Vicki’s Flock and the “Taj Ma Coop”

I am so excited to introduce you all to our January Chicken Keeper! Her name is Vicki and she has quite the farm! Some of us baked bread during COVID, Vicky and her family went all in on building an amazing homestead. Here is her story in her own words:

Well, our experience with chickens is probably like many people; during COVID, my husband and I, along with our youngest daughter, came to stay at our ranch in the Eastern Sierra in California to wait out COVID. Well, as we all know, that was a very long wait for the whole world. We arrived here with 13 of our children and grandchildren, which led to their seven-week stay.

Short and long story, we’re still here and thriving.

Like many folks, we decided it would be such fun to get some baby chicks, so off we went to the local feed store to purchase six baby chicks, one for each grandkid. These chicks are the first of our animal family to arrive here at First Light Ranch. They have since been joined by our seven Nigerian goats, two steers, four horses, one miniature donkey, assorted barn cats, and two great pyrenes dogs.

In preparation, we watched lots of YouTube videos on how to care for baby chickens. We bought a heat lamp, put them in a dog crate in the house with plenty of water and food, loved, held, and nurtured them almost constantly, and marveled at how they grew right before our very eyes.

They were and continue to be cherished members of our animal family. Once they outgrew the dog crate, a larger, secure home was a must. Since we didn’t have a chicken coop at that time, we put them in one of our box stalls designed for horses, which worked then as we didn’t have any stock at that time.

They were delighted in their new home. However, it proved to be problematic as the stalls had openings up high, allowing ravens to come and steal the eggs, occasionally injuring a few chickens in the process.

I knew we needed a Chicken coop desperately. I spent hours looking online, but nothing really spoke to me. My husband and I talked, deciding we would enlist the help of the two wonderful men, both extraordinary carpenters, who work for us two days a week and who had built our adorable, very functional goat house and steer manger the year before, which is pictured next to the coop. I’d seen a photo of a similar smaller building I liked; we designed ours with some modifications; we used 289 boards, cut into five sizes, and painted 13 colors. We added a Dutch door made from reclaimed wood and a darling, colorful cupola that lights up at night.

The goat house was our first collaborative project for the animals, so when it came time to build the chicken coop, I knew who my team would be. I researched chicken coops on Pinterest and websites galore and spent hours learning about and deciding what I wanted our chicken coop to resemble and how best to function to fit the needs of our flock. I wanted it to be safe, comfortable, cozy, practical, and enriching, with lots of space for them to be stimulated indoors when the weather keeps them from free-ranging. Most importantly, it is easy to clean.

When I explained what I wanted our coop to resemble and how it would need to function, I asked them, “Can you build this?” our carpenters replied with gusto, “We can build anything!” They got busy building while I was busy researching and learning everything I could about caring for and raising healthy, happy chickens.

The safety of all our animals is our priority, so they poured a deep concrete foundation and lined the bottom with very strong gauge metal screening, ensuring animals cannot dig their way under to access the coop or play yard.

I like things tidy, and I wanted as much accessibility as possible to the coop and yard to allow us to maintain a very clean and safe home for them. In addition, we have cross-ventilation windows on three sides that open, each with heavy gauge steel screens. The wind blows here sometimes and can be hot and dusty, so in our design, we included a locked storage space for supplies with double access, allowing us to enter and exit from both sides.

The entire coop is lit inside and out. To access the eggs, the top opens and inside there are six individual nesting boxes, three on each side. The bottom unlatches, allowing access to clean. From the front of the coop, all the doors open out, and again, the bottom drops down, allowing access to thoroughly clean the floor as well as their perches.

From the photos, you can see they built the cutest little door that allows the flock to access the coop freely once we open it in the morning. Each evening, they walk themselves home, and we close it for the night, allowing them to sleep safely.

My favorite color is purple, so we often include something purple on projects. In this picture, you can see the six new babies and our steers, Sir Dunkin’ Donuts with the horns on the left and Norman, his brother, on the right.

I had seen a tree in a coop on Pinterest, and they built me one that was simply perfect. The flock loves to sleep in the tree, mainly in the winter months, which surprises me.

Their play yard has musical instruments that hang and a little ladder for swinging, which I’m not sure they like as much as I do. However, it’s cute, and from inside, they can see their steer friends.

Indeed, they can build anything; this chicken coop exceeded my expectations in every way and epitomizes what I know for sure…Love is in the details.

My husband calls it “The Taj Ma Coop” because, he says, “it costs more to build than we paid for our first home.”

Now, we were ready to grow our flock. About 18 months ago, our neighbor gifted us six fertilized eggs from her flock, and from those six eggs, three hens and one fabulous rooster, who named himself “Bruster,” were born, bringing our flock family to 11 hens and one very good-looking rooster.

Then, nine months ago, one of the hens began roosting on four eggs in the chicken coop; from those four eggs, two of our first “homegrown chickens” arrived, enlarging our family once again. It turns out both are roosters. Barney and Clyde are growing into handsome roosters just like their daddy and are learning to crow, which is so adorable. It’s like when a young teenage boy’s voice is changing. It’s crackly and uneven at first, but then, with “constant” crowing practice, it grows stronger each day. Suddenly, our flock grew to 11 hens and three roosters.

Then, in late fall, we discovered one of our hens roosting on eight eggs in bushes near my husband’s workshop. We were very excited; however, we didn’t want to risk moving her and the eggs for fear she’d abandon them, so we built a wooden box around her and covered it, keeping her warm and safe until they hatched. Once they hatched, we carefully moved them all into the chicken coop, placing them in a dog crate inside the coop where mom had access to them and a roosting box when she needed a minute away from them. Of those eight eggs, six hatched, giving us five beautiful little hens and another rooster, oh my! Our family has once again grown, bringing our total to 16 hens and four roosters. Everyone is thriving, friendly, and adorable.

Our flock consists of a variety of White Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Brahma, Dark Brahma, which I think Bruster and his boys are, and Speckled Sussex or Dominque. If anyone has more information or ideas about what types I might have from my photos, I would love to hear from you.

Our flock free ranges, spending their days sometimes with the horses, often with the goats, occasionally with the cows, and always watched over and protected by our two Great Pyrenees Beacon and Maisie.

 

Each morning, I awake to multiple chickens and roosters at our front door, crowing and pecking, urging me to come out and fill the dog’s bowls with kibble because, next to Grubbies, this is one of their favorite things to eat. The dogs always allow the chickens to eat first, and then our pair of ravens eat after the chickens. All our animals here at First Light Ranch know and understand my one simple rule: everyone is welcome to live and thrive here, provided they exist in harmony with everyone else for the mutual benefit of all beings.

Each day, our healthy, happy hens produce and gift us many beautifully colored eggs for our enjoyment. With 11 producing hens, we receive an abundance of eggs, which we love to share with friends and family.

As I’ve mentioned, love is in the details, so I went looking for and found these adorable cartons and labels on Etsy; I just love them, and when we gift them filled with our colorful eggs, why it’s a party in an egg carton! The many colors and sizes we use delight everyone. In addition, I found little stickers that I include in each crate explaining how to care for fresh eggs and the collection date. A bonus I didn’t see coming that so delights me very often is that the cartons are returned to us because the word is out, and refills are “on the coop.”

We’re honored to participate in this mutual exchange with our flock, each gifting the other with “our” demonstration of love. It’s truly magical.

I had no idea when we began this journey with our chickens just how much fun they are, each having their own personality. Many days, they follow me around wanting some extra treats, guiding me preciously to which treats are their favorite. They most definitely communicate with me as I do with them, just as I do with all our other animals.

These chickens came into our lives during a dark time. However, the abundance of light they brought and continue to bring to us is priceless. We are all blessed by these silly, sassy, funny, and entertaining birds who bring laughter to us every day, most especially me. I’m grateful to my toes.

6 Comments

  1. What a lovely beginning and an awesome outcome with the animals! I love all domestic animals as well and I wish you and your family much happiness and success in the days to come…

  2. I understand what your saying my flock ahs growing oh my now 23 chickens including 5 rosters, and 10 ducks to go with it. But I love it every day Guess you could say IM a PROUD chick mom

    • Thank you for your comments, since this is my first endeavor with chickens and roosters, I’m curious do all of yours get along?

  3. Such a wonderful read! The pictures really captured the ‘love’ poured into every aspect of the building process. The hens and roosters look well fed and content! I love how the dogs accept them as part of the family.The grounds are gorgeous too!

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