Crafting a Chicken Ramada

Although winter’s subzero cold stresses people and animals, the blistering summer heat is usually a greater threat to lives and health. Wise chicken keepers prepare their coop and run to be comfortable and safe during the July and August inferno.  

Keeping chickens cool during the hot months involves providing shade, water, and a breeze. 

Water

Panting causes increased evaporation that helps chickens cool their bodies. During summer they’ll drink plenty of water, so placing several founts or buckets of cool, clean water scattered about the run and coop allows them to frequently drink without a long walk. Water fouls quickly in hot weather, so replacing stale water with fresh water is a  daily summer task. 

Breeze

Chickens love a cool breeze during hot waves. Resting in the shade under a ramada lets a breeze coming from any direction cool them during the day. Like people, chickens enjoy a cool night time breeze while they sleep. Coop windows positioned to allow cross ventilation help keep sleeping birds comfortable through the night. Make sure that open windows or doors are covered with heavy duty wire mesh to repel raccoons and insect screening to keep gnats and skeeters outside.

Shade

Backyard chickens lucky enough to have a large, sunny outdoor run love to sit in the shade on hot days. If they are lucky, the run has several shrubs that protect them from sunshine. A simple ramada provides that shade if shrubs are absent. A chicken ramada is not a fancy motel. It’s a structure easily made from a discarded pallet. In the hot sunny southwest people traditionally built an open sided structure of sticks that lets the breeze in while sheltering people from the blazing sun. A chicken ramada does the same.

Chickens love spending time outdoors in a spacious run. It’s a place for them to socialize, relax and discover tasty seeds and insects to eat. Unfortunately, the outdoors can be a dangerous place. 

Two hazards are common. One is the blazing summer sun that can be lethal if birds can’t find cool shade and water. The other is overhead predators, usually hawks, that occasionally swoop down seeking a tasty chicken dinner. 

Building a Ramada

A chicken ramada shields birds from heat and raptors. A simple one can be made for less than $1.00 in about an hour, even by people lacking fancy carpentry skills.

Step 1: Find three free pallets. Some two billion pallets are in daily circulation around the world. Many are used only one time and then discarded. Stores and factories often pile pallets out back to be hauled away and disposed of. It costs them money to get rid of them, so often simply asking the store or factory manager for permission to remove a few brings and enthusiastic, “Yes!”  Before picking up a pallet inspect it carefully. Most will be stamped with the letters HT. This means the pallet was placed in a massive oven and HEAT TREATED…..baked to kill any insects or weed seeds that might be lurking on it. Pallets with this marking are safe to handle. Occasional, pallets might be marked MB or have a tag saying they’ve been chemically treated to kill pests. Leave them alone! They aren’t safe for either people or chickens. Bring three heat treated pallets home and place them on a level surface.

Step 2: Using a hammer, pry bar, and nail puller, carefully disassemble two of the three pallets. Often pallet wood splits easily, so pry slowly and carefully to keep the boards intact. Most pallets are made of 1/2 to 3/4th inch thick boards nailed to 2X4s. You’ll need four 2X4s 24” long and one intact pallet to make the ramada. Save the 2X4s from the disassembled pallets and use the other boards for fireplace kindling or projects around the coop. 

Step 3: Cut the 2X4s to 24” and use a screw gun to attach them to the bottom corners of the pallet that was not disassembled. Nails work if no screw gun is available. Buying screws or nails is the only cost of this project. Basically, a chicken ramada is a table-like structure with the 2X4s forming the legs and the intact pallet the surface. The length of the legs isn’t critical and can be anywhere from 18” to 36” long.  

Step 4 (optional): Paint the new Ramada or coat it with a wood preservative.

Step 5: Place it in the chicken run. Try to position it as close to the middle as possible. This will prevent adventuresome chickens from flying out of the coop. Some chickens will flap up to the ramada and use it as a launching pad to fly over a fence that they wouldn’t otherwise have enough wing power to clear. If the ramada is a ways from the fence they won’t have the strength to escape. 

A ramada made from a recycled pallet has spaces between the boards that allow some sunlight to filter to the ground, but mostly it casts a cool shade that chickens loiter in on hot days. Often, they also like perching on top.

Chickens instinctively recognize that danger sometimes comes from above. They have excellent vision and a few birds in the flock constantly scan the sky for danger. Should a raptor or crow fly over they’ll give a warning call, sending the flock scurrying for safety under the ramada.  

Summer’s heat isn’t far away. Comfortable chickens are productive birds and providing water, shade, and breezes keeps them safe.

Building a Chicken Coop: If You Build It, They Will Come

Building a chicken coopOne of the most rewarding ways of creating perfect housing for a small flock of backyard chickens is building a chicken coop from scratch.

Anyone with even modest carpentry experience will find coop construction a pleasant and rewarding challenge.

Coops can be purchased readymade or are easily assembled from kits.

DESIGNING OR CHOOSING COOP PLANS

People skilled at planning a project can create their own coop plans, but for most folks working from existing plans makes the project simpler. Dozens of free plans are posted on websites, and many poultry books include chapters on coop building. They usually have plans for a few coop styles.

When designing a chicken coop or choosing an existing plan make sure the finished coop will be large enough to comfortably house the number of hens planned for the backyard.

It should have at least four-square feet of floor space per bird, screening to exclude insects and heavy wiring to repel predators, and easy access to fill feeders and waterers, and retrieve eggs. It should also be easy to clean and look good in the yard.

Because a family may eventually tire of keeping chickens and want to re-purpose the coop, think ahead.  A well-designed coop could be used in the future for storing items like a lawn mower, yard tools, or firewood.

Be sure to choose plans that are within the ability of a family to make. Advanced or complex coops are ideal for people with strong carpentry skill and equipment but may be overwhelming for novices.

Complex coops may also need special tools that most homeowners don’t have.

This blog is part of a series describing the construction of a small backyard coop by guest blogger Rich Patterson and Bryan Davis of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The finished coop will be given to the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which will donate it to someone attending a backyard chicken workshop. The coop plans came from Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe’s book REINVENTING THE CHICKEN COOP. 

Bryan and Rich modified the coop plans somewhat to ease construction and because Iowa winters sometimes bring 20 below zero weather. Almost anyone building a coop may want to alter the plans to suit their needs, so plans can be a general guide for construction.

BUILDING THE COOP

Few families can devote large blocks of time to coop construction and tend to devote a couple of hours whenever they can.

Construction often takes place over a few months so it’s best to build the coop in a space where it can be left, rather than moving it in and out every time construction happens.

If being built inside, be sure the door to the space where the construction happens is large enough to get the coop out!

MATERIALS

Bryan and Rich wanted to build an attractive and sturdy coop while also keeping expenses down.

Some of the coop’s materials were scrounged from businesses and construction sites that no longer needed or wanted the materials.

Most plans come with a materials’ list that includes all the hardware, lumber, and other items needed to complete the project. There are two ways to round it all up.

One is to visit a big box home supply store. They have nearly everything needed but it will be scattered about the store and may take some time to find. The other way is to order the materials from a local lumber yard. Bryan and Rich chose the latter and brought the materials list to the local lumber yard.

Although the materials were slightly more expensive than in a big box store the lumber yard employees gathered it all up, put it on a truck, and delivered it to Rich’s home free.

Be sure lumber is of excellent quality. Inexpensive lumber sometimes is not cured well and twists, making it hard for pieces to fit together well.

TOOLS

The tools Bryan and Rich used to construct the coop in the photos include:

  • Carpenter’s hammer and deadblow hammer
  • Square
  • Crowbar
  • Electric drill and various diameter bits and screw driving bits
  • Table saw and circular saw. Table saws are more precise than hand held circular saws but most simple coops can be constructed using just a circular saw.
  • Hand Saw
  • Carpenter’s level
  • Pencil and chalk line
  • Chisels
  • Rasp
  • Hearing protection muffs and safety glasses

Anyone visiting a tool store is met with a myriad of tools. Thousands of types are on the market at many price points.

Quality tools are delightful to use. They are durable, accurate, and highly effective. Tools are in the midst of a revolution as battery powered cordless drills and saws are replacing corded counterparts.

Always use tools safely. Read the owner’s manual and practice safety.

Wear hearing and eye protection when using power tools.

Working on a project with children is an outstanding way to help them learn the basics of construction, but make sure kids are well grounded in safety.

Encourage children to help by using hand powered tools during coop construction but wait until they are older and strong enough to operate power tools. Excellent instructional videos that help people learn how to safely use tools can be accessed on YouTube.

PLAN AHEAD

It will probably take a few months to decide on a coop plan, purchase materials and tools, and build it. It’s wise to begin the building project several months before chick arrival day!

Egg Nog – Holiday Spirit in a Cup!

If you are like a lot of poultry enthusiasts out there, then you’re likely always looking for fun and unique ways to use up that egg supply. With the holiday’s right around the corner, what better way to put those eggs to work than a cup of Saint Nick’s Egg Nog! Thanks to the incredibleegg.org, here’s a recipe to master the holiday delicacy!

Saint Nick’s Egg Nog

Total Time: 25m, Prep Time: 10m, Cook Time: 15m

Ingredients:

6 large EGGS
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 cups whole milk, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
12 cinnamon sticks for garnish

Yields: 12 servings (6 cups)

Directions:
1. BEAT eggs, sugar and salt in large heavy saucepan until blended. STIR IN 2 cups milk.

2. COOK over low heat, stirring constantly but gently, until mixture is just thick enough to just coat a metal spoon with a thin film and temperature reaches 160°F, about 15 minutes. Do not allow to boil. REMOVE from heat immediately.

3. STIR IN remaining 2 cups milk and vanilla. REFRIGERATE, covered, until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight.

Insider Info:
Just before serving, stir brandy, liqueur, rum or bourbon into eggnog, if desired. For a festive presentation, garnish with whipped cream, ground nutmeg, cinnamon sticks or candy canes.

Secrets of success: Low heat, a heavy sauce pan, constant stirring and patience are the keys to making the eggnog. If you increase the cooking temperature to try to speed the process along, the mixture is likely to curdle. Stirring constantly, making sure to cover the entire bottom and corners of the pan, prevents scorching and ensures that the mixture heats.

Watch carefully and test frequently toward the end of the cooking time, after about 10 to 12 minutes. The last few minutes are crucial. Undercooked eggnog will be thin and watery; overcooked custard will curdle. The difference is a matter of only a few degrees.

For perfectly smooth eggnog: Pour through a sieve before chilling.

For a richer eggnog: Substitute half-and-half or light cream for some of the milk.

To keep eggnog cold during a party, set punch bowl or pitcher in a bed of crushed ice, or freeze some of the eggnog in ice cube trays or ice ring using a bundt pan and add to bowl right before party.

Use leftover eggnog in French toast or pancake batter.

Recipe compliments of www.incredibleegg.org/.

DIY Chicken Coop: Build Your Coop with Scrap Lumber

Backyard flock owners tinker with their coop attempting to increase chicken comfort while making flock management easier. There’s always need for lumber for a new pop hole door, roost, or angled boards to keep birds from perching and pooping on otherwise horizontal surfaces.

Only modest carpentry skill are needed to craft them and make waterer stands, feeders, and many other useful items. Even making a new modest sized coop isn’t difficult and can be mostly built with free scrap wood.

It’s possible to buy almost everything a well-equipped coop needs. Feeders, waterers, nests, and even gourmet specialty food are stocked in stores that sell chicks each spring. But, shopping for chicken needs can get expensive. A solution is finding and using free lumber and to craft coops and chicken furniture at home.

FINDING FREE LUMBER

Plenty of useful lumber, plywood, and insulation are free for the asking and hauling.   Often building sites, industrial and shipping areas, and stores that sell large items are great sources for free wood.

CONSTRUCTION SITES

One of the first items to appear when a house is about to be built is a dumpster. Carpenters regularly toss lumber, insulation, and plywood into it to be hauled off to the landfill. Since everything in the dumpster is new wood it’s clean and often nail free. Sometimes even full sized 2x4s are tossed in the trash.

Visit the site when carpenters are working and ask if it’s ok to remove items. They’ll usually happily grant permission.  After all anything that gets hauled off reduces the cost of disposal to the builder.

STORES

Motorcycles, garden tractors, and machinery of all sorts are often shipped in wooden crates. Once at the store employees remove the items and toss the wood in the dumpster. Again, asking usually secures permission to take wood. Crate wood is normally new but may have some nails in it.

PALLETS

Every day two billion pallets are shipped virtually everywhere in the world.  Many are reused, but far too many companies simply toss them in piles and eventually pay to have them hauled to a landfill.  Most pallets are perfectly safe to use for dozens of projects, while others could be hazardous.

Look for piles of pallets near businesses that ship or receive large quantities of heavy items. Companies are often happy to have people remove them to save disposal cost.

It’s important to understand pallets to choose and those that are most useful, easiest to reconstruct, and safe. Many pallets have the logo of the International Plant Protection Convention or IPPC printed on the wood. They also contain printed codes. Pallets shipped long distances are usually treated to kill insect pests or their eggs that may be hiding in the wood, waiting to hitch a ride to a new place to infest.

Pallets bearing the IPPC logo have been treated to kill pests. Most have “HT” printed on them in bold black letters. This stands for HEAT TREATED and means they were baked in an oven to kill insects. Avoid any pallet marked “MB”. This means it was treated with methyl bromide, a toxic chemical that could be hazardous to humans and chickens.  Also avoid pallets that have had chemicals spilled on them. Some pallets shipped smaller distances domestically may be unmarked.

It helps to be able to identify the species of wood used to make pallets. Usually they are fabricated from spruce or pine, which are soft, easy to work, and light in color. Other pallets are made from oak, ash, elm, or even exotic hardwoods.  These often are darker in color than softwoods and are heavier and more durable. These woods are expensive to buy at the lumberyard but free from the pallet pile.

Deconstructing a Pallet

DIY Chicken CoopOften wood scrounged from construction sites are short boards that are new, clean, and free of nails. No extra work is needed to put them to use. Pallets and crates, in contrast, are held together by nails and screws. They must be deconstructed before use in the coop.

These tools are very helpful for deconstructing a pallet or crate:

  • Claw hammer
  • Pry bar
  • Nail puller
  • Pliers
  • Saw – Cordless crosscut saw can be very useful
  • Leather gloves
  • Hearing protection – Ear muffs or plugs

Some companies even sell special prying tools for removing boards but they aren’t essential.

There are many ways to disassemble a crate or pallet but the most common way is to use a pry bar and hammer to separate nailed boards. Sometimes boards split when pried, but these make excellent kindling for starting fires. Pull nails with the pry bar or specially pulling tool, but be careful. Wear leather gloves. Discard nails in a container.

A quicker way to deconstruct a pallet is to use a power saw to cut the boards free of the 2x4s they are usually nailed to. It works fine but results in shorter boards.

For detailed information on pallets and projects that can be made from them check www.1001pallets.com/pallet-safety/.

Once free wood has been gathered, denailed, and stacked it’s time to begin converting it into useful chicken projects. Salvaging wood otherwise destined for the landfill saves money and feels good.

Wrap up Some Love, with Holiday Egg Cartons

The best gift of all is giving…eggs! Check out these festive egg cartons for the holidays! With a quick trip to the dollar store and $10 in my pocket, I got all I needed to create this simple gift from the heart.

Option 1: Tissue Paper & Tulle

Start with one piece of tissue paper and fold it in half. I placed the egg carton upside down and a few inches from the end of the tissue paper. Then start rolling the tissue paper around the egg carton. After the egg carton is fully wrapped, I finished it off with wrapping a piece of red tulle around the tissue paper.

Option 2: Wrapping Paper

We all have extra holiday wrapping paper sitting around the house! I purchased this plaid wrapping paper from the dollar store for $1.
Lay the egg carton a few inches from the end of the wrapping paper (as seen in picture). Cut the other end a few inches from the egg carton. Once again place the egg carton a few inches from the end of the wrapping paper and start rolling. Use tape to secure the wrapping paper on the bottom of the egg carton. Then top it off with a bow or ribbon!

Option 3: Gift Bag & Ribbon

I purchased two different kinds of gift bags (one brown bag and one holiday bag) to use for wrapping the egg cartons. I cut the gift bag in half and carefully ripped off the handles.

Like shown in the third image, I once again rolled the egg carton in the gift bag. After tapping the bottom of the gift bag, I added a bow with green burlap ribbon and to top it off, I stuck a bundle of cranberries to add a festive accent.

These three options only took me about 30 minutes to complete. So, spread some holiday cheer and give the gift of fresh eggs!

How To Raise Chickens: Raising Chicks in Two Phases

Phase I: The Brooder

Young chicks must have a brooder for warmth and protection.  Watch the video below to learn exactly what a brooder is and how to set one up.

How To Setup Your Brooder

  • Prepare the brooder by cleaning and disinfecting it before the chicks arrive.
  • Once it has dried, cover the floor with 4 to 6 inches of dry litter material.
  • Pinewood shavings or sawdust is recommended to aid in disease prevention.
  • Place the brooder in a draft-free location.
  • Carefully position an incandescent bulb about a foot above the box floor to provide heat and add a second light in case one bulb burns out.

Monitoring Chicks in the Brooder

Newly hatched chicks will find their perfect temperature in the brooder. If it’s too hot under the bulb chicks will move away from the heat; if too cool they’ll move closer.

Give chicks space to move about. Baby chicks huddle together when they’re cold, which can cause smothering or suffocation, so check your chicks regularly to be sure they are comfortable.

Raise the height of the lights as they grow, because their need for artificial heat will diminish as they grow feathers.

Water and Food For Your Chicks

Clean, fresh water is the most important thing to give your chicks. Make sure it is always available and that the waterers are clean.

Chick starter grower rations are available in medicated chick feed and un-medicated chick feed formulas.

Select one with 18% protein that has the vitamins and minerals chicks need to flourish.

It is important for the right blend of nutrients to be age specific, as this feed lays the groundwork for the birds entire future.

Phase II: The Coop

Within a few weeks, your chicks will soon be big enough to move into their coop. As they grow it will become obvious that your brooder won’t hold them forever and forming a plan around how and when to introduce them to the coop or outdoors is a great idea.

Moving from baby brooder to adult coop.

Chicks should be mostly feathered – At 5 to 6 weeks your fluffy chicks will start to resemble adult birds by growing out pinfeathers.These adult feathers will help them regulate their body temps better than fluffy chick down.

Chicks should be acclimated – Although they start off at 90 – 95 degrees in the brooder the first week of life, you need to decrease this temperature each week until the temperature inside the brooder is close to what daytime temps will be.For the first few weeks (and especially if outdoor temperatures are fluctuating), you may want to bring the birds back into the brooder at night or in bad weather.

Chicks should be integrated – Nobody wants hen-house drama, and taking a few simple steps to introduce new birds to old will save a great deal of time and potential injuries.

These steps include having a “get acquainted” phase when the new and old birds are in separate, but attached areas so they can interact without aggressiveness. You also want to do the coop consolidation at night so that the old and new flock wake up together to help minimize bullying.

At this point it is also important to remember if you have youngsters joining your existing flock to only feed chick starter to all birds until the youngest bird is 16 weeks. The extra calcium in regular layer feed can harm young chicks.

Chicks should be eating treats and grit – It’s a great idea to get your birds used to eating treats (if you plan to offer them) a few days prior to putting them outside. That way, you can use the treats in case you need to lure the birds into a secure space at night. Until they are used to thinking of the coop as “home base” they may need just a bit of encouragement.

Just remember, if you start feeding treats (offer no more than 10-15% of the total diet) you also need to offer a grit free choice to aid in digestion.

Find a Nutrena retailer near you.

Keeping Dogs & Chickens

Introducing your birds to dogs (and vice versa)

Just like the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. When you are bringing baby chicks home or adding adult birds to your backyard, the first impression is important. It’s crucial to know that a period of adjustment and acclimation is normal.  Everything may not go smoothly the first day – but that’s okay. The key in the

Misty the mutt and her flock of hens.
Misty the mutt and her flock of hens.

process is to make sure that your birds are protected at all times.

Introducing dogs to chickens can be a touchy situation and is something best handled when you have some help. Having a dog that is trained and obedient to at least a “stay” command and to recall on command is very helpful in this situation. The main thing is to use common sense – dogs will likely be tempted by chickens if they’ve never been around them before. Do not leave dogs and chickens alone together until you’re sure the dog can be trusted.

To start introductions, begin slowly. The first step is to allow the dog near the birds while they are securely enclosed in their run or a cage. Give the animals some time to see and smell each other and grow accustomed to the noises, motions and actions of the other. Do this repeatedly until the animals are calm. After that step is successful, try holding your chickens while your dog is secured, either by a helper or in a kennel and again gauge everyone’s reactions.

When you feel comfortable, you can try letting your birds free range in your yard or garden area with the dog on a leash. Again, gage the situation and reactions. Every animal is different and their response to this situation will vary. Once the dog is used to the chickens being in and around the area and is not negatively responding, you can try a supervised instance of everyone mixing together. This introduction will take time, so don’t rush things and make sure you are patient with your dog; this is a big adjustment to their normal way of life.

Keep in mind, however, that some dogs simply do not mix well with chickens. For example, some breeds of dogs are bred specifically to hunt and capture birds. In these dogs, the prey drive may be extremely hard to overcome.  Signs a dog is exhibiting prey drive can include intense staring, ignores owner or other distractions, refuses to move, body tenses, motionless, crouching, rigid movements, lunging, lips twitching, pupils dilated.

If issues persist, you may want to look into professional dog training or you may need to come to the realization that free ranging your chickens with your dog is simply not an option.

What if my dog eats my chicken’s food?
When keeping dogs and chickens it is important that you don’t give the dog free run of the coop or main housing area. This is mainly due to the fact that ingesting some germs that may be present in your bird’s droppings (think salmonella) could make them sick.

The un-medicated food that you feed your chickens likely won’t cause any harm to your dog unless they eat a huge amount of it. If you are using a medicated food for your chickens, the medication is not approved for use for dogs. The tougher chore will be to keep your birds away from your dog’s food. This food is high in protein and often becomes a flock favorite once they discover where the food bowl is kept!

Best practice is to keep dogs and birds water and feeding stations separate to help reduce the spread of germs as much as possible and keep diets (both the dogs and the birds) as balanced as possible.

What about disease?

All animals can carry disease, and birds and dogs are no different. The main diseases that can be passed on to dogs may be able to be prevented by keeping the dog and birds in separate enclosures; many types of germs are borne in the fecal matter/dust of birds and contracted when inhaled by the dog. One of the top concerns of bird to dog transfer is salmonella. These bacteria are shed in the feces, so a dog that has access to the chicken coop may be more susceptible. Keep the coop and run area closed to the dog, even if birds are out ranging. Coccidiosis, while present in both birds and dogs, is species specific. This means the strains carried by poultry cannot be passed to dogs and vice versa.