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Question about future chicken setup

 
gardener
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I'm hoping to get chickens next year and I have been planning how I want to keep them. I'm planning on a mobile chicken co-op with a paddock shift setup for most of the year. But from Nov through say Feb I'm thinking about using a stationary chicken coop with a deep litter setup. The litter would be mostly woodchips and fall leaves plus some weeds thrown in.

My soils get really mucky and wet during that part of the year so I thought the stationary deep litter setup could be better. Plus it has the added benefit of helping me make compost to build some large garden beds I have planned or help boost the fertility of my existing kitchen garden beds.

I'm thinking about having a small flock of 8 or chickens and a rooster.

First question... can this setup work and keep the chickens healthy and not smelly?

How big should the stationary coop plus run be? I was thinking of just putting the nesting boxes and perches up above part of the run so the dropping just fall on the deep litter.

My main goals would be to get eggs, have the chickens help prep land for future work during spring, summer and early fall and then switch to the stationary coop and use that setup to generate compost.

Any potential headaches I should watch out for? Any tips or advice?

I have never raised chickens so this will all be new for me.

Thanks!
 
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Daron Williams wrote:

First question... can this setup work and keep the chickens healthy and not smelly?



I'm sort of new to chickens, too, and I have found www.backyardchickens.com invaluable for figuring out what will (and won't) work, how much space is needed, etc. The one thing I have to say, predator-proofing is extremely important. I have one paddock set up for mine (didn't know about rotating paddocks) that will only be used when I'm out there with them because we have a lot of hawks here.

I've got sort of the same intention for litter as you. The run (which is surrounded by concrete blocks, like a raised bed) started out as four inches of coarse sand, over which I have layered four more inches of hardwood bark chips. I've only got two chickens right now in about 20 square feet of space because several of them died as chicks. So I can't advise on a lot of your questions. BUT...

one thing I found to be extremely helpful with SMELL is making a LAB serum, per the following video. I don't have smell problems unless it rains, but then it smells despite the litter and the space. So far, so good with this LAB serum, which can be used for all sorts of things:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQFwMIo_2xg&feature=youtu.be

Good luck!



 
steward
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My set-up is odor free enough that if I had to spend the night in the dog house, I might opt for the chicken coop instead.  I use pine planer shavings for my somewhat deep litter.  It starts out in the fall at 1-2" deep and when I clean it out in the summer it's about 6" deep.  It's very dry since the coop has a good roof on it.  If it was wet I'm guessing it wouldn't be low odor.

My run is a cattle panel hoop with plastic sheeting on it.  I fill it with 70 leaf bags in the fall and the birds turn that into about 4 cubic yards of compost by spring.  I add water to that to get it composting.  If it was totally uncovered it would probably work well.

They don't spend much time in the nest boxes so the majority of the poop will be under the roost.

I hope that helps, if it adds confusion just ask more questions
 
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Sounds like a good setup. I think the general rule of thumb is 4 square feet of coop space per chicken plus a nesting box for each bird. I suggest going larger if possible. Especially if they are going to be in the coop all winter. I do deep litter & it works great. Easy to maintain & keeps the smells down.

Chickens will poop wherever they are at the moment the urge strikes. In their water, food, etc. Placing the nest boxes above the straw will help concentrate it a little but expect it everywhere the chickens are.

Potential headaches. Mine has always been predators. Random stray dogs have been the worst problem.

This is the first year they have been too interested in scratching around the garden. Built them their own garden & that seemed to deter them. For about a week. I'm considering training a dog to protect the chickens from predators & keep them out of our food.
 
pollinator
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My favorite chicken setup over the years has been a walk-in coop attached to a large covered run.  This provides birds with ample indoor and outdoors space to be fully protected in, and allows you to open their pen and let them free-range if/when desired.

I've found that chicken stink has more to do with diet than any other factor.  Feeding store-bought cooked pelleted feed is a fast tract to rancid, stinky excessive poops.  I refuse to feed cooked pellets.  My preference is whole and/or cracked grains, mixed to a high-protein ratio with free-choice minerals.  Fermenting it in the summer is an awesome way to stretch feed even farther.  Fermentation in winter is nice too, but you need to be able to do it indoors which we can't, so just a summer thing now.

I once had a 7.5x12' walk-in coop attached to a 12x20' chainlink run.  At the most I had 50~ birds in this setup and there was no smell or stink in the coop.  I use deep litter to help with smell and mites.  In that setup, I took out half the soiled bedding twice a year; spring and fall, and each time added half a bale of straw.  I rotated the pile with a hoe maybe once a month.  Super economical and very clean and low-odor.  The litter was about 2' deep, deepest under the perches.  I decorate my outdoor runs with a few essentials; perches, outdoor lay boxes, a covered year-round dust bath, small brush branch piles, things to hide in/run around, and stimulation like litter to scratch through, etc.  Birds can spread out and up remarkably well and it was often hard to tell I had 50 birds in there.  I penned them up in the spring to let the forage grow then let them free-range later on.  It's also nice to train them to a call when you feed grain, so if they're out free-ranging they should come running back home!  With that method, you gotta withhold any grain until you're ready to pen them all up, so they're good and eager for their daily ration of high-calorie grains!
Also, I've had in excess of 30 or 40 hens dedicatedly use 2 or 3 nest boxes.  I used to offer 1 per hen but screw that, they don't care.  They all want the same one or two boxes!  For 8 hens you wouldn't need more than 3 or 4 boxes, liberally, and they'll still probably only use 1 of those.  My favorite nest box option is an old night stand or wooden desk end; the kinds with 2 pull-out drawers.  I take the top drawer out and they have a nice, deep bottom drawer to jump down in and nest, and I get to open the drawer to collect eggs :B  I've also used plastic trash bins on their side (turkey's favorites), retired totes with lids on and a hole cut in the side (chicken FAVORITE), or really any 'sneaky hidey hole' they can disappear into and lay an egg.  Old feedbags make great flaps to cover nesting spots.
For perch/roost space, 6-8" is all they need or use.  I like to offer a variety of perch widths and heights so they can pick their most comfortable spot.  I like to use smooth, dry branches that taper and fork.  The birds always pick their favorite spots and arrangements.  This is nice too if you have young ones growing; they'll move around the perch to their comfort as they grow.

Most people's headaches are predators.  I've lots very few chickens to predators for the hundreds and hundreds I've raised.  I attribute it to having trustworthy dogs freely running the same ground as them.  Also having well-dispositioned heritage turkeys in the flock can save the birds' lives.  I've had turkeys attack skunks and hawks.  And dogs, when they have poults.  My best turkey tom was my flock watch dog; he'd roost on the roof of the coop every night and if he gobbled in the night, I can running with the .22!

I'm dealing with a headache right now of egg eating.  I switched grain suppliers and bought a few tons of specially mixed cracked grains, supposedly at 16-18% (supposed to be 16% but he accidentally added a disproportionate amount of peas, so the protein should be much higher).  Problem is, the flock seemed to be really low on protein; poor yolk color and ravenous for eggs.  I noticed they were picking all the wheat berries out of the feed and eating nothing else!  The boogers!  This is why I've always avoided feeding wheat; no protein value and it's an addicting easy source of carbs.  So I started fermenting the grains again and they no longer can pick out just the wheat.  Egg production is way up and the egg eating has stopped in all but 1 hen (who is not living with the flock until she stops).  Woohoo!

Other headaches people run into are broody hens.  Personally I love a good broody cause I love hatching eggs.  But if you never intend to let a hen sit her own eggs, shoot for breeds that aren't broody prone.  One of my favorites are Ameraucanas; cold hardy, chatty, friendly, beautiful beards, excellent layers, and bright blue eggs!  Never had one go broody on me.  Many of your larger-bodied hens are broody prone.  Orpingtons are REKNOWNED for their broodiness, for example.  My Marans are also very broody ladies.

Other other headaches are mean roosters.  Personally, on my farm, a mean rooster is a dead rooster.  I don't abide birds that think they can attack the hand that feeds them.   Some people don't mind living with a mean roo though.  Some people think it's fun.  To each their own.  I also think mean roos breed more mean roos, so my breeding boys are super docile and calm, which may attribute to having very few man cockerels around here.

Other other other headaches are illness and disease.  Sometimes birds die; sometimes it's freak accidents, sometimes predation, sometimes it's unavoidable complications, and, albeit rarely, sometimes it's disease of some kind.   I learned not to get 'too' attached to the birds when they can be frail and everything wants to eat them.  It's always the ones I like the most that go e_e
 
Daron Williams
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Thank you Diane for the response and mentioning that site. I need to check them out. I have been thinking about predator proofing and since the mobile chicken coop design I want to use is predator proof I think I could just use it when I switch to a stationary setup in the winter. Thanks again!

Mike Jay – Thanks for the description! I think I will need a nice big layer of wood chips at the start when I switch to the stationary setup since the ground will be wet and will stay wet… but at least the water might help keep things composting well.

Mike Barkley – Thanks for the square foot rule… should not be a problem especially with a small flock. As far as predators… hawks, owls, and coyotes are the only ones that I have seen regularly. But there are people with chickens close by that don’t seem to have too much trouble. How much cover do they need to be safe from hawks? The chickens would all be in the coop and closed up at night so hopefully owls would not be a big deal and there would be an electric fence (poultry netting) around them too.

Jen – Thanks for the info! I was thinking about fermented feed for my chickens. I have heard a lot of good things about that and it is good to know that should help prevent any bad oders.

I was planning on having a rooster and yeah I don’t think I would keep a mean one around.

Really appreciate all the info… it will be a learning experience for sure!


I’m thinking about trying to use the mobile coop during the winter time when I would keep the chickens in one area. It would save some expense and the design should be predator proof. I was going to build one of Justine Rhoads mobile coops. I have the design for his standard one and for a smaller version. Seems to work and easy to move around.

Anyone have any thoughts on that design? Most of the time I want to keep the chickens moving to help me prepare land for planting.
 
Diane Kistner
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Daron Williams wrote:As far as predators… hawks, owls, and coyotes are the only ones that I have seen regularly. But there are people with chickens close by that don’t seem to have too much trouble. How much cover do they need to be safe from hawks? The chickens would all be in the coop and closed up at night so hopefully owls would not be a big deal and there would be an electric fence (poultry netting) around them too.



The first time I tried to keep chickens, more than a decade ago, I went outside one day during the day to check on my peeps (who were in a kennel run), only to discover that a Cooper's hawk had reached through the wire at ground level to snatch my favorite chick and was eating its leg off while it was still alive. If course the chick died. This time around, the day I put the chickens outside for the first time, in a small run made of 2x4 heavy gridwall panels ziptied together with a 1/2" hardware cloth skirt run 18" up the inside of the whole run and some metal roofing on top, a huge hawk flew down and made an effort to get at them, but couldn't get in and I haven't seen that hawk since. The photo shows the run in the process of being built, not completed yet.



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Gridwall run
 
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I'd say the biggest consideration for size is boredom while they're locked up. They peck each other. It bothers me.

I don't think you need a nesting box for every chicken. They'll likely all use the same one anyway.

As far as owls, breeding season is a problem for us. During breeding season they were killing things in broad daylight. We now keep everyone completely locked in the barn from Nov-Jan at the first sign of owl.

Unless you intend to hatch out babies roosters are far more work than they are worth. of course you will absolutely get one because that's just how chicken buying goes. Hope you're ready to kill it.
 
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We also use a portable chicken coop in the summer, but some birds have to be stationary in the winter because of our weather also. Personally, the best way I've found to keep the smell under control in a wet location is to add a dusting of fresh wood chips every day, particularly covering any visible poops. More chips on a weekly basis seems to just give layers of no poop followed by a build up of poop.
We try for closer to 8 square feet/bird if they're going to be locked up all day. I've found this is more of an issue with fewer birds - they can't hide in the crowd if a fellow chicken's decided they're looking for a fight. Avoiding that sort of issue can be helped by having multiple runs both to rotate through like paddocks, and so birds have different places to hang out.
Predator pressure on a stationary coop tends to be greater than a mobile one, so I'd factor that in. Also, chickens really don't much like getting wet, so our outdoor runs tend to have some sections with a solid roof and others with mesh roof.
We try to hang the feed above the perches as that's helped to keep rats away from it. Both mink and raccoon are natural predators of rats, so keeping the rats away actually helps with keeping the mink and raccoon from becoming a problem.
I agree with those above that 1 nest box for ~5 hens is enough, but we make ours at least 12" wide by 14" deep with a good lip for the bedding to stay in. The hens definitely prefer a deeper nest box in a dark colour. Ideally the nest boxes should be lower than the perches to discourage sleeping in them.
If you end up building specific winter housing, consider having a "protective custody area" - this can be hung and doesn't have to be large, but if you've got an injured or broody hen, knowing you've got a safe place for her ready for occupancy is worth the up-front effort in my opinion. If we actually have a sick hen, she will get moved to a warm, dry place - usually a tote bin - so as not to spread the disease, but if it's a physical injury, I've been amazed how a chicken can heal with just the minimum of care with a quiet spot and no competition for food and water.
 
Mike Barkley
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How much cover do they need to be safe from hawks?



Ideally completely caged in for best protection. Eventually going to do that here. Some people run overhead strings with old CD's hanging from them. Not sure how effective that is but it seems like it could be a good deterrent. Chickens seem to naturally prefer the edge of a woods for safety. A few hiding spots scattered around open areas is good. Shrubbery, a table, or something like that. Hawks seem to prefer their prey in wide open fields but if they want they can get in tight places. Very low & blazing fast. One buzzed me about a week ago while sitting under some low tree limbs at dawn. It was impressive. If chickens had been out the hawk could have easily pulled an Immelman & got one of them. That was unusual hawk behavior though. We have many trees & hiding places around the coop & house. They are reasonably safe there. I think out of sight, out of hawk mind. Crows make a lot of noise when hawks are nearby so I try to herd the chickens towards safety when I hear crows.

I use a blinking LED device at night. Supposedly it helps deter nocturnal predators. Don't know if it really does. Caught several opossums at the previous wimpy coop directly under the blinker. This coop is very secure.

My experience has been a hawk will eat one. A dog will kill every one it can catch just for sport. Big difference.
 
pollinator
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As mike said."a.few hiding spots scattered around open areas is good."

If youbhave a rooster, it will let the hens know when a predator is around and if they can run for air cover, should be fine from birds.

Ive got a run and am amazed how much leaf litter they can process. Have been thinking about a way to provide some habitat shelter for crawlies.

Just scavanged some pallets and am planning to lay them down on good portion of the run floor and then pack slats with food waste, leaves, wood chips, and some wigglers. My hope is that the hens will glean the crawlies and wigglers sustainably instead of WIPING THEM OUT each week.

Thoughts?
 
Mike Jay
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Shawn has a good way to protect/generate worms in conjunction with a chicken composting set-up.  Milk crates:
 
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Jen Fan wrote:
Other other headaches are mean roosters.  Personally, on my farm, a mean rooster is a dead rooster.  I don't abide birds that think they can attack the hand that feeds them.   Some people don't mind living with a mean roo though.  Some people think it's fun.  To each their own.  I also think mean roos breed more mean roos, so my breeding boys are super docile and calm, which may attribute to having very few man cockerels around here.



Thanks Jen For all those good infos. I wanted to add a thought on the mean rooster subject, something I heard from a chicken lover and long time observer. What he said was that roosters like to feel like they are feeding the chooks (see how they shout and walk proudly around the chickens when they find a feeding spot). So if you feed the chicken yourself, roosters see you as a contestant and they will fight you to death, only place for one rooster in this coop kind of deal.
So his suggestion was to come with the food, wait for the rooster to be around and give the food once the rooster was there so that he can call all the chooks to the food himself and feel like his the feeding hand.
This technique seemed to peace out the roosters for him

Tell me if it did any good to your fighty roosties
 
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I'm running Icelandics free range in my yard, and have several roosters with the hens (at least five roosters).  Since the hens are willing to raise chicks once in a while, I want the roosters for breeding, but they are also helpful in alerting for predators.  I have a livestock guardian dog who does a good job at keeping the birds safe, but she has to know that danger is in the area, and the roosters do that for her.  The roosters chase each other a bit, but otherwise get along fine, and none of them has ever challenged me.  I'm not real big on 'mean' roosters, either, but the last one I had in Oregon, before we moved here (not an Icie), would attack me at times.  I started catching him and carrying him around tucked under my arm while I did chores, and he learned to leave me alone (still attacked the guy who did handyman work for me, though!).  I would have gotten rid of him if we'd had small children on the place very often, but as it was, it was usually just me outside, and I figured he was aggressively protecting his hens and that was a good thing.  

I'm not getting any eggs from the Icelandics because they are loose (and probably my dog is finding most of the eggs and eating them); they are doing an excellent job at getting rid of ticks, so I'm not too concerned about the lack of eggs.  But they aren't using the chicken coop at all, so I think next year I'll get some pullet chicks and raise them to live in the coop; maybe that way we'll have some eggs to eat!  

If your area has predators such as weasels or mink, they can fit through as small a hole as a mouse (dime-diameter); it's best to use a combination of a heavy-wire mesh that dogs and coons can't tear apart, with a small-mesh wire such a rabbit wire that the weasels/mink can't get through.  My friends in Oregon described their chicken coops as miniature Fort Knox's, and that's about what you'll have to do in a lot of places.
 
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For your stationary, I'd say 5x12 should be plenty big enough for the primary structure (excluding the run).  Depending on your climate, you may only need a 3-sided enclosure with the closed end containing your nesting boxes.  I echo the sentiments of some others: you don't need 1 nesting box per bird.  Our last flock was 13 and they shared 6 boxes and really only used 3 of them.  Roosting space is more important. Oh and if you can keep your boxes low, it should cut down on the hens roosting in the boxes themselves.  High boxes that are easily accessed from a standing position are nice, but in my experience, the higher the box, the more likely the hens will be to roost in it.

Only note on the rooster is that I wouldn't get one unless you plan on hatching your own chicks.  A flock of 8 shouldn't be too unruly.  Enjoy!
 
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