Jan 21, 2009

Making a Chicken Dome - Day 5

Mission accomplished!

If you want the stepwise instructions, begin your adventure with
Day 1 - making the frame
Day 2 - crossbracing the dome
Day 3 - making the door
Day 4 - covering the dome with chicken wire
Day 5 is populating your dome with chickens!

As you can see in the photo above, we attached the door using sophisticated rope and bungee cord technology. The 'hinges' are loops of nylon rope at top, middle and bottom of one side. the 'latch' is a bungee cord or two at the other side to keep the door shut.

Bungee cords are also working well at keeping the tarps over the top of the dome. The tarpaulin is important in this setup as chooks don't like getting wet. (They also don't like things flapping above them, so there is possibly a better way of doing this. I shall give it some thought).

You can also see the roost/perch. This is a pruned treebranch, painted with motor oil to kill any mites that might be lurking and hung up using tie wire. Apparently chooks like roosts of about 5cm to 8 cm wide (2 to 3 inches) so they feel nice and secure. We've since found that our girls prefer 5cm, not 8cm.

On the left is Mk1 of the water bottle. It's a recycled milk bottle with the sides cut out and enough room at the bottom for water to sit. Not ideal. This needs to be topped up about three times a day at the moment and I'm going to use a different system. To the right is a tuna can with shell-grit in it. The chooks can help themselves whenever they want some. The tuna can for the shell-grit came with our chookies and it works really well.

Here are our ladies and their nesting box in the background. The nesting box is an old beer crate with a couple of planks nailed on the front to give a bit of privacy. In the front is the lovely Abigail - she is our egg-layer at the moment as Belle (in the rear) has started her moult. They are Brown Shaver hens which are a modern hybrid breed, bred for egg production. We get brown eggs - one a day from Abigail.

Things we have changed since the photos were taken:
These photos were taken the day after we collected our hens and settled them in. That was about 10 days ago and there have been a few changes.

nesting box
- this is now raised off the ground on a couple of cinder-blocks. Abigail started laying her eggs on the floor of the coop, and one book we got from the library (Free Range Poultry by Katie Thear) suggested that raising the box up will help clear up any confusion as to what constitutes a nest.

This does seem to work, although I still find the odd egg on the floor - I suspect it gets kicked out of the nesting box at night because both ladies refuse to sleep on the perch and instead cram themselves into that little box to sleep. This is not a long-term option since their feet will start to get hurt if they stand flat all night. It seems that the classic 'Linda Woodrow Dome' will need some modification for our quite cold nights (and chickens who are used to sleeping shut away in a box). I have plans to modify a rabbit hutch we have lying around to turn it into a nesting box/perch house which we can sit alongside the dome - so the dome will be more of a 'run', rather than a complete housing solution.

perch - The one in the photo is too fat - the chooks wouldn't use it. We now use a more slender branch - more the 5cm end of the scale than 8cm - and they happily sit up on that during the day (but not at night - see above).

water - I've attached the water container to the dome using wire, instead of rubber bands. This is neater, doesn't warp the container and is easier to get the bottle out for cleaning and refilling. I am, however, going to spring for a watering system, because this one needs filling morning noon and night, and chooks can die if they get too thirsty. It's just too risky.

food - I've made another container, just like the water one, for layers mash pellets. The chooks get plenty of garden and kitchen waste, but it is of variable quantity and quality, especially at this stage when we are just establishing the system. With a supply of mash off to the side the chooks can top up when they feel the need. Some days they eat it all, other days its hardly touched.

sand - I did add a tray of sand so they could have a place to dust-bathe, but they pecked it a few times, covered it up with mulch and dust-bathed in the dirt instead. So I took it out again.

orientation - we swung the whole thing around a bit to provide better protection from the Southerly that came up during the weekend (the Southerly is the cold wind at this end of the world - there's nothing between us and Antarctica except a couple of uninhabited islands and a few penguins).

In all, it has been a very successful first week of chicken ownership, even if the steep learning curve (and my pregnancy tiredness) has meant that we've only just gotten around to sharing it with the world! If my kids can't find me, they're learning to check outside at the coop, or inside at the windows overlooking the coop - I am enjoying sitting and just watching them go about their business.

Oh, and one other chicken link. Radio New Zealand's National Program has been running a series on keeping backyard chooks, where the presenter converts his Wendy House into a chook house. Lots of good advice and chicken photos at the Funky Chicken Farm, including a video on how to check the pelvic space of the chicken to see if she's ready to lay (videos on Page 5 'book book book'). This has been very timely and I keep 'shushing' the family so I can hear what they're saying - thankfully each episode is only about 15 mintues long!

Edited on 7 April 2009 to add
Chicken Update - How we're doing 3 months on - found here


Catherine (Alecat Music) said...

Well done on finishing your dome, it looks great! I like how you've made a complete door frame which swings open and shut. Do you find you have enough room to get in and move about, filling the water and checking for eggs?
We made plenty of modifications as we 'learnt on the job' with our chooks, too. And don't those fresh eggs taste just great?!

home handymum said...

Thankyou :)

Yes, there's plenty of room to get in - Just kinda stooped. That's the main reason we made the crossbracing and support hoops at the heights that we did - so there would be a big enough doorway for us to get in.

The water and feed containers can be reached by standing outside the dome, but yes, there's enough room to climb in and get the eggs, although the kids have been eager to take that job on so it is getting less necessary for a grownup to have to enter the coop.

We got two eggs today! Our first one ever from Belle. It's very exciting.

Chookie said...

I've finally answered your question about feed containers on my blog! Hope you can make use of it. Yours in Christ, Chookie

southernrata said...

I found your blog searching for pictures of Chicken domes, and was most impressed, especially as you seem to live in the same city as me. It seems a smaller, lighter model than the Woodrow original.
We're thinking of making one too, as part of a permaculture garden, so I'll be very interested in hearing how your girls cope with the southerly. Can we have ongoing reports please?

home handymum said...

Hi Southernrata

A catch-up post on the chickens is a good idea - I'll have a crack at that this weekend

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