Making sure your chickens are safe is a must. If you’re wondering what you can do to keep your hens safe listen in as Twain Lockhart, Nutrena’s Poultry Expert, informs us on best practices to build a safe coop.
If you are new to chickens, or are looking at upgrading your current coop, there’s a few key things to consider when building a home for your flock. Learn from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart how to keep your girls happy, healthy, and safe from predators in their coop.
- Use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire to keep chickens safe from predators
- Chickens need about 16 hours a day of daylight to get eggs
- It’s very important for chickens to be positioned so they are exposed to natural sunset
- Four chickens per nest box is a good rule of thumb
- Make sure the coop is well ventilated, but not drafty
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.
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.
People forget but hungry raccoons never do. Keeping predators from decimating a flock is the best reason for installing an automatic pop hole door on the chicken coop.
Sunset signals bed time for chickens. As daylight dims they’ll leave their outdoor run, enter the coop through the pop hole and hop up to a roost for a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, just as chickens tuck themselves in for the night, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, foxes and even mink wake up hungry and begin seeking dinner.
Wise flock owners tighten up their coop so nocturnal predators can’t enter, but the weak link in predator defense is the pop hole. Forget to close it even once and odds are good sleeping chickens will become a tasty meal for a hungry wild creature.
Manually closed and clasped pop hole doors work fine for keeping predators at bay but they require someone to always be available to close it at sunset and open it the next morning. That’s not always possible for forgetful people or those with busy schedules who might not be home when chickens doze off and predators waken.
Automatic pop hole doors close without the need for someone to physically be present. They frustrate hungry raccoons but save flocks. Automatic pop hole doors don’t do anything that human fingers closing a manual door do, but they work when no one is around or someone forgets to close the pop hole. Controlled by either a timer or light sensor automatic devices close the door at a set time and reopen it the next morning. There are generally two types and each works well.
Timer Controlled Doors
An electric motor closes and opens the door controlled by a timer plugged into an outlet. This requires the owner to set the timer to close the door just after sunset and reopen it after sunrise. Because day length changes with the seasons, resetting the timer five or six times a year is necessary so the door closes and opens around sunset and sunrise. Not too early in the evening to avoid having a chicken left outside, and not too late in the morning so chickens are not unnecessarily cooped up.
Sensor Controlled Doors
Some doors are controlled by a light sensor so they close as light dims and open after the next morning’s sunrise. They eliminate the need to reset a timer as day length changes but often are more expensive than timer operated doors. Some users have reported that the light sensor controlled doors have closed on dark cloudy days with the chickens still outside, but generally they work fine.
Some sophisticated doors can be opened and closed remotely with a smart phone and they can be fitted with a battery so the mechanism works during a power failure. A solar photovoltaic panel can be fitted to keep the battery charged. These may be appealing options for people who love technology and aren’t concerned about cost.
Automatic pop hole doors aren’t foolproof and need occasional attention. Sticks can blow into the opening and snow and ice can form. Either can keep the door from properly closing. Power failures are threats to auto doors that don’t have battery backup. However, these problems don’t happen often and doors generally work flawlessly.
A Few Things to Consider
Automatic pop hole doors are ideal for busy families. Often, no one gets home until after school or work hours, which can be several hours past sunset. Having the device close the door gives peace of mind. Pop hole doors aren’t completely free of the need for a person to visit the coop daily. Someone should collect eggs, fill feeders and waterers and make sure the pop hole door is working properly every day. Nothing beats having a neighbor, friend, or relative available to care for the flock during vacations or long weekends away.
Automatic doors of many types can be purchased through the internet, and kits are also available that offer some cost savings. A few inventive people have designed and built their own.
Automatic pop hole doors save chickens owned by people who forget to close the door or who simply love the convenience of sitting indoors on a cold morning and watching the chickens troop outside when the door opens by itself. They make life a little easier and keep hens safe.