On health, safety and welfare

To keep up accreditation in our field, we architects must attend seminars that address certain areas of our profession.  The majority of the credits we need are in the area of “Health, Safety, and Welfare,” a general category meant to keep our knowledge current so our buildings don’t collapse and kill people.  (Granted, these seminars are usually bone-dry boring affairs run by building products manufacturers to sell their products, so attending these seminars is not, for me, an irony-free affair.)  Anyway!  I think of this phrase often now that I sideline in animal husbandry.  If you’re going to take on the responsibility of having animals, anything you do must benefit their health, their safety, and their welfare.

dscn3623Coop construction, July 2006

I am so glad we built the Taj Mahal of chicken coops, really I am.  Never intended to house more than a dozen or so birds, our coop could easily accommodate another dozen, but I am glad it does not.  Why?  This cold weather is why.  Those girls are going nowhere.  Even if I do leave the door open and shovel them paths to tread in their yard, it’s just too cold for them outside.  They are (and will remain for the foreseeable future) cooped up.

Cooped up, and bored.  Sorry, girls.  I do try to bring them treats a couple of times a day, and I do need to freshen their water, which freezes.  (In their boredom they flipped and pecked the heated dogbowl I set in there; fearing barbecued chicken, I removed the bowl, and now schlep water often.)  During the day I turn a 40 watt light on for them too; it’s on for about 10 hours.  They’d started laying again (whew!) around Christmas before the light went on so I don’t think I am overstimulating them to produce, and the light is too faint to really warm the place up.

dscn3632Secretary of the Department of Chicken Homeland Security: yours truly, July 2006

Our pellet gun has gone a long way to defend the Chicken Homeland.  A good strong fence over and above the chicken run would help too with aerial threats but it’s not in the cards if I have my Daisy handy.  Last year I strung deer netting over the run and awoke one morning to find a hawk INSIDE the run.  What the…?  The girls were in the coop as is the usual overnight situation but I had the hawk to deal with.  Tom and daughter were out of town.  What to do?  As usual when defending the Chicken Homeland my adrenaline kicks into high gear and I ran outside in fuzzy slippers and bathrobe with the nearest weapon I could find:  a cast-iron skillet.  It was not the hawk’s best day.

The geese and turkeys have their own pen and shed, and I have to chase them all into the shed every night.  Sometimes the geese adamantly refuse to go into it and I let them stay out.  Considering they don’t really sleep at night (they doze most of the day, in turns) being in the shed is no fun for them.  We’ve had no threats to the Greater Poultry Homeland, though.

Now that we’re getting a goat or two, plans are changing.  Dogs are the greatest threat to goats, dogs and their wild coyote cousins.  Again, the goat(s) will be cooped up at night in their own shed inside a sturdily-built fence.  Considering that goats are great as poison ivy and brush eradicators, we’ll use electrified fencing to give them access to day browse.

So, yeah, you’ve got to do a bit to keep your critters safe, secure, happy and healthy.  Owning them, though, is so rewarding that the daily details of addressing their needs are really much more of a pleasure than a burden.  Skillet days excepted, of course!

23 responses to “On health, safety and welfare

  1. I keep telling myself….spring is coming….spring is coming! Then I tell it to the chickens. They have a nice run, which I cover in plastic so it is dry inside and the sun heats it up for a couple of hours. There is mostly shade in there because of our woodpile, but they like to come out in the sun and sit and dust.

    I take them green treats twice a day and keep a red light on the water when the tempeture dips below 21 degrees. It will feeze after that. But the light goes off when it warms up to 21 so I don’t worry about them.

    I enjoy reading your blog!


  2. Friends are always surprised to hear that I don’t bring my peeps into the house in cold weather. I explain that they have adequately sheltered housing, even though they don’t have a furnace or a fireplace. Giant poultry in the house all winter…. even I’m not that nuts.
    When do you get your goats?

  3. Man, I shudder each time I watch our weather report & see the sh*tload of snow being dumped on you, time & time again. Sorry about that! This must be the price you pay for living so close to that beautiful lake with the great view!

  4. oh goats!! I see fresh goat cheese in your future….wonderful!

  5. I’m only allowed 3 chickens here in Los Angeles, but they have a pretty easy life. No snow, free ranging in the back yard most days, and so far, no predator attacks. You should have heard their pitiful cries when they first got moved out of the nice cozy garage brooder into their new coop, though…the little drama queens were doing their best to convince me that they were going to die of frostbite at 50 degrees farenheit.

  6. What kind of goats are you getting? What are your goals for the goats? We have had a couple of Saanen does for household milk for two years and like it. They allow us to have our own dairy supply and make cheese / yougurt etc.

    Have you looked at cattle (or stock) panel structures? We find they are a great way to expand and contract our animal housing for each season and the needs of our population.

    Our unheated CPS greenhouses make great chicken runs when the temps dip (-20 F last night). Depending on how many animals are housed and how tightly we close them up, we can get 20 to 40 degree temp differences from outside temps. And mostly it is about dry and out of the wind anyway.

    I really like CPS’s for goats. A 12 X 8 CPS can easily house four to 6 goats and provide day to day storage for hay and other goat supplies (not grain, though, grain belongs in the milking shed well protected from prying muzzles). We put two 12 x 8 CPS’s together end to end with a 4′ door gap between them. On either end the outer ten feet are the goat ends and we have a human area in between for hay and feeders and such. The feeder keeps them on their side and the other ends open into their current pen. Using the CPS’s, we were able to afford building four goat ends so we have four months of seperation as we move the goats to a new house each month to break parasite life cycles. This winter we converted one goat end to a chicken run. We might turn one into a greenhouse in the spring. It’s economy and this kind of flexibility to rearrange and adapt that makes the CPS’s appealing to us.

  7. If I was a little birdie, I’d love to be cooped up at night. My parakeet was always allowed free roaming (we never shut the cage door), but she surely slept in there at night. Standing up. Feet tightly gripping the roost. How do they do it?

  8. Hi there neighbor! I guess I haven’t ventured far enough back in your blog to know you are an architect! Someday we would like to put a small addition on our cottage. Well, well, when we are ready I’ll know who to call. 🙂

  9. i love that you’re doing all the things we want to do on our farm – only you’re about two steps ahead. very good for me. 😉

    we have not figured out the chicken thing yet (remember, we want chanteclers, too, but sand hill is out? now we’re considering buff orps and delawares. and going with a larger hatchery for availability’s sake. decisions, decisions.) bees and goats are next on our list. goats will likely be first, as i’m in contact with two small scale goat dairies within miles of my home that will be selling extras this spring…

    we have dogs (neighbors) and coyotes (everywhere!), too. i expect we will be locking up all of our critters every night, as well. i’m most worried about the hawks and other birds of prey that fly over our pasture with alarming regularity!

  10. A skillet…I thought I had all my bases covered.

  11. El, of the many varied diverse splendiferous and altogether amazing images of you I tote around in my head I have to say that chasing a hawk with a number 12 cast iron skillet will sholey be one of my new favorites.

  12. Goats! I’m so excited for you, and can’t wait to read about their (and your!) exploits in the coming months. Yes, they would need to be penned to some extent, but I’m sure that you’ll sort it out…. so so worth it!
    I wish I could at least have the opportunity to do a bit of that if I wanted – I don’t know if I could practically given my job, but here, its not a choice – the regs won’t let me in this area. Sigh.

  13. My goats never would eat the poison ivy for some reason. It took the piggies to clear the pasture of that.

    And because I know you love these things….

    I’ve given you an award. You can find it over at my blog.

  14. That looks like a great coop. Would you mind sharing the plan…I could use it to make a sheep shelter outside attaching it to the shed.

    I was fortunate to have a HUGE horse barn on the property…I just divided it up in sections for various species and it reminds me of Noah’s ark : ). But it seems there are issues…chickens give the peacocks some disease….they also create issues for the sheep. Ducks take a bath in the chicken water…and Geese try to befriend the rooster : ). Its a mad house here. Slowly…I will have to make diff arrangements. For now I think the sheep generate some heat for the other animals.

    Congrats on the goat plan…they seem too naughty for me. One amlost ate my work access badge when I went to buy some ducks from a local farmer : ). Would be nice though to have some goat milk cheese.

    Stay warm. I see the weather …and I think/worry about you 3. I lived in MN for 9 months : ).

  15. Thank you, once again, for keeping us alert to the potential challenges we may face as we transition out of the Big (sorta?) City.

    We have some interest in goats, so your experiences are widely anticipated to add to our learning before we invest in same. We’ve already learnt we don’t want a billy/male unless we have enough room to keep him faaaaaaaaar away or something. I think.

  16. El,

    That is a lovely coop, and, if you don’t mind me saying, a pretty nice-looking contractor standing beside it. I also love the pensive picture of you looking out.

    Though I still am not sorry we’re likely not allowed to keep chickens.

  17. Hi Linda, that sounds like a sweet setup; I should look into hooking up a brooder light over their water. It does freeze but it’s usually overnight when it’s dark in there anyway. Isn’t it funny what wimps they are though? Maybe it’s this particular batch of birds but I swear my old birds were much hardier souls.

    Pamela, I have one bird who’s ailing and I told Tom I am probably going to have to bring her inside (to the basement) for a few days and he just gave me this look like what next? Bedding down with a feather mattress? Sigh.

    Laurene, well, I will take the snow over the cold any day! I think the coldest we got here was +5* which, of course, is nothing to sneeze at but it beats -16*.

    Kathy, yep, I see it too! Maaa!

    Lyssa, you have so much fun ahead of you! I would’ve done the same thing had I had the forethought: fix up old house, have chicken run…rip up the front yard, etc. etc. Chickens are usually fairly quiet unless something really bugs them so do tune in next time; it might be that they really ARE cold.

    MMP, thanks for all the good info.! We’re not 100% on the breeds of goat other than “dairy” and I have been communicating with a few breeders. I think we’re looking at March/April. I had looked into using CPS for my chicken tractor but I had a heck of a time trying to figure out how to get the panels from the store to the farm. We don’t have a truck and the store doesn’t deliver. However, what your suggesting does sound great. We were looking into welded wire mesh for fencing, as it’s something that our lumber yard sells as concrete reinforcing and…ta da!…they deliver.

    CC, it’s a mystery to me too. It’s actually a kind of exciting time when the little chicks make the big leap and actually try to fly up to a roost at night: little babies do grow so fast.

    Jen, hah, yep! In fact cottage renovations has been the majority of the biz here in Michigan.

    Hiya other neighbor Serinat. Well, look into Ideal Poultry in Texas; they have Chanteclers too! We thought we’d do bees before goats but there’s a bit of a huge start-up fee with bees, equipment-wise if not time-wise so they’ve been pushed back a few years. But yeah, watch those hawks; they’ve been the biggest threat frankly.

    Woody, well, I didn’t want to miss.

    Teem, well, don’t forget the fuzzy slippers.

    MC, yeah, jobs do get in the way of a lot of my plans too 😉 but personally I can’t wait for the goaty additions to the holdings here. My husband is not so convinced, but I did have to drag him here to begin with from the comforts of our city.

    Oh Danielle you really shouldn’t have, and I mean it! 🙂 Ah I always feel so guilty when I get these things, like, I am so not a good sport about all these reindeer games. That’s interesting about your goats. Most of our poison ivy is climbing our trees: I have one particularly nasty patch on a willow that I swear is 6″ in diameter and a good 30′ tall. That’s some nasty stuff so here’s hoping our goats develop a taste for it.

    WF, you are lucky to have your horse barn. Ours was a fruit farm and as such there is no real need for big buildings, only maybe one medium-sized one to process the peaches, and that’s now my husband’s garage. Can’t see him giving it up for the sake of critters! But the coop is fairly simple. There’s a concrete block foundation that’s 4′ deep on top of a poured in place 16″ wide x 8″ deep footing. It might be a bit of overkill but hey. The walls are 2x4s @ 16″ centers, the roof is 2x6s at 16″ centers, and the sheathing is car siding. It’s a lean-to so it just attaches to the back of that concrete block garage (my car’s garage). But really: it’s been okay here, temperature wise! The snow, on the other hand, is getting a bit tiresome.

    Zandt, the one thing I have learned about animal husbandry is that males are fairly worthless. They’re the first eaten and the fewer one has of any of them the better off everyone is. Completely different world in other words, because girls rule!! But yeah follow along our merry way here…

    Elizabeth, hah! Yeah the hired help is just the husband, and shirtless is his normal way of being for half the year. I remember that pic because it was HOT outside and that beer went down really easily. But yeah as a gardener chicken poop rocks, though I can see how they don’t have universal appeal…

  18. El,
    I don’t know other breeds of goats, but Saanens seem easy going. We don’t have trouble with them getting out and into trouble.We have one that can make a racket while she is pregnant, but otherwise she is quiet. All the others hardly make a peep. Saanen milk is very mild, almost indestinguishable from cows milk. Saanens are large frame goats, maybe the largest, I am not sure. 120 – 200 lbs for a milking doe, 200 – 250 for a breeding buck. Not so big that we can’t put them where we need them.

    You’re right about CPS. I have to load it on the roof racks of my full size van. It hangs on both ends and flaps in the wind all the way home. My brother uses the 6X6 welded wire in his hoop houses. I think he adds some rebar hoops to support the Welded wire. He likes them for chickens.


  19. El,
    About goats, I forgot to say: You have probably already read this, but start with the best genetics you can afford. Milk is all about breeding, both in where you start and what you’ll be doing going forward. There is a lot of variation between goats in how much they produce. If you start with does that only gives a pint, you’ll get frustrated quickly. Also, look for a source that treats animals the way you want to.Sale barns are often said to be a breeding ground for disease. Make sure you don’t bring home something awful like CL, CAE or Johnnes’ disease. Any of those could ruin your dairy venture before you get started.

    We managed to get lucky because we got introduced to goats by people who share our values who steered us to a quality source for or original does. We didn’t know enough to protect ourselves and I thank my lucky stars that we avoided some of those early pitfalls.

    If you plan to have purebred goats, I would suggest sticking with a breed matching a breeder not too far away. Breeding happens fall into winter, and it could be tough having to jump in the car at the drop of a hat (or rise of a heat) with a doe to take her to a far off buck.

    I would also suggest buying a doe already in milk. That will put you on the recieving end from the begining and avoid a lot of risk. I think buying your first goat as a kid leaves you investing all summer, fall and winter on the hopes of a successful breeding and kidding before you get a drop of milk. A doe in milk costs more, but you avoid all that risk and investment for your first year.

    I think the next post on my blog is going to be all about breeding and kidding (not so much how to, but my thoughts about) if you are interested.


    • Thanks for your timely comments, MMP. I believe I have found a source closeby who is really into what we’re into. Initially I was worried about buying a purebreed because frankly I didn’t think we could afford it but this source doesn’t charge much for their girls, and would rather they go to a good home than make pots of money out of the deal. What’s great is they test for all that you mentioned, including Johnne’s which is an expensive test, and are disease-free. “Closeby” is relative because we don’t have farm vehicles and will have to borrow a neighbor’s truck, but knowing my goats can go back “home” to be bred is one of the good things about this breeder. And yes, in milk already, check! Will check your blog for your goat gestation post; what you put on about the CPS panels was really helpful. Thanks again!

  20. (You have to read Alex & Me.)

  21. CC, that’s a book on my list at the library in the “fun with a bit of science thrown in” category. I don’t read many fun books (it’s a bad habit) but that one does look good!

  22. Even though we live in town (pop ~70,000) we have a couple of hawks in the neighborhood, both sharp-shinned and Cooper’s; I’ve also seen a shrike with a catch.

    Since I put songbird feeders in my yard we’ve had at least three kills — a cardinal (all over the deck, horrors), a pigeon (under the hedge, looked like a pillow exploded), and another unidentified songbird.

    It takes a major act of willpower to not run outside and scare the hawks away when I see them, but in terms of the songbirds the hawks are part of their world. (Neighborhood cats, however, are somewhat impolitely ‘escorted’ from the yard.)

    I would actually hesitate to face down a hawk at close range with a skillet, especially one trapped in a net. A panicky predator is trouble in all kinds of ways. I hope you managed to avoid talons and beak!

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