Backyard Chickens: First Eggs, Starting Compost, and New Challenges
The chickens are paying rent!
Well, two are. We got our first eggs this week! Randy and I were outside watching the hens cluck around their run, and I commented that they were looking, well, like chickens. Big enough to lay eggs!
Randy said, how about we check?
There were three eggs in the coop.
(Read about why we got chickens and our backyard setup.)
We've been getting one or two eggs a day since, in two shades of light brown. We suspect two hens are laying, but I don't know which ones! The hens are almost four months old. We'd anticipated waiting longer for them to be useful (in addition to entertaining).
Settling in to the coop
The twelve hens seem happy enough! They've been in the coop and run for about two months now (and it didn't take them long to nibble up every scrap of vegetation they can reach—except for the evergreen trees that provide their shade).
We moved them from the box in our garage to their coop when they were about two months old. The kids loved greeting and petting each chicken as Randy carried them, one by one, to their new home.
We kept them in the coop for a day or two before letting them out into the run. We should have kept them in longer, because that evening, we found all of them huddled under the crabapple tree. The next, they were under the coop, and we had to chase them out with a stick.
This continued for a few days until we decided to shut them in again. We felt bad—the weather was so nice!—but we left them inside so they'd figure out where home was before letting them back into their run during the day.
And voila, they were all back inside at bedtime.
One new yard activity this year is compost. The idea is for the chickens to stir it and pick it over, so we've placed the new compost pile in a corner of their run.
Problem: Flies. Flies everywhere. I'm not sure whether it's because of the compost, the chicken poop in the coop and run, or both—but either way, there are too many flies. We're trying some things, like liberally sprinkling diatomaceous earth everywhere—I had some that I'd added to the garden to deal with some bugs, and had heard it might work for flies. We'll know the results soon.
Another challenge is learning what we can add to the compost pile, and in what ratios. I should probably read up on this; so far, we've been winging it.
The automatic door
Randy is still working on the automatic door ("real" work has been eating up time lately; got to get back to these hobbies!). It's installed, along with a small fan to blow air out one of the vents, sensors to track humidity and temperature, and an LCD screen so you can see the coop status when outside.
We can use a phone to see the coop status, too; the app has buttons for turning the fan on and off, and opening and closing the door. Next up is adding an automatic schedule for the door, and improving some of the mechanics so it works more smoothly and reliably.
He'll do a detailed writeup when we're satisfied with it.
Our kids love the chickens. They collect weeds from around the yard to feed to the hens. Our 5-year-old happily and patiently sits while the hens nibble every leaf off a stem, then runs off to find another. They take cups of chicken food into the run and let the hens peck at it.
One of our black stars is adventurous, and keeps flapping over the chicken wire fence. She doesn't stray far. Once we've seen her flap back over the fence. I'm not sure what we're supposed to do about it—make the fence taller? Let her escape?
And a couple days ago after the kids checked for eggs, they forgot to close the nesting box lid… so we spent half an hour chasing chickens who were all too happy to explore. I guess it comes with the territory.