toys. She loves to run right up into them when they are huddled together and just watch them go flapping and squawking away.

Here she is sneaking up on them, you can see one of the chickens has hopped the fence to get away from her.

It was funny the first time, but it is not something I want to encourage and I can tell the chickens are nervous when she comes around.

One night I went to close the coop, and I only counted 3 chickens. I quickly ran outside to see where the fourth one could be. Toothless had her cornered in the bean field.

I knew at that point I had to do something quickly.

I now have a squirt bottle of plain water that I keep out at the pen. Any time I see Toothless lurking around I give her a quick squirt of water and she goes running. Obviously I can’t sit out there all day and keep watch so I am hoping she gets the hint quickly.

Otherwise, I am just enjoying them. I go out to their pen every day after work and watch them peck the ground. I have given them tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden and I love to watch them chase each other and play keep-away.

So far they haven’t found our garden. They can’t see it from the pen. I am hoping it stays that way. I don’t want them to have their own private buffet. But as I mentioned above, have you ever seen a chicken laugh at you?

Anyone else new to raising chickens? Have any advice on getting Toothless to behave? Any predictions on when I will get my first egg?

It sounds like your girls are doing well, Sarah. With our chickens and ducks when I was growing up, my Dad put a mesh roof on our run. Treu’s run looks pretty big, but a covering of some kind would help keep the chickens in and Toothless out. We also put straw in the nesting boxes, even when we had shavings in the coop itself. I’m not sure if that makes a difference for encouraging them to lay or not.

Robin at the birdbath

I spy with my little eye a robin having a bath.

Robin in a birdbath

No, I’m not a creepy voyeur. I am geekily excited, though.

If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know that watching the birds at our feeder is one of my favourite winter past times. The bird feeder has been tucked in the driveshed since spring, so I’ve been missing out on my bird watching.

Robin in a birdbath

Last year for my birthday, Matt had a new top made for our birdbath.

When we put away the birdfeeder, we brought out the birdbath. But no one has seemed interested in taking the plunge. In fact, the one day I saw birds bathing in the puddles on the driveway instead of the birdbath. Snobs.

But last week I finally spotted a fastidious robin having a bath. And over the weekend I captured photographic evidence that at least one bird likes my birdbath.

Robin in a birdbath

(Shout out to my MIL for my new camera that has a decent zoom that lets me get pictures like this without frightening bathing beauty.)

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Chickens in Illinois

Exciting news from Sarah in Illinois. The new additions that she’s been working for all season have arrived!

Last weekend was very busy for me, so I am going to let pictures so most of the work for this post.

They’re here:

Chickens eating a tomato

Chickens

I haven’t had much time to spend with them but I have already determined a couple personalities. I keep saying that I am not going to name them, but I am sure it will eventually happen.

This one is the boss. She is the leader and the noisiest. She is the first one to make noise as I walk up.

Bossy chicken

This one is shy. She is the last one to approach me, the last one to come out of the coop, the last one to try the new piece of food I give them.

Shy chicken

This one is the tallest and always has her neck up high and reminds me of a lookout for organized crime.

Young brown chicken

I haven’t determined what personality this last one has.

Chicken from the front

I still have a lot to learn, but as I write this, I have kept them alive about 32 hours! So I consider that a win.

I have two outdoor cats and I have been very concerned how they would react to them. One really couldn’t care less about them. The other:

Cat walking amongst the chickens

Black cat in the grass

I guess time will tell.

This is so exciting, Sarah! Have you had any eggs yet? What kinds of chickens are they? I think I see a Plymouth Rock and a Rhode Island Red? Shy and Lookout look different from the breeds I’m familiar with. Good luck with kitty. Hopefully it’s just a case of curiosity.

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Summer progress in Illinois

Sarah is back today with more news from Illinois. Like me, she has a long summer to-do list, and she’s made some good progress recently.

Things have been pretty busy around here.

This past weekend Steve and I spent over 4 hours trying to get the garden back in shape. Weeds had really gotten ahead of us.

It’s crazy how a good rain and warm sunny weather for a couple days can turn weeds from “manageable” to “out of control,” because that is exactly what happened. But we do now have a handle on things, and I need to work on it every day, even for just a few minutes, so that we stay on top of things.

Freshly weeded vegetable garden

The rain and sun has been great for the kale though. I have added it to my salads, and I have made some kale chips. But truthfully I really needed to find a way to use more of it and quickly.

I was listening to Young House Love’s podcast, and John mentioned that he blends his kale with just a little bit of water and freezes it in ice cube trays. Then he uses a cube or two to drop in his smoothies. Wow! That was such a simple idea and I had never thought of that or read that idea anywhere. So I cut a bunch of kale, rinsed it and did exactly what John suggested.

Blended kale ice cubes

I used a lot of my kale. It only took a few minutes and now I can add it easily to my breakfast.

I will have more to harvest. This is AFTER I made my kale cubes.

Kale in the garden

The other thing that we worked on over the weekend was the chicken coop.

Building a chicken coop inside a barn

We had just been using wood that we had laying around, but we got to a point where we had to make a run to the home improvement store and get more supplies.

We are basically making a small room inside one of our barns. The exterior wall and the roof will be insulated.

I am still kind of designing and redesigning things as we go, but I have a pretty good plan in mind. I am hoping we will be ready for chickens by the end of this upcoming weekend.

This summer seems to be flying by so quickly. We have gotten so much done, but I feel like I have so much more that I really want to get finished.

I don’t want another month to go by without checking so much more off of my to-do list!

Oh, I know what you mean, Sarah. Summer is the time to get things done. I’m glad I’m not the only one with an ambitious to-do list. You’re doing a really great job, though! I can’t wait to see the rest of the coop–and its occupants.

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