Posts Tagged ‘chickens’

This is a first attempt, there’s tons of room for improvement.  Take the concept and run with it- specialize it to meet your brooding preferences and needs.  This is my first version, and I’ve just gotten chicks to legitimize it works 🙂

"ecoglow"-style DIY brooderWhat you’ll need:
A (seal-able) container, a string of mini Christmas lights, and some sand
Some wide tape and a utility knife
A way to suspend the brooder- some baler twine, heavy string (P-cord),  and a simple frame/table or shelf of wood, sturdy pvc, metal, whatever you have available

This is like an “ecoglow” in that it provides radiant heat/ direct heat that the chicks snuggle up to.
I looked into purchasing one, but it’s out of my price range and I couldn’t justify the cost, especially since I don’t brood very many chicks.
There’s a concept from Confederate Money Farm that uses bulb Christmas lights in a pipe to brood chicks- their “PVC pipe pet warmer”.  The other concept I drew from is from Jessie: Improved. The idea is using Christmas tree lights in sand under seedlings as a warming/propagation mat.

I started with a (roughly) 9×13 plastic lidded container from the dollar store.  I cut a hole in the top for the christmas lights to exit and spread the remainder in the container, then filled the container with sand.  I used clear packing tape and taped the hole inside and out where the lights exit, then taped the lid to the container on all 4 sides.  (Duct tape or something similar will do equally well.)

DIY "ecoglow"-style brooder light entry detail
Use a bigger container or make 2 if you have more chicks to brood.  This one provides plenty of space for 15 and I’m sure would easily accommodate 25 (it’s larger than the “ecoglow 20” that says it’s good for 20 chicks).

Guidelines here:  More lights= hotter.   If yours is too hot, here’s some options:
1) Use a dimmer
2) use a smaller strand of lights
3) pull part of your strand of lights out of the container before filling with sand
4) use a strand with a good portion of lights burned out
5) use a bigger container and more sand

Bottom line: Adjust your lights and container size, or use a dimmer to get the temperature you need, whether you need it hotter or cooler.
The chicks will also move around to find a spot with a temperature they like.  If it’s a bit hot in the center, they’ll move closer to an edge, or just hand out along the side, or hop up on top- just as you sometimes see them do to a broody hen.  I found half a dozen of them contentedly sitting on the top last night.

chick on top of my DIY "ecoglow"-style brooder

My first attempt was too hot- interior temp of the sand was almost 160, directly underneath was 110- too hot for chicks!  (Good thing I didn’t have any live subjects in the trial phase!)  I think this may have caused some of my lights to burn out.  But, that solved my temperature problem.

Next step is to suspend your brooder at the right height.  I used part of a shelf system, but a simple PVC frame could be used, or wood or metal frame.

"ecoglow"-style DIY brooder 2

Mine is high tech: suspended at the correct height with 2 strands of baler twine, taped on the bottom to keep if from shifting.  Please assemble and adjust your brooder BEFORE you put your chicks in!  You want it secure and safe so you don’t squish a baby with that heavy container full of sand!
To make an easy-to-adjust knot/hitch:  tie a loop on one end of your twine (I used an overhand knot on a bite).

loop for knot-hitch system

Put your knots on the top of the frame, run the twine under the brooder, back around to the top, and through the loop.  Pull the loose end of the twine back the direction it came.

loose end through loop

Once you have it at the height you want, pinch it at the loop so it can’t slide.  Tie a “slip knot” with the loose end at your pinch- pull a loop of the loose end close to the loop through- just as if you were tying a simple knot, but only using a small portion near the loop.

starting the slip knot

Tighten and repeat with the other twine.

slip knot complete  simple knot:hitch system from baler twine

Secure with tape on the bottom of the brooder.
If you have chicks of different sizes and want an uneven surface as you can with the “ecoglow”, you can tie one end of the brooder a little higher than the other.

Some other possibilities for suspension:
You could suspend with chain or small rope, either going underneath the brooder or attached to the rim of your container if it’s sturdy enough.  You may also be able to construct legs- perhaps threaded rod with nuts fixed to the corners of a frame supporting the lip of your container- to allow for twist-up or twist-down fine adjustments as the chicks grow.

You could just prop it up on blocks or bricks, but that uses up your brooding space pretty quickly.

I put mine in a corner of my brooder to keep it a cozy little heat-holding space.  I also built up bedding at one side, so it’s mainly one side that is “open” but they can get out another side if they need to.  chicks under my DIY "ecoglow"-style brooder

Advantages: cheaper (especially if you have materials kicking around), DIY, provides a little bit of light so the chicks can see to eat and drink at night, less power input, less fire risk, and a final benefit this booder has that an “ecoglow” or a heat lamp doesn’t have- A built-in reserve of heat.  If your power goes off or your light(s) fail, the heat that has been absorbed and stored by the sand will stay warm for quite a while, extending the time your chicks will survive, especially since they’re already used to snuggling down together under it’s semi-enclosed space- kind of like an ‘igloo”‘ in the ‘cold brooder’ models (see more about cold brooding at The Natural Chicken).
Disadvantages:  It’s heavy, you cannot see your chicks (just as with the ecoglow), it still takes some materials and time to assemble and tweak, and it’s not very refined (yet- but that means a benefit of flexing the concept to meet your wants and needs).


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I found some reasonably priced (aka cheap, although not quite free) laying hens on Craigs last week, so I brought home 10 to increase my egg production.  I’ve only got 4 chantecler hens and 2 banty hens, and only two (possibly 3?) of the Chanteclers are laying anything for me so far.  I also have reason to believe some of these new girls will be broody hens to hatch eggs for me next spring since some have done it before.  They’re all black, some are a bit smaller, likely a banty cross with a standard size chicken.  The only black chickens I know the name of are black Australorps, Jersey giants, and black broilers- I definitely don’t have giants or broilers.  I don’t know what these chickens are, so any guesses are welcome!  These girls just stopped laying so I won’t be getting any eggs until probably after the new year, but I guess I can be patient.  Eggs are pricy at the store right now!  Here’s one of the new girls:

Since I brought home more chickens, John reminded me that I REALLY need to get rid of a few roosters now.  Last week he stopped in at the Amish place we’ve heard about that will butcher for a reasonable price.  They told him I should bring them Monday (yesterday).

I brought four- three Chanteclers and a banty Ameraucana.  One had too large of a comb, one had crooked legs, one was not nice to my kiddos, and one (the banty) was leaning that way.  (If he’d been a nice rooster, he would’ve stayed and the other banty would’ve been processed because he has the wrong comb type, although better color.)  I still really have one too many Chanty roosters, but I’d like to grow three out a little further and see how they develop before I narrow it down to two.  I neglected to take a picture of the actual chickens I took, so here’s a picture of some I have left.  The first picture is a Chantecler hen, rooster, and the remaining banty rooster behind.  The second picture is a rooster and a hen (another hen behind).  They’re about 6 months old.


The weather was horrible (pelting rain and a thunderstorm), but they fortunately do most of the processing inside.  I waited for the school children to get home, since they were the ones who were to butcher the roos for me.  I wanted to learn how, so they let me help.  Two little boys took them out to the cones at the fence and dispatched them.  They let me hold the feet until the worst of the twitching was over.  Fortunately, there was a clearing in the rain and we didn’t get drenched outside!

An older sister was overseeing the project in the basement.  There the roos were dunked in a pail of boiled water (with soap added) for 15-30 seconds until the feathers would come off easily.  (The sister said they usually use soda in the water instead, but soap works, too.  It’s supposed to help the feathers come out more easily.)  We plucked on a table- WAY easier than I had imagined it would be.  And I didn’t notice any particularly strong or nasty smell, either.  Then we cleaned the birds off in a pan of water and took legs off at the knee joint.  Last was gutting.  I did the last one, and definitely took longer and made a bigger mess (yup- I busted a gut) and I missed the lungs.  I still have to find them… they offered to get them out for me, but I’d like to see them when I cut the chicken apart, so I can find them in the future.  Once the cut was made in the bottom and the fat from that area removed, It wasn’t much worse than having to get that little baggie of giblets out of the frozen turkey.

They told me I didn’t have to pay full price since I helped a lot.  But they were very helpful in teaching me/answering my questions, so I felt that more than worth a couple of dollars.  (Sorry no pics of processing.  Besides having my hands yucky, the amish don’t do photos).

So here’s the end product.  They’re for sure not CornishX, but a 6 month old dual purpose bird.  (Sorry, the pics are a bit odd- they’re sitting on the canner lid on the basement floor- that’s where the extra fridge is.  And necks are still attached since the amish family had broken the knife they use to cut off the necks.)  I’ll try to weigh them sometime and add that here for reference.  ETA:  Weights of my roos without giblets/feet, but with necks.  The banty was 1lb 12 oz, Chanteclers were  5lb 2 oz, 5lb 3 1/2 oz, and 4 lb.  The 4 lb was the roo with the crooked legs that got picked on.  They were all a few days shy of 30 weeks old.  


Based on that experience, I would have no hesitations in doing one myself.  I don’t know that I’d want to do a bunch (unless I had help), and I still wouldn’t be crazy about the dispatching part, but I think I could do it.

What did you do yesterday?

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More progress has been made on our chicken coop and garden.


John has been putting the touches only a finish carpenter can on the chicken coop.  He has trimmed out the doors and windows to match the house (all 2 windows we have trimmed there…).  He’s also finished the cupola for venting.  It looks very nice, I think.  But it’s taken a lot longer than necessary for chickens!  He looks out the door and can enjoy it, though.  If it looked like a thrown together mess, it would bother him a lot!  Good thing I didn’t build it myself.

The coop is 8×12 with a 3.5×8 garden shed in the back and a 8.5×8 chicken section in the front.  It still will gain a window in the left hand side and eventually some insulation and a little electric for a lights and a couple outlets.

To review:  Our plan was to enclose a garden/chicken run.  It’s split in half, so that each year the chickens get one side for a run and we get one side for a garden.  We’ve pretty much completed the project.  A little dirt to fill in the trench where the chicken wire runs into the ground and the “panel” that can be opened to let in a tractor to till each year needs to be attached.  I let the chickens out in their side of the enclosure this morning to attack the weeds that have grown so well in there!  There’s also a small run off of the coop that will be fully enclosed for a most always accessible but secure chicken run.

Their favorite weed seems to be milkweed.  Weird.  I though it was mildly poisonous, but they’ve been eating it with abandon and choosing it to eat first for the past several weeks and have been doing fine.

The first rooster (my “pink” chick) attempted his crowing yesterday morning.  He’s the big one in the first picture.  I am suspicious that several more are roosters- they have a deeper red tone to their combs and around their eyes.  They seem to be larger as well, and one (“red” chick has small wattles now- need to check and see if that’s to Chantecler standards).  I haven’t tried too hard to count how many MIGHT also be roosters, because it’s still hard for me to tell and I don’t want to know how many expensive chicken dinners I’ll be having yet.  I am also pretty sure that two of the 4 ameraucanas are roosters- both with red feathers flecking their bodies.  The ones that are clearest in the photos here I think are both female.  The tiniest one I’ve named “Sparrow” as that what she reminds me of, both for her brownish coloring, her size, and her strong, constant chirping!  No one else has official names yet.  Just colors.  I’m still amazed at the size differences from “Sparrow” to my “pink” rooster.


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All 10 chanties are still going strong and getting big!

I got 6 bantam ameraucanas to join them- something fun, a little color, and maybe some blue/blue green bantam sized eggs.  They’re about a week younger.  I lost one bantam the day after I got them- fine one minute, and dead half an hour later.  I lost a second one 2 days ago- not sure why.  I can only think maybe it got trampled?  John turned on the table saw to use in the basement and scared them.  Other than that, it, too, was healthy, then very sick/dead within hours.  I also had one bantam that got “pasty butt” that I had to clear off several times, but it’s still going strong.  Here’s hoping the rest stay healthy and alive!  John just wants one of them to look like the corn flakes rooster.

We’ve been making progress on getting a coop built.  Here’s what it looked like last week

And here’s what it looks like now

We’re planning to work on it some more this evening!

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Excitement at my house!  At least for me.  John’s just tolerating 😉  We’ve finally worked out our “deals” on what chickens I can get and how many.

We’re getting 9 White Chantecler chicks from Kerryann at Tukswitt farms– we’ll be meeting her near Pittsburgh on April 23 to pick them up.  I’d also planned to do an order from Ideal hatchery to get some assorted Chanteclers for a little color- they allow smaller orders and send “warming chicks” to fill the box.  John wanted me to find someone to split an order with so that we wouldn’t have to find something to do with the little packing peanuts.  Unfortunately, over the course of the past week, everything went from available to sold out 😦  Guess I’ll have to remember to order VERY early from them if I ever want to try again!

Enter the new option- “Ameraucanas.” I use the term loosely, as from what I’ve read, it’s hard to find true Ameraucana’s from the hatcheries.  They’re mostly “Easter Eggers.”  We’ll see how they compare to the standards, I guess.  They are cold hardy, colorful, friendly, and have fun blue/green eggs (at least supposed to be) I decided to go bantam sized on these guys for a variety of reasons- less feed, maybe I can get a good broody hen to raise some more Chanty chicks under, and the kids may like them more since they’re smaller.  I talked to the local feed store and will plan to order 6 with them sometime in April.  I believe they’ll be coming from Stromberg’s hatchery.

We also ordered the chicken wire that will go around the garden/chicken run.  AND I found someone locally who thinks he can make the locust split rail fence for a reasonable price. I’ll be sure to take pics when we get it/get it put up.  The fence will support the chicken wire and make it look a little nicer than just posts.

Progress is being made…

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So John is somewhat hesitantly letting me start with some chickens this year.  The agreement that he could get a handgun if I got chickens apparently made it a workable deal.  I’ve been researching my options for a while and decided I’d like to keep Chanteclers.  They’re a dual purpose (Eggs and meat), cold hardy (actually developed in Canada), good foraging (less feed to buy!), calmer disposition (not as flighty or prone to be aggressive), and heritage breed (listed at “critical” by the ALBC).  So why not promote a little genetic variety with a bird that fits all my other wants?  Okay- one problem- since they’re “critical” it means they’re a little difficult to find.  I’m most interested in the White variety, although plan to get a few partridge, buff, and/or red to supply a little color to my homestead.

I’d planned to go with Ideal hatchery and start with the colored ones, as the only hatchery that sells whites (Sandhill) requires a 25 chick order, and only 10 (now 15?) can be the white chants, which as of yesterday were sold out through mid-July.  However, I ran across a Craigs list add and connected with a lady near Philadelphia who is breeding some.  I wouldn’t make a 6-hour one way drive to get chicks, but she fortunately is coming to the Pittsburg area this spring with some other livestock and can deliver them there to meet me.  Three hours one way for the bird I most want is worth it, especially since John and I can make it a date day and justify the trip a little more readily.

This has all just developed over the past week, so I’m excited!  I was originally planning to wait until June to get chicks, but since some circumstances have changed, we should be starting with chicks the day before Easter.  With that change, I think I’ll try to order my color chicks to arrive shortly after that so I can brood them together better.

Another piece I’m hoping to add is a couple Khaki campbell ducks.  They’re supposed to be small, good layers (rivaling the best laying chickens), good foragers, and good in the cold (and for what it’s worth, campbell ducks also make the list of animals in need of population support on the ALBC).  I don’t necessarily need more eggs, but I’ve never had duck eggs and would like to try them.  Ducks are also supposed to be a little easier on your garden spaces, as they don’t scratch up the ground.  So I’d feel a little better about letting them loose in the garden side of my enclosed area to deal with some bugs.  I’d thought about waiting and trying them some other year, but I’m thinking it will be best for poultry relations if I start my ducks and chicks together.  Most of what I’ve come across in researching if they can be kept together says one of two things.  One, they get along fine, but have been raised together.  Two they don’t get along and had to be separated, but usually because one was added to the other.  Dominance seemed to belong to whoever was there first, and the added one (duck or chicken) lost out.

However, John’s not so hip on the idea of ducks, TOO.  Yet to be determined…

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We’ve been looking at our goals for the year and trying to decide project priorities.  This of course all comes after taking care of the kids!

Major priority number 1:  We’ve been planning to build a masonry heater since the time we started drawing our house.  Now we’ve reached a point that we can take some more definite action.  We’re talking with someone who knows how to design them, digging out our supplies, and brushing up on all the information we’ve collected over the last few years.  Hopefully we’ll be able to have a drawing in hand over the course of the next several months and start building it this fall/winter.  I’ll share some more of the details as plans solidify for us.

Major priority number 2:  Chickens.  Okay, a much greater priority for me than for John, but he’s willing to let me do this one this summer.  The plan is to double our current garden space, divide it in half, and enclose it.  This will let us run chickens in one side and garden in the other, switching sides every year.  The idea is the chickens get to clean up the goodies left from last year, including bad insects that can over-winter in the garden, as well as scratching things up and making “deposits” for the following year’s garden.  It’s an idea I ran across at backwoods home that I think would work well for us.  I’ll let you know what kind and why later.

Major priority number 3:  The garden.  Last year was our most productive year so far, and I’m hoping for even better this year.  I’ve ordered most of my seeds.  I’m trying heirloom varieties, with the hopes of being able to save some of my own seeds for next year.  I doubt I’ll get into saving any of the biennial crops this year, but we’ll see.  I’ve also selected some less common varieties to try. More about what I picked and why later.

Major priority number 4:  Alright,another major priority for me.  John’s not thinking it’s a good idea this year, but I just can’t help but keep an eye out… I’d like to get at least one Dexter cow to milk.  Eventually 2-3 on a staggered freshening schedule to meet our milk needs.  Right now we go through 5 gallons a week, and the girls are only 2 1/2 and 1!  The major obstacles right now are time (of course) and a barn.  For some reason, the garage isn’t available to me for this purpose ::)

At some point, I’ll have to do a posting of our goals for the year.  Maybe it will help us stay a little more on track if I have to check in here with how things are going!

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