Tiny farming: chickenhouse

Chickenhouse progress

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Work on the Chickenhouse has been moving along. It’s not a huge job, but all of the little bits and pieces take time, including foraging through the barn and drive shed for material to recycle. Here, you can see the bottom of the new door between the main sections, for baby meat birds coming in a couple of weeks, and the mature layers, due in June. And there are six new nest boxes. Most of the boxes I’ve seen in photos have a top, which I gather is partly to discourage roosting on the walls and the subsequent crapping into the nests. But I’m fully deferring to Bob’s design, based on his decades of all-around farming. He says it shouldn’t be problem. For me, I’ve been doing my chicken reading and chicken chatting, but it’s mainly learn as you go with Bob in the lead on this one!

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Jack the Miniature Donkey has been amiably hovering around, checking out the construction with his head stuck in the door. Here, he’s hanging close to the Chickenhouse even when no-one’s home. The chickens will soon be his neighbors. He’s a friendly fellow, also quite territorial, and he can kick, so he ought to be good for protecting that flank! All in all, I’m really incredibly excited. I guess the city guy in me is still in there looking out… ;)

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Chickenhouse inspection

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Checked out the chickenhouse today to make up a materials list for the renovation. Here’s a view of the south-facing side (the usual daily view is from the barnyard to the east; the barn and silo are to the north, and hidden behind them is the market garden). From this side, it has that ramshackle cabin-in-the-woods look. I quite like it: 200 sq. ft. of open-plan living, big windows for lots of natural light, electricity, running water…instant home! Like most things on the farm, it has its history. The structure is 80-90 years old, purchased 50 years ago from the farm that used to be across the road (now a village subdivision with a bunch of houses, and untended fields), dragged over by tractor, and set on a concrete pad. It was used as a pony barn for a while; harnesses are still hanging on the wall. For the last 15-20 years, it’s housed a few chickens and turkeys, or been unused. Now, it’s back! There’s not much to do, besides a good cleaning: banging in a defensive baseboard (in the pic below, that’s a GNAWED not-so-little hole under the window), a window to fix, nests to build for the layers, and a coat of lime to disinfect and whitewash (that’ll be interesting). Outside, T-bars and chicken wire to fence in yards, and that should be it. Most of the materials we can salvage on-farm: the fencing stuff, lime, and plywood should be all that requires cash! There are even a bunch of feeders lying around. All these bits from the past, unused and still in place after years and decades, would be a little creepy, if we weren’t coming across them on the way to getting new things started!

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More weather

Snowbanks in front of the chickenhouse

This February, tiny farming for me is mostly about, inside, watching seedlings in a growing number of plug sheets under lights, and outside, watching the weather. In this zone, Feb is a little early for thinking about garden conditions. Well, “normally”, it would be. Now, given the increasingly erratic winter, I’m trying to figure out a new early season production strategy. Conceivably, end of March could be shockingly warm and the ground dry enough to work, and instead of just seeding early peas, I could try some super early field transplants. But then, what if winter happened to come back, not for a day or two of April snow, as sometimes happens, but for a week or two, with freezing temperatures. Early plantings could get killed off, and then I’d need a second set of seedlings! This is how I’m kinda starting to think, about trying to plant around the weather, take advantage of unpredictably good conditions, while expecting some weird bad turns as well. What do last and first average frost dates really mean, given the last five years? Is a 30-year local rainfall average still in any way a useful guideline? Am I…exaggerating? Two days ago, it was 40°F (5°C) and raining right through the night. I was sure the forecast for an even warmer Wednesday would come through to finish off another, fourth big melt-off. Instead, yesterday morning it did a sudden 180, froze up and dumped a ton of snow. Today, there are 7-8′ snowbanks all around the barnyard (from snow plowing). The once and future chickenhouse practically disappeared… ;) Will spring and summer be different from that?!

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Welcome to the chickenhouse…

The chicken coop

Chicken coop? Henhouse? I like ‘em all. This weather-beaten little building has been empty for a while, but a little fix-up and it’ll be ready to go. You can see the electricity cable and water hose snaking out at the top left of the pic. All the modern conveniences! The last tenants, three years ago, were half a dozen turkeys, lead by crazy Tom, an increasingly aggressive male known for a flying drop kick that could stagger a grown human. I didn’t have any close encounters with Tom, although I was curious. Before that, when I first started the garden five years ago, a dozen or more incredibly colorful ornamental chickens roamed the barnyard, darting out of hedges, zipping under fences, you never knew where they’d pop up. These were all, like the goats, kinda pets, and were eventually given away. Now, the loose plan is to get, well, WORKING chickens, for meat and eggs. At first, it won’t be directly part of the organic veggie garden, more of a side project that I’ll do with Bob. We were going to start last season, but that wound up on the still-to-do list. Yesterday, I took a quick look at the chicken-raising regulations—here in Ontario, there is a quota system that requires buying permits to raise chickens, with an exception for small numbers, and I imagine it’s similar everywhere in North America. Oh, well, more on that as it happens!

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