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Chickens (newbie wants advice)

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  • Chickens (newbie wants advice)

    OK, so I am planning to get some chickens this year so we can have eggs.
    I've seen some good websites online and saw lots of plans for coops. We have a healthy coyote population here and need to have a good coop so all the poor birdies don't get eaten at night.
    However, I am a bit overwhelmed by all the designs and was wondering if those of you who keep poultry would have a bit of advice for me.

    What type of coop do you have and what do you love and hate about it?
    What would you change if you could?
    What type of water do you provide? (Trough- type or special chicken waterer-thingy?)
    How often do you clean the coop? What bedding do you use?
    I've read that most breeds are fine in the winter (I'm in KY) as long as they have shelter- is this true or do I need to plan for supplemental heat?

    Anything else to warn a newbie chicken keeper of?


  • #2
    I cannot offer advice for a coop, my hens have a free range and rule over the ranchette. I too have a coyote problem but I think that they are discouraged due to the large barn dog and his minions the JRs.
    I have to tell you that I am fascinated with the chicken antics and the fowl personalities. I set up two nesting boxes and once we were all in agreement about where they would put their eggs they seem to follow a pattern. I have way too many eggs these days from the hens so I have perfected the lemon curd and lemon meringue pie recipes ( I also have an abundance of lemons here), my neighbors receive the benefit of my dilemma.
    My hens can fly up to the top of stalls and walk around the hay loft of the barn with the confidence of high wire artists. Good luck with your chickens, I raised the chicks inside of my home so it is little wonder why they are so personable and entertaining.


    • #3
      My parents have layers, so I'll answer with their coop in mind, although I've seen a better set-up that I'll discuss.

      They have a small building, which probably isn't really a coop; I believe it was just an extra shed used to by the farm's previous owners. It's maybe 15' x 10'? I'm guessing. Part of it is a little feed room. They keep about 30 layers at a time. The birds have a connected outdoor run and go outside during the day. The run is fully enclosed with a roof on one end to give them shade/rain/snow protection. The chickens used to have the run of the farm during the day in good weather, but it became a pain to round them up and keep the dogs from chasing them, so they stay in now. They were good snake control, though!

      The building has some perches and one large window in the bird area, another in the feed room. One wall has 16 nest boxes. For some reason, the ladies almost never lay in the third row of boxes. No idea why. Maybe it's haunted

      I'm probably the wrong one to ask about changes because when I'm at the farm, it's normally to see my horses and not the chickens. But...I think it could use one more window. You can never have too much natural light. On the other hand, windows let in more cold air during winter and birds need to stay warm.

      I also think they need a bigger outdoor run. Never underestimate the space that a chicken needs! They'll eat and peck away everything. They like dust baths and probably need some dirt, but I like to see them on grass. If you fence off an area for chickens, the grass will be gone in no time. If your birds will be outside, it would be a good idea to set up some kind of temporary fence that you could move around so as not to kill off all the grass and end up with a dustbowl.

      My parents use those round plastic chicken waterers sold at our local co-op. I think they're about $30 each depending on the size. In the winter, they hang a heat lamp above the waterer to keep it from freezing. The building is insulated, so it stays warm enough...and we're in Ontario, Canada, so I'm guessing your birds will be fine in Kentucky.

      The coop is probably cleaned weekly. The nest boxes are picked out and rebedded more often to keep the eggs clean. They use shavings.

      Now I'll get onto that other set-up. I knew a woman who had maybe 50 to 100 layers. She had the greatest nest boxes. The floor of the boxes was built on somewhat of an angle so that the egg would roll towards the back of the box and drop into a little cubby sort of thing that was underneath each row of boxes. This way the chickens couldn't peck the eggs and the eggs would stay much cleaner. I'm not sure if you can picture this; I wish I could draw it for you. But if you only have a few hens for your own purposes, it might be overkill to get into making fancy boxes.

      We have lots of wolves in coyotes in the area as well, but weasels seem to be more of a problem than the larger predators. We've never had a coyote or wolf come in close enough to check out the chickens, but weasels and raccoons have grabbed quite a few. Raccoons actually pull the wire off the frame to gain access to the chickens, so they hens are locked in the building (no run access) every night. Weasels can get in any where, so make sure the coop is secure. Also, make sure that the roof of your outdoor run is enclosed. Even though the birds may not fly out, hawks could fly in.

      Best of luck to you. I really enjoy chickens and would definitely keep a couple when I have my own farm one day. They do have interesting personalities and will become pets.


      • #4
        As far as design goes, whatever is appealing to you is fine. The things that you must have are good ventilation, particularly in summer, as chickens are very heat sensitive, so consider your climate when picking your design. You must have a good flooring system that is easy to clean and will keep out predators. Rats, foxes, racoons, and coyotes are very persistent in trying to access chickens and their food. You want it to be easy easy to clean in all respects as you need to clean it completely once a week. I love my chickens and they free range during the day, but are secure at night which is when they are most at risk. Have fun and enjoy your chickens. Not only are they great for eggs, they are terrific eaters of bugs.


        • #5
          My Coop is in the barn,Its a horse stall with chicken wire stapled to the top and door
          They have an outdoor run,but mostly free range while im home,They go in on there own when it gets dark.
          They have a light in there coop that i turn off at around 8 pm, months when it gets dark early.
          They have roosts and rubbermaid containers with holes cut in them for nest boxes. I use a chicken
          waterer in the summer and a 8 quart flat back bucket in winter, I just break the ice in it just like
          for the horses. I use cedar shavings in the nest boxes and pine shavings in the stall. I do a full cleaning
          once a year in late spring. Durning the year i stir up the bedding daily with a pitchfork to not let
          it get matted or packed down. I also throw down BOSS and let the chickens help stir it up. Sprinkle in a little
          lime once a month. I also sprinkle lice dust on the spot they like to dust bath, to keep mites away and
          so far ive never had lice or mites. My coop does not smell at all. I have buff orpingtons,brahmas,australorps and americana, I dont provide
          any extra heat durning winter and live in central NY, they are all very cold hardy.
          If you dont free range,make your coop and yard bigger.If its to small they will get board and pick
          at each other. Good luck,Chicken are a lot of fun and make your coop much bigger than you think
          because they are addicting.


          • #6
            I found this today and I'm still laughing:

            I have chickens, I have eggs

            Hey, this was going pretty good! He was dismissing worries I didn't even know existed. I figured the same must hold true for a turkey, after all they taste similar.

            Then Wilco did something truly evil.

            Those bastards sent a couple of kids, presumably slave labor, around the room passing out paper bags that contained "One Free Chick, Compliments of Wilco."

            I didn't see it coming and I'm sure that was the plan. Oh, yeah. Here's your free chicken and by the way it needs food and water and heat or it will die, killer. Heat? Where the hell do I get heat? How much heat?

            Turns out they sell lamps that heat up baby chickens. Cost: $10.00.
            If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


            • Original Poster

              thanks so much for all the good advice! Especially about reminding me of the smaller predators too. We do have rats that live in the fields around the house- and I know I've seen weasels too. I'm thinking perhaps metal sheeting will be in order either on the outside or inside to prevent those pests.
              So shavings are ok, then. For some reason I was thinking straw might be better, but pine is much easier to come by for me.
              Now I'd better get this coop building show on the road!


              • #8
                If you get baby chicks it will be MANY weeks until they're ready to live in the coop. Mine are going in a 15 gallon fish tank for their first week or two.
                Click here before you buy.


                • #9
                  jumpsnake :
                  OMG - I'm another ChickenNewbieWannaBe and even this story couldn't quench my fever.
                  Although it did have me snorking out loud at work...

                  Maybe I need to rent that old movie The Egg & I.....
                  *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


                  • Original Poster

                    Oh, yes, I do know that baby chicks must be kept differently- lots of heat, etc. Thanks though for the warning. I just know the way we are is that we're much better off being totally ready first. If I get the chicks thinking I have weeks to get a coop together, some crap will come up and then I'll have full grown chickens living in a stock tank or something.

                    Another question: Will the egg flavor differ at all depending on what they eat? Does the egg flavor differ breed to breed?

                    And, a shocker- has anyone eaten duck eggs? What are they like?


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by jumpsnake View Post
                      Oh, yes, I do know that baby chicks must be kept differently- lots of heat, etc. Thanks though for the warning. I just know the way we are is that we're much better off being totally ready first. If I get the chicks thinking I have weeks to get a coop together, some crap will come up and then I'll have full grown chickens living in a stock tank or something.

                      Another question: Will the egg flavor differ at all depending on what they eat? Does the egg flavor differ breed to breed?

                      And, a shocker- has anyone eaten duck eggs? What are they like?
                      Egg flavor definitely matters depending upon what they eat. I'm not sure it matters by breed. Here is a survey that shows nutritional differences as well:

                      We have ducks and duck eggs. They have thicker whites than chicken eggs, and they seem to have a slightly whiter white as well. My daughter prefers them for eating, but to me sometimes they have a bit of a dirt aftertaste if I'm eating them plain... no doubt because our ducks love to root in the mud. No one else seems to notice. They're wonderful for baking, etc, and indeed some bakers deliberately seek them out.

                      Again, what they eat probably matters.

                      Eating eggs is poultry birth control. Particularly in summer, if you forget to collect them, you'll have cute baby ducklings... which is nice, but soon they turn into a flock of adult ducks... who lay even MORE eggs!
                      If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks, poltroon.
                        I love ducks. I find just about anything they do funny and endearing, so I'd love to have a few around. I'm thinking of runners, since we don't have a pond that holds water all year long.

                        Well, I guess I need to get this coop thing going!


                        • #13
                          The easiest way to make a coop is to buy a large chain link dog pen and roof it. I keep all my outside animals in chain link with pavers around the bottom and nothing that can kill them can get in. My hens would make short work of a weasel! You'll soon learn that some hens will attack any moving thing that is smaller than them that gets in their pen. Don't walk around them barefoot!

                          Do NOT use chicken wire, as this is made to keep chickens in only. If you're building it yourself and want it to last a long time, use galvanized after welded wire. You'll have to special order it and it costs more. Galvanized before welding is lower quality and will quickly rust and/or pull apart. This is what they sell in TSC and it's not good wire.

                          I use a large plastic dog kennel as the roost and a smaller one for the nest box, both on concrete blocks with carpeted ramps. I made a wooden perch that sits inside the roost. When it gets cold I totally surround the roost with straw and then wood to hold the straw against the house (or else the hens would scratch it all out). I also put up barricades so the wind doesn't hit them.

                          If you keep your eggs at room temperature they'll taste way better than store-bought eggs. You'll be amazed. They can stay good for up to three weeks on the counter. Right before they're laid something called bloom is put on the egg that keeps bacteria out and keeps the eggs fresh. Don't wash them until you eat them or you'll wash off the bloom. If they crack (and they shouldn't, as fresh unrefrigerated eggs have shells that are very thick) then I cook them up right away and feed them back to the hens.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by jumpsnake View Post
                            Thanks, poltroon.
                            I love ducks. I find just about anything they do funny and endearing, so I'd love to have a few around. I'm thinking of runners, since we don't have a pond that holds water all year long.

                            Well, I guess I need to get this coop thing going!
                            We just have a little rubbermaid tub for our ducks and that keeps them content.
                            If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                            • #15
                              Our token ducky is so excited that the snow is melting and he has a creek to swim in again. He goes crazy dunking his head in the water bucket all winter long. Poor little guy. If it were up to me, I'd move him in and give him the bathtub for the winter.

                              My parents have used straw in a pinch, but it gets matted down and with chickens you really want the fresh smell that shavings give you. Chickens can be very smelly!


                              • #16
                                Chicken answers

                                Saw this and had to post as poultry are a hobby of mine.
                                Coops- rough estimate is 1 sq foot per chicken, but I think thats too small and always do at least 2 ft per bird. I like to be able to walk into my coop rather than the hutch type. Mine is set up so that I can easily block off one part to brood chicks in and one part for the adult birds and then open it up to mingle the birds at the proper time. We use shavings, and a deep bedding system in the winter. A friend has really good luck with peat moss.
                                Choose your birds wisely, they can live a long time. I have an 8 year old hen. If you live somewhere with below freezing temps in winter, you might want to choose birds that have small or rose combs. Its pretty gross when they get frost bite on their combs and wattles. I heat my pen throughout the winter and my big combed rooster still got frost bite. Chanteclers are a nice bird for a beginner. Not flashy, but quiet and easy to care for. Try to be sure not to leave food in the pen overnight. It will attract mice.
                                Predators- coyotes and neighbor dogs will strike during the day on free range hens as well as at night. Keep a farm dog to prevent this. Just make sure said dog gets along with chickens. Weasels and raccoons are night predators primarily. Also don't forget hawks and eagles and owls. The chickens are vulnerable at night as they do not get off their roosts. A weasel, rat or raccoon can kill the entire flock right down to your big tough rooster without getting so much as a peck on the head, so make sure whatever coop you use you can lock down at night and lock down every night.

                                Do put a roof over your outdoor run. Chickens are remarkable flyers and will be able to get out of just about anything. I've not had much luck clipping wings. I second the idea of a chainlink dog kennel, but then fit it with a small mesh wire top. Better safe than sorry.


                                • Original Poster

                                  Hayfields, thanks, I think your predator descriptions are just about what I'd expect here. Unfortunately getting a dog is not an option for us- so I've got to make sure things are predator-proof. The birds will be contained at all times, and people will be around them during the day, so I'm not worried about daytime predators, but I'm sure at night we will have attempts to get in. I like the idea of having a dividable pen.
                                  Will good quality hardware cloth around the roost area work, do you think? I know rats in particular will chew through wood- so I'm guessing I need to line the entire thing.
                                  For the floor inside the roost area- what do you all do to clean it? Wood will absorb all sorts of nastiness. FarmTek sells a white, plastic type stuff in 4x8 sheets I was thinking of using as it can be washed. How much nighttime ventilation do the birds need? Are they like horses in being better off with more ventilation even on cool/ cold nights? Or during cold weather should they be 'cooped up' with only a little ventilation?
                                  Sorry so many questions, but I'd rather take the time now to plan it out and then love my coop!


                                  • #18
                                    Remember, too, that raccoons can reach in through very small mesh. They will grab a bird by the ankle and try to pull it out thru the fencing. This is NOT a happy thing for chicken nor farmer. I would never keep chickens in chain link if there were weasels, rats or 'coons around.
                                    Our 'coop' is part of our woodshed. The chicken section is about 8' square and probably 12 feet high. The whole 'room' is lined with rat wire, also known as hardware cloth http://www.twpinc.com/twpinc/control...4X004D0250W48T
                                    The stuff is amazingly strong and small paws cannot reach in. The wire is also sunken down about 6" below ground level so no diggers can enter. Chickens sleep very soundly and unless you have a rooster to protect them, the girls can sleep through an attack until it is too late. The top of their room is also wired. They have a small door that leads out to a pen which is about 12' square, with wire top at about 14'. There are 2 human doors, one into the shed part, one into the pen part. I have a big feeder for them, which holds enough food for about a week, and 2 different waterers. One for summer, an electrified one for winter so the water never freezes. Each holds enough water for a week. I hang waterer and feeder from the roof, suspending them about 18" from the ground, so the stuff stays clean. The girls have 2 nesting boxes inside the chicken room, inside dimension about 18" square, stuffed with horse hay. The floor has about 3" of shavings. Their roost is an old pitchfork handle jammed across the corner, about 2 1/2 ' off the ground. Under the roost is a big plastic tray for easy cleaning. For the winter, I have 2 heat lamps attached to the rafters and aimed down thru the wire at the roost. The girls go out every morning and are free all day. Usually, they tuck themselves into their house at dusk but I shut them in before dark.
                                    There is nothing more fun than chickens. You will have a blast. One of ours likes to ride on a shoulder-anyone's shoulder. They come running when we drive in the driveway. They help with barn chores, they think the horses are amusing-our horses don't mind them one bit. They eggs are beyond delicious.
                                    Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


                                    • #19
                                      We have ours lined on the bottom with hard cloth b/c raccoons dig. Based on our evidence they dig deeper than 6 inches and in multiple spots looking for a way in. We then dumped playground sand to cover the cloth and provide good drainage. Easy to clean, the girls love dirt baths in the stuff and no raccoons have penetrated the coop. I made my coop so they have access to quite a lot of ground space while their roosting/nesting space is up a level. Love the design for our weather.
                                      "Sometimes you just have to shut up and color."


                                      • #20
                                        Question--do you all lock your chickens in the coops at night, or leave them in their pen with access to a coop? I'm thinking my coop (just picked it up today!) is pretty dang predator proof--it's built like a house!! I'd assume most predators do their deeds at night, yes?

                                        Just found out that my chicks won't be here for another 3 weeks, due to tremendous demand for baby chicks this year!
                                        Click here before you buy.