I’m going to take you on a tour of our chicken coop! I think it’s an adorable coop. I’m very pleased with how functional it is!
I haven’t always wanted a backyard flock. In fact, when a relative of mine acquired one, I thought it was kind of gross. Admittedly, my attitude was one of pure ignorance. My preconceived notions were from never eaten anything that wasn’t from a supermarket. Surely it was a much more sanitary way to acquire food?I now know that the opposite is actually the case. Factory working hens live and die in exceedingly deplorable conditions producing a nutritionally inferior product.
Coupled with the financial savings we might expect as we were beginning to use over two dozen eggs for our own growing little “flock,” and we started tossing around the idea of raising some chicks. We certainly had the room for it. I could consider it to be educational for the children and also foster work ethic. We did some research checking Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens out of the library. After a few discussions with my relatives decided to go through with it.
The largest financial obstacle was housing. Our chicken coop is a renovated shed that came with the house when we purchased it. The framing was in good condition, but it sat on a low spot so the floor was pretty rotten. And it needed new siding and a roof.
Since we don’t have a garage we divided it for half chicken coop and half potting shed. We started building it just before the chicks arrived in May knowing that we would have several weeks to complete the project before they were ready to move to their permanent housing.
The building is raised off the ground to inhibit rodent infestation. We’ve still noticed a mouse or two in there this winter, but I imagine their gleaning just the little tidbits that are dropped because we store the feed in steel containers to keep them out of it. Further protection is added with chicken wire attached to lattice to keep larger visitors out.
Tour of our Chicken Coop
A few things not detailed in the video:
Inside the chicken coop, we’ve made sure to provide plenty of cross ventilation with two screened windows that swing open. It helps minimize odors (I know this for sure because there is a discernible difference in the winter), but it has literally been a lifesaver. This summer a raccoon decided to make a visit at dusk before we shut the hens in for the night. His presence was detected when my son saw a hen burst through the open screen window!
We switched from using straw on the floor to wood shavings. Wood shavings reduce odor and work load. The deep litter method works by piling up new shavings on top of old ones instead of constantly changing straw out. The hens scratch around in it and their droppings fall to the bottom. We change our bedding entirely two times per year. (Which means I need to use my Annual Calendar in my Homestead Management Binder to remind me of when it needs done.) We installed a latched door on the side of the coop to scoop out the bedding through when it does need changed.
Initially, we wanted to make provisions in the event that free-ranging didn’t work out as we thought it would. One of those was the hinged door on a pulley system to let the girls out of the coop without our having to set a foot in the run. A second rope was added to open the door fully, allowing for a large screened “window” to be opened for added ventilation. Had we known about an Automatic Chicken Door, I’m sure we would have had one for the novelty of it since our bread is won in the automatic door industry for people.
What You’ll Need to Buy When Getting Chickens (Besides the Chicken Coop)
• Brooder– Depending on the size of your flock, this could be anything from a cardboard box or large plastic storage tote lined with newspaper (changed as needed). If the waterer is raised, the chicks may use as a stepping stone and fly out. This is easily remedied with a screen. I think converting the space under the row of nesting boxes for a brooder would be a good idea.
• Feeder & Waterer for in the brooder– These fruit jar styles are perfect! I recommend the metal for durability or you’ll find yourself buying new feeders & waterers every year. When choosing a product, bear in mind that they’ll stand in their food and water if left open and leave droppings in them. We’ve had ducklings drown in just the smallest bit of water so we prefer a closed system or nipple waterer.
•Feed– I recommend trying to find feed grown without GMO’s. For years, we couldn’t find any, but is getting easier as demand increases. If you’re at a loss, Amazon now carries Hiland Naturals. Soft shelled eggs indicate a need for calcium and oyster shell is a helpful remedy. Free-ranging hens drastically cuts down on feed cost as they’ll forage for their own food. Hens also love most kitchen scraps. We always save bread heels for the girls. They also love bananas (I always pick up the dollar bags for them when I see them), watermelon, and picking the remains off of corn cobs. If you would like more ideas on reducing your feed cost, check out the Permaculture Chickens video. It’s amazing and will teach you how you can keep your feed costs down to virtually nothing. Yes, nothing.
• Feeder & Waterer for the Chicken Coop- Bigger birds have bigger requirements. If you live in a cold climate, I suggest a water heater. Even with one, ours will still freeze sometimes. We discontinued using a hanging waterer because the hens would bump it spilling water onto the floor which ruins the bedding. Of course, that’s not a problem if you use a hanging nipple waterer which minimizes the chance of leaks. Just make sure you always use the lid or the water can still spill, and debris can clog the nipples so they don’t work.
•Heat and Lighting- Whether you use supplemental heat and light to keep your flock laying in the winter is up to you. Increasing the amount of light the hens have throughout the day keeps them laying more abundantly through the winter, but we’ve decided to do without in order to keep costs low and respect the natural rest period they were created with. We’ve learned to enjoy a glut of eggs seasonally and conserve their use in the winter. If they are allowed outside some part of the day, they will have more light than if they are cooped up exclusively, giving more eggs more quickly when the days begin to lengthen. We have also observed that pullets are less likely to be affected by the changes of season so we add a few hens to our flock every year.
• Nesting boxes– One box for every 3 birds should be adequate
ENCOURAGING NATURAL BEHAVIOR
• Roost– Chickens naturally want off of the ground at night. They’ll spend the dark hours perched here.
• An Area for Dust Bathing– This area must be kept dry. Diatomaceous earth works great if you don’t live somewhere dusty. Dust bathing provides insect control. If they free range, they will ruin your gardens if you don’t give them somewhere to dust bathe. Trust me on that one.