Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The best little chicken house, and why we abandoned it (part 1)

Chicken house at Bluestem Farm
Here at 38.8º N latitude (let’s say 40º) the noon sun angle is:

27.5º    on the Winter Solstice
50º       on the Equinoxes
73.5º    on the Summer Solstice

The overhang on this south-facing chicken house allows winter sun into the windows, while shading out the summer sun.  Plexiglas panes snap tightly over the hardware cloth window screening for the coldest days of the year or are angled open for ventilation.  With this treatment the daytime temperatures stay pleasant (50s on sunny, cold days) and rarely dip much below freezing on even the coldest nights. 

With three elevated nest boxes, roost bars with dropping pans to keep the floor bedding clean, and little bins for oyster shell and grit, WHY did we abandon it?

Let me say, the fault does not lie with the house design- if I were to build a stand alone chicken house again, this would be the one- but with my underestimation of the excavation talents of chickens.  

Foraging Buff Orpington
What's the fun of having chickens if they can't free-range for their own entertainment and ours?  What they save on the feed bill, though, was eating into my mulch bill, as they rearranged every scrap of biomass in our large yard.  The orchard trees were surely safe from soil-born insects, but their roots were exposed to the drying summer sun and winter winds.  I finally gave up planting anything decorative, as my two-footed friends would dig up or devour any new additions, scattering mulch and over the driveway.  Flower pots on the porch were emptied down to squatting-chicken-eye-level, and the dogs kept a nose out for eggs deposited there.  My veggie garden needed a four-foot fence.

Foraging Buff Orpington
For four years our house guests were greeted with a poo-strewn path to the front door, but surprisingly none of this bothered me too much.  It was Scott that finally snapped when he'd find a whole flock of chickens and the two ducks hanging out in the garage along with all the accompanying floor blobs.  A few slimy slips getting into the car and Scott was ready for a change. 

Why not let the chickens range with the cattle where they can help rid the paddocks of flies and pests for the comfort and health of the herd?

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