Monday, January 21, 2013

Chickens at Last!

Regular readers of my blog know that I've been very busy with a group called "4 Chesapeake Hens." Together we got the laws changed in Chesapeake to allow up to six backyard laying hens in residential areas with certain restrictions. Here's a news account of our success. The change was proposed by Councilman Robert Ike and enacted on November 20, 2012.

My poor husband, Don, has been working his tail off ever since. He promised that if I got the law changed, he'd help put together a set-up to keep them. So he's been fencing off about 1/3 of our backyard to try to keep our predatory hound-dogs from killing the poor chickens. He put in a fence and then buried concrete beneath it. Then he started on the chicken coop, which he designed himself. He called it a prototype, figuring he'd make mistakes and want to make changes.

Front View of the new coop with the hanging feeder and waterer

We haven't been 100% happy with the new coop, but Don is already figuring out what to change and how to improve our next one. He's going to split the roof in such a way that we don't have to disturb the chickens at their roost if all we want to do is get in the pen for something. He plans to put in a door on one end and to paint the roof to help keep water out.

Side View of the Coop

Last night I went to a local farm and finally picked my girls up. They're pullets, hatched last spring by a farmer-friend who decided to downsize her flock this year. There are two Buff Orpingtons and a Delaware. Both breeds are "dual-purpose" heritage breeds known for calm temperaments and good laying. I am in love with the Delaware, who seems friendliest and boldest of the three. She'll already peck tidbits out from between my fingertips. The Orpingtons are terrified of me so far. I hope that changes!They don't have names yet, but they will once I've gotten to know their personalities a little better.

Two Buff Orpingtons on the left looking scared; the Delaware on the right looks cautious but curious!

They didn't eat well today and were afraid to come out of their coop, perhaps afraid of our dogs that were running around on their own portion of our backyard. Don and I turned the coop tonight so they can leave the coop without the dogs seeing them, so hopefully that will make them more comfortable. Friends tell me that it will take them a week or so to settle in. Tonight's supposed to turn cold, so I hope they're comfortable enough out there!

Another view of our new flock!
Nest Box from the outside. It has a separate lid that is lifted to easily check for eggs

View of the nest box from inside the coop. The golf ball is to help give the girls the idea of where to lay; hopefully soon!
Update for 1/24/2013: The girls are eating better and starting to act more at home. Hurray!

We are also getting used to incorporating them into our daily schedules. They are not a lot of work, but someone has to be up to feed and water them every morning, and one of us has to be sure to be around to close the coop up at dusk, since we do not have an automatic pop-hole opener. At least, not yet!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Certified Backyard Chicken Keeper?

A few exciting things are happening regarding chickens, specifically laying hens, in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. If you read this blog regularly, you know that our group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, got laying hens legalized in residential backyards in Chesapeake, Virginia, with certain restrictions. If you need details, the ordinance passed was TA-Z-12-07 with changes to allow up to six hens and removal of the privacy fencing requirement. The text of the new ordinance is available online here. There's also a 1-year sunset clause on the ordinance.

Spring is on its way, and fans of our Facebook page are excited. They are ordering eggs to hatch and chicks to raise. Or they are finding sources for pullets and building their coops or chicken tractors. My husband, Don, has been busy fencing in 1/3 of our backyard to protect our "girls" from our dogs. He has also been building a chicken tractor. I promise to post pictures soon. I have two Buff Orpingtons and a Delaware that have been waiting at a nearby farm. Hopefully, I'll be able to bring them home this Sunday!

The change in the law got some positive publicity on a local television station, WTKR. Chesapeake resident Anna Ogle has two children with autism. With the new law, the children can finally have their therapy chickens! Here's a link to the video.

Our group will be presenting about chickens at a family-friendly event at the Chesapeake Central Library on Saturday, February 16, 2012, at 2 PM. There will be songs, stories, and a craft for the kids, and information for the parents about keeping backyard laying hens. That same weekend there will be a Sustainable Living Fair at Old Dominion University in nearby Norfolk, VA, so our group will be working with Portsmouth Hen Keepers, 4 Virginia Beach Hens, and Hampton Roads Hens to run a display and spread the word about laying hens and sustainability.

On March 2-3, Pat Foreman, the author of City Chicks, will give a 2-day intensive workshop in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Successful completion of this workshop will lead to a "Certified Backyard Chicken Keeper" certification. For more information about the Master Chicken Keeper program, visit Chickens and You.

Guess who signed up? First I longed for urban chickens, then I became a chicken activist, now I'm the "Chesapeake Chicken Lady." Why not a Certified Backyard Chicken Keeper to top it all off?