Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It's summer..or spring!!?? And our new open-air coops

The bee's are buzzing, chickens are excitedly cackling as they find worms in the dewy must be spring!! Or anyone else confused about this weather? 21 above one day, snow the next.... For the most part, we have had more nice days than not. Not only do the birds enjoy rummaging in the grass, they also love suntanning and relaxing too!
Anna's bantams Mimi, Momo, Esmerelda and Lily, foraging in the green grass

Huey, snoozing like a happy duck in the sun
All this warm weather also means more work outside.
Daniel working hard while I take photos :P
Our guardians also are inspectors, making sure our coops are all up to snuff

The photo that the Donkeys are in reveal the page/chicken wire than Daniel tacked all around the coop. It is buried 6 inches into the soil at the bottom- this is to prevent night time predators from digging their way into the coop. The last photo shows the finished coop (more like finished-ish). It still needs a few more doors and things done inside it- nest boxes, breeding pens etc. We have decided that chickens benefit more from having extra ventilation than from too much insulation. We will be keeping our birds in this coop year-round.
The open-air coop

We`ve already retrofitted one building to look like this, with the south-facing wall completely comprised of page wire.  So far it has worked really well. The air ALWAYS smells fresh, even when the birds have lived in there for a month. Nothing is dank or smelly. This is due in part that the birds spend all day ranging outside. But also due to the fact that the fresh air is circulating at all times, keeping everything fresh. No stale air, no build up of moisture or rot. (When the birds roost at night, they actually poop A LOT). Additionally, we have seen absolutely no illness in our birds. The dank air and nitrogen build up is more often than not the cause of respiratory illnesses and other diseases in traditional insulated coops and crowded barns. With our system, we haven't had a single sneeze, sniffle or swollen eye. This makes me feel really good about what we are doing.

You might ask, but what about the winter? You do know we live in Alberta, where -20 is common? We are very aware of that. You have to know we care very much for the well-being and comfort of our animals. That being said, we have specifically and carefully chosen the chicken breeds that we raise with one specific factor in mind- cold hardiness. Our Chanteclers, light Brahmas and Buck-eyes are all known to handle winters very well. They have the tiniest, flattest combs and wattles, so in turn they don't normally get frost bite. Frost bite is the most major concern when it comes to over-wintering birds.
A Comb by Any Other Name:Comb types: (A) single, Plymoth Rock; (B) pea, Brahma; (C) strawberry, Malay; (D) cushion, Chantecler; (E) walnut, Silkie; (F) buttercup, Buttercup; (G) V-shaped, La Fleche; (H) rose, Hamburg.

 As the above image shows- D show the cushion comb that Chanteclers have. See how it is small and flat against the head? This means it will not get frostbitten. Any of the ones, especially image A or F show a tall comb with thin fleshy appendages- these are extremely susceptible to being frozen off, causing discomfort to the birds. We also raise the buck-eyes and Brahmas which have B, called a pea comb, also a small flat comb against the head.

 Second, a concern that many producers have is not even to do with the birds, its to do with the eggs and water- both of which can freeze in the cold temps. We have decided we would rather lose a few eggs, but then have a very low-input system for raising our birds, where we feel they also have a higher quality life. Also, its not a big deal to change out the water when it freezes. We visit the coops anyway twice daily at least, to check in on the birds, feed them, etc. The  savings (no building to heat, easier construction) and most importantly the fresh air for the birds outweighs any other cons that we have thought of.

In order to partly compensate for the lack of insulation, we will put a barrier of straw bales around the inside of the coop which will provide a little bit of insulation as well as more protection from the elements (wind mainly). We also plan to construct insulated nest boxes, both for the added comfort for the bird, and to prevent the eggs from freezing.We will keep you posted on how this works out- it's a little bit unorthodox, but that's how we roll.

We also have 200 chicks and 100 turkeys showing up in the next two weeks. These, in addition to the ones that we have been busy hatching out since January, will comprise the shares for the fall of 2012. We certainly have our work cut out for us. These little guys will first go into a heated brooder, and then when they begin feathering out, we can also have them out on the grass. We know of people who have little chicks out on the grass from day 1, and we really would like to do that- but it kind of depends on our time and supplies available if we can accomplish that in time or not. Otherwise, we will use our barn for now and work on an outdoor set-up for the future.
Some Buck-eye chicks

Thanks so much for reading, until next time...


  1. Thanks for the update. It's very interesting

  2. Absolutely wonderful Anna and Daniel! We would love to come for a visit one afternoon. :)