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What do I actually need for chickens?

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  • What do I actually need for chickens?

    For some reason I have a half size horse stall in the bottom level of my bank barn. It has an exit door, and it's always looked like a good place to put chickens to me. It's cool in summer and sheltered in winter. It would need some mesh at the top to be fox/raccoon proof.

    We're a fair distance from the road, so I'm presuming to let them out to wander at morning feed time and bring them in at evening feed.

    What do I actually need to get to keep chickens?

    The feed store seems to have aisles of chicken stuff, then in spring more aisles of chick specific stuff that presumably you put aside and replace with full size stuff at some point. Somehow I've managed to have horses for years without buying 90% of what a saddlery sells, so I'm pretty sure the same applies for chickens.

  • #2
    You need a decent, draft-free coop that allows 1 sq ft per chicken inside and 4sq ft per in an outdoor run.

    Roofing with hardware cloth should help keep vermin out, but also consider burying some of the screening material in an "apron" around the base so digging animals (skunks, weasels, etc) can't burrow into your coop for eggs or even to kill birds.

    If you're getting chicks you'll feed them chick feed - medicated or not, your choice - until they start laying @ around 5-6mos, then switch to a layer feed and provide some calcium (oyster shell).
    Scratch feed is not necessary - it's a treat and my girls are thrilled with sunflower seeds (BOSS).
    Raisins are Chicken Crack.
    Since my hens no longer freerange (lost 3 to a fox) I provide them with fresh greens - kitchen scraps and their own personal stash of kale.

    If your hens will be scratching outdoors or in a run they probably won't need added grit, but it's cheap & not a bad idea to provide chicks with their own chick-sized grit.

    Fresh water is important and you can use one of the standard fill-from-the-top plastic or galvanized waterers, I use a heated 1gal dog bowl for 7 chickens and they never run out of water.
    Plus it solves the problem of heating water in winter (as long as you have power in your coop).
    Make sure you raise both your feeder and water to chicken chest-height or they will scratch feed out and waste it and dirty the water.

    Provide perches - they like to roost above ground when they sleep.
    A foot or two off the gorund is fine.
    some people claim they prefer the wide side of a 2X4, but my girls prefer roosting on the less-than-1"-wide top of a screened dividier.
    I also have 2 tree branches - about 3" in diameter and stripped of bark - for roosts.
    I angled one of these from the floor up so when they were small they could walk up instead of flying up the 2' to the other.

    Keep your coop clean - I bed with shavings and scoop poop daily with a catlitter scoop. Makes great compost for your garden!
    Twice a year - Spring & Fall - I sweep out all the shavings and replace. Otherwise I just add shavings as needed.

    If you are like me, you will find chickens are more amusing than I ever imagined.
    Oh - you will also become an Egg Snob. There is no substitute for a fresh-laid egg.
    *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
    Steppin' Out 1988-2004
    Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
    Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015

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    • #3
      Yup, chickens are pretty darn happy with the basics. Keeping things clean is important for everyone, I like to have area for them to have dust baths but otherwise just a basic egg layer feed is perfect, a light for in the coop, constant water, a few different types of nesting areas, different levels to roost on and you're good to go. My girls used to free range all day until the hawk and fox caught on, now they free range when we can be outside with them to keep an eye on them but they have a fenced in area attached to the coop for when we can't watch them.

      We also given them random treats. Oranges, watermelons, pears, strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, spinach, dandelions, meal worms, they love it all!
      The one good thing about repeating your mistakes is that you know when to cringe.

      Comment


      • #4
        Since 2dogs responded just before me, definitely second everything said there!
        The one good thing about repeating your mistakes is that you know when to cringe.

        Comment


        • #5
          Well, I would disagree on the square footage needed. It should be 3-4 feet per hen in the coop. Nesting boxes and perch are needed for inside. Outside, if you're going to limit their run, you would need 200 sf per hen. Then you can also use electrified poultry netting to divide the total area into three sections and rotate just like you would rotate your horse fields.

          For great info, find "Professor Chicken" on the web, AKA Dr. David Sullenberger.

          Have fun!
          Laurie Higgins
          www.coreconnexxions.com
          ________________
          "Expectation is premeditated disappointment."

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          • #6
            Sorry to hijack but I have been considering getting chickens simply to let them roam around and eat bugs. Is that completely impractical? I dont want the eggs or, quite frankly, more responsibilities. Is it impossible to have chickens and just let them come/go as they please in their coop? I have a large guard dog.. But I also have two resident owls...
            "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
            ---
            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by EqTrainer View Post
              Sorry to hijack but I have been considering getting chickens simply to let them roam around and eat bugs. Is that completely impractical? I dont want the eggs or, quite frankly, more responsibilities. Is it impossible to have chickens and just let them come/go as they please in their coop? I have a large guard dog.. But I also have two resident owls...
              Does not seem practical. They are not barn cats, and even those thrive better with care.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by EqTrainer View Post
                Sorry to hijack but I have been considering getting chickens simply to let them roam around and eat bugs. Is that completely impractical? I dont want the eggs or, quite frankly, more responsibilities. Is it impossible to have chickens and just let them come/go as they please in their coop? I have a large guard dog.. But I also have two resident owls...
                In my experience, you do need to close them up somewhere at night. But ours free range all day and go into the coop on their own when it gets dark. Then I just shut the door.

                The one caveat - if you're free ranging like this, be prepared to lose some to foxes, hawks, etc. Its sad, yes, to lose a chickie every so often. But its the nature of the beast. You need to pen them up at night because foxes will often figure out where they roost, and come take them off the roost one by one. Chickens, being not so smart, will just sit there and wait...ask me how I know.
                Here Be Dragons: My blog about venturing beyond the lower levels as a dressage amateur.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by eponacelt View Post
                  In my experience, you do need to close them up somewhere at night. But ours free range all day and go into the coop on their own when it gets dark. Then I just shut the door.

                  The one caveat - if you're free ranging like this, be prepared to lose some to foxes, hawks, etc. Its sad, yes, to lose a chickie every so often. But its the nature of the beast. You need to pen them up at night because foxes will often figure out where they roost, and come take them off the roost one by one. Chickens, being not so smart, will just sit there and wait...ask me how I know.
                  but I guess she could get quail to roam?

                  Comment

                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    Thanks all, that's really useful. I don't think coop space is a limiting factor. It must be 80+ square feet and I don't think I want more than 10. I probably should start with more so that after infant mortality, accidents and having to reduce the rooster count I still have enough for body heat to keep them warm.

                    Dumb question 2: should I try to fence them into a defined run? If I let them wander on what I call somewhat generously call a lawn will they scratch it down to bare earth or will they spread themselves out?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by EqTrainer View Post
                      Sorry to hijack but I have been considering getting chickens simply to let them roam around and eat bugs. Is that completely impractical? I dont want the eggs or, quite frankly, more responsibilities. Is it impossible to have chickens and just let them come/go as they please in their coop? I have a large guard dog.. But I also have two resident owls...
                      That's what I do with my ducks and geese, and formerly with my guineas and a few chickens. Except mine never had a coop of any kind, they were just free roaming critters that would roost wherever they wanted. Once they're adults (the chickens were given to me as adults), I rarely even feed them. In the winter I make sure they're fed and have access to water since the pickin's are slimmer. Except for one goose many years ago, they're not friendly pets. They do fine on foraging and finding horse crumbs. As a rule, mine live 2-3 years before something- often a hawk- gets them. Birds are kinda neat to have around- the horses don't even flinch when a bird flies up in from of them, not even a big goose.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        If you're okay with some losses, then letting them free-range is fine. Sounds like your half stall area would make a nice coop if you frame and finish it with wire mesh [not chicken wire!] to keep out predators.

                        If you don't want to bother shutting them in at night, there are some dusk-to-dawn automatic doors available.
                        --
                        Wendy
                        ... and Patrick

                        Comment

                        • Original Poster

                          #13
                          Originally posted by wsmoak View Post
                          If you're okay with some losses, then letting them free-range is fine. Sounds like your half stall area would make a nice coop if you frame and finish it with wire mesh [not chicken wire!] to keep out predators.

                          If you don't want to bother shutting them in at night, there are some dusk-to-dawn automatic doors available.
                          I like labor saving devices, but I think I'll stick to manual at least to begin with.

                          What is wire mesh vs chicken wire?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            We have chickens. I got them primarily to eat bugs and they do a great job! The eggs are a nice bonus. They have a heated coop, an attached covered "patio" for the warmer winter days, and a large covered pen for when they need to be contained. But the majority of the time they are free range, even in winter, as long as the temp is above freezing and there is bare ground. I don't let them out in the snow, that is why we made the covered patio. I've not lost any to predators.

                            The biggest "problem" is my chickens, Speckled Sussex, are very motherly. They snuck off, made a nest, sat on eggs and before I knew it I had many more chickens!
                            Last edited by NoDQhere; Jan. 31, 2013, 04:05 PM. Reason: forgot something
                            Patty
                            www.rivervalefarm.com
                            Follow us on facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/River...ref=ts&fref=ts

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by tangledweb View Post

                              What is wire mesh vs chicken wire?
                              Thicker gauge. Many predators can chew thru the chicken wire with little to now effort.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by tangledweb View Post

                                What is wire mesh vs chicken wire?
                                Photo of hardware cloth/ welded wire mesh:

                                http://www.mypetchicken.com/catalog/...-100-p372.aspx

                                Hardware cloth 1/2 inch is perfect for a chicken coop. It's what I used and nothing can get in nor out.

                                One of many conversations of hardware cloth vs chicken wire.
                                http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/66...s-chicken-wire

                                The backyardchickens board is a great information source. And if no one has said it or not: Chickens are addicting.
                                "Sometimes you just have to shut up and color."

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Get the Storeys Guide to Keeping Chickens and join Backyardchickens.com forums. There's a million ways to keep chickens appropriately and safely. Their site is photo heavy so you can get a visual about all the different roosts, nesting boxes, varmint control measures, etc.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Sounds like you have plenty of space for 10 chickens. 8SF per bird gives them ample room and if you decide you want more at any time you have space to add up to another 16 birds

                                    ETA: Make that 6 more chickens. Good lord I suck at math!

                                    I like the rule of thumb of 10SF minimum for run space but bigger is always better. Like previous posters said hardware cloth is the best way to go to keep predators out. Also keep in mind that it should be tall enough to keep them in. I've got 4 foot fence on my run and it does fine keeping my older ones in but the youngsters fly over the fence like it's nothing. It's very irritating! I would go at least 6 feet if you are able. You can also let them free range but you will probably lose some to predators, it just goes with the territory.
                                    Last edited by RedmondDressage; Jan. 31, 2013, 06:37 PM. Reason: math is not my strong suit....

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Finzean View Post
                                      and join Backyardchickens.com forums.
                                      just don't say nothing about zebras...

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Alagirl View Post
                                        just don't say nothing about zebras...
                                        Learn from my Epic Fail!

                                        For those freeranging w/o loss:
                                        Don't "count your chickens"
                                        My flock - complete with guardian rooster - roamed for 3 years before a fox took the rooster & 2 hens (one my fave pet) in one afternoon, in broad daylight.
                                        AND returned that weekend to scope out the now-contained survivors in their fenced yard.
                                        I cannot blame the fox - if you scatter McNuggets on your property he/she can't be blamed for using the drive-thru...
                                        *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                                        Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                                        Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                                        Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015

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