My husband and I are pouring over plans for a chicken coop, since it seems like we will be getting chicks potentially as early as the beginning of March. We would like to do the paddock shift system if we can find an affordable portable fencing. We are on about 1.4 acres, most of it forested, so I think the chickens will like it.
I'm curious what kind of coop is best? I was watching the video about feeding slugs to chickens, and it looked like she just had the top part of a truck bed, and I've read hints about a mini-coop on the ground here, but I haven't actually read in detail what kind of coop would be good for that type of system. Are there plans or more details or pictures somewhere? It does get to below freezing at night here, so I thought having a portable coop off the ground with the deep litter method would be best, but now I'm not so sure. Our current working plans are very similar to this one: http://www.backyardchickens.com/web/viewblog.php?id=14375 only not nearly as fancy on the outside. We plan to start with about 5-10 chickens. They won't be sexed, so come fall we'll likely eat the roosters (save maybe one so we can start raising our own chicks) and be down to just some hens over the winter. Depending on how much we like chicken raising, we may start raising a lot more every summer to eat in the fall, but only keep a few good layers over the winter.
Also, we just got a free outdoor rabbit hutch. Would that be suitable for starting chicks in? I don't mind bringing it inside if needed until they can go out, I'm more just curious if the actual enclosure would work. I have read so much about chickens, but realized recently I don't know much about starting with chicks.
About the chicks - if they are not hatched by a good broody hen who will keep them warm you will need a heat lamp (or warming light) for them - placed close to the ground. They will regulate how much heat they need by moving closer to the lamp or further away depending on their needs. You'll need water that doesn't freeze, and smaller feed.
And if you'll ever be adding new chicks to an established flock you'll need fencing which the chicks can move through to safety, but the bigger birds cannot get into. I like to just keep my separate until the newbies are about 6 months old, but this may not be possible if your moving them in a paddock system. So how you introduce new birds is something to think about for later on.
About the housing - In the plans you provide there is no insulation I can see, and the bottom is open to the outside air. If your area gets really cold you may want to modify this - insulating all sides as well as the bottom, and use deep litter you simply scrape out and replace as needed. Leaves stored in a dry place would work great for this. At the minimum insulate the sides and top even if you leave the bottom wire mesh. I do not have hard winters so the plan you show would work year round for my area. Cold temps are not harmful for chickens, but they will affect how many (if any) eggs you'll get in the winter.
I do not think having the coop as far off the ground as those plans show would be beneficial unless you have some serious berms to clear when moving it. The more air that can blow around your coop the cooler the temps inside will be. So consider a portable unit you can sit on the ground and then lift up when you need to move it. Also with that design, if you have coons in your forest they will come under the coop and could really scare you flock trying to test the flooring for weak spots. This can lead to less eggs and/or sudden deaths due to fright. So depending greatly on your area and predators you may want to consider a different model which sits on the ground when not moving for reasons mentioned.
And I would definitely add roost near the top of the house. It's warmer up there and the chicken's are happier when they can follow their instincts and roost.
Thanks so much for all the info! I'm not sure what constitutes as "really cold". I'm on Vancouver Island in BC, I think zone 7b according to weather network's gardening site. It does get below freezing overnight in the winter, and during the day at times too in colder winters though we have had entire winters with no snow and barely any freezing temps. It can get up pretty hot in the summer, so I thought that having the coop off the ground would be a good way to give them shade, though we are pretty forested so maybe that's a non-issue. The point about raccoons is a good one too. I don't know how much of a problem they are here, since we're new. The two "pests" most people talk about most are ravens and deer, neither of which present a problem to chickens (at least that I know of).
The chicks will be day-old chicks from a breeder. So we won't have a hen (at least the first year).
I'd be leary about the pickup topper. I had a friend that cooked 100 baby chicks under one. It wasn't very warm outside, but inside the topper was a different story and they were under it for just a couple of hours.
We built our coop up above the ground so the hens could get under it in the summer. Now in the winter, there's probably 6" of straw and leaves on the floor to help keep it warmer. I always thought that I would put straw bales around the open area under the coop, but never got enough straw to do it. Usually they will destroy a straw bale, but the ones that I have now are really dense and they haven't bothered with them. I wish I could have built mine to have basically three big runs, with the coop in the center one. Garden in one, compost in the center, hens in the third. Then rotate the next year.
http://backyardchickens.com has some great coop designs and details on how to get started with chicks. You can do it on the cheap (no pun intended), too.
Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association