Gettin' laid

oo! oo! the first egg from our new hens!

for comparison, the new egg is above. Our first egg from our last batch of hens (which egg was delivered unto us in February, 2004) is shown below.

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12 Responses to Gettin' laid

  1. Holly says:

    For those counting, the chickens are 139 days old, or, say, 10 days shy of 5 months old.

  2. Jes says:

    Its so beautiful! I love the shape, so oblong, pointy. Are you going to save it? I saved my hens first eggs. . Blew them out and dried them. FIrst eggs are so cute and tiny, how could i just break them?

  3. Paul Cooley says:

    You must be proud parents.

  4. Antonia says:

    Great website! I’ve been reading through all of your chicken entries — really like the way you’ve integrated the chicken area/garden. Do you have designs posted anywhere of the coop design, or did you make it up? I’m from Richmond VA, and am interested in raising laying chickens. We are in a wooded area, and have definite predators to worry about (hawks, raccoons), so am designing with many safety measures in minde, but I really like the scale of your coop & run. Thanks in advance for any advice you might throw my way! Antonia

  5. Patrick says:


    We just broke it.

    You know how the saying goes. You gotta break an egg to make… um… peanut oil mayonnaise.

    Take only photographs, leave only footprints, that’s my motto. After I got over the urge to bronze the little guy, that is.

  6. Holly says:

    Hey Antonia, thanks for reading.

    We did make up the coop design, based on the Chicken Tractor concept. We had read about it when we lived in Oakland, and thought it was a brilliant idea. However, it works a lot better if you’ve got actual land, not a little residential plot. Also, our coop is really heavy. This is in part because we made it with free redwood from a deck that we took apart, and in part because, from everything we’d read (and from much that I’ve seen since with other backyard chicken flocks), predators are best kept out from the start.

    We based the dimensions, if I recall, on the amount of space Carla Emery recommends per bird. When we first kept hens, we kept five of them in the coop. I should give the dimensions—3’d x 6’l x 3’h. As I said, we were basing it on the chicken tractor model, and planning on moving it around the yard over the course of the year. This turned out to be too destructive of the small space. Chickens pretty much clear ground, and it didn’t take long til we were out of new ground for them and tired of moving our behemoth of a coop. So we went to a fixed-location coop.

    At first we didn’t have a yard for them (still in Oakland here), and later built a door on the side and fenced in an area. There we were worried about hawks, and we bought bird netting from this great Seattle supplier, Seattle Marine and Fishing Supply. We got an awesome net from them that was finished around the edges, the dimensions we needed and cheap. Call them up and chat with someone about your needs if you go that way. Very cool people. Anyway, we put the net over the run, which also served to keep them in, because that run’s fencing was short. We’ve got Australorps, which are heavy, big birds who are not supposed to fly, but they can get up three or four feet—especially if they get startled.

    Now, as you can see in the pictures, we used 5′ horse fencing for the yard, and have not yet felt a need to cover the top. Our sense is that the girls are now too big for most local birds of prey. Also, they have cover from the rosemary, and spend most of their time under it. You’ll find that hens are very aware of what is in the sky. When planes go over they will stop what they are doing and watch until they are sure it’s safe. I would strongly recommend having some cover like that available, even if it’s person-made. It provides shade and shelter. We use what’s called hardware cloth on the coop itself, and the entire coop is closely covered, with poultry staples every three inches or so, to prevent racoons from peeling the wire off. Do not use chicken wire—the holes are too big to keep racoons from snacking on your birds. Even the bottom is covered on the coop now, because we know there are rats around, and both rats and possums will dig under the edge and come up into the coop. Possums will take apart a young bird, eat the entrails and leave the rest. Ugh. Rats will just eat their feed and their eggs, though I imagine they’d eat chicks too, when they are very small.

    You really want a door in the side—we didn’t have one at first. Then when we first put one in, we had it hinge on the bottom, and the girls would walk down the door to get out. Bad idea. The hinge area and door get covered in bedding and chicken shit.

    See also another recent comment for book refs. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in the section about Polyface farm, has a really awesome description of a chicken tractor system in action and a brilliant description of chicken slaughter, which, if you plan to do this for a while, you should learn to do. Carla Emery has a bunch of different descriptions of ways to kill chickens as well.

    Hope this helps.

  7. Antonia says:

    Thanks so much for the advice, Holly! We’ve gotten Storey’s Guide, and I’ve been e-mailing back and forth with a relative of mine who lives in Long Beach and keeps several chickens in her backyard. Will definately get the Chicken Tractor book. I’d love to any more of your advice as we progress, as it really sounds like you have wonderful experience.

    Our plan is to get a used 10′ x 10′ fence (had been used for dogs) and put the coop inside. Cover with the bird netting. Have the coop set up on cinder blocks. If you knew that it was going to be a fixed location coop, would you have still kept the same dimensions? How many hours a day can your chickens wander outside the coop? How easy/difficult do you find cleaning the coop (I’ve seen some reccomendations that it is easier to clean a coop that is tall enough for you to walk in)? What did you choose for your flooring material? Did you bury any of the wire, or do you feel that wasn’t necessary since the coop itself is protected by the hardware cloth?

    We are planning on keeping the coop stationary. Although we have a little bit of property (about 1/3 acre), various things make it impractical to plan on a moveable coop. Half of the front yard is all vegetable garden, the rest of the property is wooded/bamboo. The bamboo is really close together, and until we pay to have it all taken out by a backhoe, it stays. There’s really not a lot of different places the whole coop/run set-up could be situated. I’d like to let the chickens wander while we are home during the daytime, put them 10×10 run when we are gone, and coop them at night.

    As for the chicken slaughter, I’ve read about it, I’ve seen a demonstration, I think I could do it if the chicken was in distress and needed it done immediately, but I dearly hope I’ll be able to pass it off to someone else.

    Again, thanks so much for the great advice, and for the book suggestions. I really love seeing all of your chicken pictures — they look happy! Antonia

  8. Holly says:

    No, I don’t think we’d keep the same design if we were buiding today. It would be easier to clean out if we could walk into it. As it is we stand in it and muck it out with a pitchfork—it’s close quarters. We do deep litter, so we don’t have to do it that often, especially in summer. We’ll see how it is in winter here. Having a run where they spend their days puts a lot less pressure (so to speak) on their bedding. In Oakland we buried the coop about 4 inches down and put paving stones all around the edges, as we did not have wire on the bottom. Here, because of the wire, we didn’t bury. On top of the wire we just use wood chips.

    Something I thought about last night was that you will need to enclose your coop entirely. You’ll see that ours is only enclosed on one end. It rarely gets below freezing here—only for a night or two. So the chickens produce enough heat on their own to stay warm in the winter, with one end completely enclosed as shelter from wind and rain. But if it gets quite cold there, you probably want to be able to close off the entire coop. You might consider removable panels so you can have it partly open in the summer for coolness and general ventilation.

    A funny note: after saying yesterday that we felt no need to cover the top of the run, when we got home from a housewarming last night, I heard the girls being pretty vocal while we were putting our bikes in the garage. I went around the fence into the yard and who should be walking around the yard in the twilight but two of the hens! So, we are working on modfications to address their apparent eagerness to freely free-range.

    One note on raising the coop on cinderblocks. I have heard that rats love spaces below things, so if you raise it, make sure it’s sufficiently high up that you can see below it, and that it won’t have cover for rats. We thought about raising here, and decided against it for that reason.

  9. Antonia says:

    We have a falling apart dog house that could be converted. At 5′ x 4′, 4′ high, we would put it outside the run, with the chicken door leading into the run. This is of course, dependant on our completely hypothetical construction experience! We’ll see how it goes. I plan on frequenting the local Habitat for Humanity store — do you have one? They are fantastic! All sorts of building materials and home things — doors, toilets, tiles, lumber. At 4′ high, it isn’t tall enough to walk into, but it is tall enough that we could attach larger doors for easy cleaning access.

    I’ve been reading about deep litter, but not sure if it would do well with our humid, muggy summers. And yes, we will need more protection in the wintertime, no open panels. I’m planning on either large windows/doors that can be screened, especially if I can get them cheap, or else some sort of ingenious panels that can be opened in the summer (with our yet-untested building skills, of course!).

    I really appreciate your chicken expertise! I’ll let you know how it progresses. Have you read about the edible estates project? An article about it was in the NY Times recently, and reading his manifesto is fantastic — pretty much where we’ve been trying to get our front garden for the last two years.

  10. Holly says:

    Hey, Patrick was talking about the edible estates guy the other day. What a great project. We found the NIYFY (not in your front yard) neighbors to be particularly amusing given our situation. Patrick said one of the protestors of the front yard garden said whatever folks want to do in their back yards is their business, but the front yard . . . Our neighbor said whatever we want to do inside our house is fine, but in the back yard . . . Apparently propriety and fear for housing values have shifting boundaries!

    I like the idea of the coop on the outside of the enclosure, with a door into it. We were going to try that sort of set up here, but it ended up working better this way. Can’t wait to hear about your progress.

  11. Anni says:

    HiYa! Glad to see that your neighbor-troubles were resolved. Did get to keep all your hens? We are fortunate that our neighbors like the hens as we share our bounty with them. They wouldn’t go for a Rooster, however. We have enjoyed our laying hens for the last 9 years. We get new poulets each season as old hens leave us (by way of Mother Nature). They are an interesting breed to learn socialization from, that I know for sure.
    Good luck with your garden.
    Come take a peak at ours some time…

    Anni 🙂

  12. Pingback: Cleverchimp blog » Blog Archive » Portland asshole density higher than previously supposed

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