Experiences From My First 2 Months Of Chicken Keeping

So I built my chicken coop/house and bought a feeder and waterer. I built a big 10m x 4m fenced area which had trees, shrubs, shelter, and the house in it. Finally I couldn’t find any more excuses for delaying it so we ventured out to buy our hens!!

Day 1 – buying the hens

We went to a poultry sale in a local village. It was a strange experience – we looked totally out of place, not being dressed as farmers. It was quickly apparent that we had no idea what we were doing despite having read everything there is to read about chickens for the previous 6 months. It was ‘point of lay’ hens we were after – around the 18-week old mark – which most of the hens for sale were. The sellers were very helpful and everyone had plenty of time to chat. No-one gave us the hard sell.

Every seller told us the hens had had their vaccinations (not that’d we know the difference anyway). In the end, we bought 4 hens from one guy and two from another. We bought them based on their colours which is obviously very scientific. We ended up with 2 hybrids, a White Sussex, a Barred Rock, a White Leghorn, and a Daisybelle which has beautiful iridescent black and green feathers. The White Leghorn lays white eggs and the rest lay various shades of brown.

Getting the hens home

We came prepared with a cardboard box in the boot of the car which the hens were very happy to sit in. At least, there were no complaints since they were probably scared out of their minds. One of the sellers started piling the hens into a plastic bag (!) before we told him we had a box.

We brought the hens into their fenced enclosure and opened the box…they weren’t keen to come out at first but slowly emerged and began to eat the grass and weeds and everything. Note that after a couple of weeks, your chicken area is going to be bare and brown!!

Finding bedding and food

We didn’t have bedding or food on the day we bought them, figuring we’d buy some of that at the poultry sale. There wasn’t any for sale, so we had to go elsewhere for that. It turns out that there are animal feed mills everywhere, at least within a few miles of any large town.

We were able to buy layers pellets which include everything a chicken needs nutritionally. We were also able to buy chopped straw, which is just little bits of straw about a centimeter or two in length. A big bale of it was £5 and a 25kg sack of feed was £8. Both last about a month. I also tried wood shavings and they work just as well – my preference at the minute is the straw since it composts more readily.

First Day

It didn’t take long for a hen to figure out how to escape. They can’t fly higher than a few feet, and the fence at nearly 2m high should have been high enough, however what I didn’t realise is that they jump on to things (like their house) then on to other things (like a branch) then over the fence. I have had to cut a number of low branches off a tree.

Chickens settling in!

First Night

The first night went smoothly as we manually put all the chickens in the house and locked it. This is the recommended practice as it takes them a little while to get used to it. I opened it again the next morning and they waddled out happily!

Second Night

The second night wasn’t as smooth. Two hens disappeared up a tree! I mean, right up the tree. I managed to get up on a step ladder and tap their bums with a broom and they flew out. I put them in the house. So, lesson learned: they’ll always go to the highest point possible! Another night, a hen managed to escape. I didn’t notice until she wandered up the garden path to say hello the next morning. I’ve no idea where she slept.

Egg Laying

We bought all the hens at 18 weeks of age, and they were a little too young to lay. We checked the egg box every day and happily, the first egg arrived after about two weeks. It was perfectly formed. Each hen started laying one by one over the course of a few weeks until we we got six on one day and knew for sure they were all laying :-)

We occasionally get a rubbery egg, or ‘softie’. They’re sometimes a sign that the hen is stressed (the egg ‘pops out’ too early, before the shell is completely formed) or possibly the hen isn’t getting enough calcium. In our case, I think the hens are just young and haven’t quite got the hang of things! We don’t eat them, although I understand they’re perfectly edible. If they’re broken, I clean it up pretty quickly.

Bullying

Our Barred Rock hen seemed to be getting bullied in the first few weeks. It was running away from the other hens and “sulking” by sitting in the house. I thought it was sick at first but then realised it was the only hen who hadn’t yet developed a comb so it was the youngest and at the bottom of the pecking order! So, since she was eating and drinking, there was nothing to worry about. Apparently separating her from the rest of the hens is the worst thing you could do in this situation.

Free Ranging outside of their enclosure

Although the enclosure we have is quite large (about 40sq m) I like to open it up and give the hens free reign of the garden occasionally. They enjoy pecking about in the compost heap, climbing on stuff, eating in our veg beds (which we try to keep them away from), pooing on paths, eating slugs and other insects (which is great), getting in your way, and digging dust baths!

Hens and Kids

We have a two year old, and he loves running about after them. They aren’t scared of him, but when he chases them, I think they get a bit nervous. I think this can contribute to some ‘softies’ – the occasional rubbery egg. So he only plays with them under supervision. He loves it when they eat food out of his hand – I guess it’s quite exhilarating for him since they’re pretty large animals relative to him!

Routine

The hens put themselves to bed every night when the light starts to fade. I just go out and close their door. I have a homemade automatic door opener that lets them out at sunrise when they wake up (which is totally necessary since there’s no water in their coop, and sunrise is about 4:30).

I top up their food and give them fresh water every 2 or 3 days. I actually change their water whenever it starts to look dirty – they tend to get it a bit mucky somehow.

I clean their coop out once a week. Sometimes I do a “full clean” – shovelling out all the bedding, and scrubbing any poop that’s stuck anywhere. Sometimes I skip the full clean and just shovel out the chicken poo and put it on the compost heap. It depends what sort of state it’s in.

Diet – Scraps From the Kitchen

We give the hens quite a few scraps from the kitchen, bits of peelings and chopped veg and bread. Apparently giving them too many scraps isn’t good for them since they get a balanced diet from their pellets. So, we try to limit it to a treat. We also have crushed eggshell in a plastic box available to them which they can eat if they want more calcium. Apparently they know and they’ll just take what they need. I rarely see a hen go near it.

Parasites

I have applied a powder to their coop once, which is apparently supposed to kill any ticks/mites that live in there. I don’t know much about this but I think at some stage I’m going to need to apply it to the hens themselves.

Building a cheap homemade chicken house, in pictures

Here’s my coop building process in pictures. Enjoy!

  

I firstly cut four pieces of heavyweight stuff for the roof. It’s at a 30-degree incline. I used some brackets I had lying about and bent them to 30-degrees. I don’t think I really needed them. I also cut four legs; I think they’re about 1.2m tall.

  

I fixed the legs to the roof frame. Then I made a frame for the nesting box. It’s about 45cm high at the tallest, sloping down. I don’t think mine is enough of a slope, it should be steeper.

Then I started screwing together a frame of thinner wood that holds the legs together. At this point it starts looking like a house! The purpose of the frame is to support the windows and door and just hold everything together. Also there are beams across the bottom to support the floor.

The windows frames are 25.5cm square, because I bought some 25cm perspex from ebay. It was pretty cheap, about £5 I think.

  

I continued screwing everything together. The diagonal X shaped bits at the bottom are simply to hold the whole thing square during assembly. I took them off when I was nearly done.

You can see in the second and third picture above that I have two roosting beams. One is higher than the other; apparently that’s good to allow the hens to nest in their pecking order.

  

I made the floor so that it can slide in and out to aid cleaning. I never slide it out though, I just brush it out. It’s too heavy. I’ve made a door that flaps open if the weather’s hot. I haven’t used it yet, though since the house is out of the sun and it isn’t warm at night here anyway.

You can see the end of the house is one big door. That’s good for cleaning it out, easy access.

  

So this is the nesting box getting attached. It’s not enough of an incline; water doesn’t run off it quick enough and it gets saturated. It works well enough for now, though.

I made window frames and a door frame that are screwed on top of the door and window openings. This is so that they stick out. The purpose of the window frame is to hold the windows in (duh) and with the door frame, it protects claws of predators getting into the edges of the door when it’s closed.

 

After the frame was complete, I cut cladding to fit in around the door and windows. That was the most boring job. Then I nailed wood across the roof and attached slates to it. I was originally planning to do a thatched roof, but I had slates available.

Most of the wood I got from an old shed that I dismantled. The slates were found around the garden, they had been carefully placed by the previous owner to block holes in the hedge. So now we’ve got a problem with cats coming in all the time!

The paint was normal indoor emulsion, but I painted a layer of PVC glue over it to waterproof it.

What I’d do differently next time:

  • I’d make it bigger, with an area I can put food and water in. Basically I’d make it big enough for the chickens to live for a day or two without human intervention (closing them in at night). At the moment, I have to be there every night to lock them in because there isn’t room enough for their food/water which sit outside.
  • I’d make a door that slides up/down. This would make it easier to add an automatic door opener and closer. At the minute I have a homemade automatic door opener fitted but I have no idea how I could get it to close automatically.
  • It’s tall so it’s airy, with plenty of room for our 6 hens. However, one of the roosting bars is a little close to the big end door so there’s always poop on it and that doesn’t help with cleaning. In mark 2 I’d like to have a single, long roosting bar with a poop tray under it to make cleaning easier.

Automatic chicken coop door opener

Don’t want to get up at sunrise to let your chickens out, and don’t want to pay £80 for one of those battery-powered coop door opening timer contraptions? Well, here’s how to make one for about £10 depending on what you have lying about the house.

Shopping list:

  • 1x Door lock actuator motor (~£3), from Amazon or any car parts place.
    Actually, buy two because if you’re anything like me you’ll accidentally burn one out.
  • A 12v power supply. I used an old phone charger. Check your drawer of electrical tat or buy one like this for £5.
  • A timer plug, I have a digital one with a 1 minute minimum interval. I got one for £2.
  • A pair of crocodile clips - £1.50
  • A plastic tupperware box/empty chinese food box/any container that you can make waterproof by sealing shut
  • Duck tape
  • Enough cable to stretch from your power supply (which must absolutely remain indoors!!) to the coop door. I used 0.75mm cable, it cost about 45p per metre. You might get away with cheaper stuff, I’m not sure.
So you could wire this up in a very basic fashion – with the timer plug coming on at dawn, powering the actuator, which will open the door. However, without actually breaking the circuit as the door opens, the actuator will burn out (as it’s going to be powered for the minimum interval on your timer). Hence, the crocodile clips attach to the catch on the door and the little metal ‘pole’ (which is metal), and the circuit breaks when the door opens.
When you switch the positive and negative terminals, you can choose whether the actuator goes ‘in’ or ‘out’ when it’s powered. You want it to go ‘in’.
See diagram:

Chicken coop opener….drawn in Paint!

The metal catch and pole both come included with the actuator pack.

Now, here’s the real thing! You can see I’ve encased the actuator and most of the wiring inside a little plastic box, with a hole cut for the metal pole to stick out of it. I know this looks a bit of a mess, I’ve kind of gone a bit mad with the duck tape:

I’m sure your cables will be tidier.

Here’s an up-close of the catch mechanism:

The long flat brass thing and the metal ‘pole’ are included with the actuator. At the top you can see that the pole sticks into a little metal staple nail. Click here to see exactly what this is if you can’t see it. Of course, if you have any other ‘hook’ type of thing you could use then go for it. I just used what I had.

The final piece of the puzzle for me was making sure the door actually flung open when it was unlocked. To make sure it did that, I put a screw behind the door – between it and the door frame – so that you have to apply a little bit of pressure to actually get the door to close. It works like a charm.

There are a few downsides to this arrangement:

  • The timer plug can only be set to a fixed time of day. So you’ve to change it every now and again to keep up with the sunrise. Maybe a light sensor plug would do the job.
  • It only opens! There isn’t really any scope to add a ‘closing’ mechanism. It has to be manually closed each night.

ASP.Net WebApi Error: “The controller for path … was not found or does not implement IController.”

I have an ASP.NET MVC 4 project and I’ve added a Web API controller to it. Nothing fancy, no custom configuration, nothing. It doesn’t work out of the box. I get a 404 HTTP error and this error stack in my IIS logs:

[HttpException]: The controller for path '/api/controllername/5' was not found or does not implement IController.
   at System.Web.Mvc.DefaultControllerFactory.GetControllerInstance(RequestContext requestContext, Type controllerType)
   at System.Web.Mvc.DefaultControllerFactory.CreateController(RequestContext requestContext, String controllerName)
   at System.Web.Mvc.MvcHandler.ProcessRequestInit(HttpContextBase httpContext, IController& controller, IControllerFactory& factory)
   at System.Web.Mvc.MvcHandler.BeginProcessRequest(HttpContextBase httpContext, AsyncCallback callback, Object state)
   at System.Web.Mvc.MvcHandler.BeginProcessRequest(HttpContext httpContext, AsyncCallback callback, Object state)
   at System.Web.Mvc.MvcHandler.System.Web.IHttpAsyncHandler.BeginProcessRequest(HttpContext context, AsyncCallback cb, Object extraData)
   at System.Web.HttpApplication.CallHandlerExecutionStep.System.Web.HttpApplication.IExecutionStep.Execute()
   at System.Web.HttpApplication.ExecuteStep(IExecutionStep step, Boolean& completedSynchronously)

Turns out to be a pretty non-obvious fix. The error mentions that it’s checking that the controller implements IController. Normal MVC controllers implement IController, but WebAPI controllers do not. So it’s trying to match our URL with a standard MVC controller.

Take a look in the RouteConfig file and you’ll see something like this:

routes.MapRoute(
	name: "Default",
	url: "{controller}/{action}/{id}",
	defaults: new { controller = "Home", action = "Index", id = UrlParameter.Optional }
);

Does that match your URL? Yeah, it probably does. Your URL (if you’re following the normal WebApi pattern) starts with ‘/api/’, so the router is trying to find a standard controller called ‘api’

Open up the file Global.asax.cs. It’ll look something like this:

protected void Application_Start()
{
	AreaRegistration.RegisterAllAreas();
	FilterConfig.RegisterGlobalFilters(GlobalFilters.Filters);
	RouteConfig.RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes);
	BundleConfig.RegisterBundles(BundleTable.Bundles);
	GlobalConfiguration.Configure(WebApiConfig.Register);
}

You will now notice that the RouteConfig (for normal controllers) is registered in the pipeline before the WebApiConfig routes. This means that the standard controllers take precedent. And because your Web Api URL matches the pattern defined in RouteConfig, the framework is attempting to use it.

The fix is just to move the WebApiConfig registration further up the pipeline, before RouteConfig:

protected void Application_Start()
{
	AreaRegistration.RegisterAllAreas();
	FilterConfig.RegisterGlobalFilters(GlobalFilters.Filters);
	GlobalConfiguration.Configure(WebApiConfig.Register);
	RouteConfig.RegisterRoutes(RouteTable.Routes);
	BundleConfig.RegisterBundles(BundleTable.Bundles);
}