Chicken Keepin’ Made Easy!
Having back yard chickens is the best decision we have ever made. A few challenging moments from building the coop to dealing with frozen waterer, but having fresh eggs every morning has been well worth the effort. If you are thinking about having backyard chickens here are few things every chicken keeper should know to have a great first flock!
First off, do some research on what coop is right for your location and your specific breed of birds. There are several type of coops, but you need to make sure you give each bird ample space; about 3’ sqft. per bird in the coop and 8-10’ sqft in the run. Each bird needs about 10-12” in. per bird on the roost and make sure you use 2×4’s so they can rest their feet at night. If your bird’s live in cold climate, they will appreciate being able to stretch their feet out fully on the board and sit down on them when they sleep at night. This keeps their feet warm with out exposing their toes and risking frost bite.
Once you have your design plans go for it! Make sure you have a good building partner and be patient. We found an awesome blog about top 34 chicken coops and we chose the “Downeast Thunder Farms Chicken Coop” and this specific design comes with some decent blueprints. Here is the link to morning chores top 34 coops to help you start brainstorming.. This blog post provides Blueprints for each coop, granted some are better than others. We modified the plans to be a little shorter of a coop, we are not very tall people, so we just have to mind our head when entering and exiting the coop. We did not think we needed a 10 ft chicken coop and it help us cut costs.
So, what do chickens need besides an awesome coop?
A good sized run offers about 5 sqft. per bird; and lot of activity. From scratching to dust bathes, your bird needs to be entertained day in and day out – if you want a good egg-layer. Birds love to scratch for their food, I suggest adding a hay bail in their run so they need to kick up and search for the food you throw in the run on the daily. They love treats from blueberries to carrots to Happy Hens meal worms, make sure your flock gets daily food in the run for their searching and eating pleasures. If you are every unsure about what you should or should not give your hens google it and typically backyardhens.com always comes up with some great answers from fellow chicken keepers. We have two self feeders; but more often then not the birds will use their beak and knock out the food until it is all in the run and on the ground so they can look for it. Make sure you provide grit and or oyster shells to amp up their calcium needs (for strong eggs) and for their digestive system. (Chickens don’t have teeth so they store grit aka small rocks in their gullet to help grind up and process food)
If you haven’t hear of dust bathes just google it. and If you don’t know what a chicken swing is , it is a great way to entertain your birds whether its a good swing or hiding some food for them to find later. If you do offer a chicken swing for your birds, make sure you make the bar for them to stand on less than 4” and maybe rounded so they can get good grip other wise I don’t think they will use it for swinging. At least that is the case for our birds; I have not seen them swinging and I think it is because we used a 2×4.
The Best Bedding:
Chicken’s need a couple inches of bedding in their coop to help keep their space clean, dry and warm (if you live in a cold climate). Chickens poop and pee at the same time and do it a lot while they sleep so having a couple inches of bedding makes it easy to keep the coop clean and catch their droppings. I did some research before my first flock on the best bedding and I learned all about how chickens are prone to respiratory problems so it’s best to get a bedding that has very low, if zero dust particles. In comes, hemp bedding. Hemp bedding is the shit. It catches the bird shit and has zero dust shit. Sorry for all the “shits” but it’s amazing. Zero smells. I hate the smell of “hampster cages” or “pet stores” and our chicken coop has zero of those shitty smells. I am in Love with hemp bedding , the cost is comparable but shipping costs come into play if you are not in a distributors state, but it catches the moisture from the birds droppings, zero dust, no smells, and PEST RESISTANT. We clean the coop out twice a month and at first I was using a rake and pushing it out the trap door; however I have found it easier to use a kitty-litter scooper to clean out the coop; and it makes the hemp last twice, if not 4x as long. (Click Here to get my concept drawing on how to cut hemp bedding costs by sifting chicken shit w/ a five gallon bucket and metal mesh)
Worms, Crickets, Grasshoppers and bugs.
If you don’t let your chickens free-range you should, and if you live in an urban environment may I suggest a chicken tractor to at least allow them to enter new space every week. Free-ranging allows your chickens to get out and explore the world, eats some insects and make some high-speed flying runs they want and deserve which may not be possible in the run. Plus if you are farmer talk about great fertilizers and bed-preppers. Chickens are the cheapest and most productive employees I have ever hired. Either way give your chicken some type of insect and they will love you forever. In the summertime, I will go on a grasshopper hunt for my chickens and they have a blast when I release the bugs into the run and talk about the extra protein. Insects = protein for chickens and humans, if you are into that sort of food. We bought our chickens this past October and have not had a chance to make a “Maggot Feeder” courtesy of Justin Rhodes youtube channel. Just find some road kill or a dead animal carcass, drill some holes in a bucket, and bam you got your chickens a self-marking maggot feeder. Your chickens will thank you forever; here is the link to Justin Rhodes maggot-maker video . In the winter, if we can’t make worms for our chickens we spend $30 bucks/month and give them some dried meal worms, they may be expensive but it keeps their egg production up during the cold months and they love ‘em!
Free ranging vs captivity:
Captive chicks equals unhappy birds. Your birds need the coop space and run space required but what they want more is the Freedom to free-range and live life beyond the cage. Did you know a “cage-free” hen has less than a iPad 9”x12” space worth of room to roam in their dark warehouse world. Birds need way more space than that to promote and optimal healthy life; birds stuck in enclosed environments are prone to disease and cannibalism. So I suggest letting the chicken outta the coop once in awhile.
Off grid chickens and freezing water:
If you live on the grid than just go buy a 160 watt water heater and skip this section of the post. If you live off grid, may I suggest to not waste your time and become friends with your neighbors to help you take care of your chicks if you are on vacation for 5 or more days. I have found that our Barred Rock hens are tough ass girls and can go 4 days with self-feeder plus water that may freeze or not. Hopefully not, but we have been shredding in Breckenridge every weekend since the 2017 new year and our 6 chicks continue to lay 12+ eggs each weekend we our away. Talk about a great present to come back to after an amazing weekend of fresh powder runs on the slopes. So, how much water does a chicken really need (summer vs winter)? I’ve read they need about a liter per bird per day; however I have found they drink a little less than that in the winter. I am sure come summertime they will be drinking a whole lot more water. FYI , their egg is 80% or more water so it is very important to make sure your chickens have fresh access to water. Again I have found that we are able to leave Friday morning with a 5 gallon waterer in their coop and whether it freezes or not our birds seems happy and alive when we get back Monday late-afternoon. They lay eggs and we do not offer extra-light over these winter months and their production has not stopped. (This will changes as the girls age)
Grit vs oyster shells:
Both provide that bite-size pieces of rock needed to help them grind up food because chickens don’t have teeth but Oyster shells offer the extra calcium boost needed to help your chick lay hard-strong shelled eggs.
Bonk heads but perfect size for our flock of 8 minus 1 from the Christmas Owl. Join our Email list below and gain instant access to this crazy story 2 dead birds, 1 shot!
Why Roosters are Free? (And sent to the grinder on factory farms)
I am finding Roosters have one use and one use only – Strutting there stuff and letting you know who is Boss and the obvious reason fertilizing the eggs for sustaining the flock. Not to say there can’t be any nice roosters in this world, but our Rooster Sriracha lives up to his spicy name. He is everything spice and not so nice. He tries to “get-it-on” any chances he can get with the girls, he didn’t protect “Gladys” the chicken who lost her head to an owl over Christmas 2016. Subscribe to our emails and we will email you the story about how Glady’s lost her head over the holiday season, (graphic photo included) Anyways back to Roosters, they are free because we only need one male to get lots of female chickens being productive egg-layers. There high testosterone makes them natural fighters and aggressors and I’ve heard that there presence helps keep egg production up which appears to be true on our Boomstead. So if you choose to keep one in the flock make sure they are introduced at an early age to the girls and you watch your back! Sad note if you do not know this about male chicks in the big ag. they grind them up as chicks because again we only need 1 to sustain the flock.
And so thankful for eggs:
Besides chicken hugs, the random cock-a-doodle-doos, and the shear entertainment of raising chickens having almost a dozen eggs produced every 2 days is awesome. Well worth the time and money spent implanting them into our A Boom Permaculture Life.
-Cock-a-doodle-doo to you anytime of day!
P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list to get instant access to this crazy story and a graphic photo a chicken’s head.