When we decided to raise chickens year round (sometime around January, when the snow really got to me and I was convinced that spring might never come again), it was not without a lot of thought and planning. Last year, we kept four Rhode Island Reds in a chicken tractor that we built, literally, forty-eight hours before they arrived from a friend’s chicken operation about a half hour away.
The summer tractor for our laying hens.
All I knew at the time was that I wanted fresh eggs (this was before last summer’s salmonella scare), but that as late in the game as we were (or as late as it felt like we were), I was in no position to raise chicks, move, and figure out the garden. When winter came, we gave them to a farmer up the road who raises hens for eggs because our chicken tractor (while attractive and efficient) was no means warm enough to house the girls through the winter.
The two things I knew about chickens, as we began researching our next flock, was that I wanted a friendly dual purpose bird, that would continue to thrive in a cold environment. But in order to help the chickens thrive in a cold environment, they’d need a better wintering pen. We started with our tractor barn (pictured above, behind the chicken tractor). Half was already used (with tractor and tool storage), but the other half was a dirt-floored room (about 10′ x 12′). While I was in China, my fiance and one of his good friends framed in a floor, and over this weekend, we divided the room in half with a partial wall, forming a chicken pen and storage area. From that same friend who helped with the floor, we inherited nesting boxes with a sliding back panel for egg removal. Once we’d framed everything in, we built two doors, and covered the whole pen in chicken wire.
The real trick, though, was learning how to whitewash. Whitewash is an old fashioned method of preparing barns for livestock. It helps to keep down bugs (particularly mites) and gives the barn a clean, white glow (without all the chemicals present in modern paint). That said, it will wear off in the rain, so I only plan to use it inside my barn, not outside or on my fences. It will also brush off onto clothing, which makes it fine for a barn, but not something I’d use in the house.
To make whitewash, you start by purchasing a bag of hydrated lime (a white powder that runs about $7 – 10 per 40 lb bag). Given how little lime the whitewash uses, this is both incredibly economical and safe for animals once it is dry. However, while handling powdered lime, you want to make sure you’re wearing gloves, goggles and a dust mask). I continued to wear gloves and goggles throughout the painting process because the whitewash is thin and splashes easily. You may also want to wear old clothes, though I found that the whitewash washed right out of my work pants.
In a bucket, mix:
12 c. Hydrated Lime
1 lb. of Table Salt (I used uniodized)
2 Gallons of Water (roughly – just mix until it forms a paint like consistency)
Paint on your barn or coop walls and nesting boxes. It won’t look white immediately, but it will whiten as it dries. My photos currently show only one coat, but I plan to follow up with a second coat later this week.
Photos to follow later this week!