In the Beginning …
Brooding the Sammies in the spare bedroom was not ideal. Apart from the mess, they were quite fond of having rowdy “cock-on-a-rock” (see Priscilla: Queen of the Desert) sessions on top of the water font at 3 am. Oh, and 4 am. And 5 am. And sometimes 1 am. And the scritching was wearing away the cardboard boxes at a ridiculous rate. They needed to be outside chickens, and fast. Plus we wanted to put both flocks of bubs together, and Bessie’s Peeps had almost outgrown the Broody coop. Time to build a dedicated Young Chicken House. A beautiful edifice, fit to grace our garden in its most productive season. A veritable palace. The Summer Palace!
And so …
We decided that we needed to make the new chook house big enough to house all the Sammies, for however long it took them to grow to adult size. So this meant enough perch, scritch and shelter room for eleven birds. Phew!
We also wanted to be able to use the Palace for tractoring the vegetable beds later on in the year – the thought of wrestling the tractor back from the orchard was one that neither of us could face. And it seemed sensible to keep the new setup as flexible as possible. So the basic structure would be based on the 1.5 metre width of the existing veggie bed.
We were a bit worried about heat being an issue come summer time. Ella and Venus had shown themselves to be a bit vulnerable to heat stress, so we knew we would need to keep heat in mind, especially as the boys (whoever they turned out to be … we didn’t know at the time) got up to slaughter weight (2.5 kg or so). Looking at the garden, the obvious location was against the garage, with the house against the garage wall and the run extending south towards the path. This way the shadows from the garage would keep things reasonably cool in the afternoons.
We went with a house that was 1 metre deep and 1.5m wide, with three stairway-to-heaven perches running across the house, set at 20 cm, 40 cm and 60 cm from the floor. We used thin (5 mm) ply for the walls of the house, and went with a very nice dark green corrugated iron roof. The back door was one single big hinged piece, which we planned to modify to take a nestbox in due course. The house was also a bit taller than the run – 90 cm on the lowest side, and 1.2m at the highest. The sloping walls meant that we ended up with the side panels being longer than the size of the ply we had. We solved this by adding triangular pieces of mesh to the top of the ply, to make ventilation panels. Nifty!
The run area was made separately, so that it could be added to if and when needed. 2 metres long, 1.5 metres wide. We used lighter weight timber this time, and still ran our mesh up and over the top, even though the roof was covered with clearlite again. We screwed eyebolts into the bottom corners, so that we could use tent pegs to fix the run in place when we had it where we wanted it.
Initially we only had a single small access door into the west side of the run. It only took a week for us to decide that a door in both sides was a must, so the addition was made. (All our chickens are completely comfortable with the sound of powertools!)
And then …
Before we’d had a chance to finish the Summer Palace, Bessie decided that her Peeps were old enough to be left on their own. This was at five weeks old. The Peeps were all fully feathered, but the Sammies were still being weaned off their heatlamp, and only the three Welsumers were properly feathered. We tried to introduce them to the Peeps, but it was too much – the Peeps might not have their mum around, but they weren’t going to let someone else come in and take over! So we decided to leave that stress until the new quarters were complete and there was more space available for everybody.
Finally it was ready, bedded in against the garage. By this stage the three Rhode Island Reds had finally feathered up enough to be safe.
We put the Sammies into the Summer Palace first. Poor bubs hadn’t seen grass before. Or space. And they looked absolutely tiny! But they got the hang of things quite quickly, and we soon scritching and nibbling grass and chasing each other around the place. And they even worked out that it was better to go inside the big dark space for sleeping, rather than staying outside on the green stuff. (At least they would have felt comfortable with the shavings that we strewed across the floor.)
Introducing the Peeps a week later was pretty stressful. It quickly became obvious that Buster (RIR red) was going to be top of the pecking order. He immediately worked out that Alice (Dorking blue) was the biggest of them, and bullied her until she submitted. Less obvious was where the others would slot in … there were quite a few fights: chicks hurling themselves karate-kick-style at each other, pecking and chasing. We had to take Basil and Poppy (Welsumer green and RIR yellow) out altogether – they were both really hunting the two smallest Dorkings. So they got to spend some time in the newly-vacated broody while the rest of the flock sorted themselves out. (About three days, give or take.) Buster was top, then came Alice, then Cholet and Lily, (Dorkings purple and pink respectively), then the other two boys (Welsumers Blue and Green), followed by the two RIRs, and the last two Dorkings at the bottom.
That was pretty much how the pecking order remained. There was very little real fighting, although the two Welsumer cockerels began to be too boisterous when they approached sexual maturity, and spent the last week of their lives back in the broody. But they mainly all got on really well, and would tend to collapse in feather-piles to sun together, or go three deep into the boudoir for a social dustbath.
We had a very hot summer, so managing heat was a problem. We used chicken wire and tomato stakes to build little moveable runs across the lawn on either side of the Palace – it meant they had plenty of room, and gave the lawn a chance to recover on one side while they trashed the other. It also meant that the could take advantage of the shade cast by the bulk of the house itself.
All in all, it was a very useful building. When it came time to bring the two flocks together, we installed it to tractor a newly-emptied veggie bed, and built a small extension to slot in between house and existing run to extend the run even further. The bubs had that plus access to the lawn (another temporary fence) for a week before we added Bessie, Ella and Venus. (By that stage we only had Lily and Frida of the Peeps, and Poppy and Claire of the Sammies.)
Eventually we decided that we wanted to rationalise our veggie beds a bit further, so we gritted our teeth and made yet another modification. The Summer Palace was reborn as … the Winter Garden!