Making It Easy

Books, magazine articles, and Internet blogs often offer tips on how to involve children in chicken keeping. It is an outstanding way for youngsters to learn where food really comes from, gain responsibility by caring for animals, and pique their curiosity about living things. Some kids will be “bitten by the chicken bug” and find that keeping a flock develops into a lifelong joy 

There’s one unfortunate thing about kids. They grow up and leave the nest!  Then the years pass and parents’ aging joints begin to creak and muscles start to ache. The common chores of lifting heavy feed bags, scooping manure out of coops, and hauling drinking water to the flock often cause older people to give up their chicken hobby. 

There are ways to make keeping chickens easy on the back and muscles. These simple tips could encourage older people to keep enjoying their Australorps, Brahmas, Rhode Islands or any of many other fascinating breeds as they age.

Avoid Lifting

Lifting heavy weights sometimes pulls muscles and can be tiring. Most bags of feed and bundles of wood chips weigh upwards to 50 pounds. Slinging them around is no problem for a strapping 30-year old but as the years add up, that same size bag seems to grow ever heavier. Some ways to avoid lifting include:

  • Ask the feed store if an employee will carry bags out and lift them into the trunk. Often, they are happy to help.
  • After arriving home, slide the bag from the trunk into a wheelbarrow or wagon and roll it to the storage bin, usually a metal garbage can, in or near the coop.
  • Instead of trying to dump the feed from the bag to the bin, after opening the bag use a scoop to bail the feed in a few pounds at a time. It takes a little longer but is easier and safer than hoisting that heavy bag.
  • Use a scoop that holds two or three pounds of feed to transfer it from the storage bin to the feeder.

Put Everything Within Easy Reach

Position the feed storage bin as close to feeders as possible to make transferring feed simple and easy. Also, keep scratch grain and grit within reach of the coop to minimize walking. It saves time and energy to make everything needed to care for chickens convenient.  

Enlist Hen Help

Often nests are placed against a side or back coop wall, and sometimes they’re mounted low. Gathering eggs requires entering the coop and bending, often several times a day. It’s far easier to enlist the hen’s help to make egg collection easier. Most people have common tools. With basic carpentry skill a person can make a nest about waist high that protrudes from the coop into an easily accessed space. Nest openings face the coop and allow the birds to easily enter them to deposit their daily gift of a fresh egg. Hinges enable the top of the nest to be opened simplifying collection. The hens eliminate the need to bend over to gather their eggs.

Hinges, Clasps, and Grips

Hardware stores sell inexpensive springs made to close screen doors. It only takes two screws and a few minutes to create an automatic coop door closer. One end of the spring is screwed to the door frame and the other to the door itself. The spring closes the door automatically and holds it closed, making it easy for a person to enter or leave the coop with hands full, while making it hard for hens to escape. It’s helpful to have a clasp hold the door closed to make entry challenging for a hungry nocturnal raccoon. Many clasp designs automatically secure the door once the spring pulls it closed. A simple loop made of heavy duty wire (see photo) enables easy opening of the clasp by a person on the door’s opposite side while eliminating the chance that he or she will get locked inside the coop with the birds.

Lighten the Water Load

One gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds and most waterers hold two to five gallons.  Lugging water gets heavy fast, but there are ways to make the refilling chore easy.  Most backyard coops lack a hose tap near them, so water has to be carried a distance from the house. A plumber can be hired to run an underground water line to the coop, but that’s expensive. An easier and less costly way to have a handy water supply is to add a section of gutter to the coop roof and channel downspout water into a rain barrel.  Rain barrels hold and store 30 to 50 gallons of water of clean precipitation. Even a light shower on a smallish roof fills them up.  

Most common buckets hold 2 ½ gallons of water, and weigh around 20 pounds when full. Rather than lugging a filled 50-pound five-gallon chicken waterer from the hose tap or rain barrel to the coop, simply keep a couple of buckets handy. Fill them from the rain barrel and transfer water to the waterer. It may take two or three trips, but that’s easier than lugging the filled container.

Create a Visible Pop Hole Door

Anyone who has had a raccoon feast on their prized chickens knows how important it is to close the pop hole door each evening to exclude the furry predators. Door closing is easy to forget, so automatic door closers might make the chore more certain. Some closers operate on timers, while others have a photo sensor and close the door at twilight. Usually they operate on electricity. Having power in the coop to operate the door, lights and water heaters during cold weather is a major labor saver. Some door closers may be powered by batteries but hiring an electrician to run power to a coop is a major labor-saving investment.

Most people manually close the pop hole door in the evening and open it the next morning. Sometimes they forget. While watching an evening television show or reading, a nagging question can enter the mind. “Did I close the door?” There are two ways to find out – walk out and see if it’s closed or check it from a distance with a flashlight. Positioning the pop hole so it can be seen from the house saves steps, and a flashlight with a focused light beam enables checking it from a distance. That saves steps in the darkness.

Making chicken keeping easy saves anyone time and effort and could prevent a lifting or bending injury. Human bodies age, while interest in keeping chickens lingers. Structuring the coop and managing chores to reduce lifting and make chicken care easier, saves time, reduces the chance of an injury, and makes it possible to maintain a flock even by older folks.

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