A batch of 150, day-old Buff Orpingtons arrived Tuesday after a long day of travel. To get them settled, we picked each one out of the box, dipped its beak into water to ensure it knew how to drink (you have to teach them almost everything without their mothers) and placed them into a large feeding trough under heat lamps. We sprinkled food around the floor, gave them plenty of water, and tucked them in for their first night in Victor. The next morning we were pleased to see that all of them made it through the night and were looking healthy. However, some of them had runny poop from their first meal and risked becoming septic through a clogged anus. Since then, few butts have needed clearing and they have moved to larger feeders. After a week in our care, the chickens are looking spry and fit with clean little butts and stuffed little bellies. As of today, all but one is looking terrific.
These cute critters are going to grow up fast, so we’ll have to move them to a bigger coop early this spring. Currently, we are planning to retrofit a short school bus to be used as a movable chicken coop. Why a short bus? First of all, chickens are, well, chicken. Some of them get freaked out if you just walk briskly towards them, and in our backyard, chickens have reason to be scared. Most nights over the summer, the high-pitched squeal of coyotes pierces the night air, and quite often they are lurking right outside the chicken coop. This can be very stressful for laying hens and affects their egg yields, so housing them in something with hard sides comes as a great relief to both them and us.
Secondly, we need to move the chickens from paddock to paddock. This practice ensures that one area is not overgrazed and that the chickens have a fresh helping of insects while evenly spreading the nutrient-rich manure. In previous years we have moved the chickens from about every two weeks, and even then the field takes a few days to bounce back. Rather than hitching up an old camper trailer to a truck each moving day, we would just have to fire up the old Blue Bird and cruise down to the next paddock. This would save lots of valuable time and effort.
Lastly, a school bus is prime real estate for chickens. Buses have large windows in all directions to let light in which helps keep things clean. They also have a bomb-proof plastic floor that is easy to clean and will last a long time. Also, most buses come with luggage racks that make for excellent roosts. The only drawback is that they have to take the stairs.
We have high hopes for our chicken mobile, but there is still one major problem. We don’t have a school bus yet! It’s not too difficult to track down the burly, full-sized All-Americans for a fair price, but they are simply too large to be driving round the farm. So if you, or anyone you know, knows about a short bus or nursing home bus or something similar, let us know. These little guys won't be little for long and would love their own home.