Chicken poop tray & grazing frame

Today I crossed another couple of little chicken projects off my list.

Firstly, I built a poop tray — a nested tray to collect the poop chickens release overnight while roosting, to make it easier to keep the coop clean.

Here is the outer tray, which features an opening at the back (towards us) and a welded wire screen to keep the chickens out:

And the inner tray, with a small opening at one end to enable scooping out the waste:

They fit together like this within the coop, accessed via the poop door:

Both could be removed if I want to sweep out the entire coop. But typically just the inner tray will be pulled out to clean out, without exposing the whole doorway:

Here’s what it looks like inside:

Next up, I built a grazing frame — a structure with a hardware cloth screen on top. We can plant grass or other fodder inside the frame, which will grow up through the wire, so the chickens can eat the tops without destroying the entire plant. (Given an opportunity, chickens will turn any amount of foliage to barren dirt in time, by scratching and pecking plants into oblivion.)

The chickies are intrigued:

Chicken coop: finishing nesting boxes

Several of the new chickens are looking ever closer to being ready to start laying, so I took a little time this morning to finish off the nesting boxes.

Firstly I added shelf liner and plastic nesting pads to the sloping bottoms of the nesting boxes (see this previous post on the construction of the boxes), along with fake wooden eggs to test the rolling, and act as a guide to the girls:

Merida and Domino peeking out the front window from the roost above the nesting boxes:

Here’s the view from outside, showing the collection area. I used shelf liner for the screen too; not ideal, being semi-transparent, but it’ll do. There is also a foam bumper at the front edge, which isn’t visible in this picture:

I also added floral curtains that Jenn provided to the box entrances, mounted on curtain rods and tied open. In addition to looking nice, it’ll give the chickens a bit more privacy and dark, two things they like when laying:

Here are some closer looks inside a box:

Kittens update

A quick update on the surprise kittens: they are still living somewhere nearby, though have moved out from under the deck. Apparently mama-cat thought we were hanging around too much. But they still visit a few times every day, to eat the food we continue to put out for them, and often hang out around that area.

This blog isn’t about our pets, but in related news, for those who don’t follow me on Facebook — we recently adopted an indoor kitten, too. We actually adopted him the weekend before the kittens turned up, but weren’t able to bring him home until a few days later. Which is why we happened to have kitten food on hand, conveniently.

Meet Paladin, a 4-month-old boy:

Smart home switches

A project this past weekend was to install some smart home switches in the house, to enable us to control lights via our iOS devices thanks to Apple HomeKit, and (potentially) Amazon Alexa. We already have some Hue bulbs in some lamps, which we have come on and change color automatically at appropriate times. But we wanted to extend that to some built-in lights, too.

We got a plug-in switch for our “light toys” — some decorative lava lamps and such in the living room. Plus some iDevices wall switches:

So time to pull off the old switches, and install the new. 

Here’s the old kitchen switch:

And the new one wired up:

And finished (it includes a color-changeable nightlight, too):

Next I tried to install a new switch for the light above the sink… but it didn’t work, as there is no neutral wire. So we might have to leave this one on the old switch, unless we get an electrician in to help with the installation:

The bedroom light had a similar frustration; this switch controls an outlet, instead of a built-in light, which I gather often is hooked up this way. So again, we’ll have to leave it or get professional help. This light is already on a Hue bulb, though, so isn’t too big a deal:

I had better luck with the entry outside light; it had all of the needed wires:

Here’s it done; leaving the other switch (for the inside light) intact will make it even more obvious which one does what:

Finally, here’s a screenshot of the Home app on my iPhone, showing the various lights and switches. They can be turned off or on with a tap, or long-press to change the brightness or color of the bulbs. They can also be controled via voice, e.g. “turn off the office light” to Siri or Alexa. Living in the future!

Bee inspection & varroa test

I joined Jenn for another bee inspection the other day. The main mission of this inspection was to do a “sugar shake” or sugar roll test to check for varroa mites; a common pest on all beehives. It’s a kinda amusing test — scooping about 300 bees into a jar, roll them in powered sugar, shake them vigorously, pour them out. Basically treating bees like liquid. Yeah, they get a little cranky at being scooped & shaken, but it doesn’t hurt them. 

We had a few mites, unsurprisingly, but not too many. We’ll do the treatment once the weather cools off; can’t do it in this heat.

We also removed the honey supers, since they need to build up supplies for their winter survival. We won’t harvest any honey this year, as expected, but if they survive the winter, they should be able to provide lots of honey next year.

A couple of nice combs of honey, for the bees to eat over winter:

Sugar-coated bees, returned to the hive after the test (don’t worry, the others will clean them off):

Worker bee cells:

More honey (from the other box), on a foundationless frame:

So pretty holding it up to the light:

Surprise kittens

On Wednesday morning, Jenn thought she saw a rat on our front steps. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a kitten — in fact four kittens!

Apparently a mother cat decided that under our steps was a nice place for them. She wasn’t wrong; there is a perfectly cat-sized space under the lower steps, with a larger sheltered space further back. The kittens look about four weeks old to us, so were likely born somewhere else, and moved in there recently. 

We’ve been feeding the four kittens and their mother, and keeping an eye on them with a camera. We’ll try to socialize them, and get them fixed, to try to avoid the feral cycle. The best thing for them would to get them adopted by loving families, but if that doesn’t work out, we’d be okay with them remaining on our property as groundskeepers, to take care of mice etc around the homestead. We’ll see how that goes!

Here are three of them:

The mother initially brought them a mouse, but has been able to relax a bit more once she found our food:

Peeking, playing, eating; where the one is peeking out of is the cozy protected area where they are sleeping:

Our cat Pippin noticed the strange cat on the screen:

They may choose to move on, but if they stick around, we welcome them. It’s unexpected, and potentially costly and a hassle, but all part of homestead life.

Chicken names

All of our new chickens are different breeds or colors, so we can tell them apart (mostly; see below). Thus, we can, and have, given each of them names.

Here are pictures of each, with their name and breed. Click the link on the breed to learn more about each. Most will lay brown eggs, but I’ve noted exceptions. They aren’t fully grown, and haven’t started laying yet, but they’re not too far off.

I’ve mentioned Merida before; named so because she is the bravest chicken. She is a White Plymouth Rock:

Another super-friendly one that I’ve named previously is Domino. She is a Dominique (yes, several of the names are highly imaginative):

This is Babe, a Buff Brahma — she’ll be a big girl:

This is Kiwi, a Speckled Sussex, named because she looked kinda like a kiwi bird when she was a chick, though less so now that her tail feathers are developing:

This is Tilly, a Double Laced Barnevelder:

Go on patrol with Buffy, a Buff Orpington:

Mo was named for her upright head feathers; she’s a Cream Legbar, and will have light blue eggs:

Lola is a Blue Cochin, with impressively fluffy feet, and will be very large. She has the nickname “Butthurt”, as she had a prolapsed vent as a baby chick:

Goldie is a Golden Laced Wyandotte, who also had a health issue as a chick, this time a “wry neck”, but fully recovered after treatment:

Say hi to Silver, a Silver Laced Wyandotte:

Meet Blondie. She is one of our three Ameraucanas, and will lay light blue eggs in due course:

Flo is another Ameraucana, also with blue eggs:

Martha is a Blue Ameraucana:

This is Camilla, an Easter Egger, who may lay blue or green eggs:

These two are trickier; one is Willow, and the other is Dot. One is an Australorp, and the other is a Black Jersey Giant. But it’s really hard to tell them apart at present; they used to be more different, and will be later, but right now they look pretty much identical to us:

Finally, here are the old girls. They are Rhode Island Reds (which occasionally lay brown eggs, but have slowed way down), and Brown Leghorns (which lay white eggs). But they don’t have names, since we can’t tell them apart: