My Tiny Brood of Backyard Chooks

chooks, hens or chickens?


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My chickens may be laying outside in the bushes – but where?

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King George is a bit confused today. Things are not quite the way he is used to. He is waiting beside the coop door, so close to the coop in fact, that his tail feathers are squashed. What is he waiting for?

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He is waiting for his girls to be let out of the naughty room. I have not had any eggs for ten days. Now I know all three of them wouldn’t stop laying on the same day. They must be laying in the bushes somewhere.

So yesterday I watched the girls closely and I think I know the general direction of where the nest might be. I saw King George standing with Hilda and Hannah in the bush, just waiting. That’s what they do when each other is laying so I knew she must be close. They think they can outsmart me!

So I waited and waited and finally saw her come running towards the others. The bush where she has her nest is quite dense and after a quick look yesterday, I was not able to see it. But husband Haitch is going to help me look this afternoon. There should be a mountain of eggs in this nest!

But there is a bit of a twist to this story. Why would they all suddenly decide to lay outside for the first time in over a year of happily laying in the nesting boxes. There are no mites in the boxes and they are quite happily sleeping there each night. But I have had no eggs whatsoever in the nesting boxes for ten days.

Then yesterday while I was waiting very patiently for Hannah to finish laying in the bush somewhere, Helen trotted into the hen house and laid in the nesting box! Why today? Has she been laying in there each day and her eggs are disappearing! And if she has been laying outside, why would she suddenly lay in the nesting box today?

So today, I have locked the lovely chickens in their coop where they will have no choice but to lay in their nice clean, dark, warm, safe nesting boxes.

Let’s see what happens.

 

 


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The possum who thought he was a chicken.

On the way home from work last Friday, we decided to stop for a meal. We got home about 8pm, which is dark here in New Zealand at this time of year. When we got home, I went outside without my torch and felt my way to the door of the run and shut the chickens in for the night.

The next morning there were the chickens as usual, at first patiently waiting and then if I don’t come out quickly enough, crowing and cackling to make sure  I am awake so I could come and let them out. As soon as they hear the sliding door open, they stop their noise and look expectantly at the corner of the house where they know I will soon appear with treat tin in hand.

An hour or so later, I went back outside to collect the eggs from yesterday. I lifted up the lid of the nesting boxes at one end of the chicken house. Two lovely brown eggs. Thank you Hilda and Helen.

Then I walked around to the other side to the other nesting boxes.

I opened the lid and I got such a fright! I could not believe what I saw! There curled up sound asleep in one of the nesting boxes was a possum!

How on earth did he get in there?
When did he get in there? Possums are nocturnal animals and he would not have been curled up asleep in there before I shut the door to the run at 8pm.
He was not there that morning as I cleaned the nesting boxes before I went to work.
There is no hole in the run or the coop so he could not have got in after I had shut the door.

The only thing I can think of is that he was in the run when I shut the door and he got locked in for the night. It was a very dark night and if he was in the run, I wouldn’t have seen him. But why didn’t he make a noise when he saw me?

But what did the possum do after I shut the door?

Did he just go into the chicken house, squeeze past King George and turn right and choose the nest box that Hannah wasn’t sleeping in and curl up for the night?
But he is a nocturnal animal. Maybe he roamed all night in the small run, trying to get out before giving up and going into the house to bed.

How did he manage to get past King George? King George only just fits in the chicken house. He squeezes himself through the door and just plops himself down on the floor, almost filling the whole floor area. I am sure King George would have made a fuss if he saw a possum trying to squeeze past him?
Why did the possum not try to attack my girls?

How could the chickens not be aware of the posssum sleeping beside them when they got up the next morning? But then I guess it is dark in the house. Can they not smell that there was an intruder sleeping in their house? Maybe chickens don’t have a sense of smell?

When King George was crowing at 5am in the chicken house, how did the possum not wake up and get a fright and run about?

It is all a big mystery that I do not think I can ever solve.

So what did I do with the possum? I got a broom and woke him up and poked him out of the house and into the run. Possums are classed as pests in New Zealand as they  eat our native trees and birds eggs so I won’t go into what happened next.

A very bizarre experience but the egg that Hannah had laid the day before survived being slept on by the possum. He had somehow managed to roll the golf ball out of the nest but the egg as still there, intact and safely buried in the wood shavings. I am surprised the possum didn’t eat it.


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Winter proofing my chicken coop

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Living in the Auckland area of New Zealand, we don’t have really cold winters. Well at least we don’t have snow.

But at our house we have very, very strong winds. We live at the top of a hill and the wind rushes across the Kaipara Harbour, up the valley towards us and slams straight into the front of our house with all of it’s Westerly might.

Sometimes I see the chickens out the front on a windy day, struggling to keep upright against the wind. Their little feathers are blowing all around and sometimes the wind gusts send them a few quick steps in a different direction to where they were heading but they haven’t yet been blown away.

This weekend a storm struck New Zealand and along with the storm came very high winds (and rain).  I have a plastic tarpaulin covering the chicken coop to keep the rain out and as you can see, I have lots of very heavy rocks on the tarpaulin to keep it from blowing away. The rocks probably help to keep the chicken coop from blowing over as well.

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As I went to bed that evening, the wind and rain hitting the front of our house was probably the worst I have heard since we moved here. I went out to the side of the house where the chicken coop is and shone a torch to make sure the coop was still there and that the tarpaulin was still on. It was but the wind in the trees beside the coop was so loud, I wondered if the chickens were scared. Probably not. I doubt they feel that kind of fear. They can’t visualise the coop blowing over and them being all tipped around inside, or one of the massive trees falling on their coop and crushing them.

The next morning it was all very quiet. The wind had gone. I rushed outside to see if the chickens were ok.

There they were, waiting patiently for me to open their coop door so they could come outside to scratch and peck. They had no idea that their plastic roofing that covers their coop had blown off in the night and was lying broken and bent all over the lawn.

Somehow it had blown out from under the stretchies that I use to tie down the roofing. The photo above was taken after I managed to piece some of the plastic roof back together. I guess that will do until the next big winds, probably in a few days time.


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It is very quiet without my rooster hen-boys and my hen-chicks

It is very quiet at home since the rooster boys and hen chicks have gone. I could say it is peaceful but I think it is more like something is missing.

On the first night when the chicks had gone, I watched the girls get themselves ready for bed.

About thirty minutes before sunset, the girls ( and the chicks when they were here) start to congregate in a certain spot about 10 metres from the chicken coop. It is quite funny to watch, especially when I had the five chicks here as well. No matter where they all were, at a certain time of the day (sunset dependant), they start making their way towards the congregation spot. Some wandering nonchalantly and others running as though they might miss out on something. Once they get to this spot, they start to frantically peck at the grass to fill their tummies (crops actually) before they go to bed. Once they have their fill, they then slowly make their way across the final ten metres or so, to the coop (just on sunset) and put themselves to bed.

If the chicks went to bed before Helen or Hannah Hen, there would be a huge ruckus resulting in the chicks running most indignantly back down the ramp and outside where they would wait until both Hannah and Helen had settled themselves in the best bedtime spots. The chicks would then tentatively go back up the ramp, peer inside to see if the coast was clear, and then find a safe spot to sleep as far away from Hannah and Helen as they could.

On the night the chicks left, the three girls still congregated in the same spot thirty minutes before sunset but it was somehow different. They were standing around looking unsettled. They were standing looking and listening, as though they were on alert. They weren’t pecking at the grass. As it got darker, they anxiously moved towards the coop but when they got to the coop door, they didn’t seem to want to go in. I wondered if I should go outside and try to entice them in with treats but I decided to leave them and watch what they do.

As it got darker and darker, they were still standing outside. The sun was down behind the hills and I was beginning to worry that they may not go to bed that night. But then, Hilda wandered slowly in and up the ramp and Helen followed. That left only Hannah Hen outside. By this time it was almost dark. She Hannah Hen turned away from the coop door and went off around the back of the coop. Oh dear. She walked around the whole perimeter of the coop and came back to the door. Then she looked around some more before deciding to go in. Poor Hannah Hen. Even though she didn’t have any motherly feelings towards these chicks that she hatched, once she abandoned them at ten weeks, did she maybe deep down realise her babies were missing?

I like to think that they had all noticed that the teenage chicks were missing. I like to think that they missed them. I like to think that they were waiting for them before they went to bed.

My husband said that they wouldn’t go to bed because I was sitting by the window watching them but I don’t think so.


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My chicks are now sleeping in the coop with the big chickens

My chicks have finally integrated during the day with the big girls. Helen still chases the little girls when she feels like being mean but the majority of the time, they peck and scratch and wander happily together. The little girls still keep away from the big girls at feed time but at least they are allowed to peck at the treats in the same vicinity without being harassed too much. So the only thing stopping my chicks and chickens from being a fully integrated brood, was that they sleep in separate coops. The plan was to leave them in separate coops until I sell the two boys and two of the girls in a month or so and then to integrate Hazel Hen-Chick in the big girls coop.

Last night I went outside as usual to shut the chicks and the chickens in their respective coops. Hedvig Hen-Chick was standing in the chick coop and didn’t seem to want to go inside the chick house. I shut the coop door anyway and then walked over to the big girls coop and shut their door.

I looked back over at the chick’s coop and there she was, still standing in the coop, not wanting to go into the house. So I walked over to her to see what was wrong. Hmmm, that’s strange, there was no sound coming from the chick’s house. The chicks are usually very noisy as they jostle for position before settling down for the night. So I lifted the roof of the chick’s house and I got such a shock! It was empty.  Hedvig was the only chick in the coop. No wonder she was unsettled. Where on earth can the rest of the chicks be. It is past their bedtime and starting to get dark, so something must be wrong.

I walked around in a bit of a panic to look for the rest of the chicks. As I walked past the big girl’s house, I heard a noise. The chicks sounded as though they were jostling for position in the big girl’s coop! I peeped in and there they were. All of the chicks were snuggled together (minus Hedvig) on the floor.

So I went over to the chick’s coop and opened the door. Hedvig came running out and went over to the big girls house but seemed unsure. I managed to manoeuvre her towards the door of the coop and gently shooed her in. Once I shut the door behind her she looked at me as if to say, now what! I stood and watched her as she tentatively walked towards the ramp and looked into the house. She must have seen her  brothers and sisters because she stepped onto the ramp and slowly made her way up and into the big girls’s house. The chicks welcomed her in and she snuggled down with the rest of the chicks for the night.

Tonight they all went into the big girl’s house to sleep. Hannah Hen is not terribly happy and she chases them out. They all come running out into the run and wait for Hannah to settle herself once again and off they go again, up the ramp and into the nice warm corner of the house, as far from Hannah as they can but at the same time being careful not to go too near Helen.

I have no idea why the chicks decided to sleep in the same coop as the big girls. I have no idea if this is normal behaviour or not. But I am very pleased.


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Hannah Hen is back sleeping in her coop and not outside in the trees

After being chased off her broody nest by poultry mites, Hannah Hen, my partridge wyandotte bantam started sleeping in the trees at night so she didn’t have to be anywhere near those nasty mites.

So once I had ridded the nest of mites, I needed to get Hannah back sleeping in the cozy, warm coop. I didn’t want her to be cold or wet or hurt at night while she slept in the trees.

So the first night after I found her in the trees, I hatched three plans to get her back into the coop at night, a plan A, a plan B and a plan C.
Plan A consisted of me luring her into the coop each night with treats and shutting her in so that she had no choice but to go into the house to sleep. She would eventually get used to this and go to bed on her own.
Plan B consisted of me going out at night in the dark and getting her out of the tree and putting her into the coop.
If plan A and plan B failed, plan C was to lock her in the coop for a week until she realised this was her home. But that was a drastic thing to do to a free range hen.

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The first night after finding her sleeping in the trees, I put plan A into action. I lured her into the coop with watermelon and yoghurt, about one hour before her bedtime. All three of the big girls trotted into the coop for the treats and I shut the door behind them. They ate the yoghurt, pecked away at the watermelon (until they tipped it skin side up and couldn’t be bothered turning it back over) and by the time they realised they were locked in for the night, they all happily hopped up onto the perch to wait for bedtime.

Later in the evening after they were settled for the night, I checked in the coop to see where they were sleeping.
I found Hilda Hen and Helen Hen in their normal beds (my girls have always slept in the nesting boxes) and Hannah Hen had squeezed herself in with Helen in the same nesting box. There was no way she was going back to the other side of the coop because those nests were where the mites were. What a clever chicken.

The next night I lured her into the coop with her favourite treat tin but Helen and Hilda were busy outside and didn’t want to go in. I let Hannah Hen wander back out and thought I would get them all a little later in the evening but I missed my opportunity and Hannah waddled off and flew up into her tree for the night. I decided not to put plan B into action as the tree was at the bottom of a steep bank and I couldn’t imagine traversing down it in the dark (even with a torch) as I would probably end up rolling down the bank and frightening Hannah from her roosting spot and I may never find where she sleeps again.)

The next night I managed to lure Hannah Hen in with another of her favourite treats, corn on the cob. Hilda and Helen followed shortly after. That evening Hilda and Hannah slept in the two larger nest boxes at the favourite end and Helen got relegated to the “mite” end of the coop where the three smaller boxes are.

For the rest of the week, the evenings went on as above, with only one night sleeping in the trees. But when will she go back into the coop at night on her own like she used to? This weekend would be the test. We were going away. Would she take the opportunity to go back to her tree with me not being there to lure and lock her in, or would she realise the coop was safe, warm and mite-free and be happy to put herself to bed there?

We got home tonight about twenty minutes after the big girls’s bedtime. I went outside and tentatively peeped into the nest boxes and there she was! Hannah Hen had taken herself to bed and was tucked into the nesting box, safe and warm. She was still sleeping in Helen’s “mite-free” bed and Helen was in the smaller bed all alone at the other end of the coop but I don’t care.

At last I can say I have my Hannah Hen back home.  What a relief.


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To sell or not to sell the chicks

The master plan for growing my brood of chickens from three to a maximum of eight (which my husband agreed to when we bought the bigger coop but has since forgotten the conversation), was to hatch a batch (or is that a clutch) of eggs each time my bantam went broody. I would then keep one of the girls from the hatch each time and sell the remainder. In this way, it would take a few years to get to my maximum number of chickens and it would give me time between broodiness to decide on the breed for the next hatch, while watching the new chicks grow.

My last (and only) hatched batch (or clutch) are now fourteen weeks old. I have three girls and two boys. The plan was to keep all of the chicks until the girls started laying and then I would keep one (Hazel with the crooked toe) and sell the other four. I decided if I kept them until the girls were laying, I might have more chance of selling the four of them as pairs. That way the boys may get a chance of surviving and living a happy life.

I say that was my plan because Hannah Hen went broody again far too quickly. (Only two weeks after she abandoned the chicks at ten weeks old). The maternity coop which I would need to move Hannah into, still had the chicks living in it. So the easiest thing (after weighing up a number of options) was to sell my four chicks early. But I was not ready to let my chicks go. I wanted to see my baby girls lay their first egg. I wanted to see what the magnificent boys looked like as fully grown bantam roosters. I wanted to enjoy the chicks for a couple more months.

But I knew how to go about selling them and that was to list them on the Trademe website, which is New Zealand’s equivalent to Ebay. So the first thing I had to do was to follow the chicks around and take some photos. The photos had to have the chicks looking as magnificent or as cute as they could, so I could entice a nice owner into buying them. At least I could take the photos. I didn’t have to list them just yet.

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Here they all are innocently sitting together not realising they were posing for their Trademe photographs.

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Here are the boys on their own so that the first person to want one of the pairs could see the boys colouring and choose which one they wanted.  I know it is not the best photo to show off their colouring but I had only just started taking photos. I was going to spend much of the weekend getting the right photos for  their prospective buyers. But this is as far as I got.

The mite drama and Hannah Hen being driven off her broody nest suddenly took precedence over getting the chicks to pose for photographs.

I feel terribly sorry that mites attacked Hannah Hen. It was obviously not very pleasant. But at least I can now keep my chicks for longer.


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Did red mites kill my chicken?

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This has been a very traumatic week.

This is a picture of my partridge wyandotte bantam, Hannah Hen. This is her, when she first chose us to  live with. She has been with us for approximately nine months and we worked out after finding out where she came from that she is quite an old bantam.

Hannah Hen has hatched five beautiful babies for us and looked after them until they were ten weeks old before she decided they were big enough to make their own way in the world. The same day she abandoned her chicks, she laid her first little green egg since being broody.

A week ago (three weeks after she abandoned her chicks), Hannah Hen decided it was time to hatch some more babies. So she started sitting on a golf ball and two of her eggs which she managed to hide from me.

Oh no. Not again. Not so soon. I still have a batch of teenage chicks living in the coop (without the ramp) that Hannah Hen would need for new chicks. I don’t want to move the teenagers into the coop with the big girls because Helen Hen is mean to them.  I don’t want to sell my teenagers yet because I want to watch them grow into fine adults. Perhaps I could get out my original smaller coop for the teenagers (they’re only small) and then Hannah Hen could have her maternity ward back.

Then I had to quickly think about what breed of chicks do I want to have next time. I don’t have a rooster so I buy fertilised eggs, so therefore can select any breed of chick, depending on what eggs are available at the time.

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So I decided to have her hatch some Barnevelders because they have such wonderful personalities and they are so pretty.

Hannah Hen had been happily sitting on her golf ball and her two little green eggs for about five days, so I thought it safe and arranged  to get some fertilised Barnevelder eggs on Sunday from the same breeder I got Helen and Hilda from. I had until the weekend to sort out the coop situation.

Then on Saturday morning around 7am, Hannah Hen got off her eggs and didn’t go back on them until midday. Very unusual, as once she is broody, she sits tight, hardly getting off for eating and ablutions. She was a bit puffed up and didn’t move far. I took the opportunity while she was off to check the nest for mites as I know they can force a broody hen off the nest.

I had had an outbreak of mites in the chick’s coop but had worked hard to get rid of them. I had not seen any mites in the big girl’s coop  as I had DE’d it as a mite preventative (I had forgotten to do the chick’s coop when I bought it) and so far the big coop had been mite free. But you never know, so I checked the nest. No sign of any mites, even under the eggs and golf ball.

I phoned the breeder to cancel the fertilised eggs for now as I think something is not quite right.

The next morning (Sunday) Hannah Hen again got off the nest at 7am but this time stayed off the eggs all day. She didn’t look well and was fluffed up and looking very lethargic for most of the day. She stood around and didn’t move far and at one stage I saw her standing with her little head bowed with her eyes closed. She did not look well at all. I decided that when she goes to bed that night, I would pick her up and check her over. I am not able to do that during the day as she won’t let me get too near her. I checked her nest again for mites, but nothing again. And none to be seen anywhere else in the coop.

Then in the afternoon she perked up and started looking her normal self. So that night I didn’t bother to check her out.

Monday morning we went to work in the dark and the chickens were still sleeping so I opened the door of their run so they can free range.
Monday night we were late home and the chickens were in bed and so I just shut the door.
Tuesday morning we left again in the dark before the chickens were up and opened the door.

Tuesday evening we were home at six. (The chickens bedtime at the moment is 8pm.) Hannah Hen was missing. How long has she been missing? I haven’t seen them since Sunday and she had been very poorly Sunday morning. I started to get worried. I checked in her nesting box in case she was sitting back on her golf ball. But she wasn’t there and to my horror, the nest and the golf ball were teeming with mites.

How could this happen? I had been so diligent in checking (or so I thought). I know that mites can kill chickens by causing anaemia. Then I remembered her little droopy head and her eyes closing while she was standing up. I remembered that she was lethargic. Why didn’t I see the signs and rifle through the nest, lifting up the wood shavings and hunting those mites out? How could my inexperience at chicken management cause the death of my Hannah Hen? She had lived for years across the road on the farm on her own and I took her in to keep her safe. How could I do that to her?

She didn’t turn up that night. I cried. I felt so bad and so sad.

I went to work the next day and was very sad but I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. Not even my kids. If I had even a hint of sympathy, I would have burst into a fresh set of tears, so I told no one.  I will tell them once I have worked through what I have done.

Wednesday evening we came home and I was sadly and lethargically going about my business of preparing dinner. I asked my husband if he would go outside and look through the bush for Hannah Hen’s body so we could bury her.

Then a few minutes later, my husband called out to me, “Hey, Hannah is outside!” I looked out the window and there she was, looking bright and perky  doing the evening pre bedtime preening with the rest of them. Not long after this, she wandered off into the bushes for the night. The mites had driven off her nest and out of her coop.


The night I discovered the mites, I sprayed and DE’d  and sprayed and DE’d some more like a mad woman. But this weekend my plan is to empty the coop of wood shavings, spray it with Poultry Shield, let it dry, dust it with DE, put in fresh shavings and one day soon, try to encourage Hannah Hen back into her nest. I have a few plans for how to do this. But first I need to find where she is sleeping.


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I left the chicken coop door open all night

I had to go away for one night last weekend and I had been agonising over what I was going to do with the chickens.

The big chickens live in the big coop that has a h0use and a run. The teenage chicks live in a slightly smaller coop that also has a house and run. Each night just on sunset, they all put themselves to bed in their respective coops. After they are safely tucked into bed, I go out and close the run doors so nothing can get in and get the chickens while they are sleeping.

I have no idea what I think here in New Zealand is actually going to get into my chicken coops and hurt my chickens but nevertheless, I like to shut the coops up at night. The only real night time predator living in New Zealand that would attack a chicken is probably a weasel or a stoat and I don’t think there are many of them around. I guess a stray and very hungry feral cat may harm the chickens at night.

But because I was going away for only one night. I decided to take my chicken friend’s advice and leave the coop doors open while I was away.

I felt bad leaving my chickens in such a vulnerable situation but I felt I had no choice and I was willing to take the risk.

So as we drove up the driveway at the end of the two days, I eagerly peered over towards the coop. All looked normal. Then I quickly got out of the car (barely waiting for it to come to a stop) and went out to find (and count) the chickens and chicks. Three chickens (Hannah, Helen and Hilda) and five chicks (Harry, Howie, Hedvig, Harriet and Hazel) all accounted for and happy to see me.


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Hatching baby chicks for beginners – Lesson # 3 – Lots of wood shavings in the nest

Because Hannah Hen only got off her nest for a few minutes every few days (and I work away from home 6:30am to 6pm week days), I did not get many opportunities to check on the eggs. Just before hatching day I happened to be there when she got off for some water and a few pecks of grain and so I quickly rushed around to the nesting box and lifted the lid to check on the eggs.

I was surprised by what I saw. Hannah Hen had scratched and scruffled around so much to make her nest comfy that the eggs were virtually sitting on the wooden floor of the nest box surrounded on the sides by a pile of pine shavings. Oh dear. Thank goodness that they hadn’t broken sitting on the wood. But maybe they won’t hatch with the cold air coming up from the gaps in the wooden slats. Oh dear.

I was tempted to lift the eggs up and put some pine shavings underneath them but I decided that was probably not the wisest thing to do when the eggs were due to hatch anytime.  She might get cross with me for messing with her eggs and abandon them.You see, that nest was never designed to sit in for 21 days. It was just the plain old nesting box that the girls laid in.

My third lesson for next time is to make sure that whatever nest she is going to be spending her 20 days in, has lots and lots of pine shavings.