It took us 10 weeks to build our chicken coop duck house combo which was 2 weeks longer than we had expected, but the day had finally arrived when it was complete and they were all too ready to get out of their brooder. The chicks and ducklings had been off heat for about 3 weeks, so there would be no difference in temperature between our garage and their house. In all my research everyone had said when you move them into their new house you need to lock them in for a week so they know where home is, and while that was possible for 8 chicks, it was not going to be possible for 6 ducks who grew significantly faster. So like I had been instructed I moved the chicks into their house and locked them in with food and water, but we put the ducks out into the yard. I learned so much in the following weeks about both the chickens and ducks and now I will share my knowledge.
It was evident the chicks were so much happier with their new space, chirping and playing all about when I would go visit them. I began noticing within a day or so that my nest boxes were getting filled with poop and all the shavings removed. After some googling I learned that chickens don’t hatch with the knowledge of what a nest box is and what its for, they need to learn when they are older. So we quickly cut plywood pieces to screw into place to block off the nest boxes so they would no longer sleep and play in them. Eventually when they were closer to laying age we removed the plywood, refilled the boxes with shavings and straw and placed ceramic eggs in them to show them the purpose of those boxes. After our initial eggs being laid all over the place, they figured it out on their own. I also learned during this time that chickens lay eggs when they are ready, so if they are too young to lay and as curious as they are you may get some egg eating issues, this is a pretty common problem and while many people think its a reason to butcher a chicken I have found 2 simple and effective ways to deter egg eating. First thing I did when I was presented with this problem was hang curtains in front of the next boxes. Not only do curtains give some privacy to the laying hen and reduce her stress but it also discourages egg eating because it sort of hides the eggs. Out of sight out of mind. If you have a really aggressive egg eater which I did for a bit and was not so happy coming out to find only the remains of my eggs daily, you can blow out an egg by breaking a hole in one end, use a long pin to break up the yolk and then use another pin to create a small hole in the top so you can blow the egg out the bottom, then refill the egg with mustard. I placed a few of these mustard eggs in the coop for my egg eater and she hated the taste so much I haven’t had an egg eating situation since. Its all about being creative, most problems have a fix that doesn’t involve Farmer Davis’s axe.
I also had no idea of the flying abilities of these little chicks. One would think since they were so small that they wouldn’t really take flight, but I found out so fast that their small size actually allowed them to get even more height and distance that I would have ever guessed. After a couple days I mistakenly went to the coop door windows, opened them up to allow them some extra fresh spring air and then went back inside. Remember they were only about 10 weeks old at this point and it was about 3 feet from the floor to the window. Hours later I looked out into my backyard, what did I see? It certainly wasn’t a peaceful scene I can tell you that much. All the little chicks had flown the coop and were running all around in the attached run, which had no water or food, and they had no way of getting back up into the coop window which was now 5 feet off the ground from where they were at. They were panicked and didn’t know what to do, there was all different levels of chicken screaming happening, I was alone with my 5 year old and 1 year old and trying to figure out how I would deal with it. So after some quick thinking and setting up the outdoor play pen for the kids to watch I attempted my first chicken wrangle. Big chickens are hard to catch when they don’t want to be, but little teen chicks are next to impossible. I opened up only the small coop door and about an hour later of falling in the sand and chicken poop too many times to count, falling on my face and butt and hitting my head on the coop, I finally managed to get all 8 of them back into their coop. So, never doubt their abilities, chickens are escape artists, curious, full of mischief and always willing to give you a run for your money.
After my experience with the great chicken escape, I decided to wait a few extra days before giving them full access to the run, the last thing I wanted to do at bedtime was to have repeat experience of the chicken wrangling. So after 10 days of being locked in the coop we went ahead and let them into the run. They came to the door of the coop and looked out, wanting to come out but not knowing the safety in doing so. The first out was Liberty our Ameraucana, but she didn’t want to use the ramp, apparently it was a terrifying thing. Instead she flew from the coop to Farmer Davis’s waiting arm, she then decided it was best to get onto my head, so she flew over to sit on my head. I was not so amused when she pooped down my back and refused to get off me, every time I put her down she would just hop right back up onto my back, shoulder, and head. It wasn’t until one by one the girls started coming out into their space that she would get off me and join her sisters. This experience was how I learned that chickens do in fact have a fear of the unknown. Our backyard is fully fenced and you can’t see between the boards so we have learned that because they can’t see whats on the other side they are less likely to attempt going on walk about, especially without their rooster. Overtime we have added many new structures to our yard, and every time the chickens proceed with caution. We have learned that any changes can stress our chickens out and cause and upset in laying eggs, new houses, new wood piles, new chickens, and new play areas for them require a slow introduction. With time their curiosity will always win and eventually everything is fine. But when introducing anything new, my biggest advice is to go slow.
My final thoughts on chickens and keeping them in an enclosed run are things we have learned from trial and error, so take the advice for what it is, just me sharing what I’ve learned. Initially we only had 1 feeder and 1 waterer in our chicken run, but I learned that even if they are raised together and get along fine that due to chicken pecking order they will still assert their dominance over food and water. So after setting up extra feeders and having a 6 nipple waterer the assertion of dominance dramatically decreased. If they always know there is more than one place to get food and water they tend to be less picky toward each other. Chickens will fling their food out of any container they can. We thought it would be clever to put a PVC pipe with a corner litter pan attached at the bottom to self fill, however my chickens thought it would be way more beneficial to stand on the edge of the pan and jump off it to fling the food all over thus causing big mess that they don’t eat. Way too much waste. We have since put in a PVC pipe with an attachment at the base that only gives room for a couple chicken heads to fit in and no flinging action ability. We also have a hanging feeder that at the base only has a 1″ opening so their beaks fit but once again, no flinging ability. If you worry about waste then definitely look for feeders that limit their ability to get feet into them, chickens have a natural instinct to scratch and look for food, but causes a lot of waste. Chickens get bored, so you have to install play space for them, if you don’t they will pick at each other and you will not have the peace you may be seeking out when getting chickens. I personally change up their play area every few months. We have a stump they can jump on, we have an outdoor roost and a chicken swing and they rotate through. Not all chickens enjoy a swing, so when the stump goes in, the swing comes out and I always keep the roost in place.
On to Ducks! Ducks are actually easier in so many ways, ducks always stick together so when we moved them out into the yard they went everywhere together and did everything together. Even when adding new ducks into the mix its easier, with ducks they see each other and its like they have a conversation; “You’re a duck, I’m a duck, now we are friends.” We put a kiddie pool into the yard, a big bowl of food and there you go all done. Domestic ducks can’t fly, they are too heavy for their wingspan, so no worries about flying over the fence. You can herd ducks where you cannot herd chickens. This is the main reason ducks are used when training livestock guardian dogs how to herd. It took them time to learn their routine but with the help of our Australian shepherd Jax (who has absolutely no training at all, he goes on his natural instinct) we were able to herd the 6 ducks into their house without major issue. Within months when the sun went down and we walked out the back door the ducks automatically went into their house. If you are looking for something easier to manage without the time consumption that chickens pose, then the duck would certainly be an option for you.
Stay tuned for my next post on how things went free ranging and introducing our other animals to the birds. I plan to write all about the utopia of animals I’ve created.
Thanks for reading and your continued support!