Thursday, June 30, 2016

Eggs! Well, Egg!

Lots happening but one of the girls gave us our first egg!

New egg
We got them, our hens, just 11 days ago and after all the reading, we expected to have to wait a bit longer. What, with all the stress of re-location, wing clipping, internment inside the coop for a week neither JoAnn nor I thought it would happen for another week or so at least. 
But here it is, I half expected a mis-shapen thing but then remembered these were proven layers, granted, this statement may have been an overzealous sales pitch from the old owner, but it is egg shaped and beautiful. It is also small. I haven't researched the size parameters of eggs yet, but when compared to the ones in the carton in our fridge, it is small. 

JoAnn and I both heard the hens futzing around this morning, but when we checked on them no eggs. This afternoon about one-ish we again heard the cackling of a hen but thought nothing of it. At 2:30 I went out to paint part of the pen where I had welded it some days before, I checked them to make sure they had water and feed. It has been hot lately and as part of the checks, I try to make sure they have nest material in their nests. Today I opened the panel and checked the first three we keep straw in and nothing. The last two boxes we have old t-shirts in the boxes because the past owner had used them for his boxes. The egg was in the first of the two. We'll be changing all the nest boxes to T-shirts tomorrow.

Home for wormsWe have been supplementing their feed of cracked corn scratch and layer crumble with veggie leftovers and a handful of meal worms (they go absolutely gaga over these!) so much so we have decided we are going to be farming them as well! I ordered 5000 live meal worms off Amazon and they are due in, well today, but seem to be held up for now. I expect they will be in tomorrow. I have a home for them already, primed with food, veggies for their water source and layers for separating the larvae from the adult beetles and a separate 'nursery' drawer for the young to get to adolescence. Since we only need 3 drawers, these Sterilite® stacking drawers were perfect for them. We got two because I felt that even the larvae needed a bit of space. We'll split them evenly at 2500 per three drawer unit. 

These truly are wonder worms:
>4 life cycles
      Egg--> Larvae--> Pupae --> Adult Beetle
>Their waste is fertilizer
>They have wings but do not fly
>The chickens will eat them at any of the 4 stages
>Humans can eat them as well! 
>They use scraps for their food source
>Carrots and potatoes are their water source
Styrofoam recyclers>and they are one of the only organisms that can eat STYROFOAM as their only food source!

I will be running an experiment to see how our birds like the Styrofoam fed vs. oatmeal fed worms. I'll post the results in a later post. 

Other big news: We recovered another of the lost chickens so we now have 5 of the original 6. She came to eat from the food JoAnn left out for them and got caught up in some of the leftover netting I had piled up after making the aviary 'roof' to the pen. We haven't heard the 6th for a while and we both are thinking that she may be lost to the Free Range Feral chickens gang that seems to be everywhere on the island. We are already planning to make up for this loss by getting a few more. And then there are the meat birds to get. I guess its time for the Chicken Math post so next time- Chicken Math! 


Image credits:
Styrofoam eating worms-
Chicken with Balloons:
Photos not credited are our own and are copyrighted by AirBornCreations

Sunday, June 26, 2016


They are Acclimating

Last post we had recover one of the three that escaped and we were working on making a fully enclosed aviary out of our coop and run. Well, as an update, we have recovered one more bird for a total of five, this one was the hen with the un-clipped wing that started the exodus. We wired up the pop door exits so we could finish securing the netting and also try to get the girls used to roosting in the coop rather than trying to get to the trees like they were used to. 

The trick to covering the pen was that to save drilling into the lava, I chose to use two side of the coop as one of the corners of the pen. When we poled the pen to raise the netting to 10 feet, it meant that we had a zone over the coop that was tough to secure. I ended up stapling the netting to the gable fascia and trimming it to neaten the look, I have yet to run a cover trim along the raw net edge, but that can be for another day. 

I extended the top of the gate, welded the catch to the T bar, and welded an EMT header between the gates adjacent T bar poles for the netting to be secured to. 450 or so zip ties later and the netting was secure- upper fence was zipped about every 4 inches, and we decided as a precaution to zip a row about a foot down at 14-16 inch intervals. For the safety of the chickens, we did not attach the netting any where except where it made contact with fascia or the initial 5 foot fencing so if they flew into it, it would have a lot more give.

With the last of the netting trimmed off and cleaned up, I called JoAnn out to the coop and removed the temporary wire over the pop doors. I backed out of the coop and shut the clean out doors and waited. The hens didn't seen to know they were free to roam outside the coop. What ever the reason, they just didn't head out so I suggested the meal worms. Even as skittish as they were around us, with meal worms, we almost had them eating out of our hands. JoAnn placed some on the outside landing and that's all it took.  One by one they headed out pushing their way to get the treats. Once on the landing, the birds inside pushed the outside girls off the ramp and they started exploring. None tried to fly, I guess they were too excited being out to do anything but scratch around for bugs.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

We Have Chickens

The Adventure starts

Or, Bum Rushed by a bird. 

We went to pick up our 6 new chickens yesterday and made the trek to Mountain View. With a newly made transport cage we braved the roads (if you can call them that) into the Mountain View area of Hawaii. For those that don't know it, this place is tropical forest. Most lots are at least 3 acres and since many are owned by off islanders, they tend too be overgrown or virgin lands, untouched by development. This means the animals that run in these lots are feral, and that included our 'semi'-tame chickens. The man we bought them from caught them the day before and held them in a large tote, comfortable, but snug. Ready and waiting for us and their transport. 

Money and chickens exchanged, we made the 40 minute ride home, planning
how we were going to release almost wild, 2 year old hens used to roosting in the trees each evening into a pen that has only 5 foot fences.  Our naivete got the best of us and we agreed that if we clipped their wings, one at a time as we brought them out of the container, we'd be fine.

So, we got home, drove the Jeep right up to the gate of the coop and run, carefully shut and secured the latch then got food and water setup for them inside the coop. JoAnn had the scissors for the clipping- I was to hold the birds for the deed.   

I cracked the lid off the tote, reached in for the first bird and as I grabbed hold of
one, another pushed through the gap between my arm and the lid, then started flapping like mad. This worked the lid further off the tote, and gave the flapping bird just enough room to get her feet on the upper edge of the tote. More furious flapping, and since I was concentrating on keeping  my hold on the the first bird,  the tote lid came off and the flapping chicken escaped into the pen without her clipping. No big deal I thought. The fence is high enough and I can catch one chicken quick enough. I clipped the feathers of the one I held, then I  grabbed another, JoAnn clipping and me grabbing until all 5 of the remaining birds were done. Now to catch and clip the original escapee.

Suffice it to say, that after 10 minutes of a very poor remake of Rocky II and a sad image of an old fat guy chasing chickens, the fully winged bird took flight and made it up 4 of the 5 feet of the fence. Clawing and flapping, it made it to the top before I could get to it and easily made it over the top. Then two more flapped to the top of the fence in another spot and they too were off to Free Ranging Freedom before I was able to catch the rest and secure them into the coop. I then wired the pop doors shut, so there would be no Steve McQueen-esque motorcycle fence jumping escape scene for the three remaining layers. Locked in and secure, we went after the three escapees. 

After 30 minutes of no joy we left food and water inside the penned area to lure them back to their friends, and we went back to the house. At dark, we could hear them clucking and cackling to each other but they did not come into the pen. 

The next morning (today) we were up at 5:00 am to see what  was happening. Too early, there was one still roosting in a tree next to the coop. We made another plan- No. Not a Wile E Coyote style plan; a real plan. Though we did have to get some more stuff from ACME (aka Home Depot) for the pen. We would put a bird netting over the pen effectively making it into an aviary. Once the outside birds sauntered into the pen, it wouldn't matter if they could fly. They would be held in! We got 10 lengths of 10' EMT poles, painted them green (to match the fence posts) and a 50' x 50' netting designed for game birds. We were in the process of zip tying the net to the poles and we went into the house for lunch. While we were eating, JoAnn had a 'feeling there was a chicken', and went to see. There was a bit of a ruckus at the chicken pen and come to find that JoAnn caught another one and got it secured into the coop! We now have 4 of the 6 hens!

Now only two more.

Next post- the final chapter of the beginning

Photo Credits:
My Photo! 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Coop Build Part Four

Nest Box and More

Too many spaces, not enough chickens!

Chalk it up to being a newbie chicken coop designer, or wanting to have the opportunity to expand the coop for more birds, or my eagerness, but I made a space of 24" x 72" to be split into two levels of six boxes per level. With the conventional chicken Math (explanation of the phenomenon of Chicken Math is coming in a future post) of 3-4 birds per nest I would have room for 48 chickens! However, this does not  jive with CMath tenet #4 which is 4 square feet per bird, or a total of 16 birds for the floor space I have right now.  I then went back to the drawing board and came up with this new plan. You can see in the photo I have 5 boxes with storage above and vertical storage next to them. Hinged lids and doors create the access to each of the three areas. Each of the nest boxes have a plastic tote for cleaning and routine sterilization. With the outer door access daily egg collection and replacement of the bedding / nesting materials should be way more efficient.  
When viewed from the from the inside you can just see the plastic nest tubs held in by a 1" x 2" nest step / barrier.  I lined the inside of each cubicle with the same flooring linoleum so it will be easier to clean as well. This design creates lots of storage for the cleaning supplies and still allows for future expansion.  All inside surfaces will be painted for better cleaning.

This is a a shot of the exterior showing the hinged roof, the hinged vertical access door and the egg access door (in white). I also added lower supports of 1" x 2" at a 45 degrees for bracing the nest box, and all abutting edges will get trim. The roof will get the PVC roofing as this is the wall that faces into the weather.

This angle shows the two full side clean out doors. Trimmed out, this allows for fast and easy rake out of the entire coop. You can also get a better view of the nest box bracing.

Water supply comes via the heavens- Like our own home, we catch the rainwater and filter it for our own use, we will be doing the same for all the animals we end up getting. The system starts with the gutters attached to the roof eaves. We will put in a screen across the top to keep out the leaves and larger bugs and animals (we have lots of geckos that love the gutters) and since we recently replaced the entire filtration system for our home, the chickens get the hand-me down of our old home filter system. The gutters will fill a tank that hangs next to the nest box and distribute water into the coop and below it as the chickens will have access to shade and a dry environment  by going under the coop. We are planning to get the chicken water nipples for keeping the site as dry as possible.

This is the old pressure tank we changed out that will become our feed storage bin. On the left it is how it came, and on the right is how I modified it for Chicken Feed. I removed the black cap and inner liner (the rusty bag in the upper left of the right photo) and wire brushed the interior to remove all the scale and rust. I then painted it to seal off the tank, added a flange to run PVC piping, and the boards you see are going to allow me to hang it with the PVC pointing down for a gravity feed system. This will also be a dual feed station set up: a small "snacking" station inside the coop with the main feeding station below the coop to keep it out of the considerable rain we get on this side of the Island.

The ramps. Since we are on an uphill site, the ramp from the pop doors will need a ramp of 6 feet. Rather than make it in one long piece, we chose to break it into a short ramp, landing and short ramp. If they have an issue with the lower ramp just being a singe, I'll add a second one but for now it stays this way.

Fencing. We went with the 5 foot 2x4" pet and small livestock fence wire on T bar posts. What an adventure. Since the lot is an old lava flow, getting the posts into the ground needed a rock drill and a couple of hours work for just 7 posts. We will be adding corner bracing and a row of lava rocks to reinforce the lower edge to keep the larger predators out. There is too much lava to have to worry about them digging under the fence, but weasling under it is a possibility. We'll use tent spikes to anchor the wire under the cobbled lava.

We are caught up to the current status of the build, and it is chicken friendly with just a door that will be installed today. Final trim paint, water and feed stations can go in later (we'll use conventional feeders and waterers for now) so we can get the first birds in!    

Next post: Grand Opening!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Coop Build Part Three

Installation Time

Or, the real business of Construction

Okay, the garage build was prep time for making panels, now is the time I consider that the real building got started. 
I didn't take a lot of Photos so it looks like a lot happened, which it did. Making each wall a panel allowed for fast assembly. This photo shows the piers in place and the floor set on them. It was sturdy, but a bit too wobbly for me knowing I had a few more feet of building going up soon. So I then cut (2) 2x4 braces for each pier and screwed them in using 3" gold screws, not real gold, but they are called that. Not sure why other than their color. We then attached the linoleum.  Sure we risked it getting damaged from adding this early, but by placing it under the bottom plates of all the walls, we figured less water penetration into the floor this way. So far so good- no big gouges yet.

These walls went up in less than 20 minutes and I was working alone this day. By allowing an overhang at the bottom plate, I simply set the wall down, scooted it until the overhang 'locked' next to the floor then screwed it in. I used screws instead of nails so when we expanded the coop, we could unscrew the wall unit, add the new floor unit and re-secure the old wall panel. Easy Peasy. At least in theory. The open section of wall is going to be the double door clean out so I elected to leave this open while I was doing the Rafters in case they didn't fit through the clean out doors or if it would be tough to maneuver the trusses. It turned out to be a good choice as the trusses went in in about 20 minutes. 
Here JoAnn is helping me as these can be unwieldy, not too heavy, but the trusses are balancing until they are able to be secured. We tried this orientation since we made them to fit an 8 foot span, and so far both directions is just 8 foot. This way the gable end would be running East to West. We decided on turning them to be North- South instead. You can see the plywood covered gable wall  just behind JoAnn's feet. That one is the first to go up, not the center span she is holding. 

Gable ends up and secured in place. I then added a ridge beam that purposefully sat under the truss shape so I could hang the center spans on it and arrange them like centering coat hangers in a closet. If  you look closely, you can also see the 2 x 2 I added to pin the upper corners of the open section of wall so the gables didn't splay them outwards while I was working on the roof. 

Spaced, centered and secured to the ridge beam, My lovely coop model is showing off our progress. We are into this project 3 weeks at this point. Boy was my schedule estimate off. Due to other commitments and my internet orders, I have only been able to devote one or two days to the build. That and the rain / power tool shock issue (roof material is yet to be applied to close this project in) has made slow going. 

This is the clerestory panel. And for those not wanting to Google this term, it is the short wall that contains mostly windows in an upper area of a wall or roof that allows for increased ventilation, light or both. I could not cut the notches for the truss joists until I had them installed so it was necessary to wait for these two panels to be made then installed until we got to this point. I painted both sides, added trim and 1/2 x 1/2 hardware cloth so I wouldn't have to do these in the tight spaces I knew they'd be in. I then caulked the edges and gaps to prevent rain penetration as well then installed them. In fact, every wood joint on the exterior of this build is caulked with a paint grade silicone based caulk. So far I have used three tubes because I am also filling screw holes too. 

Okay, I moved on and got a lot done in this week; clerestory walls, roof panels and fascia trim have been applied. The coop is officially dry'd in. One of the upsides to not installing the clean out doors until now was purely accidental- the fascia overhanging the space would not have allowed the doors to open! Turns out I needed to drop the door height by 8" to get them to clear. A simple matter of cutting the doors into two sections. A thin top section and a new height but clearing the fascia thick door. You can see the vertical unpainted 2 x 4 I added for the door stop in the center of the open space. finding this out after the doors were hung would have added days to deconstruct, repair then reassemble them and finally re-hang them.

 New week- total of 5 so far. JoAnn and I got the Clean out doors added on, the spacer panels attached and caulked. Now time for the fencing poles. Wow, the Lava here is tough digging. There is no ramming the posts through the lava, it's just too hard. We rented a rock drill to put in the T posts for the fencing and amazingly it was pretty fast. Loud, but fast. JoAnn and I got the 7 posts drilled and driven in less than three hours. We took the rented drill back to HD then got to setting the posts in a concrete base for added security. BTW, the floor doesn't have a scratch on it yet! 

Next post- Nest box, trim and odds and ends.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Coop Build Part Two

Walls, Rafters and more

Well, it's now time for the walls, so in making the choice to build modular units, I decided each wall would be a 4' x 8' unit. The floor is a double unit at 8' x 8', and each gable end, though not rectangular, would still be a roughly 4' x 8' unit each.  I am sometimes thinking faster than I can write things down (which means I forget a lot of the ideas I have) so I naturally assigned a name to each unit. Yeah, a bit simple, but this way I would always know which wall needed work, and what parts went where.
I built this coop about 200 feet from the eventual placement site in our carport. I did this so I could work on the coop even when it was raining at the site. After I framed then skinned each wall unit with plywood, I painted each one with two coats of exterior paint. Inner side is white, outer side is light yellow. All exterior trim will also be white. I figured that it would be easier to paint while a 4 x 8 unit than in place and fighting ladders and stools. 
After the floor unit, there was:
  1. Pop Door Wall:
    All the parts associated with getting the chickens in and out are on this wall. (Doors are not cut out in this photo yet) We are automating the pair of doors, so there will be 12v. power, a single motor, and mechanical parts for this one. After looking at all the options on BYC, Pinterest and a fast Google search, I am going with a single motor and using a  power window regulator assembly aircraft cable and pulleys  to operate the doors, a 9 or 12v. timer and as simple a controller I get away with. All this powered by a small solar panel and battery array of no more than two deep cycle marine batteries. This is a gable end wall.
  2. Neighbors Wall:
    this one is pretty tame and easy, nothing but two windows @ 12" x 18" . All window and openings are fixed open, screened with 1/2" hardware cloth. The "winter" here in Hawaii is about 5 degrees cooler than summer so no real need for window shutters or closures. The humidity here however dictates the need for lots of ventilation. 
  3. Nest Wall:
    Nest Box and gear goes on this wall. A total of 5 nest boxes and 2 storage areas, one horizontal, 12" H x 12" W x 60" L and one vertical area that will be 24" H x 12" W x 12" L . All three areas will have hinged lids for access. This is a gable end wall. Both the Feed and Water collection/distribution is on this wall.                   
  4. The Clean Out Door Wall:
    This is not a wall in as much as it is two 4' x 4' swinging doors for cleaning out the coop. This is also the side where the roosts will be located. We are planning to have a tray under each roost for easy and quick clean up. The 'extra' framing in each door will be separated / cut long wise to allow the doors to open under the roof eave's overhang.
  5. North Gable Wall:
    Above the Nest Box Wall, this gable has a ventilation window, 12" X 18" at the peak. Rain comes from this direction so this vent will have an awning to keep the air flowing but the rain out. This is also the wall where the Water collection system starts. This also served as the pattern for the three open trusses between the two end gables.
  6. South Gable Wall:
    Above the Pop Door Wall it also has a ventilation window @ 12" x 18". Neither of these gables have the vents cut out yet, I waited until they were built in place. I braced all the openings with pre-painted 1" x 2" framing, then INstallationadded the 1/2" hardware cloth. This was inside the coop. On the outside, JoAnn and I wanted this coop to be 'Pretty' so it needed some gingerbread-esque trim.
  7. Trusses: 
The modular units of 8' means the trusses divide into the space at 24" on center.  I made copies of the trusses based on the Gable wall unit with the short vertical piece being a Clerestory wall with additional ventilation. Turns out this style is less clerestory than it is a monitor roof, but that is not really relevant to the chickens.

Next Post will cover installation of the coop!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Our Chicken Coop Build

Part One- Site Selection, Piers, and Floor

 So on our property, the 'South Forty' is actually on the North end. This is a lava flow with a bit of  topsoil on it and will be great for letting the chickens scratch around.  We laid it out and used hammer and stone chisel to a rough level.

We planned on raising the coop 24" off the ground so the chickens will  so we needed 9 posts to raise it up. This is pier and post and we needed 9 piers as well. The bolted piers were for the perimeter, the three without bolts are for the center of the floor. Cinder blocks filled with concrete was the logical choice.

Once the pads for the legs of the coop were leveled, we cut the legs out of 4 x 4 stock. Since the floor would be made of 2 x 4's, we notched the tops to get the best fit. I drilled out the bottom to fit the nut and bolt better.

We set out the piers on their pads, the got started on the floor. It sill looks like they are all off kilter and level, but we'll fix them in their permanent positions once the floor is installed. 
Here is the completed floor (on the left side of the photo) Simple framing of 2 x 4's, 24" on center then covered with 1/2 ply. For ease, we left the flooring un-painted, as we were covering it with roll linoleum.

Next Post, Part two, Walls, Rafters and setting the floor onto the piers on site.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Idea of Chickens

It Begins

JoAnn and I retired to Hawaii, dream of a lifetime, right? Retirement in paradise. Well, the life in paradise is expensive. One of the higher costs here is at the grocery store. The high prices of meat has gotten us to rethink how we want to go about providing for ourselves here. Among the other choices we've made, we want to raise chickens. So the first order of business is to get a working egg and meat production coop up and running.

We want to have both egg and meat provided from our future flock, and figuring out how many birds of each to have has proven to be vexing. I'll cover the thinking process in subsequent posts, as chicken math takes on a life of it's own.
Those that know what I mean will be smiling, those that don't are invited to take the trip with us on our adventure to find out just what 'Chicken Math' is and how it corrupts. I'll be devoting an entire post just for that subject so I'll skip to the second step.

 So the first thing we though we needed to do was build a place for the chickens, and if we have a home for them, we needed to pick a spot for the coop. We have a full acre in a rough rectangle so we thought that the coop should go in the 'South Forty' and picked this spot. Just for those that don't see it, the dark rocky patches you see in the photo is lava. This is the youngest island of the chain, and the lave is everywhere. Every building decision one makes here revolves to a certain extent around the lava.

Next is the design of the coop itself. We knew we didn't want the coop to be slammed together Willy-Nilly but it is after all, a home for chickens. There are lots of plans on line for coops, including those made from wooden pallets but this was a bit rustic for me. We looked at converting children's playhouses, using commercial sheds, and finally we came up with a modified barn-like design with a Monitor roof, complete with clerestory windows/vents on both sides. It has, we think, the obligatory farm feel, cute factor and ease of ownership that we were looking for.

We wanted the coop to be as self reliant as possible, that is, easy to take care of and maintain so it had to be as automated as possible. It rains a lot here, some years getting over 190 inches. We wanted the coop to supply it's own water so the roof rainfall runoff is caught but way of a gutter and barrel catchment system. From there the water is gravity fed through a filtration system (we recently up graded our own homes water system so the chickens get the old home system) to two self watering stations, one inside the coop and one in the shade, under the coop.

Feed would be similarly distributed, a gravity system split into two semi-auto feeding stations one inside the coop and one in the shade, under the coop. For this we are u cycling / converting the old water pressure container of our home water system into a collection hopper, adding a new toilet flange to transition to PVC pipe for the tubing, and use fitting and pipe to get to the final feed stations.

The warm climate here in Hawaii is in the 75-90 degree range year round. Winter is really just a marking on a calendar here but it is also very humid. We wanted the windows on all four sides covered in wire mesh for ventilation and cooling but we are going to add a fan to be sure to have as much ventilation as possible. The high humidity will allow growth of many bad things if not ventilated well.

We are planning our first solar installation on our property to begin on the coop. A small collector and battery set up to run a 12v system for one or two LED lights, the timer for the Pop doors letting the chickens out in the morning, and securing them in at night, the fan and running a video feed up to the house.

While Free Ranging most livestock is all the rage, I prefer that my chickens stay my chickens and not become my neighbors, nor my neighbor's dogs chickens! Hawaii already has a feral chicken issue so adding my own to the Island collective is not an option for us. Fencing the run is a given and we decided that ours will be a 5 foot enclosure of 2" x 4" woven wire at a gauge heavy enough to keep out the dogs. We may end up fencing the top as well, as the feral cat population tends to feed on the feral chickens, and the cats don't know these are ours.

That's it for the design considerations, next post I'll be starting the construction process.
Till next time!

Photo Credits
Chicken Math image from:
Solar Image from :
Fence image from: