Eeeek. We're finally almost ready to get our chickens. After an enormous amount of thought, reading, and talking to locals, we decided on a fixed run and coop. I totally agree that in an ideal situation, everyone should do paddock shift, but we didn't feel it was feasible for us for a bunch of reasons. Our set up is:
8'x4' floor area chicken coop, a tall A-frame that I can walk into, with three nesting boxes and two roost bars at different heights. It has a high vent near the peak of the roof. the only thing I still have to do is cut out a pop hole.
the run will be 8 meters by 4.5 meters. it is built over ground that is covered in slate chippings and currently has nothing growing except for a few broad-leaf dock and dandelion. but at least it's well-draining unlike most of our land.
the fence: there are 4' high posts around the perimeter to which we will bolt 2"x2" timbers to bring them up to 6' high. we will use 6' high chicken wire (1 inch holes), and reinforce the bottom with weld-mesh, folded out and buried along the edge to discourage digging predators. I think i will leave the top edge slightly floppy.
inside the run i will construct something like a very large raised bed frame, about 4 meters by 5 meters, and fill this deeply with woodchip (to a depth of at least 1 foot). the idea is that this will be a deep enough and large enough area that there will always be something fun in there for them - woodlice, worms, etc. there is a small area behind the coop (inside the run) that is marshy with some plants growing, I assume they will kill these pretty quick. i am planning a few experiments - some large planter type things with short crops (grass, clover, etc) growing in them but covered with wire so that they can peck but not totally kill them, and some shrubs in pots, surrounded in wire again so they can graze but not kill them. we'll see if it works! i will also give them plenty of cut green stuff - grass clippings, garden waste and so on, to give them a more varied diet and make sure they dont get bored.
at the moment we are only getting 5 layers. i dont know what breed - they are about 2 years old and from a large operation that is down-sizing. they're not battery hens, it was a 'free range' egg operation but very large and i dont know the exact set up, they are still laying plenty for domestic use though.
I'm hoping this coop and run will provide plenty of room and enough scratch and fun for them. in the future we may get a few more but we're unlikely to want more than the coop could reasonably house.
i'm really excited and after months of research and design i think we are ready but i am nervous as this is our first time with chickens, and our only previous experience with animals are the 5 ducks we've had for a few months now (in another area).
i am thinking that maybe for the future - prepping beds either for autumn planting, or next spring - i might build a little tractor and move them up to the garden for a few weeks to work their way over that, but generally the plan is to keep them in the coop and run. as i said, i know it's not the 'ideal', but with our situation (heavy fox predation and other factors) it seemed like the best we could do.
in addition to trying to provide them with bugs and some greens we will have to buy them feed, we have a good affordable source for that. also we run a microbrewery and they like the used grain from that. opinions seem to differ on feeding kitchen/table scraps - what do people do with their chickens? all kitchen scraps, only raw, only veggie?
and i am hoping that since the run is over rock chips, i wont have to worry too much more about giving them grit?
any further comments for a newbie would be appreciated!
You wouldn't regret making them a solid wood house with strong wire bottom to shut them in at night. Predators know chickens are tasty and will become very creative at how to eat them once they find out they are living there. Even better if you had a flap to collect eggs from the outside so you don't have to walk through chicken poo to get them.
I'd hesitate getting hens from a "Very large operation" - places like that may overcrowd them, feed them antibiotics, and they may come with parasites or other problems from the stress. But just be aware going into it what to look for - read up on how to check their condition, look for mites and respiratory problems, etc. They can say "free range" without it meaning a whole lot about the health or happiness of the animals. Craigslist may be a better option, tho that's buyer beware as well, I've had mostly good experiences with the people I've bought from on craigslist so far.
As for feeding, the more confined they are, the more important the correct diet is. Harvey Ussery, on his website www.themodernhomestead.com has a lot of good ideas on feeding chickens. You an also read up on www.feathersite.com, the go-to site on chicken raising.
Keeping hens is a lot easier than the books make it sound, and very fun and rewarding! I hope you enjoy your foray into chicken ownership!
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
posted 7 years ago
We built the coop last week. It is a very solid wooden A-frame. I don't want to jinx myself, but I'm fairly confident that it is predator-proof. It's also sitting up about 8" on concrete blocks on top of rock chips so hopefully will discourage rats from nesting underneath.
You raise some good points about rehoming hens. We don't have craigslist here (UK). Although I havent seen the place myself, my friend went to collect about 20 hens (some for her, some for me) and she has kept hens for years so knows what to look for, she said they seem fine, no obvious parasites and good plumage etc. I think there are stricter rules here about antibiotics and also the designation of free range. I dont think this place was organic, but my friend was happy with the condition of the birds so I'm hoping they are ok! I like the idea of rehoming unwanted birds which would otherwise have been culled and probably just 'disposed of'. THough of course I don't want to be importing a ton of problems.
I just realised i also need to make them a dust bath area. As we have very high rainfall, should I put a little roof over this? How well do chickens deal with rain, is it very breed-dependent?
Location: zone 6b
posted 7 years ago
My chickens seem to ignore the rain for the most part. It makes worms come out and they are happy about that. If they can go into the A-frame to get out of it, I wouldn't worry too much.
As for dust bathing, they do love to roll in the dirt and get it all in their feathers! If you needed to put it in a container to keep them from "sweeping" it all away then it would probably benefit from a roof over that part to keep it from becoming a muddy alternative water source. If you have a good source of dirt from somewhere else in your yard you can just give them a shovelful from time to time and not worry so much about rain - if the feathers are wet they don't much want to dust bathe anyway or they'd become a heavy muddy mess. You may want to put a little diatomaceous earth in their dust bath in the beginning, just in case they do have some mites that would take care of them for you.
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
posted 7 years ago
thanks again. hmmm not sure what to do about the dust bath now! think i might need to put up a little roof... maybe I could find an old patio table, cut the legs down a little so it's not tall enough to be an escape launching pad, and then put a little box of sandy soil under there?
the A-frame coop is big enough for me to walk into. at the moment it just has a people door that can be latched open, and would still provide shelter but obviously not as much if the door's wide open, so i'm thinking i need to make a pop-hole in the bottom of the people door so that the house will be more sheltered for them during the day.
Can you make them a little raised bed for dedicated dust bathing? It would contain the dirt inside better than just a pile or a bare spot, and if you can pour in a bag of sharp sand, all the better. I have a spot which is quite sandy that ours'll dust bathe in, even when it's wet.
We got our seven from the British Hen Welfare Trust, as ex-battery hens, and we love them. They were in poor shape to start, but it was only a few days into the good life that they began doing all the usual chicken-y things like eating slugs, dust bathing, and roosting. We've had them for more than a year now and I like to think that this is the only life they can remember, and not that previous one as egg-laying machines.