Archive | April, 2014

Rollout Nest Boxes

28 Apr

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Well, it’s spring and we’ve got 120 chickens laying eggs like it’s going out of style.
The little 8-hole nest box we built almost two years ago was in dire need of replacement.  The chickens were not kind to it’s finicky rollout mechanism, and it quickly became a dirty mess.

I tried to go back and find the plans I scrached out last year for our 16-hole nest box, but it appears that I’ve long since lost them.

This time I just went ahead and made the plans digital.  Now they can live on the internet where it’ll be easier for me to find them next time.

16-Hole Rollout Nest Box Plans
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I use 1/2″ OSB for the nest boxes, 2 sheets ought to get pretty close.  After measuring and cutting all the 1/2″ notches, most of the parts just slide right together.
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Of course the remaining parts, such as these end panels are what add all the rigidity.  Use plenty of staples.
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I didn’t include measurements for all the little strips of OSB (or 2/4″ boards) that you’ll need to finish out the nest boxes, they’re pretty self-explanatory.
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Just make sure it looks something like this when you’re all done.
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We have found that the best mats for use in the nest boxes are these cut-up doormats from Ikea.

Small dirt particles fall through, and you can pressure wash them if they get any other gunk (like broken egg) built up on them.
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Speaking of broken eggs, I have found that without some way of obfuscating the eggs, chickens will start eating eggs.  I staple up a strip of poly feedsack along the egg-door.
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This is the chicken-eye view from inside the nest.  That feed sack is enough to keep them from paying much attention to the eggs that collect in the bottom of the nest.

Brooding Chicks

22 Apr

So with it being spring we decided to get started with raising some meat chickens.  We thought we’d get a batch of cornish-cross chickens started and hopefully have them ready to go by the time that our markets all start up in June.  Last year we didn’t really have any chickens for sale until July, and we wanted to have some ready earlier this year.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t fully thought through our little plan.

You see, it’s Minnesota, and even in the spring it’s not exactly balmy.  Chicks need it to be balmy, like 90°F balmy.  So when we setup the brooder that we’d used all last summer and fall, we quickly ran into problems getting everything up to a comfortable (read: survivable) temperature for the chicks.

Heat lamp bulbs were swapped to the more powerful variety, but to no avail, still too cold for chicks.  The old hover brooder just wasn’t cutting it.

 

So I quickly slapped together a bigger badder hover brooder.  With 1000 watts of electric heat at our disposal, the new brooder was sure to keep everybody toasty, right?

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Wrong.  Still too cold.

Add to that a wet floor from recent rains, and we had to take some drastic measures.

Chicks were all whisked away to the hayloft of the barn, where the chicken pens have been snoozing all winter.  Brooders were shoehorned into chicken pens, along with every available heat lamp.  Chicken pens were covered with tarps to keep in the precious heat. Still no dice.

We had run out of good ideas.  We had reached the point where there was nothing left to do but overcome the weather with raw power.  Our last-ditch effort was to throw a spare electric space heater into the chicken pen-nee-tent and set it to “incinerate.”

Luckily, it seems to have worked.  Ambient temps in the chicken pen are now up to 80°F which means that the temps under the brooders are perfectly toasty for all the chicks.

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And it only took 2875 watts of electricity to accomplish.  Yikes.

Next year we may be back to starting chicks a month later, it may be the only affordable way to raise them in this climate.

Spring Cleaning: Chicken Coop

12 Apr

Now that the weather has taken a decidedly nicer turn, it’s time to do a little bit of spring cleaning. First on the list was the chicken coop. We started off the fall & winter with a real shortage of bedding for the chickens. That meant that the chicken coop’s bedding pack was a little light on carbon (hay, straw & corn cobs) which makes for a very smelly mess once it all thaws out in the spring. Our late-winter additions of bedding just served to form an impenetrable mat on the floor of the coop.

It was clear that it was going to take some effort to clear it all out.
Thankfully, we built in some cleanout-friendly features into the coop, namely these big roosting “ladders” that swing up and latch to the ceiling.

Chickens tend to relieve themselves quite thoroughly at night when they’re on the roost. With the roosts up out of our way we can get at the manure underneath much easier.

But how should we loosen all that manure and bedding up to make it easier to shovel out the door?

We thought that a generous sprinkle of corn ought to help.

Corn and a few of our snout-tastic friends.

After a full morning of hoovering up all the corn, the pigs had moved on to other piggy activities, leaving us with a little less work to do.

They didn’t have much time to really do much rooting, but sharp little pig feet helped break up the manure and bedding.
I think this will really work well when we have an egg-mobile to move the chickens into in the spring. With the chickens moved out, the pigs could be moved in for a few days, where they’d really have the opportunity to do some rooting.

The only trouble the pigs caused was knocking over one of the Mega-Waterers. Not a huge deal because it was almost empty, but it did make a bit of a sloppy mess in the immediate area.
We did make sure to only allow our ~100 pound feeder pigs in the coop. Full-grown pigs would have certainly found ways to destroy or damage a lot more.

There were many loads of nitrogen-rich manure that were taken out to be spread on our weakest pasture. This was not aged manure, so it will burn any grass that it’s spread on. We just happen to have a spot that’s going to have some dirt worked up soon. Once it’s mixed in, it should improve the soil quite a bit.

After the addition of several new bales of clean straw, the chickens are ready to reclaim their coop.

The cows stopped by to admire the new digs, but the chickens were far to busy scratching in the new straw to care.