Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My backyard chickens, coop building and hawk attacks

While helping my rooster scare off a hungry hawk this morning, it occurred to me that I never posted updated photos of my backyard flock. That handful of chicks I posted pics of back in March quickly grew to a flock of 18 chickens (they call the addiction 'chicken math'). One of them ended up being a rooster, which is fine since we live in the countryside. He has saved quite a few hens from hawk attacks, but we did lose one not long ago...and another to egg-binding complications. So our current number is 16, including the roo, Excalibur.

Excalibur, an Easter Egger
Taken when he was younger.
We have Easter Eggers, Speckled Sussex, Plymouth Barred Rock, Cuckoo Maran, Buff Orpington and Black Australorps. I'd  have to say that my favorites are the EE and Barred Rocks. This spring, I'd love to add some Rhode Island Reds to our family.

If you recall, we decided to build a coop from scratch. Yes, I thought it would save money. No, it didn't. Well, it did if you compare what we made to buying an equivalent, but it wasn't the cheapest project. I just got all HGTV with it LOL. So here are a few pics summarizing the process. It's 8 x 8 with a sealed floor covered in sand that I scoop like kitty litter. We put in sand/sweet pdz filled poop boards under the roost and every window, eave, vent covered in 1/4 in hardware cloth to keep out predators. Lots of door locks too!

Note: I now have shredded pine in the nest boxes. They thought the shredded paper was delicious. 

Cynder our Barred Rock
Zuni my sweet Easter Egger who lays blue eggs
The hen up front is Rain, an Easter Egger. She lays pinkish brown eggs. My other EE, Moon (not pictured), lays green eggs.

The nutrient difference free ranging makes. Store bought on the left. Ours on the right. See the color?
So now my biggest problem is hawks. I love all animals and know the hawks needs to eat too, but I'd rather they not eat my chickens. We have evergreen trees the chickens hide under...and plenty of other places to take cover, but the hawks have figured out that our evergreen trees have a fence near them. A perfect place to perch and wait.

That hawk I mentioned was hanging out this morning? He came back while I was in the middle of writing this post and went after one of my Buff Orpingtons named Pippa (after the little girl Pippa in The Promise of Rain). I heard our rooster alarm and ran out in time to chase the hawk away, but he did manage to peck at her comb. I now have her in our basement in a large dog crate I converted into an emergency chicken hospital a few months back. I cleaned up the blood and am hopeful that she'll be okay. She's pretty shaken though and I locked up the rest of the flock in their coop for the rest of the day.

They really love free ranging but I need to put more places for shelter up. This is their first winter with us and many of the shrubs/small trees, such as our fig, that they were successfully using as hiding places, have lost their leaves. We have large expanses of grass where I'd like to add large, ornamental grasses or shrubs where they can hide (berries to eat would be a plus). If only I could train my dogs to guard the flock and not eat them. They're still getting used to our new kitten, Grimalkin.

Predator scares or not, I absolutely love having chickens. I've done so much research on keeping free range, backyard chickens as safe as can be, but I'm off to do more. Finding that balance between giving them a beautiful life and keeping them safe isn't easy. Parenting is parenting...tough no matter what species you're caring for! Tips anyone?

I'm heading downstairs to check on Pippa. I hope you enjoyed the coop building pics!

Note: Many thanks to and all the backyard chicken keepers that hang out there,, and so many other chicken keeping sites. I'm a lurker, but without all the info and ideas shared online, plus great books and magazines, I wouldn't know half of what I do about caring for a flock of fluffy butts. Thanks!!


  1. I love your picture gallery! And your nest boxes are very frugal. :)

    The only thing we did differently was that we made a concrete floor that sloped so I could wash it out.

    We plan to move our flock to a bigger building next year where they can free range further away from my gardens. Every time I let them out they make a beeline for my garden. No amount of fencing deters them either. They just fly over it.

    Thanks for posting your pictures. Beautiful job!

    1. Thanks, Maria! That means tons to me coming from a pro like you :).

      Great idea with the sloped concrete floor. The black stuff I spread on is that Black top stuff they use for roofing that dries into a rubbery finish. I'm hoping that it'll make washing out easier when needed. Even with the sand, I want to change it out in the spring.

      As for the nests, I'm still iffy. They work but they're slippery so the pine shavings are always coming out. The nice part though is that they were easy to make and I was able to cut out an opening on the other side as well, so that eggs can be collected from the egg door too. I made a feeder and a waterer with watering cups using those Tractor Supply buckets too :). But outside, I have those big, black rubber feed bowls for water and scraps.

      I have 6ft wire fencing around our veggie garden because of deer and it works on the hens so far, but the fence around my herb garden is lower and they just recently figured that out. I need to put a taller one soon bc I don't want poopy herbs!

      I guess it's a learning process! If I ever decide to hatch eggs, you'll be hearing from me. I remember the posts you did on that :).

    2. I wish we lived closer so I could lend you one of my incubators. If you need any help, let me know. There's nothing like hatching your own chicks.

  2. Contented chooky noises are among the most blissful sounds I can think of - and I am sure the chooks in that Taj Mahal utter a LOT of contented noises.

    1. You're so sweet and blissful is the perfect way to describe their little chuckles. I could meditate just sitting there watching and listening to them. I just love having them around and each one has such a fun (and silly) personality :).

  3. Update for anyone who missed it on Twitter. Pippa is doing great. She healed quickly and has been back with her flock. She still has a few scabs at the base of her comb, but no one is bothering her and she seems happy.

    I kept them in the coop for a few days so that the hawk would move on (which it seems he has). My neighbor said she lost all three of her hens just days before. I'm betting it was the same hawk.

  4. Glad that Pippa is doing well! I loved seeing the pictures of your coop- amazing job building it! What a project. Seeing the rooster and the hens was fabulous too! I love getting fresh eggs from a local farm where the chickens are free range. The eggs taste so much better and totally different than store bought eggs!

    Best of luck getting more hiding spots for the chickens.

    Happy New Year!