Archive for May, 2011

Ethel is sick


We don’t know what happened, but Sunday night when we went to lock up the chickens, Ethel was laying by the door. She was concious, but not able to stand and her neck was twisted around in a very awkward looking way. We thought she might have had a broken neck. It has been so hot lately, we also thought she might have had heat stroke. We tried to get her cooled off and tried to get her to drink some water. She spent the night in a box in the basement and weren’t sure she would make it through the night. She did and has very slowly improved. We had to give her water several times a day, but she had no interest in food for the first 36 hours.

Finally, today she was drinking with little help and pecked at some melon and ate some meal worms. The prognosis is good at this point, but we still really don’t know what happened. She isn’t walking and only this evening did she even stand up on her own.

Some walls go up

Chicken coop making progress


Window installation

When we decided that we wanted more chickens, we knew that we would also eventually need more living space for them. There are really three different types of space involved: interior space that is safe and weather protected, a ‘run’ that is safe from predators but is outside, and field space where they can wander around in the grass and scratch for treats like clover, bugs and worms.


First we thought we could build something like we built before only bigger. A couple of years ago we built two custom coops that can comfortably hold ten and five, respectively. With 16 chickens we were pretty much at capacity. A year ago we only had 12, but wanted to allow one of the hens, Tilda, to raise her own chicks. This worked out beautifully, but required the small coop as a nursery, leaving the remained 11 in the larger coop. This spring we got 20 more chickens, so we know we needed a lot more space.


So building a larger coop was our first option, but later we thought we might not have the time or initiative to design/build something ourselves. We researched pre-built coops only to find that they were rather expensive – even kits. We looked at generic pre-built sheds and realized that they were not quite what we wanted and still a bit expensive. We would have to modify a shed with better ventilation, more light, better access. an internal wall for storage, etc.


So back to the design/build option. We looked at lots of designs on the Internet and started to formulate our ideas. We really liked some designs with a clerestory wall with windows for light. That wall on the inside created the separation for a storage area. I bought a simple drafting/drawing program called Home Plan Pro and started to design the coop.


some walls go up

The design started with a 8′ by 12′ footprint, but quickly changed to 8′ by 14′, followed by 10′ by 16′, and finally 12′ by 16′. I liked the multiples of 4′. I was thinking in terms of sheets of plywood. It was a bit annoying each time I had to lengthen or widen the design, but we figured if we were going to all this trouble, we might as well make it big enough to provide room for all of our chickens as well as storage for their ‘stuff’. On paper it looked nice, but I didn’t fully appreciate its size until I put up the first walls. It was a lot taller than I imagined. I was using 8-ft studs for the walls, but lowered the design to 7′ 6″ so the siding would attach to something on the top and bottom.


The whole build process is on my Chicken Coop Picasa album. This includes everything from site prep to the shingles I put on yesterday.


The palace is progressing

Meanwhile, the original chickens and Tilda’s babies are all living in the original coop, the new babies (who are now about 7-weeks old) have moved outside to the nursery coop. We need the new chicken palace to be ready for action very soon. I haven’t even started to think about the run or the yard. The run will take some time as it needs framing and lots of hardware cloth. The yard will be perhaps 15,000 sq. ft. so will need quite a lot of perimeter wire fence. It will be a good day when this job is finished, the chickens are installed, and I am sitting in the yard with an ice tea enjoying the scene.

Bob & Ellie

Meet the dogs


Bob & Ellie

Meet our dogs, Bob, a Border Collie mix & Ellie, a German Shepherd.  This photo was taken a few years ago at Ellie’s birthday party.  She had 6 doggie friends attend the party where everyone enjoyed some social time and treats in the back yard.  Bob spent most of the party in the house after he growled at one of the party goers (he is a little lacking in social skills and prefers to spend his time with only us).  Ellie, on the other hand loves everyone and enjoys new experiences.


The keets still go into panic mode whenever we try to interact with them, diving into a corner and trying to crawl underneath each other.  I tried offering them some small mealworms and they seemed interested, but weren’t brave enough to take them from my hand.  I placed a little bowl with about 8 mealworms in it inside their box.  One of the bigger keets tried one and immediately gobbled up every worm.  This is the favorite treat of our chickens so I am hoping it will be the same for the guineas and they will start eating them from our hands.

my brand new hives

The Honeybees have arrived!


I have always been curious about honeybees, and now that I have some space, I thought it might be a good time to try beekeeping. Last fall, I read somewhere that there was going to be a three Saturday class on beekeeping given by the Frederick County Beekeeping Association (FCBA). A friend and I decided to take the course which was held in January. It was great fun.

There is so much to learn about keeping bees. I remember thinking after the first class that I felt confident and was ready to get some bees and get started. After the second class, I came home feeling a bit overwhelmed and wondering if I was getting in over my head. By the third and final class, I once again felt more informed and encouraged and excited.

I ordered my bees from a local beekeeper, but knew that they weren’t going to be ready until the middle of May. It was a long time to wait, but they finally were ready for pick up. I drove to Bill’s house and loaded the two ‘nucleus hives’ (a fully operating, half size hive) into the back of my car. I was really hoping that the boxes were sealed pretty well, because I didn’t want to deal with a car full of angry escapees. We made it back home without incident.

my brand new hives

I let the bees be still for a half hour, then ‘installed’ them into my two hives. The hive boxes hold 10 frames and the nucs have only five frames, so it wasn’t too crowded lowering the frames into the hives. I installed the five nuc frames first, then dropped in the five virgin frames.

The frames hold what is called foundation – mine is pure beeswax – which the bees use to build out the comb that they use to both raise their young (brood) as well as store honey. There weren’t as many bees in the nucs as I thought there would be, but new bees will be emerging from the brood on a daily basis and the numbers should climb quickly.

Bees spend the first half of their lives inside the hive, tending to the larva, attending to the queen, building comb, concentrating the nectar into honey, etc. They only leave the hive to forage for nectar and pollen during the second half of their short lives. Bees only live one to two months.

So I am hoping that my hives are busy on the inside, temporarily using up some of the stored honey while creating more comb on the new foundation which gives the queen more places to lay her eggs.

The bees have just been moved out of familiar territory and will need some time to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings, so I need to be patient and not worry. Maybe I should cut down on my visits to ‘check the hives’ from 10 times a day to about once or twice. It’s been a (large) number of years since I have been responsible for a human baby, so I guess I can obcess over my bees just a little.

Meanwhile, my friend got his bees in a different type of package, but almost eight weeks ago, and his bees are doing great. He probably has 40,000 to 50,000 bees in each of his hives. They seem to be thriving. Mine were just installed, but I already am worried that they might not get strong enough to make it through the coming winter. I know it’s too early to be worried but I am anyway.

the peonies bloomed today.

My Sarah Flowers (Peonies)


Our Peonies bloomed today

A number of years ago when my first daughter was born, I came home from the hospital for a short break – it was my wife who had the baby – and I noticed that our Peonies had just bloomed. I brought some to the hospital and ever since that day I remember my daughter’s birth when the Peonies emerge. They bloomed today – one day early this year. It must have been the perfect combination of sun and rain, but they burst forth today like they do each year, starting as tight balls of potential , then exploding into gigantic eight-inch diameter pink flowers. Happy Birthday Sweetie.

first day out

Chicks discover the world of ‘Outside’


Wow! The chicks are growing so quickly!  Their first home was a little plastic bin with a heat lamp in the bathroom and look at them now!

first day out video (YouTube)

When they were a few weeks old we moved them to a what seemed like a huge pen in the basement, but they quickly outgrew that also.  At about six weeks of age, we moved them to the ‘nursery’ coop outside.  It’s a perfect place for young chickens to romp and play during the day and stay warm at night.  They still have some feather growing to do, but with 20 of them to pile up together, they generate plenty of heat.  They were as ready to be moved outside as I was to have them out of the house.  What a mess they make!  Even so, I was really worried about them for the first few nights.  We went out to check on them a few times each evening and they seemed a little worried and not quite sure where to sleep so we had to gather up stragglers and put them in the sheltered area for the night.  They caught on after a few nights and seem quite content now.

So after a week in the totally secure pen, this is their first outing into the fenced run surrounding the coop.  What fun they had!  So many new plants and bugs to try eating! They are large enough now that they can’t get through the run fencing and the area is all covered with netting to protect them from hawks.  We will herd them back into the coop each evening so they are protected from nighttime predators.

chick assortment

Mail Order Mayhem


Assorted chicks


The other 14 chicks arrived a few days later, bringing this year’s flock to a total of 20.  We have quite a variety – Partridge Rocks, Ameraucanas, Rhode Island Reds, Silver Laced Wyandots and a freebie who turned out to be an Egyptian Fayoumi rooster.  There are also some Buff Orpington chicks in this photo that will be going to a friend’s farm.

We;summer chick

Maran & Welsummer chicks


Maran chicks


With plans to build a new chicken coop/palace this year, we ordered some new chicks to expand our flock.  We ordered 4 Marans from a local farm, but when we went to pick them up and saw all the baby chicks, it was impossible to leave without 2 extra.  We were interested in the Marans because they lay the darkest brown eggs and we really enjoy the range of colors.  The extra chicks we picked up are Welsummers, which are another very dark brown egg layer.



new keets

Meet the keets


guinea keets


Last week six cute little guinea keets joined our farm family.  We are really hoping that they grow up to LOVE eating ticks and stinkbugs!  They are adorable, of course, but they are not taming as quickly as the chicks do.  They are still fearful and run to a corner whenever we are changing water or adding food in their little pen, even though we move very slowly and quietly around them.  We are trying to handle them several times a day and have found that they do better just allowing them to perch on our hand rather than trying to hold them.  My plan is to train them to come when called so we can lock them up at night.  I’ve read that the most difficult part of keeping guineas is finding ways to prevent them from becoming fox food.  Yikes!  We will have a very safe and secure place for them to roost at night but it won’t be worth much if we can’t get them to come back in the evening.  I can’t bear the thought of them falling victim to some nighttime predator when they have such a safe place available to them.  Well, all that is several months down the road.  For now, we will keep working on taming them more and finding the best treats to make them want to come to us.



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