The background to our decision to get some eggs for Bessie to brood can be found on both Bessie’s page and the Peeps and Sammies’ page.
Bessie was firmly set, so we needed to get on to making our broody coop as quickly as possible. We asked for advice on BYP Forum, and did a fair bit of reading around on the internet. (Two other sites that we found particularly interesting were here and here.)
One of our main concerns was the weather. It was late August when we started making the coop – very much still winter. We were still having fairly hard frosts, so we were worried about making sure the house didn’t get too cold. (Or too hot, when spring returned!) We also wanted to make sure it was easy to move around, so that Bessie and her bubs would have fresh, clean grass as often as possible, and we could shift it to make the best use of sun and shade.
The whole structure was built on the same essential shape as the tractor: a rectangular frame, 1800 mm long by 900 mm wide, heavier at the bottom, with a clearlite roof, slopping down across the width (walls 500mm at the low side, 600 mm at the high). A single door from the outside into the run, next to the pophole, and a hinged corrugated iron roof over the house part.
We decided to go for a compact little house, with double walls. Plywood again, but this time quite thin – around 6mm – on framing timber 25 mm x 50 mm. This 25 mm airspace ended up doing a really good job of maintaining an even temperature, and we had a similar roof space, lined with the last scraps of woolbatts, under corrugated iron. The overall house dimension was 900 mm x 450 mm, with a divider one third of the way from the back wall end, to mark the “nest” from the rest of the floor. We went with a very solid floor – heavy 12 mm ply, covered with hessian, a layer of sand, and untreated pine shavings. We decided to just have a door opening, rather than a closable door, between the house and run – partly for ventilation (the house really did seal well) and partly to keep things simple. There was a small gap in the doorway where the house floor didn’t go all the way across to the lintel – useful, as it happened. When the chicks first hatched, we used a piece of plywood as a raisable “sill”, to discourage the chicks from following mum outside until they were a bit older. (We underestimated how good they were at jumping, and how utterly fearless they were.) We also used a double thickness of fabric – white t-shirt, as it happens! – tacked into place as a curtain, to reduce drafts but allow some airflow. (This did a much better job of keeping the chicks inside for the first week.)
One thing that became obvious quite quickly in the brooding period was the need for a dustbath. Brooding hens are especially vulnerable to lice and mites, so dustbathing is the simplest and most enjoyable method of both prevention and control. We improvised for a while with a cardboard box in one corner of the run, filled with sifted dirt and sand, but Bessie’s vigorous scritching (in preparation for the most obscene trolloping sessions) soon wore though the bottom. So we whipped up The Boudoir: a little dustbathing palace for Bessie’s personal use. A simple box frame with plywood half sides, a lowish front, and a clearlite roof. Whenever it was time for Bessie’s constitutional, we would drag the Boudoir up to the broody coop, open the door, and stand back. She loved it. Of the twenty minutes or so that she’d spend off the nest each day, roughly ten to fifteen minutes would be spent in the dustbath. We learned very quickly to check first that there was no washing hanging nearby. And the Peeps learned its pleasures very quickly too …
After a couple of mishaps moving the broody coop (with chicks getting in, out, and generally all over the place), we decided to fit some nifty little wheels to the back, so that moving could be accomplished rather more safely. Later on, the broody coop became invaluable as an isolation run for sick (or stroppy) chooks, and the wheels meant we could easily have it as far away or as close to the other birds as was appropriate. We just took out the nestbox divider and added a perch.
Bessie left her bubs at five and a half weeks old – they were all well feathered, and didn’t seem to mind. They looked a bit puzzled for the first day or so, but were quite happy to put themselves to bed, and happy to come and climb all over us, the hay bales and the dustbath. But it was obvious that they had just about outgrown the broody coop – it had to be moved every 20 hours or so, to prevent the poo buildup being unpleasant. So we set to work on the next project, which would be the new home for both the Peeps and the Sammies … the Summer Palace!