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Lil’ Hussies when they truly were little.

Remember that I adopted chicks this spring? Well they are growing! It took me a while to find a way to protect them, and I lost another since I last mentioned my chickens. But these days they are thriving.

My original group of hens were dubbed The Hussies, and when my friend started calling my new babies the Lil’ Hussies, I loved it. I started with 4 Hussies, and I only have one left. The matron is Jamie. I saved her life a couple months ago when I heard her squawking and I sprinted out of the house and down to the chicken pen to find a raccoon chasing her in circles around the pen. The raccoon was not bothered by my presence, and soon had its teeth around Jamie’s neck and had her pinned to the ground. I was barefoot and unprepared, but I ran over and somehow got the raccoon to let go of her. I put the stunned Jamie carefully inside the chicken house and then turned to the arrogant raccoon, who was not leaving while there was still a chicken that wanted killing.

I was furious and tried to get it to leave by yelling and flailing and stomping my feet at it. It did not flinch. I picked up sticks and rocks and threw them at it, but it watched them approach and then swatted them to the side. I waited, but the raccoon didn’t budge. After a stalemate for awhile, I opened the chicken house door again to peep inside at Jamie, whom I had not yet inspected. She seemed ok.

In that 20 seconds while I wasn’t looking, the raccoon had somehow dashed outside the pen. I had wanted to watch it exit, to figure out how it was getting in. The only thing I could think of is that it is climbing the walls.

At the time of that incident, the Lil’ Hussies were getting big and I had been trying to decide when to bring them into the big pen with the adults – now adult. I realized that until I made the place safer, they could not live here.

First of all I needed to block the gap beneath the front door. I knew raccoons had come through there in the past because they dragged the rocks I placed, out of their way. I had to place a rock too heavy to drag. Concrete is a heavy rock! I bought a couple bags, built a form, then mixed the concrete and filled up the threshold beneath the door. There is no way a raccoon will either fit through or be able to move the concrete. I used the leftover concrete to reinforce the bottom of the walls of the pen in places where the chickens dig holes to take dirt baths.

New concrete threshold. My land is sloped here, so the slanted door and threshold follow the contour of the land.

Next I solicited advice from friends and family, and read articles online and watched YouTube videos, trying to figure out the most reasonable way to protect my girls from the raccoons who would still get inside by climbing the walls. The option I went with was a suggestion from a fellow blogger. The entry point for my girls for 4 years has been a chicken-sized opening into their home. No door. They come and go as they please. I think it was Maureen who suggested putting a door on the chicken house and locking up the girls every night. It was the cheapest and most reliable option.

“Cheeks” I called her for awhile

What’s all the activity about?

New door, held open by a bungee.

Close up of latch.

In the shop I found an old cabinet door from before I remodeled the kitchen. It had been smeared with blue paint at some point, but the chickens wouldn’t care.

Next I needed to get the right hardware. The Internet assured me that raccoons will be able to figure out any latch and the only guarantee would be a padlock. Well…that’s a bit much for now, but I did find a two-step latch with a ring in case I ever do want to use a padlock. I also bought hinges and screws and charged my wireless drill.

I had to remove the ramp and replace it farther down the wall, to allow the door to close. Then because the door was an inch thick and rested on the outside of the wall, I had to attach another piece of wood so that the latch could be mounted level. I needed to figure out a way to keep the door open during the day. I collected all my tools and began figuring it out.

Jamie, the only hen residing in the pen at that time, hovered around me. Like all chickens, she’s nervous of anything new, but also desperately curious.

What, exactly, are you doing to my home?

When it was done I put all the tools away. Now. How to get six excitable middle-school aged hens from the other side of my lawn into this pen? The easiest method would be to wait for nighttime, and that’s what I did. In their separate pen, my babies were still huddling into a cardboard box filled with straw each night. I waited till it was dark and they become paralyzed. I threw a blanket over the top of the box, and carried the whole box into the chicken house. I set the box into a dark corner, uncovered it, and quietly backed out and locked the whole place up for the night.

The next morning I was eager to find out what the Lil’ Hussies thought of their new home. I opened up the door and waited for them to come out and explore. I kept waiting. Then I peeked inside.

The girls had no interest in leaving their home at first.

The chicken house is a big place for the little girls to explore.

Finally they stood in the doorway and looked around.

Jamie is happy to share her home with other chickens again.

I gave up waiting after half an hour or so. I went back to the house and made some coffee and began my day. A couple hours later I went back down the hill and coaxed and coaxed, and finally got them to come out into the world. They were scared of everything, and kept climbing back up the ramp and going back into the house.

Two months later, the teenage Hussies are comfortable and have explored every inch of the new pen. One thing I find very amusing is that they love to climb the tree. Have you ever heard of tree-climbing hens?

Lil’ Hussies are tree-climbers!

Interested in the cedar tree.

Ok, I’ll show you the trick! The tree is sloped.

I think it’s so funny that my hens climb the tree.

The chickens include Easter Eggers (the ones with the cheeks, that were sold as Ameraucanas), Buff Brahmas, and Jamie, who is a sexlink (mixed breed).

The door has worked wonderfully, but the lives of my babies depends entirely upon me. One night, about a week later, I forgot to lock the door. In the morning, one of the babies was dead. Killed by a raccoon. Now there are only five Lil’ Hussies plus Jamie.

The next major challenge is what to do with them when I leave. You know me, I travel! So far, when I’ve only been gone a day or two, I leave them trapped in the house the whole time. I’d rather have alive chickens who feel imprisoned, than dead free-range chickens. Eventually, though, I will be gone a long time. I do not know what to do. I have two neighbors. The next door neighbors I do not want on my property for any reason. The folks on the other side of them are good people, but older and not in the best of health. They have offered to free my chickens during the daytime for an upcoming trip of four days length. But if I’m gone for two weeks in the future, I feel like that’s a lot to ask of people who have much more important things to worry about. I need a mechanical door on a timer!

I like to sit in the pen with my girls and watch them do their chicken thing.

 

{This one’s for Brian, who asked for it.}

A month ago I lost Phil, one of my Hussies. I went into the chicken house and there she was on the floor, with only a few gouges from either whatever predator killed her, or from the other chickens. I couldn’t tell what had happened. Obviously not something hungry, because no part of her appeared to be eaten. I disposed of her body. I am sad and the death remains a mystery.

Down to two hens, it was time to get new ones. Last year I wanted new hens and waited in the season till hens would be grown up, and went to the feed store to be told, “Good heavens, there are never adult hens left! They are all claimed as chicks!” So this year I knew I needed to be one of the chick-claimers, and to figure out how to make it happen.

I went to the feed store to ask questions and think it through, but accidentally purchased four Ameraucanas. Ooops.

They lay greenish/blueish eggs. I think it will be fun to mix up my light brown and dark brown eggs with the others. I put them in a cat carrier the first two days, because I had no other ideas. Finally I transferred them to a cardboard box. When the weather got nicer, I made a tiny temporary pen outside and let them play in the sun and eat grass during the afternoons, and then caught them all and put them back into the box when it got chilly in the evenings. Most of the time, and on rainy days, they lived on the hearth next to the woodstove so they could keep warm.

Brand new babies thier first night.

Tara came to visit me and the chicks.

I suspect that my cat, Racecar, is both insulted that the chicks are soiling her cat carrier, and wishing she could bite them.

Tara sitting with the babies (and Racecar) outside in the sun. You can see the window screen I used for a top, when there was no one to supervise.

They liked to stand inside their food and water dishes while they used them. Yes, the dishes got filled with grossness very quickly. I cleaned them about three times a day.

Here’s more of a birds eye view of their tiny pen.

Will named them the Lil’ Hussies, which I think is adorable.

Cuties in their tiny temporary pen.

More baby photos.

And more.

And more. Honestly, I tried to pick one and ditch the rest, but they are all SO CUTE.

I’m leaving on vacation soon, and I wanted to get some kind of better setup for the chicks, for when the housesitter (Tara’s dad) comes. Also, after two weeks, the chicks were stinking up the house. Chickens don’t do much more than eat, drink, and poop. And finally, they are growing fast and getting stronger. One day when I reached into the temporary pen outside to grab them and put them back into their cardboard box for the night, one got away from me.

Chickens can’t stand being apart from a chicken who has gone somewhere else because they are just certain that the far away chicken is doing something amazing and they are missing out on amazingness. So they run, fly, shriek and do whatever necessary to get to that other chicken. Such was the case this time. Docile as a group, when they spotted their fuzzy friend two feet away in the grass, outside the pen, they all went crazy and soon there were four fuzzy babies cheeping and fluttering and jumping and scaring each other in circles around the yard. Oh. My. Gosh.

Of course Racecar, who is always nearby because she is such a protective Aunt Cat, (heh heh) wanted to show them how dangerous it was to be out, so she pounced at them! Not on them of course, because I was there and she suspected it would not be approved of. She was right. I gave Racecar my mom voice and said, “Hey!” and she went away. Luckily, the chicks came back to their familiar temporary pen and food and water dish that they recognized, as I thought they would. I caught them all and got them into their box.

Whew! Definitely time for a better plan.

I reviewed images on Pinterest, and found one that I liked. It’s an A-frame, with the nesting area in the top, and yard area in the bottom. It seemed like it could be made small, and light so that it could be mobile, and just might work for chicks. I have very little construction knowledge, but a truckload of confidence and determination, plus a few tools scattered around, so that was enough to get started!

First I went to Home Depot and purchased a pile of lumber in their rejects pile in the back. All kinds of warped and broken boards for 70% off. I did have to buy one sheet of plywood at full price, and I had an employee cut it in half for me (for free!) so I could fit it into the Jeep. Yes, I hauled all the lumber and hardware home in my Jeep, and it only cost me $39. I’m so proud. Then I went to a tractor supply store that also functions as a feed store, and bought poultry mesh (otherwise known as chicken wire).

When I’m used to gossip and fashion magazines in the checkout line, this sight was a welcome change.

I went home and used my hand me down tablesaw for the first time, and borrowed a skill saw, and dug round the shop, and the garage, and the wood shed, and collected things I would need.¬† I made one more trip to the Rainier hardware store to buy staples for the staple gun. I mean, seriously I do not know what the heck I am doing, and I’m not set up for this. But why should that stop me!!

I began building my A-frame chicken pen. And guess what? I finished it. And it’s cool.

This is about 1/3 of the way through my project. I moved slowly and thought through next steps as I saw what I had in front of me. Totally winging it the whole way through. ha ha!

I built an area for a nesting box, but also installed a board endwise so they could roost on it. Then I installed a ramp so they can climb up. Take a good look now at all this wood and no poop in sight. It’ll be the last time that’s true.

Ok, I think this is good to go. The side is on hinges, so I can access the stuff I need to get to. I moved their familiar box of straw to that platform when the chicks moved in…with a little opening cut into the cardboard box for them to find their way out.

Main problem: the plywood warped. I still don’t know how to fix this problem.

Food installed, water installed. Now all we need is chicks!

I worked on it three different days and finished in the evening, as you see in the photo above by the long shadows that completely shade the lawn. I cannot reach down to the grass from the open door, so once the babies went in, they were going to have to stay in. No more cozy nights beside the fire. Because I am a nice momma, I waited till the next day when it got warm again.

Babies in their new home!

They only took an hour to figure out how the water works. There is a ball inside a tube, and they have to push the ball up with their beaks to get water to drip out.

I had checked the weather forecast in case the worst happened and they did not go up top for the night. It was not going to freeze, but it would be around 40 degrees (5 C) which is much colder than what they’re used to beside the woodstove. Still no idea how to fix the warped plywood, I had thrown an old inflatable mattress over the top which blocked the hole but also trapped the heat from the sun up there. If only the babies would go upstairs for the night. However, I checked on them all day long and for most of the day, only one baby went onto the ramp. As it got darker and colder, a second chick got onto the ramp and began to follow the brave chick up. But they constantly looked down below and the other two chicks were having none of it. They began to settle into the grass for the night. So the two on the ramp jumped down and joined them. “No, babies!!”

I fretted all night, worried that they would freeze to death, or get the chicken flu, or be put out with me.

I went out as soon as I woke up, while it was still cold and foggy and damp, with fingers crossed that they would have found their way to the top, and climbed into their warm box in the night. But no, a tiny huddle of chicks was there on the ground, pressed into a corner of the pen, tiny feathers all fluffed up. It made me sad.

During their second day in the pen, all four of them got comfortable climbing up the ramp to the rafters and roosting. In the three days since, no one has gone all the way back to the cardboard box though, so they don’t have that warm straw to curl up in. I’ve always said chickens are dumb. And, even though I want to forgive these darlings and give them the benefit of the doubt, I admit that baby chickens are dumb too. That evening, as they all began to form their huddle on the grass for the second night, I went out and got them stirred up again and coaxed and coaxed till I got them to climb the ramp. It was chilly in the evening and the wind had picked up, and as soon as they got to the top, they were visibly more comfortable. They stayed up there. Yay!!!

Upstairs/downstairs view of two babies in the grass, two in the rafters. And Racecar, as you see, is never far away.

It’s evening, so will you little ones please stay up here for the night?

I went out to check them the second morning, and they were up and about…pecking food and grass and cheeping vivaciously.

The old, sad mailbox. It had a white strip of tape with one number on it, crossed out, and a different handwritten number in felt pen beneath.

The old, sad mailbox. It had a white strip of tape with one number on it, crossed out, and a different handwritten number in felt pen beneath.

Not that the old mailbox was completely unusable, but it was rusted, a bit mossy, and bent. Mail arrived as expected. Tara and I still felt compelled to replace it with a new one. Something with character, that shows we are new around here and we take pride in our place.

I don’t know whose idea it was, but we loved the idea of painting it with old, clumped and gummy nail polish. Looks terrible on nails, but it could look great on a mailbox. We’ve been collecting nail polish for years. A lot of years. Some of it was gross. But perfect for this project.

Tara found strips of tape and taped the outside into a random pattern, taking care to stick it very well to the white enameled mailbox. They spent a couple of sunny days out on the deck, choosing the oldest polish in the worst shape and painting it on. (We also used up polish that was in good shape, but awful colour. Just why did we purchase that hideous peach one? Must have been a gift.)

Partially painted mailbox with a collection of nail polish handy.

Partially painted mailbox with a collection of nail polish handy.

Tara worked away at this project. At first I meant to add my touches and make it a team effort, but it turned out so beautifully I couldn't bring myself to interfere.

Tara worked away at this project. At first I meant to add my touches and make it a team effort, but it turned out so beautifully I couldn’t bring myself to interfere.

Tape removal day, while we ate some delish fish & chips at a place we found not too far away.

Tape removal day, while we ate some delish fish & chips at a place we found not too far away.

We found both the box and the reflective numbers at The Home Depot in Longview, Washington (just across the Lewis & Clark Bridge). After the polish was dry, Tara removed the tape, then applied the numbers: nice and bright so people trying to find us will now be easily able to use the mailbox (the house numbers are hard to see).

My step-father came for a visit for a couple days  down from Moyie Springs, Idaho. He was restless looking for projects, and asked if we wanted the mailbox mounted. Yes we did! While I was working at the computer, my step-father removed the old box and got the new one ready, then called Tara and me to see if we wanted to witness the installation. Yes we did!

Finished! Isn't it gorgeous?!

Finished! Isn’t it gorgeous?!

Close-up so you can see how amazingly beautiful the colours are. Sadly, nail polish does not seem designed to withstand sunlight, and there are signs of fading already. I'll check in after a year or so, and let you see how it holds up.

Close-up so you can see how amazingly beautiful the colours are. Sadly, nail polish does not seem designed to withstand sunlight, and there are signs of fading already. I’ll check in after a year or so, and let you see how it holds up.

Ready for mounting, in the back of my step-father's pickup.

Ready for mounting, in the back of my step-father’s pickup.

Woo hoo! Our new functional work of art is in its new home.

Woo hoo! Our new functional work of art is in its new home.

We've made our mark in the neighborhood. It's a shady street at all times, so hopefully sun damage will be slow.

We’ve made our mark in the neighborhood. It’s a shady street at all times, so hopefully sun damage will be slow.

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