Feeding Chicks and Layers Together

Bringing baby chicks home to add to your existing flock? Check out this video from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart for tips on feeding the entire flock properly through this transition.

 

Helpful tips:

  • Feed baby chicks, or juveniles, chick starter crumble until they are 16 weeks of age
  • Have oyster shell available for adult females as crumble feed have very little calcium

 

Keeping Chicken Feed Fresh

A big part of keeping your backyard chickens happy and healthy is providing them high quality chicken feed, like those from Nutrena! But if you don’t store your feed properly, no matter what brand you buy, you can run into trouble. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart a few key tips to keeping your feed fresh and your girls happy!

 

Helpful tips:

  • Dump feed in a metal trash can with a lid on it to keep out rodents
  • Save the tag from the feed bag
  • Keep feed in a dry, cool place
  • Buy a little less feed in the summer time, more trips to the feed store

 

Transitioning Chicks from the Brooder to the Coop

If you bought new baby chicks this spring, they might be getting close to ready to go from the brooder to the coop. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart how to make the transition a successful one!

 

Helpful tips:

  • Chicks should be fully feathered before transitioning
  • Place chicks in metal dog crate for two weeks before moving to the coop
  • Add water stations in hot weather 
  • Keep chicks on chick starter feed for 16 weeks

 

Getting the Brooder Ready for Baby Chicks

Learn what the most important components of a brooder are for raising baby chicks. From the types of brooder containers, to lighting, to bedding to use, you’ll know all the key tips to keep your chicks happy and healthy in the brooder.

 

Helpful tips:

  • An old stock tank, plastic tote or cardboard box work well to hold the chicks and keep the heat in.
  • Make sure heat lamp is secured.
  • Both clear and red bulbs work fine. Red bulbs will reduce cannibalism.
  • Chicks like to scratch in the feeder and will waste a lot of feed when they’re young.
  • Use baby chick starter feed for the first 16 weeks.

 

Chickens in the Garden

Few foods are as appealing to a hungry chicken as a bunch of young lettuce or spinach sprouts poking through the spring soil. Given the chance, a few hens will quickly devour plants intended for their owner’s kitchen.

Ironically, few soil additives are as appreciated by lettuce, spinach and other vegetables as chicken manure. Plants seem to leap from the ground and produce human food in abundance when stimulated by the droppings that chickens produce every day.

The trick to achieving both healthy chickens and an abundant garden is managing the flock in a way that the hens help the gardener instead of their gobbling down valued veggies.

Here are a few ways to manage a flock for garden abundance:

The Double-Run System

Probably the best and easiest way to manage a flock and garden is to create a double run. The chicken run is simply the fenced in area where the birds enjoy daylight hours lounging, dusting their feathers, and foraging for seeds, insects, tender sprouts, and bits of stone that helps their digestion. Over the course of the day they deposit their droppings randomly.

Most coops have just a single run, but often the owner can convert this into a double-run system. The bigger and sunnier the area the better.

Stretch a wire mesh fence six or eight feet tall to split the run roughly in half. Devise a way to allow the chickens to access only one side of the run at a time. The rest is easy.

In one gardening season let the hens into only one side. Plant the garden in the other. Next year, reverse it. It’s an outstanding way to rotate crops and nutrients.

Seasonal Helpers

Many flock owners don’t have enough room to create the double-run system described above. They can still use chickens to help with gardening chores.

For most common garden vegetables, it’s vital to keep the birds excluded during the growing season. Otherwise they’ll harvest the crops. However, usually there are several weeks after the snow melts but before it’s warm enough to plant seeds. Come fall once the season’s last vegetables are harvested, there is often a long cooling window of time until the ground freezes and snow falls. These are prime times for chickens to enjoy gleaning tasty morsels from the garden.

Chickens have superb vision, strong legs and feet, and nimble pointed beaks. They gleefully spend hours scratching up the soil. Humans might call it tilling. Their sharp eyes spot tiny weed seeds and insect eggs and larvae. Their pointed beaks snatch them from the soil and turn them into delicious protein filled food. Chickens remove the seeds and bugs that can pester next year’s vegetable plants and convert them to food.

Turn a flock loose in early spring or late fall and hens will usually head right for the rich garden soil hiding delicious goodies, but there’s a way to encourage them to target the places that need the most chicken foot rototilling. Bait them by scattering a few handfuls of dried mealworms or black oil sunflower seeds – those in the hull – in the garden and rake them gently into the soil. Hens love mealworms and sunflower seeds. In the process of hunting these goodies they’ll loosen and soften the soil and discover hidden insects and weed seeds.

Excluding Chickens from The Garden

Many people can’t let their chickens forage in the garden, but they can still blend vegetable and chicken husbandry. It’s simple. Weeds and vegetable waste mixed with chicken manure and manure-laden litter decay into outstanding compost. Work the compost into the soil before seed planting and watch the vegetables flourish upward.

Much research is being done on the benefits of using chickens to restore degraded grasslands in China and Europe. Essentially scientists are finding how helpful it is to let hens access land. Dr. Carl Rosier works for the Rodale Institute at Etzel’s Sugar Grove Farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, studying ways to improve soils in cropland. “Chicken manure stimulates plant growth and increases soil productivity, water holding capacity, and nutrient retention. In a nutshell chickens, when incorporated into the garden correctly, can help bring balance to the soil ecosystem,” he said.

Many families that keep chickens also enjoy growing beans, tomatoes, and many other vegetables. It feels good to bring both fresh eggs and crops into the kitchen. Meshing chickens with gardening is a perfect way to maximize food production while improving the soil’s health.

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!