Chickens of the Mist

misting chickens
Chickens of the Mist, or: How I Learned to Make an Evaporative Cooler on a Hot June Day

In Ferndale/Detroit, yesterday and today are hitting temperatures in the high 90’s with around 70% humidity.  The heat is oppressive, to say the least.  I’ve been staying indoors in the cool air conditioned climate as much as possible, but the chickens don’t have that luxury.  The temperature sensor in the coop read a whopping 100 degrees at noon yesterday, and the ladies were hanging out below it, panting hard and keeping their wings away from their bodies.  Buff orpingtons like these were bred in England, and are cold hardy- which means they’re absolutely not designed for this sort of stifling weather.  Luckily, this should be the last day like this for a while, but if we continue to encounter temps like this, I have a plan.

chicken mister setup
I’ve been filling large bottles with water and freezing them solid; we placed one in front of the box fan and angled my hose set to “mist” so that the water hits the frozen jug and the cooled vapor gets blown at the coop run.

We made a simple evaporative cooler for the girls that seems to have helped in a major way.  I’ve been filling large bottles and jugs with water and freezing them solid- it makes your freezer run more efficiently to have them in there, and I’ve got them on hand to place in the coop run for the chickens to hang out nearby (not that they do, but even having it in the vicinity seems to help).  To make it, we place a box fan a short distance away from the run, placed the frozen jug in front of it, and angled my hose set to ‘mist’ so that the water hits the frozen jug and gets blown toward the run.  The cooled vapor travels into the shadey area under the coop, where the chickens like to hang out- I can FEEL that it’s cooler down there than it is in the surrounding yard.

chicken mist setup
another shot showing the mist created by the evaporative cooler

Best of all, the chickens don’t seem to notice it too much, and just hang out under the coop as they usually do.  Yesterday, during intial setup, we discovered that they would NOT hang out in the shade under the coop with the fan directly against the runs fencing- it was just too new and scarey for them, and despite the heat they were standing in direct sunlight away from the fan.  Once we moved it away and behind some plant life, they went right back into the shade.   Care also needs to be taken to not spray too much water into the area you want them to hang out in- they’ll avoid having the water hit them.

In addition to the evaportive cooler, I added some “Sav-a-chick” to a giant metal waterer and placed it down in the run (rather than inside the coop itself).  It’s basically gatorade for chickens, helping to keep them hydrated while they’re panting and losing water through their heavy breathing (this is primarily how they cool down).  They each drink roughly .5 liters of water in the summer; you want to keep them stocked with water at all times, and keep the water cool (ie. not out in the sun).  Drinking cool water will decrease their core body temperature, and having the “chicken koolaid” mix in there will reduce their need to drink, avoiding any potential “water toxicity” issues (unlikely to happen, but possible).

I also put out a shallow dish of water that they could stomp around in, but they’re avoiding it like the plague.

We’re also being mindful of what they eat right now- greens and cool fruit are a better choice, and care should be taken to avoid cracked corn and corn products, as those will raise their core body temperature (so keep it handy for winter!).

In the event that they show signs of not being able to handle the heat even with these precautions, I’ve got a tent set up in my basement that I’ll move them into.  I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that, since I’m sure the change of scenery would stress them out only slightly less than the extreme heat.

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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.

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?

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.

A whole pack of paperwork: getting things permitted.

Paperwork was picked up from the city offices this morning, and after a brief glance everything seems pretty straightforward.  We’re in compliance with all the rules, now we just need to draw up the dimensions and submit the application along with the $35 license fee.

The girls are strolling around their run during the daytime, and being brought inside like spoiled pets at night.  What?  it’s getting down into the low 30’s at night right now, and I’d be a hot mess if I inadvertently harmed them by leaving them out in the cold while they’re still so young.  The good news is that the chicks are learning that the cat carrier is their best friend, and they walk right in with a little shooing when I come out at dusk.

Little Girl still has some of her head fluff hanging on, despite looking like a mini adult everywhere else. So cute!  I love that she looks like a painting in this picture below.  Part of me will miss having these little girls in the house, despite being relieved that I won’t have to clean up the wood shavings they kick out of their brooder box.

Image

Chicks are growing, and need to be in the coop

fuzzy head chicks

They grow so fast!!

Here they are the day after I brought them home.

fuzzy head chicks
Look at those little fuzzy heads!
pullets
mini adult chicks (pullets)

They’re quickly getting too big for the brooder, and I’m eager to get them outside.  Little known fact:  chickens wake up earlier than yours truly, and immediately want to be fed and run around.  I’m all for that when I’m not sleeping less than a foot away from them.

Chicks acquired, coop nearing completion!

Coop with attached pergola
Coop with attached pergola
Coop with attached pergola over the run

Lots of stuff happening in preparation for the permit and inspection!!

The chicks were acquired March 18th, and have been staying in my house in a brooder box.  I didn’t get them at the tiny fluffball stage- they had a few “big girl” feathers, and were likely about 3 weeks old.  They’re growing FAST, which means that I need to get them out of the brooder box and into the coop as soon as possible.  It’s been a madhouse trying to get everything built and installed, but the end is in sight and we should have it ready for the chicks this weekend.

Now, the difficult part: trying to figure out who I need to contact at the city for the permitting process, and what forms (if any) need to be filled out.

Per the ordinance that was passed, “Completed applications shall be submitted to the community and economic development department along with the fee which shall be determined by city council resolution. Application shall be made to the community and economic development department and shall include any drawings or other information required by the department.”.  I looked on the Ferndale city website, and couldn’t find any application.  I feel weird about filling out  a building permit application, or writing my own- but if it’s necessary, I will.  I’d also like to know what the exact requirements are for drawings/information that I need to submit- can I just list out the dimensions, or do I need to mock up a drawing of the coop?  So many questions, and no time to go down to city hall.  Hopefully they respond to my email today, so I can get started on any paperwork and drop it off this week.