Nest Box Construction

In my dim and distant impoverished youth I bought and assembled my fair share of Ikea furniture, and today that skill set came into it’s own.  A couple of years ago, I bought a 10 hole conventional nest box set, and it came flat packed, just like the bookcases used to.

My hen house had perfectly functional wooden nest boxes we’d made years ago, but I’d bought these metal ones with a view to switching when we switched flocks.  The wooden ones are fine, but can be difficult to clean out.  My brother has the metal nest boxes, and he’d shown me how you can pop the bottom out of a single nest to clean it if need be.  I was pretty impressed with the idea of being able to raise the perching bar to close the boxes off at night, too – my brother doesn’t bother, but Salatin and many others do.  Broodies and other birds often want to nest or roost in the boxes at night, requiring more clean outs, and I’m getting tired of that.  With this new flock getting used to the patched up hen house, it was time to get the nest boxes put together.

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See the instruction sheet?  The writing on that top half of the sheet is all the writing there was.  The part that’s folded over is a very hard to decipher diagramme of where the two different types of screws are supposed to go.  The top half of the text you see in the picture is just the contents list.  The little paragraph after that is the sum total of actual instruction.

This wasn’t exactly like putting together a bookcase, however, because the contents included 73 pop rivets.  I had to go and check these out on Google.  Every single hit said you needed a riveting gun to use them.  So then I had to go to YouTube to see how the tool was used.  And then, because riveting guns are bigger and more expensive than Allen keys, and therefore not included with every flat pack of nest boxes, I had to find one that I could use.

Ten minutes later I was walking briskly down to Hay Guy’s workshop, where he was glooming over a hydraulic something or other from his excavator that has stripped threads, which even I could tell was a Bad Thing.  However, he demonstrated how to use the riveting gun and chatted for a minute before I headed back up the road to my project.

Two hours later, I was able to return the riveting gun, my nest boxes fully assembled and looking like the real deal. Of course, the birds don’t need them yet, but now I’ve got them ready to go at a moment’s notice.

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In addition to swanky new nest boxes, I’ve acquired a new skill, should the need to use pop rivets every arise again.  And yes, HFS, this project wasn’t difficult to do after all.  You were right.

Day Five – the Finish Line

It felt very odd this morning, not heading out to the field to move shelters.  I was done chores in about 5 minutes – top up waters, check feeders, and that was about it.

There are 73 birds in that hen house, way too many. At least 20 have to be sold ASAP.  That’s up to my older daughter, as 25 of these birds are really hers – she changed her mind mid-summer about having her own layer flock so decided to sell them as point of lays. Since they are due to lay at the end of November, I’d say we’ve reached that point.

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Motley crew

After chores, I drove the elder daughter to university (this is the last week of that; toes are pretty much healed), and got back in time for coffee and conversation up at Saanichton Farm around 10 am which was a nice treat after a week of keeping my nose to the grindstone.  It was a gathering of some interesting folk and our topics ranged from family history to immigrant labour to sustainable agriculture.

An hour later, with my coffee needs taken care of, I loaded up the car with empty feed sacks and empty paint cans and headed up the the recycling area at the landfill, and hit the feed store on my home.  After lunch I drained and stored all the hoses I’d been using to deliver water out to the field (5 hoses), tidied up the field shelters (lids and waters were spread all around the field, where we’d left them in the dark last night).

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It doesn’t show super well here, but if you peer closely, you might be able to discern 4 rows of greener grass where the field shelters went through during the summer. I had birds on the field in two shelters for 2 months.

I was just heading out the veg garden with wheelbarrow and fork when hubby came out and offered to help – so the potatoes were dug up in double quick time.  He went and spread them on the rack in the barn to dry, while I took the kale and weeds we’d acquired while digging over to the chickens to distract them from fighting over the pecking order.

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Prepping the garlic for planting.

We went back to the garden and between the two of us had the garlic bed dug, weeded and ready for planting in about an hour.  It is amazing how pleasant such work can be with company.  It almost didn’t feel like work.  Of course, it’s not a very big garlic bed :).  We got about 50 garlic cloves planted, which is not quite as much as I wanted to plant, but all that I had allowed space for.  If I get a chance, I will maybe plant another dozen somewhere else.

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The soil was in beautiful shape, and despite all the recent rain, fairly dry below the surface

By 630 pm it was dark enough to shut the chickens in for the night.  Because the hen house is new for them, I keep them confined to the house and lobby for a couple of days so that they identify it as their sleeping place.  With the pecking order issues of combining the flocks from two field shelters, half the birds were out in the lobby and did not want to go in.  The good news is that most of them seem to be roosting.  Henny seems to be holding her own in the pecking order battles – no one seemed to be picking on her, and I saw her attack a rooster and take a chunk of neck feathers from him.  She did give me a reproachful look this afternoon, when I was tossing some weeds in for them.

Astute readers will notice that I have not mentioned the nest boxes that I was going to assemble.  That’s because I haven’t done it. I decided with so many birds in there and laying not happening for another month that we needed the floor space more than the nest boxes.  But I am going to get those started this week, so that we can install them when the 20 birds are gone.

Everything else got done, with a little help from family.  That feels pretty awesome.

I’ve learned a lot from this race, which I’ll delve into next post.  Back to work tomorrow, which will be quite a change of pace after this week.  I’m ready for it.

Day Four

Today started pretty early, though not on the farm.

Thursday mornings I head down to the high school for 730 to set up the breakfast club (run by the parent association), which provides bagels, juice, hot chocolate and tea, for a nominal cost (25 cents per item) – no student is turned away hungry.  It’s not so much about feeding those who don’t have adequate food at home, though there are probably a few kids in that category, it’s more about feeding anyone who skipped breakfast for any reason – many of them have to be at their bus stop by 7am, for example.  It’s a nice volunteer job, as I enjoy getting  to know some of the kids.  When the bell goes at 830, I start cleaning up, and usually get home by 915 or so, which is what happened today.

After my own breakfast and coffee – desperately needed,  I might add, I got my tools out and got going.

I got the big gate finished (wire stapled on), and I got the little gate installed and working, so that I can now control access to runs #3 and #4.  That felt good because those two gates are probably the only things from the grand plan we drew up last winter for a complete makeover on the hen house set up.  I celebrated with a second cup of coffee and got the laundry out on the line, because at that point it was a lovely breezy, sunny day.

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Gate allowing access to run #2; it swings to this side of the pop hole and secures, to allow access to run #4

I then got going on cleaning out the lobby – there was a lot of wasted layer pellet all over, I think the wild birds who find ways of getting in spread it around.  Unfortunately, the dropped feed was going mouldy, so I made sure to clean it all out.  That all pretty much filled the little trailer, so after a very short lunch break, because I could see the sky starting to loom darker, I took the trailer down and spread the load on the field.

Next thing was to spread some straw in the lobby to give the pullets something to scratch in.  I originally devised the lobby from a description of Lady Balfour’s method of chicken housing , as written of by John Seymour, but if you don’t stay on top of cleaning it out, the system is a total fail – and I totally failed about 5 years ago, and just didn’t bother.  So the straw is my way of beginning again.  It had the Henny scratch of approval.

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Henny, absolutely thrilled with the lobby makeover

Rain was imminent, so the laundry came in, and so did I, for a cup of tea.

The rain began just as I was returning from the field after delivering a bunch of transport crates to the field ready for tonight.  And boy did it pour.

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See that sky?

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Same sky, 5 minutes later, and about 30 seconds before the deluge began.

Our younger daughter (16) and I got started on loading the crates around 830pm.  Catching layer birds is not like catching the phlegmatic and heavy broilers. On the one hand, that’s good – they’re not nearly as heavy.  On the other hand, they’re much harder to catch, even in the dark.  We had escapees (daughter had one escapee and went to chase it, leaving the lid of the crate open…) we had wily hiders, we had aggressive tooth and nail types, in short – all kinds.  Hubby arrived home about halfway through proceedings and added some useful muscle to the proceedings, and by 930, we had all 73 birds in the hen house, much to the bemusement of Henny Penny, who never left her roost, but kept craning her neck down to check out the intruders.

So that’s how Day Four ended – my last day of moving field shelters this year!  Three thousand cheers!

One more day…

Day Three

We had a terrific storm in the night, wind booming in the chimney, torrential rain, the works.  I had seen the forecast and battened down the hatches at dusk, even remembering to bring in the wind chimes, so everything was fine in the morning.

In fact, it was a mild, pleasant morning, not quite sunny, but cool and calm.  I got started around 930 am, after a trip to the feed store for more wire, and continued with the fence between run #4 and #3.  By lunchtime, it was done!  It’s not picture perfect exactly, but it will do the job just fine, and it’s actually sturdier than the picture implies.  I did have to take a short break about 30 minutes before finishing, as I accidentally snipped my finger when I was cutting a piece of wire.  And being inside with clean hands made me think of coffee…

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Ta-da! It looks loose, but really isn’t.

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I usually failed target practice in the military, and apparently I haven’t improved – and staple guns are a whole lot easier to use, you’d think, anyway! I kept missing the wire I was trying to staple…

After a lunch break during which I prepped the veg for the squash soup I was planning for dinner, I got going again, this time to figure out how to do the gate(s) around the pop hole so that I could control which run the birds would have access to. I was a bit stumped, so took some dropped apples out to the birds in the field to give myself a change of pace, and on the way back spotted an old gate hanging off a post near our little old chicken house out back – swamped in blackberries.  It only took a few minutes to clamber through it all and pull it off it’s hinges.  A couple of nails and some wire and it will be just fine for one of my two gates.  And it provided the pattern for how to make the other gate.  Fifteen minutes with a saw and a drill, and the second gate was done.  I had a better accuracy score with the staple gun too, when I put the wire on.

Despite saying yesterday that I would be using three gates, I’ve figured out how to do it with two. Not only that, using a rebar fence post, I found the edge of the big rock that was impeding progress yesterday, and was able to pound in a T-post in a spot that will hold one of the gates beautifully.  However, the bigger, older gate still needs to have wire put on it, because around 4pm, the rain started again, and got serious within about 20 minutes, so I decided to call it a day and go get the squash soup going.

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Just for show, it’s not attached to anything yet.

Tomorrow that gate will be finished, I will figure out how to attach them both, and the run will be ready.  I should be able to prep the lobby for them too tomorrow, and then maybe tomorrow night I can hire some family members and catch the birds in the field pens to install them in their winter quarters.

I guess because I’ve lived with the whole set up for so long, I didn’t really notice how patched together everything around here seems to be – in the photo of the gate, that plywood being held with a prop has been like that for years – the weather drives into the lobby kind of making it useless as dry shelter, so we put that board up “temporarily” and never did any more with it.  Part of the reason for that is that it has been a pain getting through the moveable fence “gates” that we’ve been using till now to get to this side of the hen house.  No more!  My new gates will change all that.  I hope.

Henny once again spent the day inside, I tossed her an apple which she accepted with enthusiasm, downy feathers wafting around her as she leapt down the perches to get to it.  She’s in for a shock when the pullets join her.

Day Two

Not such dramatic accomplishment today, but still made some progress. Day Two was all about coming to grips with the disintegrating fences in the chicken runs.  I need at least one run with intact fences that will keep flighty pullets from jumping over and into my neighbour’s garden.

Though it was on my calendar, I was so focussed on my 5 day race that I forgot that I had committed to a one hour stint at work at 9 am this morning, to do the opening routines while my boss hosted a couple of our higher up bosses for a tour of our library.  I got there a little late, but got it covered.  So I didn’t really get started on Day Two until after my coffee when I got home, about 1030.  Thus fortified, I launched into the day.

Things that got done:

1.  Decided which of the four runs to focus on this week.  I picked run #4, it already has string webbed across the run to deter eagles and the perimeter fence is in good shape.  Just need to work on the fence between #4 and #3 run.

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Run #4 on the left, standing in #3.

2.  Figured out how I’m going to close off one run and open up another around the pop hole that leads to #4, #3, and #2 runs.  The answer is 3 people sized gates, which will hang off posts at the end of each run by the hen house.  I will make the gates after the 5 day race is over (unless by some miracle I end up with spare time!).  I hit a snag with the plan around lunch time when I attempted to pound the second post in, using the pounder I borrowed from Hay Guy, and bent the post hitting a rock about a foot down.  I moved over a tad, and found the same rock – 4 times, ruining two posts. So, clearly this plan needs to be adapted a little.

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Bent post :(

3.  Moving on, I took out all the wire on the fence between #4 and #3 that was patched, broken or holey.  This left me with a stretch near the chicken house of about 15 feet that needs to be completely re-wired.  The rest of the fence looks fine, but is very low in places.  I have decided to get a roll of 3 ft wire tomorrow to add to the top of this fence.  I also put in three T-posts on this fence line, removing the short portable electric fence posts I’d had there before.

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Post pounder on the left – it’s about 4 ft long, and weighs a LOT. Metal tube with a cap welded on. I have trouble lifting it off the post when I’m done – I feel like I’m caber tossing. I frankly think this thing could double as a battering ram.

4.  I started installing new wire.  This is high enough, and being 1″ mesh, is sturdier than the 2″ mesh I had on this fence before, but I’ll still have the issue with sagging at the top in a year or two. Long term goal is to switch to square mesh.  For the remaining fences that will have to be done over the winter, that’s what I’ll use.

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Actually got some wire up, and the brambles took a beating.

5. I got some of the brambles clipped back around the area I was working in, when trying to get posts in for the future gates, but there’s a lot more of that to do.

This was all pretty simple stuff, but took a surprising amount of time.  The rain started sporadically around 4, and at 430 I caved and had a tea break to catch up with the familys’ doings at school and work, then went and put tools away and did chores, as the rain started to get more serious.

Henny decided today that having been living wild for 3 or 4 weeks, she is content to be an indoor chicken for a bit and refused to leave her lovely clean hen house.  This could have something to do with the fact that she is clearly moulting.  Why do chickens do this just when the weather starts to turn cold and nasty?   I’ve always wondered.

Day One

As I mentioned when outlining my Five Day Race, I actually had a jump start – I had some time last week to get the hen house swept out and ready for working in, and then on Sunday, the day before the race, I got most of the hole patching done.

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Wire covering floor

So today, on the actual Day One, I got the wire stapled down over the whole floor and then got the cor-plast signs laid out again and spread three bales of shavings.  That felt pretty good, I’ll admit – the rat holes have been bugging me for a year, but until I got the old bedding out last weekend, I couldn’t really get at them properly.

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Signs covering wire

 

The wire is to make it harder for the rats.   The old real estate signs are very useful – in this case I use them as a moisture barrier to protect the wooden floor, and now also the wire, as the deep bedding will stay there till late spring.  The signs will also make it easier to clean the house out later, as trying to scrape deep bedding off the wired floor would/will be a pain.  We thought of sandwiching the wire by adding more plywood on top, but the floor has some squishy spots and the ply we have is 1/2 inch, which is pretty heavy, so topped with a season’s worth of deep bedding would probably cave the floor in completely.  This year’s efforts are truly just “hold it together” type patching jobs.

We bought the hen house as a DIY shed kit about 8 years ago (I think).  We hemmed and hawed about the fact that the walls are particle board, but in the end we went for it, as it was on sale for a discount and we were on a very tight budget.  Considering how much rain we get, it’s really completely amazing that it’s lasted as long as it has, but readers who have stuck with me for a year or so will already know that I have made noises about having to get this hen house fixed/renovated/repaird for quite a while.  I said last year it was definitely happening, and then this year, I said we were taking the particle board off and replacing it with plywood.  We have the plywood, and the framing on the house is still sound, but the missing factor was time.

If we had done in all the old layers as planned back in June, the house would have been vacant through the summer and the pullets would have been in already for at least a month.  In fact, only about half the flock got processed in June, but we couldn’t get the rest done until two weeks ago, at which time the house finally became vacant.

Meanwhile, of course, the new layer flock, which arrived as day olds back at the beginning of July, were not remotely contained in the brooder by about the start of September, so the second the broilers were out of the field pens, I put the pullets into them.  My back groaned not so silently at the thought of moving those shelters daily for another week or two, but stoically has held it together for not just one, but in fact several weeks.  Ironically, it is now feeling better than it has in months, as long as I don’t sit still for too long.

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Almost ready for occupancy

Today has been good.  The house itself is completely ready for the birds to move in right now, though I won’t be moving them till Wednesday night at the earliest.  I still have a lot of other work around the outside of it to do before the birds can go out in one of the runs, and it currently has no nest boxes at all, but it was a huge step forward today, especially considering that I also had to run our eldest daughter out to the university in the morning (three broken toes, and the bus stop almost 1 km away – so we’ve been giving her a lift for the last couple of weeks), and made use of the trip to also get groceries and feed, altogether about 3 hours of my morning.  I also got a set of sheets through the laundry and out on the line during my stop for lunch, taking advantage of an unexpectedly sunny afternoon.

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Henny the House Inspector. Apparently she approved, as she took up residence tonight.

The hen house is not completely vacant.  One of the old hens got away on the last processing day and I wasn’t able to catch her. She’s been living out the last two weeks, bewildered and lonely, and this past few days has been hanging around the hen house.  I’ve decided she can have a reprieve as she will be able to teach the others how to roost (hubby says she’ll teach them how to escape, and he’s probably right), and she very gratefully took up lonely residence inside on the roosts yesterday and again tonight.

The Five Day Race

Monday (today) marked the beginning of a race with myself to get a set number of projects done by Friday.

Here’s what I have to accomplish to win the race:

1.  The Hen House – patch rat holes in the walls and floor, line the floor with chicken wire.  Patch the door (two major holes, not from rats, just because this thing is made from particle board.  Yes, I know).  Replace the fascia board or whatever it is on the top front of the house so that the rain doesn’t do more damage to the top edge of the wall than it already has.  Do the same on the back end.  Take out the old wooden nest boxes (they were functional but difficult to clean out, plus the birds kept roosting on top.  Anything I used to block them from doing that allowed the rats a free passageway).  Assemble and install the new metal nest boxes (new is relative, I bought them 2 years ago).  Patch and/or replace the wire where needed on what we call “the lobby”, the covered area the hens access from the house, and from which they then access one of 4 pasture runs.  Put some scratching material in the lobby (old straw).

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not shown is another big hole at the bottom of the door.

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holes that need patching. At least I’ve finished cleaning…

2. Chicken Run – not the movie.  I have 70+ pullets (actually 3 are roosters) out in field pens right now, and the minute I’m done with this race, they have to come off the field.  They will need some pasture, but they’re flighty at this stage, so it’s got to have good fence.  Not one of my 4 pasture runs for the hen house has intact fencing.  It’s all full of holes, falling down, or actually missing (because I started working on it last year).  I need to get one run ready to go by the end of the race.  I can get the next ones done once the chickens are in the house.

3.  Garlic – prepare the bed, plant the seed, mulch, fence.  Sounds so simple put like that.

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The calendula mark one edge of the planned garlic bed.

4.  Potatoes – have GOT to be dug up, before they rot.  Only about 40 plants, but they have been low on the list for weeks, and they are on borrowed time.

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The potatoes only go as far as those tall reddish weed stalks.

5.  Put garden to bed – turn over, green manure.  Just one half, the other half has so much volunteer kale,which we’re enjoying, that I think I’ll leave it be.  Weeds are a cover crop, right?

Some challenges I face:  the weather.  Forecast is for rain all week.  In practice what it seems to be doing is raining most of the night, clearing for most of the day and drizzling at dusk.  If that changes, it will probably be to more rain.   Other aspects of life will continue and I will still be involved.  You know, meals, laundry, errands, driving kids places, etc.  You notice I have happily ditched house cleaning from the list for the week.

I have a few positives going from the start line – thanks to some stat time in lieu that I had to use up soon or lose, I have no off-farm work till Saturday. That’s 5 days free for farming (and family and laundry and errands…). Also, my elderly neighbour, a retired construction contractor, who feels he owes me some help due to my daily visits to keep his veg garden watered over the summer while he had a broken ankle, has offered his expertise, and will bring his own tools. Yes! I’m more than happy to accept his offer.   Also, I got a couple of hours of work done on Sunday – a jump start, and hubby cooked an awesome meal that day which provided leftovers for today, so no cooking needed on day one of the race.  What a great support team I have.

My reward if I win?  Dry secure housing for my layer flock.  Happy hens who won’t be confined in pasture pens anymore, but will also not be free ranging over in my neighbour’s flower garden, like the last batch. Eggs!    A year’s worth of garlic, redeemable next July.  A couple months worth of potatoes, good until the New Year (hopefully).  A feeling of accomplishment, and a chance to finally write new stuff on my whiteboard.

I’ll try to post my daily progress here – I’m pretty motivated by the impending weather and it’s likely effect on my birds in the field pen, but I figure the motivation of proving to all of you that I am actually getting stuff done will help keep me on the straight and narrow.  Wish me luck!