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Please help out a newbie - simple chicken set up

 
Emily Smith
Posts: 55
Location: West Central Georgia
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I can't seem to KISS a chicken set up, so for 2 1/2 years I've wanted chickens, researched chickens (probably inefficiently), and tried designing some set ups (coop/run, electronet/tractor, etc.). Every time I end up with a headache and feeling like somehow this is all too complicated. But my "gut" says it shouldn't be complicated. But I hit that wall again. I just discovered this board today, and am hoping someone may have some suggestions or advice.

The goal: 6-8 layers for a family supply (I'll take less production in favor of user friendly at first), chicken-aided compost, no feed costs, relatively simple low-cost set up, healthy chickens (of course). I'd like to avoid a rooster, really, but...maybe it would be beneficial? Oh, and the chicken set up cannot look like I dug it out of the trash (per hubby).

The specifics: semi-rural neighborhood in west central Georgia (HOT humid summers, mild winters, crazy weather), 2/3 acres fenced of creeping grasses and broadleaf weeds, 1 mature tree in the yard, a few baby Japanese maples growing, raspberry and blackberry bushes going in along a fence soon, and about 20 Carolina Sapphires on another fence (it's a really long fence). We have a Boxer and a Lab, plus I'm certain of hawks and owls. We back up to 5 acres of woods, so there are likely snakes, raccoons, and opossums back there, and every year or two someone in the neighborhood spots a coyote, but you never hear a pack. There is *usually* someone home at any given time, but occasional overnight trips do happen. I don't know if I'd have a chicken sitter or not.

Sooo...I have no idea how to accomplish said goal in said circumstances. I'm aware it may take time to work up to some of those goals, but I don't know what the stepping stones would look like. If someone would be kind enough to help me untangle my brain, I'd appreciate it.

Also if anyone does anything other than a coop and run with dogs and/or kids running around, any anecdotes are welcomed!
 
Todd Parr
Posts: 573
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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I think you have analysis paralysis. Chickens are about the easiest animal I can think of to keep. They need shelter from the heat and cold (in your climate probably just from the heat), shelter from predators, food, and a constant supply of clean water. If I were in Georgia and only wanted 6 or 8 chickens, I would build a small coop, and use electric chicken netting for a mobile paddock if you can afford it. Give the birds something in the paddock to hide under, and to get out of the sun. Get heat tolerant breeds. Don't leave the dogs alone around the chickens until you have taught them that the chickens are not to eat. That only took about two weeks at my house, but I have APBT's not bird dogs.

There are lots of free chicken coop plans on the internet. Build one with lots of ventilation, and that is predator proof. Backyard chickens is a great site and will answer every chicken question you could ever imagine. Most of all, keep in mind the things chickens HAVE to have and take care of those before you get them, but don't make this harder than it is. Chickens are very easy.

If you have more specific questions, do a quick search and if you don't find anything, post them. Lots of people here will help.
 
Miranda Converse
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Hello! I've been keeping chickens for a couple years now and they are most definitely worth it! Fair warning, they are addicting though! We started with three and somehow worked up to about 80! We have slimmed the flock down a bit though and now only have 40 or so...

First off, what are you getting hung up about? It might be easier to address specific concerns. But for now, I'll just ramble on about what I've learned and hopefully that will help you some

Housing: You will read all different space requirements for chickens all over the internet. There is nothing concrete because it all depends on the chickens. Some don't mind it crowded, some like a lot of space. I would say, build the biggest something you can afford, start with just 3-4 chickens and evaluate how they do by observation. If there is a lot of fighting/bickering during the day (some is normal but they shouldn't be to the point of drawing blood), they need more of a run. If they are fighting at dusk, or someone protests going to roost, they need more roost space (again, some bickering is normal but it shouldn't take them an hour to get settled).
As for building something, my boyfriend built an adorable coop out of the scrap wood from an old pole barn. Our only cost was hardware and a package of shingles. Start looking now for things you could use as building material. Craigslist always has people giving stuff away in the free section. Be patient, free isn't usually fast but it's usually worth the wait.
As for the run, if you could fence off part of the yard, mostly to keep the dogs out, I think that would be your best bet. Some dogs can be trained to leave chickens alone but without your dogs ever experiencing chickens, you won't know how they will react until you actually have the chickens. Best not to chance it.

Food: There are lots of ways to supplement a chickens diet. They eat just about anything. I haven't quite gotten to no-cost feed but I free-range mine and right now I'm having a hard time growing food for myself much-less the chickens. Someday I'll get there. If you are unlike me, and actually have a green-thumb, it would be fairly easy to grow a majority of their diet, then you'll just have to provide a protein source.

Rooster: You absolutely don't need to get a rooster if you don't want to. There are a few benefits to having one though. A good rooster will fight off predators (mine is a big baby so he's no use there, they aren't automatically good protectors so don't rely on that). They can alert to threats, if you don't mind the crowing. I don't think it's as bad as some people say but maybe that's just me, I'll take the rooster over my peafowl anyday. From a sustainability aspect, if you have a rooster, you technically never have to buy chickens again except maybe to bring in some genetic variance.

Predators: We have all of the things you listed here. I'll go through each one and our experience with our free range birds;

Hawks-I believe they have taken several chicks (when with Mama hen) and possibly my bantam (very small) rooster. I have Coopers hawks attempt to pick up the full grown hens and immediately give up due to their size. I don't think they are as much of a threat unless they are of the larger variety like a Red-tailed hawk. Even then, I think they prefer smaller game.

Snakes-Only really a threat to chicks and maybe your eggs unless they are something huge like a Boa.

Raccoons-These are probably the worst, only because they are smart, persistent, and good at finding flaws in an enclosure. If you are diligent about making a secure sleeping enclosure, this shouldn't be an issue as they won't come around during the day.

Opossums-We have these around but I think they mostly just eat the dropped chicken feed. I don't think they have ever gotten any of our chickens.

Coyote- Well we never had an issue with them for the first couple years but just a couple weeks ago they managed to get 14 of our birds while we were gone. I blame this one on me though because we had to leave about an hour before sunrise and I thought "they'll be fine if we let them out early". Haven't lost any since then though.

Dogs- I don't think you mentioned this one but I thought it was important. We have had more issues with lose neighborhood dogs than anything. They think chickens are the best toys ever invented. If you have a good perimeter fence this shouldn't be an issue though.

Well I could go on but I have got to go now. If you have specific questions, I would be glad to help!





 
Ferne Reid
Posts: 86
Location: SW Tennessee Zone 7a
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Hi Emily!

I agree that you're probably overthinking this. Miranda has a lot of good ideas, so I'm just going to add a few based on my own experience.

By and large, the predators you have to worry about (with the exception of hawks) are active at night. The most important thing we learned (the hard way) was that the coop needs to be secure, because if a coon or a possum or a fox has a prayer of getting in there, they will. Use small gauge wire (not chicken wire - coons and possums can reach right through it) for anywhere you want ventilation. The chickens need to be trained to return to the coop at dusk (easy) and you need to shut them in there. We've had pretty good luck with putting a motion sensored light near the coop, but you need to move it periodically because the smarter predators will get used to it.

We free range our birds during the day, and the hawks really aren't a problem as long as the chickens have something to get under. Ours hang out at the edge of our woods, so they just pop under a handy bush when they feel threatened. We have only lost one little chick, ever, to a hawk.

Chickens will eat anything, including your table scraps. Obviously I wouldn't try to raise them solely on scraps, but between that and what grows naturally, I really don't feed them except in the winter. I do throw a handful of scratch into the coop in the evening to encourage them to go in.

As for the dogs, the easiest thing I've found is to put the dog on a leash and let him see the chickens. Obviously he's going to be curious and want a sniff, but if he fixates on them and goes into hunting pose, you have a problem. Two of my three dogs rarely notice the chickens unless the chicken steps on the dog's nose (it's happened and it's pretty funny). The other dog can't be trusted around the birds. And I used to have a black lab that would go out, carefully pick up a live bird, and bring it to me. She never hurt the bird, but the chickens took a dim view of it. Once you figure out how your dogs will react, you'll know how dog proof you need to make your setup.

There is going to be some trial and error involved. Something that sounds good might not work for you, but then you'll figure out something that does, hopefully before you've lost too many birds. I know this sounds a little harsh, but ... you will inevitably lose a few birds to something. It happens. The more you're able to accept the fact that this is just part of farm life, the easier it will be to deal with and the less likely you will be to give up on raising chickens.

 
Emily Smith
Posts: 55
Location: West Central Georgia
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I'm quite sure about the paralysis! Thank you for the responses; they are indeed very helpful!

It sounds like if I can protect against raccoons, I'm fairly good?? If that's a good rule of thumb, I'll take it! I know we'll lose birds eventually, but I'd like for it not to be through my own ignorance or carelessness.

We are leaning toward a hoop coop for ease of construction, but this seems to be generally unpopular unless one needs a mobile shelter for pastured meat chickens. This doesn't make sense to me, but I don't have the knowledge to sift these opinions wisely. I'm not concerned with convention, but whether something is feasible--good for us and good for the chickens.

I'm considering: a) build an 8'x8' hoop coop and have that be the coop/run, b) build it 4'x8' and put it in a larger permanent enclosure (something like 250 sq. ft. -- our garden is around 25' long; I could make that fence do double duty), or c) make a 4'x8' mobile hoop coop and make the run a temporary set up.

Fence: I probably can't do electronet right now (and keeping the fence line weed free isn't a simple application of weedkiller for us). What other options are there for a moveable fence? Does this depend entirely on my dogs? Also, how much enclosure would 6-8 chickens need in our grass/weed environment? I've read everything from 65 sq.ft. per bird to 1000 sq.ft. per bird. Also, how would compost fit into a rotational picture?

Againt, thank you for the responses! I hope this post adds clarification.
 
Miranda Converse
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Emily Simmons wrote:

I'm considering: a) build an 8'x8' hoop coop and have that be the coop/run, b) build it 4'x8' and put it in a larger permanent enclosure (something like 250 sq. ft. -- our garden is around 25' long; I could make that fence do double duty), or c) make a 4'x8' mobile hoop coop and make the run a temporary set up.

Fence: I probably can't do electronet right now (and keeping the fence line weed free isn't a simple application of weedkiller for us). What other options are there for a moveable fence? Does this depend entirely on my dogs? Also, how much enclosure would 6-8 chickens need in our grass/weed environment? I've read everything from 65 sq.ft. per bird to 1000 sq.ft. per bird. Also, how would compost fit into a rotational picture?

Againt, thank you for the responses! I hope this post adds clarification.


I think a 4x8 hoop coop with a larger run sounds pretty good. I don't think 8x8 would be enough of a run at all, although that would be pretty good if you want to go away for a day or two and don't want to burden someone with letting the chickens in/out of the coop. I don't have any kind of run for my chickens since they are free range and sometimes I wish I at least had a small one for this exact purpose...

I'm not familiar with too many non-electric, easily moveable fences that would help protect chickens from anything. You could put up a fence with t-posts and 2x4 welded wire that could potentially be moved but it won't be terribly easy. That's actually how we built our duck pens, super easy to put up though.

As far as how much space for the run, I would say 65ft is a bit small and 1000ft is not really necessary but the more space, the better. I would definitely take advantage of already existing fences, as long as they are secure. Keep in mind that chickens can jump quite high, and there is a good possibility they could jump just about any fence you put up unless there is some kind of cover. I would look at the fence more as something to keep predators (or your dogs) out and not to keep chickens in. Once they know where home is, they will come back.
 
Michael Newby
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Hi Emily, glad to see that we can be a little help for you.

I'm another person that advocates jumping right in with chickens. They're one of those animals that are pretty easy to care for as long as they have the basics (food, water, shelter). Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you do lose a few birds you still provided them with a much better life than one in a mass production operation.

If you're thinking about the chicken tractor route be very honest with yourself about how willing you're going to be to move it daily. Chicken tractors are great when they're used right but downright cruel if you don't. You'll also need to weigh the task of filling their water all the time. Simple things like that become tedious really quick when you're pressed for time.

From what I'm envisioning of your property description I would lean towards your option b with the coop in a larger enclosure (as big as possible). I would put the coop in the middle and have the large area divided into at least 4 paddocks that I let the chickens into for a week at a time. This will give the chickens room to roam, allow good regrowth of the 'pasture' between rotations and disrupt the parasite cycle a bit. You can just toss the compost into whichever paddock is currently being used and the chickens will make it disappear quickly.

At first you might have to supplement the chickens foraging with store bought feed but if you focus on planting your pasture area up with chicken forage plants you'll be able to minimize how much feed you have to buy, hopefully to the point that you don't need any.

Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing badly first so you can start learning from your mistakes.

 
Radine Star
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Location: southern part of Western New York
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Hi Emily . Everyone has already given you great advice, so I just wanted to add that you might be able to utilize the five acres behind you as well. My first group of chickens were kept in a not so portable chicken tractor. It kept them secure at night and while I was at work, but the weather permitting, I would let them out to free range the woods behind where they were. I'd hang out with them, toss a ball for our yellow lab (who never even looked at them) and after an hour or so would clap my hands and call to them . Back they'd all run, right into their enclosure, no problem. I think I used some feed the first couple times, just to train them. They loved running around, I found the time to be great for unwinding and chickens do a great job hunting down ticks and fleas. Just make sure none of your neighbors or their dogs are running in there first.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Personally I strongly advise against chicken tractors, I think they are too much work and prone to predator problems.

I think the mobile coop and paddock make more sense, or a compost system.

Mobile coop with compost system: http://geofflawton.com/videos/chicken-tractor-steroids/
 
Olof Jönnerstig
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Just reminding everyone how smart you need to be to ride this ride
this-smart-to-ride-vertical-warning.png
[Thumbnail for this-smart-to-ride-vertical-warning.png]
 
Emily Smith
Posts: 55
Location: West Central Georgia
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Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing badly first so you can start learning from your mistakes.


I wish someone had instilled this when I was young, thank you.

I'll take anything else anyone has to offer. I'd love to use, or even buy, the acreage behind our house, but it's inaccessible to us, and people drive 4-wheelers back there.

I'll toy with option B and see what I can come up with; I guess it seems the most balanced for cost/benefit/feasibility. I also haven't checked out the video, yet, so I'll do that, too! And I'm trying to remind myself that I can change their set up later, if I need to, or if one or more circumstances change.

Time is tricky for us: *theoretically* I have all day to do whatever needs doing, or whatever we feel like doing. BUT the reality is there's always something that needs doing and with three kids "in training" most things take longer than might seem necessary.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Miranda Converse wrote: If you are unlike me, and actually have a green-thumb, it would be fairly easy to grow a majority of their diet, then you'll just have to provide a protein source.


The easiest protein to raise in a warm climate are Black Soldier Fly larvae. You just put some vegetable scraps in a bin and Presto! Maggots! They can be frozen to death and then dried for winter use, or just kept in the freezer if you have room. Chickens go crazy for these maggots. Maggots are gross, but I've been able to get used to these because they are vegetarians.

 
leila hamaya
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one of the best systems i have ever seen anyone do with chickens is the set up my mom used for many many years.

she has multiple raised beds, all of the same dimensions, side by side in two rows.
she and her partner built a tall chicken coop/house that is exactly the same size as the the raised beds, with a wire mesh (hardware cloth) bottom.
the way it is made its bottom sits solidly on any of the raised beds.
it has poles that come off each edge for easier moving, where a person on either side grabs both poles and its not that hard to move....and once a year she moves it from one bed to the next.

she lets them out just about every day to free range, and maybe its because they like being in the garden with so much to eat, and they are given an abundance of scraps/leftovers and sometimes feed...they usually behave very well and do not go outside the garden area, or cause damage, mostly they just look for bugs and hang pretty close to their house inside the garden. also when she throws down feed and treats its always right outside their door, to encourage them to stay close by. usually all the best leftover/trimming go right in the coop.

with a fenced in garden area they wouldnt be able to get too far, and she has some natural boundaries , sort of naturally walled off, but even without the fence they usually do not go too far.

during the year she throws all her compost inside the coop, where it is eaten or some falls through the bottom, as well as the chickens droppings, and all year the compost and chicken manure gathers on that bed. so each year after she moves it she has some nice ready to go fertilized compost in that bed.

it is easy to clean out with a hose every so often, attractive and extremely simple.
 
eric koperek
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TO: Emily Simmons
FROM: Eric Koperek = erickoperek@gmail.com
SUBJECT: Grazing Chickens
DATE: PM 7:15 Monday 16 May 2016
TEXT:

1. Build yourself a mobile chicken coop = lightweight on wheels. Every night lock chickens in coop then move it 200 feet away. Next morning, unlock coop and let chickens graze. Keep moving chicken coop 200 feet daily. The ideal rotation = 30 days but if you do not have enough space use the longest rotation possible. Chickens rotated to fresh pasture daily require little or no grain, depending on how fast you want birds to grow or how much egg production desired. Figure on 1/2 to 1 Tablespoon ~ 15 to 30 milliliters ~ 1/2 to 1 ounce ~ 15 to 30 grams of grain per bird daily. Better pasture = longer rotations = less grain needed.

2. You can rotate chicken coop through wooded areas just make sure that you build coop using 1/2 inch HARDWARE CLOTH so predators cannot snag chicken's wings. Otherwise, you will find a coop full of dead chickens! Do NOT use chicken wire to build your coop. Coons can reach through chicken wire and grab chickens' wings = bloody mess for you to clean up.

3. My family have been raising chickens using mobile coops since colonial times. We run our coops up and down orchards for insect control and high-quality = maximum nutrition pasture. There is a strong market for 100% pastured chickens and eggs. Long rotations (30 days) = minimal feed costs and no problems with diseases, parasites, or the odious labor of cleaning up chicken manure. Keep fresh bedding in chicken coops at all times; use fresh cut green weeds because they are cheap and convenient. Feed birds crushed oyster shells (for calcium). Throw all egg shells into coops; chickens will eat shells quickly. Chickens need lots of calcium for egg production.

ERIC KOPEREK = erickoperek@gmail.com

end comment

 
Emily Smith
Posts: 55
Location: West Central Georgia
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How about cattle panels for a day range situation? I'm looking at Ussery's A-frame for a house. The layering of the hoop coop is irritating me at the moment. It shouldn't take three different materials to effectively cover a shelter, one of which would require replacing every 6-12 months. And it doesn't look like much of a cost difference.

If I put the A-frame inside even a 4-panel square, they'd still have nearly 3/4 of the total space for outdoor exploration. The fencing would be mainly to keep our dogs and other doggish critters out. They'd be closed up in the evening and let out in the morning. And I should be able to move that set up alone, maybe? Or with a little kid help? Thoughts are welcome!
 
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