Wednesday, July 9, 2014

COOP PLACEMENT - Very important

When thinking about where to put your coop - think about the following:

  1. Does it get mucky when it rains? (that's a no no)
  2. Is there a lot of hot afternoon sun in the summer? (that's a no no)
  3. Is it close to your house so that you aren't trekking a distance to feed/collect eggs, etc.? You'll want it close to your most used door.
  4. Can you see the coop from the house so you can make quick inspections without trudging outside?
  5. Is it an eye-sore for your neighbors (do not underestimate an angry neighbor and the city council)?
  6. Speaking of city council - did you get approved? (I did not, but all my neighbors approved and I chose to just not tell the city because we are rural - on three acres, live near farms and it makes absolutely no sense to me that I can have dogs that could bite, rabbits, cats that stray but not chickens and I'm too lazy to fight it at city hall.
  7. Is the coop in the path of northern winter winds?
  8. Will it shed rain water towards your garage? (see picture - oops)
  9. Will your mother-in-law have to look at it every time she stops by and be reminded that her grandchildren may die of salmonella poisoning or is it nicely set aside so as not to be too conspicuous?
  10. Is it in an area where your teenage boys like to throw their baseballs, footballs and hockey pucks and sometimes miss and hit the coop, scaring the chickens half to death and denting the very expensive chicken hardware cloth that took you hours to install correctly?
  11. Is it near standing water where mosquitoes thrive, making the cleaning and checking an annoyingly loathsome chore?  You won't want to be spraying pesticides around your chickens if you plan on eating those eggs - or perhaps that's just my opinion.
  12. Add your own here..... or in the comments below and I'll add them in.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What about the coop?

It seems to me that I mentioned I would tell you all about the coop and that it may have been several months ago.  Sorry about that.  It turns out that I thought I was busy when my kids were toddlers, but now that they are teens without a drivers license, I seem to be as busy as ever, just not wiping butts.

I did a lot of research on coops and scoured the internet until I found just what I was looking for.

Here is what I wanted:

Big - my hens will not have a lot of opportunity to be out of their coop so I wanted a hen house and run that would be spacious enough for the four of them to run around comfortably.

Winter Ready - it gets cold . . . I mean C.O.L.D. here in Minnesota.  The coop needs to be warm.

Safe - we have a nice supply of raccoon, fox, coyote, ground hogs, owls, mink, etc. that would love an opportunity to get their hands on the hens, so the coop had to be completely secure.

Sturdy - strong summer storms and deep winter snow means the coop had to be built to last

Economical - we didn't have a lot of cash to throw around

Easy to Access/Easy to Clean - this one is self explanatory

Pretty - I wanted it to look nice.

We finally settled on The Garden Coop.  The plans were about $30 and were written so well that even without building experience, the two of us were able to built the coop in about 4 weekends.  When I say "we", I mean mostly "he".  I painted and as you can see from the current picture, I have not yet finished my job.

We will add insulation this fall and probably put in a heat lamp for the month of January when the temp dips below 0 F.   I'm still not sure what to do about water - keeping it from freezing.  I'm guessing we will put the food and water in the hen house during the coldest times of the year.  I will also wrap the sides with shower curtains from the dollar store to keep the snow out, but the light in.  The ugly tarp you see is there because after all my careful planning, that side of the coop gets far too much afternoon sun and the little girls were baking.  I planted giant sunflowers but most were washed away in our torrential rain storms and the rest were eaten by bunnies.  I'll have to plant something there to shade them.

There is no door to open and shut.  They come and go as they please.  This winter, we will have to adjust that but I'm not yet sure how.  I suppose we will keep the door open unless it gets below 10 F and then move food and water inside.  I'm just not sure yet. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

So here is the finished coop in all her glory and just today, the boys added these solar camper lights we found in our basement.  We will continue to landscape around the coop as I am able to divide plants from the garden (and hopefully get some from my neighbors as well).

Tomorrow afternoon, we are letting the hens out of their coop for the very first time.  Stella will be inside the house and Blue is away at hunting camp, so the birds will have a chance to explore without the dogs harassing them.

Nighty night my little ones.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Empty Nesters

Phew!  After a lot of hard work and long weekends, we finished the coop.  By "we" I mean, mostly, my husband with me doing the cheering.  The incentive for him was great.  The chicks were living in our tv/family room/dining room and they were making a mess and starting to make the place smell like a barn.  

The Garden Coop
 We did our best to keep friends and family at bay so they wouldn't think we had gone completely crazy - turning our house to a barn.  I'm not the neatest little housewife in the world, but the chicks were clearly not meant to be living inside.
left to right Bismo, Jessican and Dan
 According to their instruction manual* the chicks should be moved into their coop at 6 weeks.  Ours are 5 weeks.  That will have to be good enough.  One more week and my kids will call in a social worker and show them the farm animals living at their feet.  Oh, and my mother-in-law will be coming over tomorrow for brunch.
Sparkle, Bismo, (Jessica hidden), Dan
 The chicks are low maintenance.  I check on their water and food once a day - usually fine.  Every other day or even every third day, I give them clean water and every fourth - food.  I bought larger feeders and hung them.  TIP:  When your chicks are about 1.5 weeks old, you will notice that they kick out all of their feed within a few hours.  Get some wire and jerry-rig some kind of hanging device.  Hang the food and water at about chest height (the higher the better).  This will make it much more difficult for them to kick up shavings into the water and kick out the food from their feeder.
Chicken ladder
 We carried the chicks outside - each chick with their respective owner.  They went right into the henhouse.  After about 10 minutes, I couldn't wait any longer.  They would need a 'mother hen' to show them how to use the chicken ladder.
Dan is thinking about it.
 Dan, of course, was the first to take a look, but too cautious to try it.
Inspector Dan and Co. BTW - that is the egg collecting door
 Instead, Dan led the flock around the little house and inspected every screw, nail and hole for food and safety, I'm sure.
Chicks and their feeders (will be hung)
 I finally gave in and one by one, placed them on the ladder about half way down to see if they would scramble up.  They did not.  They froze where they were and then flew to the ground.  Those feeders you see, were hanging in the dog kennel brooder and will have to be hung ASAP.  The only spot so far is under the ladder and I can already predict that they will be kicking their aspen bedding out the floor hole and into their food/water.  We'll deal with that later.
View of inside hen house - no perch yet.

There is the inside - We will put a heat lamp in the upper corner away from the door until the temperature at night is above 55 F.  I don't know what the science is behind the temperature.  There are so many different opinions about when to put chicks outside and how warm it has to be, etc. etc.  I decided to be safe, I'd hang the lamp inside and turn it on at night.  When we would check on them, they were usually sleeping away from the lamp which meant it was a bit too warm, so we raised it each night until they seemed comfortable.

I'm also reading that heat lamps cause a lot of coop fires, so in the fall, I may splurge and buy a ceramic heating panel.  Another concern is that mice can chew through the extension chords and cause fires that way as well.  I guess we will figure that all out this fall.

Sigh.  I'm pooped.  Time for a glass of wine and I'll lift my glass and toast all of my long-time (and new) bloggy friends - Happy Mothers day to you or to your mother and your grandmother etc. etc.

*instruction manual - hours and hours and hours on the internet

PS.  My next post will be about coop design and choice.  There are a lot of options out there, but trust me on this - I researched for four years.  I will tell you everything I know so far and I'll add on as we go and learn.  Ta!!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

I think I forgot to mention . . .

The same week the chicks came home, we also opened our hearts to another dog.  Her name is Blue and she's a lover.

She is also a bird dog and leaves next week for a couple of weeks of bird training.  Isn't all this ironic?  Chickens and a second bird dog.  

We were a bit concerned about how our 3 year old Stella would be around the new pup.
It's been a no-brainer.  Love at first sight.  BFFs

I know this is a bit late, but . . .

Happy Easter from Minnesota. 

Two Week Check In

Chicks grow fast.  Very fast.

And since they grow so fast, they need a bigger brooder - fast.

I sat down one morning to check on them and out flew Bismo Funyun.
Say hello, Bismo.  She seemed to think nothing of it and after a few minutes of looking around the family room, she flew back into the coop.  I was astonished to say the least and immediately set up a newer, larger, ENCLOSED brooder.  
As soon as the chicks were big enough, they graduated to a hanging waterer.  If you don't do this, you will be changing the dirty water several times a day.  By hanging it a few inches off the ground, the chicks are less likely to kick bedding and poo into their water source.  With the new waterer, I am only changing it once every 24 hours.
Personality abounds.  This is Dan and she is the friendliest of the group.  I'm not sure if 'friendly' is an apt description.  She's simply very curious.  She will hop out while I clean the brooder and be the first to come and inspect what I'm doing.  The chicks fight and bicker and fly at each other.  Sparkle is terrified of anyone and anything and will run and hollers, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" all day long.  My kids tried to have a sleepover in the same room and were kept up all night by her anxious peeping.
 Dan and Bismo rule the roost.  They are also the most social with humans.  Jessica, the golden child, could care less about any of us but will put up with us when we want to pick her up.
The heat lamp is only giving them around 80 degrees F at this point because it's so much higher than their perch.  Oh, I bought a tiny little perch for them to sit on.  My husband said that buying a perch from a store "is such a girl thing to do."  Hmph.  
They are all huddled in the corner in the morning, trying to stay warm.  I'll tweak this by adding a new roost bar a little higher off the ground, closer to the heat.  Then they will have some options based on their comfort.  I'm not sure what is too hot and what is too cold.  I figure they will self-regulate if given the opportunity and that's just what they've done.   When they are little, you need a corner of the brooder to be around 95 F.  I had it at 100-104 and they didn't like that very much.  

The starter food that I use is water-soluble, which means the chicks don't need grit with their food.  Apparently, chickens need a dish of grit to eat with their food.  It helps them to digest.  When they graduate from their chick feed, I will have to add a grit feeder to the coop. 

So far - raising chicks = easy peasy

Monday, April 14, 2014

Now we are one

We are one week old today.  Would you believe we are flapping our tiny wings and trying to fly around the coop.  Well, one of us, anyway.
Bismo flapping those winglettes.
We no longer run screeching from any hands that come into our small plastic home.
We are learning to roost and finding out who rules the roost (see first picture).

And we are quite proud of our big girl feathers that seem to grow in over night.
Jess and her big girl feathers.
By the way, this is much more fun that I thought it would be.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Which chickens should I get?

I was going to find out how many breeds of chickens are in existence today, but I got lazy so let's just say there are hundreds.

You can go for the ultimate in Adorable with a Silkie.
Silkie photo courtesy of

Or show off your hipster side with a David Bowie look alike - the Polish chicken.
photo courtesy of
These breeds are fine and dandy if climate is not an issue for you.  In the case of Minnesota, temperatures drop to -30 degrees and can reach 100 degrees-with-humidity.  How do you pick the right breed for your little backyard flock?

Because I live in Minnesota, I wanted winter hardy breeds that could withstand the sub-zero temps of January (ok, and February . . . sometimes December.  And then there was that foot of snow we got in April) without the aid of warm bubble baths and red wine.  These ladies of the coop need to be robust and hardy; fearless and defiant of the north winds.  I spent about a year reading every frickin' book on breeds, stalked blogs and websites and took chicken keeping classes to figure out just exactly what type of chickens I would want.

It's pretty easy if you have a groovy farm store close by that deals with chickens on a regular basis.  They will already know which chickens have been tested tried and true within your climate.  They also have experience with which breeds tend to be quiet and friendly.  If you live in tight quarters with your neighbors, quiet is a necessity.
Egg/Plant Urban Farm Store was one step ahead of me.  They already new which breeds do best in Minnesota so when I pulled up their chicken-order webpage - my breeds were already there.  I made a compulsive one-time phone call to the store, ordered my chicks and voila - I was an expectant mother.

I waited a few days before I put this information on my husbands desk.  One must be artful in the arena of spousal manipulation.  In this case, I decided to be direct.  Grill some fish, have an ice-cold beer waiting for him when he got home from work and BOOM - I put the 14 page coop-building blueprint/plans in front of him and told him he had until exactly May 15 to get it done.  The chicks will be 6 weeks old and able to move outside.  Oh, and I forgot to tell you, dear - they might need to be in your home office for part (all) of it

I also gave him first pick of the girls.

He chose the soon to be large-breasted and blonde - Buff Orpington.  Isn't that a great name?  Orpington.  Say it out loud.  ORPington. Nice, huh?  He has chosen the name Jessica Simpson.  She is a sweet little thing with a social nature as soft as her soft yellow fluff. She will be a good layer of large brown eggs.
Jess - the Buff Orpington
This is what a Buff Orpington should look like when full grown.
My 15 year old chose the Lace-Wing Wyandotte - a bold little gal and the largest of the bunch.  He has decided to name this little one after one of his favorite Key and Peele skits.  He can't decide between "Quackadilly Blip" and "Bismo Funyuns".   I'm leaning towards Bismo.
Watchful Bismo
Bismo is the one in focus.  She will be a beaut when she is all grown up.  This is a full grown Lace-Winged Wyandotte.

My 11 year old daughter chose the runt of the litter - a Barred Rock.  She has the funniest little white rump.  Paste free, remember - but be sure to keep checking those tiny tooters.  So cute.  "Sparkle"
Little Sparkle - the runt Barred Rock
Sparkle will also be a good looking' gal when she matures.

And my middle kid picked the Silver Ameraucana and named her Dan.  He's weird like that.
Dan is the yellow gal looking at the camera.
We have high hopes that Dan will lay us blue or green eggs.  Maybe even pink.  We won't know until she grows up into something like this:
Americauna's are not as consistent in their coloring as the other breeds I choose, but you can tell by the color of chick what they will look like.  Check out the link on the picture to see the difference in chick color and adult color.  One can't always be sure of the egg color, either.  She may end up with plain old brown eggs.  I don't think they are very handsome, either, but she's supposed to be a sturdy, reliable chicken.  And of the bunch, she is my favorite so far.  Curious and friendly.

There you go.  You've been introduced to the flock.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Death by Cuteness

Prepare yourselves.  You just might die when you see how cute these babies are.

I drove my booty over to St. Paul and picked up  my chicks.  Here's how it works.  You show up; you pay; you pick your chicks and you drive home with them peeping all the way from inside a small cardboard box that you have lovingly seat-belted into the passenger seat next to you.  The store owners will not ask you if you own a hungry boa constrictor.  They store owners will tell you to keep the box closed for their protection but you will immediately open it so you can take pictures and send them to all your relatives and so that the little biddies won't be scared of the dark.  You are their mother now and it is time to start acting like it.  You are now - a farmer.  Welcome.

They look a little scared of me in this picture.
You can bypass your friendly urban farm supply store or local feed store and order your own chicks . . . if you dare.  You can order from a chick supplier, but they usually have a minimum order of say . . . 15.  The number is to ensure that they will keep each other warm.  And it is my hunch that they include a few extra in case the flock looses a few on the way.  I couldn't bear the idea of opening up a perforated cardboard box to day-old deceased chicks.  Also - they can't ensure that they are ALL females and I can assure you that even if your city is chicken friendly, they are not rooster friendly.  You can try to keep him a secret and good luck with that.  You will have to dispose of him eventually and that was not something I wanted to put on The Husband's desk.  I'm seriously pushing my luck as it is.

So I opted for #2.  Go pick them up from the farm store.  In my case, we have a very hip, urban farm store in St. Paul - here's the link Egg/Plant - and they take orders and get the chicks delivered to their store.  They take care of the first few days when the chicks are learning how not to eat pine shavings and how to drink water.  The kind staff also deals with the aptly named "pasty butt" (it's exactly what it sounds like).  All of this is taken care of if you wait a few days after they arrive.  In my case, they were born on Monday and I picked them up Thursday, free of butt paste and healthy as can be.

Friday, April 11, 2014

New Adventures of Rani

Is it just me, or does it seem like there are a lot of knitting blogs out there that turned into chicken keeping blogs.  Remember way back when - there were a handful of us uber-knitting-nerds who couldn't get enough bloggy goodness about other peoples yarn and pattern yumminess?  And then some of the blogs evolved into cooking and cleaning an organizing and some blogs even showed us just how OCD some of our crafty friends could be.

I still knit.  I really do.  And crochet.  Still working on my big, ugly afghan. But I'm so run-around-like-crazy-like-a-chicken-with-its-head-cut-off, that I haven't really had time to sit and knit and tell you all about it.  And yes, I miss it.  And mostly - I miss all of you.

But now that I've mentioned chickens.  I may as well tell you that after about four years of researching and scratching my head and lobbying heavily at the doorstep of The Husband - I finally called my local happy-hippy farmer store and ordered four chicks.  You know, they are not expensive and they don't even do a background check.  What if I also happen to own a boa-constrictor?  Wouldn't you want to know if you were selling chicks?  I would.

I don't have a boa, but I do have a bird dog.  Did they sell them to me anyway - YES!  And they were very nice about it.  And did the husband approve?  Kind of.  Did my city approve?  Nope.  Am I going ahead with it anyway? Yup.

So for now, this little bloggy will be about my new adventure with my little hens.  I know there are people out there like me who have about a million questions about raising chickens and so hopefully I will entertain you and answer some questions along the way.  But it will be a learn as we go, people.  I'm just figuring all this out in real time.  

And now . . . . ONWARD!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hello friends,

This is a quick note to let you know that I am taking a break (just a break) from Raniknits to pursue my writing.  The knitting and crochet needles and hooks are never far from me, but now they are competing with the notebooks, pens and laptop.

As a writing practice and an attempt at some level of discipline, I am writing under a pen name on a different blog.  We had the idea when a friend of mine formed a little writing group.

So take care for now.  I will stop by and see you (on your blogs - that sounded creepy - like I'm stalking you).

Love to all!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Greetings from Minnesota!

Wish you were here?
It's been a lazy long while since I last posted.  I think that by not knitting, I have nothing to post about, but then again, some of you have become bloggy friends and perhaps a shout out now and then is called for.

Last year, I had my garden in.  Potatoes planted, beets, peas blah blah blah.  There is almost 12 inches of snow on my other bird feeder.  The poor little creatures must be so confused.  I don't remember a spring like this in my 42 years.  Whole flocks of robins are demanding their money back on their north bound flights.  I don't even know what the geese and ducks are doing here.  The lakes are frozen.  Strange.  And oddly enough, I've been having dreams about tornadoes.  Do you know what happens when the warm spring air meets this very cold, weird stuff?  Big bad yucky storms.  And I'm afraid of wind (bad experience once).

We did manage to splurge this year on a vacation.  We took the crew and met a friend down in Florida on a tiny little tropical island I will leave unnamed so that no one can find it (the locals requested I say that).
We watched dolphins swim right past our porch, fished, collected shells, tried to read and knit but the ocean was so darn distracting.

Captain and Lumpy with his first shark (catch and release).

Lunker with this baby shark (also catch and release).
It was better than watching Real Housewives.  Pelicans diving, schools of fish swarming and feeding.  Of course, growing up in the Midwest means that we think sharks are just waiting for us to put our feet in the water so they can rush up and gobble us in one gulp.  When two bull sharks were fished up right on the shore, we felt vindicated by all the happy, tanned bathers who merrily paddled around the water with their tropical umbrella drinks, dangling their feet over their inner-tubes.  I imagine they look just like big fat turtles floating on the surface.  No thanks.

Notice the natural shark barrier there?  No one from my family when beyond that.  BUT, do you see that floater in the distance?  Can't you just hear the Jaws theme cranking up.  I couldn't watch.  We didn't get the paper or any TV to hear of any shark incidents, so I'm hoping she made it back to shore.

The trouble with paradise is that there are large numbers of rats and cockroaches on tropical islands.  No one likes to talk about it, but the place was crawling with them.  One cockroach made its way up my husbands leg while we were sleeping.  10 minutes later, three cockroaches were dead, one went missing and I was doing my best impression of a haz-mat suit with nothing but a single sheet wrapped entirely around my body with only my eyes and nose sticking out (which is how I spotted another bug flying into the bathroom).  Mr. seemed nonplussed about the whole thing and fell to sleep in nothing but his boxers - spread eagle on the bed.  What's wrong with him?  My dear sister who lived in Maui told met me, when I called her at 2 am in a panic attack,  to sleep with the lights on and let the little lizards move in.  We kept the tiny lizards outside, thank you, but slept with the lights on after that and never saw another bug.
DOOOLLLPHINNN!!!!  (later: Dolphin)
The dolphin sightings reminded us of when our Icelandic friends come to Minnesota and see squirrels for the first time.  There is a lot of shouting and excitement, picture taking and squeals of delight.  By the end of the trip, when someone sights a dolphin (or said squirrel), the alarm is more like a mellow, "Hey guys.  There's another dolphin."  Barely a glance up from a book or sudoku puzzle.  And no one gets up to see because it's the 17th dolphin to swim by that afternoon.

We could watch the sunset every night from our front door and porch, but I was so distracted by absolutely nothing that I never took a picture.  This was just a really pretty sky later in the evening that seemed so romantic.  I felt like I should stand out on the deck in a long blowing gown and pine for my long lost love, but he was not lost and was sitting next to me drinking a beer and telling me about EVERY. SINGLE. FISH. he caught that day.  (think dolphin and squirrel theme).

And off daddy and daughter go on an island adventure.  She got so tired with the boys and all the fishing that she demanded that daddy pack a picnic and come and explore the island with her.  No fishing pole allowed.  Ta ta.

And so, I'm back in MinneSNOWta.  get it.  I said MinneSNOWta instead of Minne . . .  you know.  Cuz it's snowing so I changed the . . ok, whatev.   No knitting.  No crocheting.  At least nothing finished.  I hope all is well with all of you.  I will be checking my blog roster soon so I can catch up with you all!