Monday, May 19, 2014

Chicken Coop Basics

Posted by Devin

First of all, I am not a chicken expert. In fact, we are relatively new to the whole "chicken scene." But we have spent the last few months building our coop and starting up a nice little brood of 14 chickens and we have done a lot of chicken research in the meantime. So today I am going to impart to all of you what we have learned along the way and what we found to be the basics to starting your own coop!

Before I get into the coop details, though, I want to answer a question I have been frequently asked: "Why did you decide to get chickens?" Actually most of the time it sounds like "WHY did you decide to get CHICKENS?!!" Ha! Well, there are a few reasons our family jumped into this chicken business.

Why We Decided to Raise Chickens

Reason #1: Pets for our kids. This family has only ever owned one cat (who showed up at our door one day and lives outside) and a handful of fish. Now that our kiddos are a little bit bigger and diaper duty is officially over, we were ready to take on a few more pets. I had heard that chickens actually made nice pets (never would've thought it) and now that we have them I can say that they really do! Particularly if you get a friendly breed and raise them from tiny chicks, they are so fun and affectionate! Ours love to jump on our laps and take a snooze, they follow us when we walk around outside, and they come running when we call. They are really pretty cool!


Reason #2: Eggs. If you're gonna have a pet, why not get one that makes breakfast for you too? With four boys in our home, our grocery budget is only steadily increasing. We all love eggs and hopefully soon our brood will be providing us with more than we can handle!


Reason #3: Preparedness and less waste. Being able to produce your own food at home is such an invaluable thing. In the case of any type of emergency, I love knowing we will have both eggs and (heaven forbid) chicken that we could comsume if our family needed it. Also, we no longer throw any food scraps in the trash can. Any leftover food goes to the chickens the next morning which will in turn go towards making us more food when they lay their eggs. How cool is that?!


Reason #4: Teaching our kids responsibility and getting them outside. The boys help us with all aspects of taking care of the chickens. They feed them, clean out their water dish, sweep the coop... they are always happy to help. Getting them outside and working and actually happy to do it is amazing!

OK, so I have given my spiel as to why we decided to raise chickens. If I have convinced you that it is all that and a... dozen eggs (?) then here's what you'll need to start your own coop!

Chicken Coop Basics

Basic Chicken Needs: water, food, nesting area, roosting area, space.

Water

There are a number of different ways to supply your chickens with water. Some people swear by chicken nipples, but we had heard mixed reviews on them from various friends (i.e. the chickens were too dumb to know how to use them). So we opted for an automatic watering bowl. We purchased ours at our local feed store and we couldn't be happier with it. Here is a similar one available on-line. You simply hook it up to a nearby hose bib, turn the water on low, and the bowl stays full. We have to rinse it out and clean it about once every one to two weeks, but that is so much easier than filling it up two times every day. Also, we keep our water away from the food so that the chickens do not get their food in the bowl. So far, so good!

Food


In addition to an automatic water-er, we also have an automatic feeder. My super handy husband made ours out of PVC pipe! A quick trip to the hardware store for supplies and we had a feeder in no time! For instructions on how to make your own, click here. To fill up the feeder, you simply remove the top cap, pour in the feed, and your chickens will have food available to them for quite some time! 

In addition to our chickens' normal feed (we currently feed them Chicken Crumble), we also throw down chicken scratch for them daily, as well as giving them all table scraps we have in the house. They LOVE table scraps. I simply collect our discarded or leftover food in an old butter tub throughout the day and then take it out for the chickens in the morning. It is so satisfying knowing that no food is being thrown in the trash can any more.

When we first built our coop, all of our chicken feed was being stored in our garage which is quite a distance from our coop. To make things easier for us, we picked up a metal trash can from Home Depot and now keep all of our chicken supplies in there. No more running back and forth and we don't have to worry about other animals getting into it.


Nesting Area


Chickens need somewhere to make a nest and lay their eggs. From what we have read, each nesting box can handle between 3-5 laying hens. We have plenty of room so we went ahead and got 6 nesting boxes. We purchased ours from a local man who makes and sells them on Craigslist. He is close and he is cheap. We figured we probably couldn't build them for as little as he was charging. Score!

Right now our nesting area is sectioned off for our four littlest chicks, but it will be opened soon and all of the chickens will be together and have full access to the nesting area. 

Roosting Area


Besides a place to nest, chickens also need a place to sleep. They like to sleep as high as possible, so an elevated area provides them a great place to settle down at night. Jake built our roost out of scrap materials that a friend gave us when he was done with a shed-building project. The chickens all knew right where to go on their first night in the coop and settled in nicely.

Jake also cut out a flap in the wall right behind the upper deck of the roost to provide a breeze for the chickens on hot nights. And in Arizona, we have plenty of hot nights. It's super simple, with two hinges on the bottom and a rectangular piece of wood at the top that swivels to lock it in place when it is closed.

Our Coop Design

I thought I would also share a little about how our coop came to be. The design of our coop was formed based on what we already had on our property and what materials were free or readily availabe to us. We wanted chickens, but we didn't want to spend a fortune on them.


We built our coop by joining together two existing dog runs on our property. These were basically just two rectangular runs with chain link fencing down the sides, old chicken wire on the top, doors at each end, and cement on the ground. We cut the chain link and joined the two dog runs in the middle section (creating one large coop), took off the old chicken wire roof since it was in bad shape, and replaced the chicken wire with more chain link across the top. Small birds do sometimes get in the coop, but so far it hasn't created too much of a problem. We may eventually run some chicken wire a few feet high around the outside edges of the coop if we have a pest problem. As for the cement floor, we love it. It is so easy to sweep or hose out which makes for simple coop clean up. We are going to install some misters this summer to prevent the chickens from getting too hot, but we figured we would have to do that whether we had cement floors or not.

To give the chickens more shelter, we added some corrugated roofing (which we purchased at Home Depot, 2 sheets for each side) on the North ends of each of the runs and added a few walls with some plywood sheets that the same shed-building friend gave us. We added some trim and a port hole window for a little curb appeal. Can't get enough of that window! Every time I glance inside it I see a chicken perched up on the roost looking back out at me!


And finally I added a coop sign, because if you're gonna have a coop (even a low budget one) you should try to make it atleast a little cute! If you are interested in making this sign as well, I will have a full tutorial on the blog later this week. :)


If you are considering making your own coop and getting a few (or a lot of) chickens, I highly recommend www.backyardchickens.com for any and all questions you may have along the way. That website is awesome!

So far we are really having fun with this chicken experiment. I hope we have inspired some of you to become chicken owners as well!

Linking Up With: Link Party Palooza // Tidy Mom //

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1 Comments:

At May 19, 2014 at 1:27 PM , Blogger A Bunch of Fuls said...

Thanks again for taking our three little chicks. They scored moving to your house! :)

 

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