Coverage of Ferndale’s First Legal Coop- Ferndale 115

Source:  http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/05/18/ferndales-first-legal-chicken-coop/

Ferndale’s First (Legal) Chicken Coop

(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, May 15th, 2012 edition)

Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl seem happy.  The six week old Buff Orpingtons strut around their sandy front yard, playing like sister chickens do: nudging, pecking, cuddling, running, rolling around in the sand and darting back up the wooden ramp to their luxury penthouse, aka Ferndale’s first legal chicken coop.

Laura Mikulski was the organizer of the Ferndale backyard chicken movement.  After meeting other suburban families that keep backyard chickens, Mikulski wanted to bring the option to Ferndale.  She researched backyard chickens and lobbied City Council to pass an ordinance allowing them.

After several months of research and consideration, theFerndale City Council approved an ordinance that allows individuals to have a chicken coop on their property as long as they follow certain rules.  Homeowners are limited to three hens. Roosters are not allowed.

The requirements of the ordinance are:

“As structured the ordinance would allow for the raising and keeping of three (3) hen chickens and no roosters. Residents would be required to receive an annual permit which would expire on December 31st of each year. Any applicant receiving a permit is required to schedule an inspection within 30 days of the permit issuance, if violations are noted at the inspection the applicant has 15 additional days to resolve the identified issues. Chickens are required to be kept in the rear yard, structures (coops) must be designed to prevent accessibility to vermin, feed must be secured in enclosed containers and compliance with the Michigan Department of Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals (GAMPS) must be maintained.”

Mikulski believes in following the law, so she waited until the process was complete. She and boyfriend Ben Wojdyla then made the plans.  With approximately $500 plus many reclaimed items, the chicken family’s new home took about two months to build

The entire coop area is surrounded with wire mesh that is tight enough to keep out rats and other predators.  The coop is topped with polycarbonate sheeting reclaimed from another project.  There is a door so people can enter, but there is also access to tend the chickens from the outside: a lever allows them to open and close the door at the top of the ramp to the chicken’s house, and a long top-opening door lets them access any eggs that may have been laid in the nesting area.  The door has a magnetic top so it will stay open while they harvest the eggs.  To best utilize the space and help provide a layer of shade to the roof of the coop, Mikulski and Wojdyla created a strawberry bed on top.

The doors to the chicks’ house are stained glass cabinet doors, and the siding is made of slats reclaimed from pallets.  Everything is decorated to match the home and garage, an aesthetic fit with the rest of the backyard’s landscaped splendor.

On May 15th the couple had their inspection.  “Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound,” Mikulski said in her blog www.ferndalechickens.com.  “He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

“The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.”

Her advice to people who want to build a coop: “Draw the plan first, but be flexible in building. Consider drainage and ventilation- chickens need to be dry. Build everything at a height that is comfortable for you to work in/with. Be mindful of cleaning issues and form a plan that allows you to clean with ease.”

Finding the chickens wasn’t hard, Mikulski just looked on Craigslist.  When she got them back in February she kept them in inside the house until the coop was complete.  “When they’re done growing they’re going to be big birds,” she said, noting that she specifically sought out Buff Orpington chicks because of their mild-manner and their heftiness once grown.

“The ladies won’t lay eggs for a while, and when they start it might take a while before the eggs come out fully developed.  Sometimes they come out without a shell.  Sometimes they’re just tiny.  Sometimes there could be ‘fart eggs,’ which are eggs without a yolk inside.”  Once they girls do mature though, they will likely lay about one egg per day.

“I just love being able to come out here and watch them.  It’s so peaceful.  The littlest things make them so happy,” Mikulski said.  Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl enjoy eating seed and leafy veggies. They also love rolling around in the sand and dirt.  They even get along well with the family dog Hurley.  “He’s never seemed bothered by them in the least,” Mikulski said.

For much more information on backyard chickens, check out www.ferndalechickens.com.

For official City of Ferndale ordinance information and more, go to www.ferndale-mi.com.

   For stories of how this all came to be, check out:

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/04/20/chicken-coops-in-ferndale/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/05/12/the-chicken-petition/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/09/15/council-to-vote-on-chicken-coops

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/01/07/chicken-coop-ordinance-to-be-considered-by-council-monday/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/01/15/new-rules-allow-for-backyard-chickens/

Advertisements

Chicken Coop Site Map & Structural Plan

As part of our ordinance, we had to submit a site map and structural drawing for the chicken coop.  Ben put his engineering background to good use and put together these:

Site Map/ Site Plan

Click for full size version. Site map/site plan: shows property lines and positions of all permanent structures. Basically a copy of my “platt map”, which I received when I purchased my home- you can get a copy from the city offices. Obviously we had to add the location/dimensions of the coop.

Structural Drawing

Click for full size version. Structural drawing: shows the dimensions of the coop from overhead, the side, and the front. Also a detailed drawing of the footer we used, and materials listing. Everything must be drawing to scale.

Please be aware that everything must be to scale when submitting to the city of Ferndale, just like you’d have with a building plan for a home or garage.  It’s not too difficult, but is certainly intimidating if you’ve never done it before.

MYTH: Chickens stink!

they may give you the stink eye, but they don’t actually stink

The fear of odor problems caused by backyard chickens is unwarranted. Chickens themselves do not smell- only their feces that have the potential to stink, which is also true of feces from dogs, cats, or any other animal that leaves waste in the yard. But unlike dogs and cats, who leave waste on the lawns of their neighbors or in public places, chicken waste in an urban setting is confined to the coop & run, due to ordinances disallowing them to free range.

It’s also important to realize that the maximum number of chickens a city allows is just four. Four small hens weigh less than 20 pounds collectively, and generate less waste than one average dog.  (In Ferndale, we currently only allow 3 hens.)

Furthermore, chicken manure is a highly valued fertilizer that can be used in the garden, whereas waste from dogs and cats cannot because of the parasites and human diseases it can harbor. According to Dr. Hermes, OSU Extension Poultry Specialist, “Once added to the compost or tilled into the soil, the odor-causing compounds are no longer able to cause objectionable odors.” This statement is an exact quote taken from his letter in support of chickens in Salem, OR. http://www.salemchickens.com/

The reason people fear an odor problem is because their only experience with chickens (if they have any at all), is a farm or commercial poultry operation. In these situations, chickens are viewed as a commodity and are raised with the intention of profit from meat or egg production. Under those circumstances, hundreds, if not thousands, of chickens are often kept in crowded conditions with poor ventilation or regular cleaning. As a result, ammonia can build up and these facilities can stink. In contrast, people who want to raise hens as pets in the city are not looking to make a profit: they want eggs laid by healthy, happy chickens that they treat like pets. A few small birds housed at least 10’ from adjacent dwellings and in close proximity to the owner’s home, are extremely unlikely to create an odor problem for neighbors.

Composting chicken manure is a wonderful bonus to keeping chickens- the high nitrogen content of their manure breaks down high carbon items quickly and efficiently (sometimes almost too quickly, see blog: http://backyardfeast.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/composting-chicken-manure-watch-the-heat/)  Adding the manure to compost eliminates any smell associated with the manure.

Additionally, there are steps urban chicken keepers can take to reduce the chances of odors even further:  use a deep litter method of bedding, or use sand.  I prefer the sand method in my run, where the chickens spend most of their day- it wicks moisture away, eliminating odor and the attraction of flies, drying out the manure in the same way cat litter does.  I clean the run and coop once per day, throwing the waste into my composter; the only thing you can smell in my chicken run is their pine bedding and the flowers in the surrounding garden.  With proper practices, no small scale chicken coop should EVER smell strongly enough that neighbors would notice.

MYTH: Chickens are noisy.

Only roosters crow loudly, not hens. Hens never crow and are generally quiet animals, with the exception of announcing the arrival of a freshly hatched egg. This sound is short-lived, never occurs at night, lasts only a few minutes and takes place once every 24 to 36 hours. Some hens are more vocal than others, depending on the breed, but there is no comparing the sound of a cackling hen to dogs that can bark all night long, power tools, lawn mowers, motorcycles, car alarms, trains, and the myriad of other loud noises frequently heard in the neighborhood.

chickens are *definitely* quieter than dogs

Please note that the 70dB is the potential level of sound energy, but that it would be a rare sound measured very close to the chicken (2ft). The inverse distance law predicts that at ten times the distance (20ft), the sound pressure would drop a tenth, equivalent to a decibel drop of 20dB. That means that for a chicken making a 70dB sound in it’s outdoor enclosure, their neighbor will experience it as 50dB’s- roughly equivalent to a quiet conversation at home. Noise is even further reduced if the chicken makes a sound within their laying coop rather than the outdoor enclosure.

I invite you to watch and listen to my 3 pullets at 9 weeks old- they’re just getting their “big girl” voices, and you can hear a sample of a “bawk” in the video below.  Bonus: they look hilarious.

Chicks on a sunny day.

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer

Chickens in Hot Weather: 17 Ways to Help Keep Your Flock Cool This Summer.

I’ve been worrying about this for a while- it seems silly right?  Worrying about chickens getting too hot in Michigan.  I get asked a ton of questions about keeping chickens through our cold winters, but nobody ever thinks to ask if they’ll be ok in 90+ degree weather with high humidity.  Chickens’ bodies perform best below about 75 degrees F; over 90F they can start to have real problems, especially heavier breeds.  They can suffer heat stress and stop laying eggs, and on the extreme end of the scale they can die. We had an incident when the chicks had only been here for a week- it was early March, they were tiny and living in a brooder box under a heat lamp, and our weird Michigan weather zoomed up to the high 80’s.  I came home from work and found the little chicks panting and laying down in the brooder box, wings outspread.  I’m pretty sure that scarred me, and I’ve been paranoid about temperature extremes ever since.

Luckily, the blog I linked to above has some great tips for keeping chickens cool in the summer heat.  I’ve reprinted their tips below in bold, with my take on how it’ll work for me:

  1. Provide shade: the girls like to hang out under their coop even now, digging shallow holes and taking dust baths.  In the summer, I’m assuming this will be where they spend a lot of their time- if I feel like they’re not getting enough shade, I may just throw a tarp over the top of the run to provide a little extra protection from the sun.
  2. Keep them supplied with cold water: it should be pretty easy to toss a few ice cubes into their waterer, and since I usually keep it in the coop it’ll be shaded.
  3. Provide dirt bath areas: the girls have already created some good spots for dust bathing, in the shadow of their coop.  I have a hard time imagining any scenario where a chicken didn’t have a place for dust bathing, unless they had a wire or concrete floor in their run.
  4. Add electrolytes to their water: I picked up several packs of these from Tractor Supply when I was getting supplies before getting the chicks- we still haven’t used them, so when it gets hot I’ll definitely add them to the water.
  5. Turn off lights in the coop: no problem here, since we don’t have a light in the coop.
  6. Increase the ventilation in the coop: we have two vents in the ceiling with adjustable vent flaps that can direct air in or keep it out, and a large screened back window.  In the summer, we’ll definitely keep the back window shutter open, adjust the vent flaps to direct air in, and there’s the possibility of leaving the front leaded glass doors open (I don’t like that idea, because even though we’re confident that the run is predator proof, I’d rather not take any chances).
  7. Place reflective foil on the roof of the coop in the morning: kinda the premise behind those car dashboard visors.  We likely won’t use this due to the green roof, but it’s a smart tip to keep in mind with other coops.
  8. Give them a shallow pan of water: like a bird bath! In general I want to keep these chickens completely dry, but if they opt to splash around in some water, I won’t stop them.
  9. Install a fan in the coop: I’ve been considering this, but with my set up I’m not sure how I could make it work.  The fans would need to be on the side of the coop, and I certainly wouldn’t want them there in the winter; I’d need to install them and then board them up when it got too cold out.  If there’s a way I can do this without destroying the aesthetic of the coop and/or compromising the structures ability to keep them warm and dry in the winter, I’ll consider it.
  10. Give them cold/frozen fruits and vegetables: watermelon seems like it would be a great choice for this.  I’ll definitely be doing this one.
  11. Don’t feed them cracked corn: I’ll save the cracked corn for cold weather, since it brings up their body temp.
  12. Dig a shallow pit and lightly mist it with water: I can see doing this in extreme situations, making the hole deeper than it would normally be from their dust bathing.
  13. Freeze water bottles or milk jugs with ice: kinda like air conditioning for the chickens! I bet they’d wind up scared of it, like they are of most new things. Still, in an extreme situation, this seems like it would help immensely.
  14. Leave them alone: keeping their stress levels low is the name of the game, and something I try to do regularly anyway.  The only time these girls really get ruffled up is when my bf’s dog circles the coop run, breathing heavily.
  15. Put sprinklers on the coop roof: I can’t do this with my setup, but I do wonder if watering the green roof wil help.
  16. Decrease the litter in the coop: we only have maybe an inch and a half of pine shavings in the coop at present, and the litter gets cleaned daily, so this may not help much.  The theory is that deep litter acts like a compost pile, generating heat- so, if you’re a deep litter coop, you’ll want to take this advice to keep the heat level down.
  17. Mist them with cool water: I’m pretty sure the chickens would freak out if I did this, so chances are I won’t.

Armed with these tips, I’m hoping I won’t have a repeat of our “too hot” incident- I’ll still keep my eyes peeled for signs of heat stress throughout summer.

SIGNS OF HEAT STRESS:

-panting, with beak open

-laying around with wings outstretched

-no interest in eating

-slow to respond to stimuli, unresponsive

Chilling.

We’re legal!

Yesterday, the city inspector walked into the backyard saying “This should only take about 2 seconds, I’ve seen the paperwork you submitted”.

who wouldn’t approve this thing?

Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound.  He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.

The chickens aren’t very impressed with this latest turn of events, but they did run off with the building inspection sticker we received.

very exciting!
if it’s in my hands, it might be food, right?
see that beak? somebody snatched the approved sticker from my hand a second later.

After all is said and done, the chickens are happy, I’m happy, and my neighbors are happy.  Everyone seems to like the coop, and they get a kick out of the girls antics- or lack thereof, since the ladies have been lounging a lot in their beachy coop.

The 3 stooges.

The countdown begins.

Just over 24 hours until the coop gets inspected!  I’m nervous and excited.

We put some finishing touches on the coop over the weekend- lots of paint, installing the brackets for the polycarbonate roof, installing a door handle, etc.  There are still some more things I’d like to do, but I’ll wait until after we get approval from the city inspector.

The coop is ready for inspection!

The green roof is prepped with dirt, and waiting for strawberries to be planted.  Can you believe I haven’t been able to find strawberries at any of the nurseries this year?  I had to break down and order some online.

Nice mix of garden and potting soil

We also put a latch on the inside of the run door, after in incident where the chickens were spooked and bumped into the door.  The door only stayed open for a second, but that’s long enough that if there was a dog running around the coop, they might have the opportunity to race inside.  Obviously I can’t let that happen, so my failsafe is now installed, for use when I’m in the run.

latch on the inside of the run door

We put some hanging planters from Ikea in the run, just for a decorative touch.  I absolutely love it- the hint of extra greenery really adds to the overall appearance.

the chickens don’t really care about hanging planters

We painted everything to match the house and garage, so the coop seems to “belong” there.

the coop and the garage look good together
another view of the garage and coop

The lever for the chicken door is on the outside- in the future, we’re hoping to install an automated or remoted controlled door.

the rod sticking out with the black handle is the push/pull door control

Door hardware matches on the run door and the nesting box lid.  We also added a magnet to the window cover on the back of the coop, so that the window can stay open.

black handle and hinges on the door
black handle on the nesting box, magnet keeping the window cover open

All in all, it was a ton of work this weekend.  Painting the trim in the places where the 1/2 hardware cloth is attached was a pain, and took a long time to get all the nooks and cranies filled.  I also went over all the “vulnerable points” after hearing something walking around the garage one night when I went to close the girls in- we used horseshoe nails to ensure that the hardware cloth is attached in every place that a predator might seek access, mainly as reinforcement to the staples we had previously used.  The pavers seen around the coop are in their position temporaily, as I’ll be leveling them and making some paths through the garden in the future.  At the end of the day Sunday, we were exhausted and ready to just sit down and admire the finished product.

Hurley likes to think she helped.
Hurley helps by watching the chickens enjoy their pretty new coop. Good job Hurley!

To all the people who said they wouldn’t want to live next to someone with backyard hens- is this what you pictured?

We’re #1!!

dramatic chickens!

The girls are feeling pretty dramatic after finding out that we’re the 1st to submit our coop paperwork to the city. Apparently lots of people have gotten the packet, but nobody had turned it in… until now. The clerks at the city offices were wonderful and helpful, and even gave me the contact information of someone asking about chickens. Hopefully I can call them later to give them all the info they need to make a decision to get some hens!

Coop inspection is scheduled for 3:30pm Tuesday the 15th, next week. Time to put the finishing touches on the coop and get ready to wow our city officials.

What a hard life!

The girls are enjoying a nice warm day, perched on the edge of their coop window.  I’m pretty jealous of them.

Like big globs of honey.

Today is the big day- we’re turning in the building permit and fees associated for the coop license.  Keep you fingers crossed- I’m hoping the inspector will be able to come out in the next few days to check it out and give his blessing.

 

Chicks dig dirt.

The chicks are enjoying a nice dust bath in the shade on this steamy spring day.

These girls are the fat orange cats of the chicken world, and as such are already getting a little spoiled.  They come running at the sight of me in the backyard, not out of affection, but because I usually have a delicious treat.  Lately it’s been dandelion greens, broccoli leaves, strawberries, and a tiny piece of ham.  I think they nearly lost their little chicken minds over that piece of ham.

 

Curious.
Snagging a bite.
Once Big Bossy gets a bite, everyone moves in for some, now that they know it’s safe.

The girls are getting bigger every day, and looking more and more like real chickens.  I think I may have even heard a cluck last night as I was closing them into their coop.

Looking proper.
Big Bossy eyes the camera.
Green eyed dinosaurs.
Chickens have inscrutable faces- the only way to tell if they’re angry is body language, since their faces have a permanent frown.