Preparing for Winter Chickens, Part 2

Reader Contribution by Becky And Andy
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Where are we gonna park this thing?

After we sat in the driveway for about a half an hour, one of us suggested moving the brooder house into the ailing pumpkin patch. The thought was that the chickens would eat the cucumber beetles and squash bugs that are plaguing our pumpkins and gourds. Brilliant!

Dad pulled the wagon into the north end of the field and worked on securing the four corners of the chicken house. You see, though it is safely lying upon the reinforced wagon structure, the edges hang completely off. Anyone inside walking too far to the edge would possibly tip the whole thing off the wagon! A temporary solution was to drill four sturdy 2-by-4s at each corner and brace them into the ground. Next Steve found some old lath and a broad plank and created a run for the chickens; sort of a “wheelchair accessible” ramp to the little chicken door. Then the day was over.

About five days later, Andy’s folks came back up to help finalize the chicken house for chickens. Andy took excess straw from the barn and loaded it into the brooder house for bedding. Steve busied himself with building a perch for the hens at night. The design is actually quite clever; it’s based off of a design from my grandparents’ hen raising days and modified a little by Andy. Basically, it is a rectangular frame about 5 ft wide and 2 ft high that is fastened to the wall with two hinges.

On the front are two legs, also on hinges. When the time comes for cleaning underneath, the entire structure can be raised flush with the ceiling, fastened by an eye hook. The two hinged legs fold flat with the base allowing for easy access. Elly and I visited Steve during his progress and Elly decided to give her grandpa a hand with building.

During this time, Andy and his mother Julie were out in the pumpkin patch busily harvesting any and all viable pumpkins and gourds for sale. As I mentioned before, we had a rough first season growing organic pumpkins. First, the spring was too wet and we lost a lot of seedlings over the month of June. Then, because the earth was so saturated, we couldn’t get in the field for much weeding and the water-logged plants were stressed out by scores of weeds and grasses. That brought on the first wave of cucumber beetles. They were only doing what Nature designed them to do: attack ailing plants, but since most of ours were ailing, it made things quite ugly. In July, we tried some diatomacious earth (an organic bug killer) and that seemed to help. We weeded as best we could and then got busy with lots of other farm activities. At the end of August we noticed the plants prematurely dying off. Upon closer inspection, we saw the field teaming with squash bugs. Now they were attacking the ripening fruit and making it scarred or worse. We had to get them out of there.

So, while Steve drilled away in the brooder house, Andy and Julie carried bucket load after bucket load of ripe and half ripe pumpkins out of that field. In the afternoon, Elly and I stopped in to help gather the gourds, which are much more fun to discover with little hands. The Bobcat saved a tremendous amount of energy!

At the end of the day, we had a good sized pile of pumpkins and a brand new, made from recycled farm wood, hen roost!

Do you remember our sheep? Well, they have a role in this whole parade as well. The next day, Andy built new sheep fence around the whole pumpkin-less patch and let the sheep in. See, chickens don’t really like to wander through tall weeds or grasses and that is exactly what our patch has. The sheep are our fuel-free lawn mowers and they do a good job. So far, they have “weeded” about a third of the field and are moved daily onto new grass. That’s a part of the management intensive grazing that our farm subscribes to. That way, the field isn’t worn out and the animals always have fresh feed.

Finally, the brooder house is in position and ready to go. The new chicken yard is mowed neatly to the ground and they even have a custom-made roost! The next step, logically, is to move them in.

But wait … we only have 4 chickens. Total. That brooder house could hold 50 comfortably. And for winter, they need chicken body heat to survive (besides the straw bales we’ll use to line the place). So really, the next step is to acquire more layers!

To be continued …

Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on .

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