Getting around the no chickens in the house issue

We have a friend who teaches elementary school, and each year she hatches chicks for her students. Last year we took three and raised them in the house until they were old enough to join the rest of the birds in the coop. We still have them, and 2 are reliable layers (the third turned out to be a rooster, alas). By and large this worked out great, except they made an unholy stink and mess in our basement. The stink faded quickly once we got the out, but the mess, a fine film of disgusto chicken dust* on everything, took a lot of work to clean up. This lead to an “over my dead body will we ever have chickens in the house again” proclamation from Susan. This year I wanted free chickens again, so I created this, for about $20:


That’s 3 sheets of $7 foundation insulation foam and about a roll of duct tape. It closes up with insulation across the top as well. The wooden coop sitting inside it:


I already had. It has 1 100 watt light which is on 24×7. There’s another 100 watt fixture out of sight under their roosting area which I flip on if its going to be under 40 degrees at night, which it has been a few times so far. So far the chickens seem to be doing fine and the wife is happy, so I’ll tentatively call this successful. Now to get the new, bigger coop built quick – I have a dozen guinea hens on the way in about a month.

(I should note that we compromised and kept the baby chicks in the house for their first two weeks, because it was especially cold this spring and we worried they wouldn’t survive. They’re almost 4 weeks old now and have been out for over a week, including 2 nights that got under 30 degrees.)

* disgusto chicken dust is made of about 2/3 wood chip dust pulverized by tiny chicken feet and 1/3 powdered chicken poop. It really is vile.

Chicken drama

Around dinnertime yesterday Soolin became very concerned with something going on outside. I opened the back door and discovered the chickens were having a major fracas. That’s not uncommon so I ignored it, but a while later when I went to put dinner on the grill they were still having a major fracas, so I went off to investigate. I discovered one of our two roosters had contrived to get his leg completely tangled in the cord used to raise and lower the ramp that leads into the nesting area of the coop, and he was suspended upside down under the coop, engaged in a battle to the death with the other rooster. He had definitely gotten the worst of it, but both of them were covered in blood. I could not tell if he was going to die, and am still unsure. Our coop is an aframe with a ~2′ tunnel under the apex of the roof. I had to go get a weapon to fend off the other rooster, then crawl into the nasty goop under the coop, grab the suspended rooster so he didn’t claw me, then saw the cord off his leg without injuring him. Much.

I’m still not sure if he will live. He was still alive when I left for work this morning. I took him out of the main coop and stuck him into the little brooder coop I have for when we get chicks. Tonight when I get home from work I need to go out and build something more substantial for him – the thing is too small for him, and I need it for the 4 new chicks we currently have inside.

Meantime I’m sick with the cold the family is fighting. When I came in last night from getting him setup in the brooder coop, I checked on the baby chickens, and one of them hopped out of the box we have them in. I had to chase it around our basement and grab it before Soolin chomped it, which she was definitely interested in doing. I went upstairs and told Susan I’m sending all the chickens off to the nackers 😉

One last detail, a friend who lives down the road from us who also has chickens captured this video last night of a bear going after his birdfeeders. There was something in the air!

Saturday spent on coop

Spent my Saturday running errands then working on this little coop to put our hatchlings in. It’s not done yet, but it’ll do for their first 3 weeks r so until we put them outside to meet the rest of the flock.


Scene of a poultry murder

scene of the crime

One of our chickens was killed early this winter, and while some of the details of what happened are clear to us, some of it’s a bit mysterious as well. I’ve been sitting on a draft of this story for literally months. I’ve finally found time to post it.

We have a habit of checking in on our chickens in the late afternoon, dropping a bit of cracked corn into their coop and making sure all is well. Susan and I had just returned from a Doctor appointment for our son Brady last week, and after letting our dog Soolin out I headed back to the coop. As I approached Soolin rushed off barking – she had detected a large raptor in our garden, hunched over the carcass of one of our chickens. This fantastic little scene evolved as Soolin chased the raptor back towards our property line, her barking and snapping and it flapping furiously, trying to gain altitude. Ultimately it escaped, but I commend Soolin for her effort. It reminded me of an old warner brother cartoon.

As to what happened, well, I’m not really sure. As you can see in the second photo, something pulled the screws to the coop door latch out of the coop frame. They’re tiny screws, but still it would require a fair amount of strength to manage this. Plus there were no signs of something grasping or gnawing at the coop or coop wire, something you’d expect to find if a predator was trying to work out how to bust into the coop. Our best guess is it was a bear or racoon. Our neighbor watched a black bear pull down his birdfeeder to get at the birdseed this winter, which lead to our operating theory: a bear showed up and tried to get at the chicken feed pellets, freeing the chickens, one of which was subsequently killed by the raptor. There were large bundles of both black and yellow chicken feathers in piles outside the coop, suggesting some or all of the chickens were outside the coop at some point, and several of the other chickens had wounds.

How the criminal broke into the coop

In terms of fallout, the chickens were traumatized, and would not come down from the loft of their coop for two days. After the second day, I opened the top and chased them out of it, figuring they had to eat so I would force the issue. They pretty quickly returned to their old behaviors, sans their sibling.

If you click on the last photo to enlarge it, you’ll see the raptor perched in the tree in the center background (the far tree) of the photo. He spent the 30 minutes it took me to clean up the coop and repair the busted door circling the yard and doing low passes over the coop, with me occasionally shaking my fist at him. After the chicken carcass was no longer visible to him he settled into the tree in the photo to watch me, and was still there when I headed in.

We did lose another chicken over the winter, but I have no photos of it because I discovered the murder scene in the dark. Our best guess on that one was it was a coyote or fox based on the scat it left behind.

All of this has us concluding we need to build a better coop – the current one isn’t adequate in terms of protection for the birds. I did reinforce the chicken wire and apply a layer of metal cloth to it in response to all this though, and we haven’t lost a bird since then. We’ll see if Susan and I find time to work on another coop before the seasons change again.

The perpetrator