If you read my last coop post, I’ve started planning. Last week I covered the basics about site, size, placement etc. Today I’ll be talking about some of the more detailed requirements on the list. My next post will cover the sort of “add-ons”, or my wish list of features.
So for today:
- chicken needs
- maintenance requirements
Everything you find below has been gleaned from months on the backyardchickens.com
forums, or reading ” Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens”
or other blogs, comments, twitter feeds etc. Remember that I do not have (and have not had) chickens, so take this all with a grain of salt. I’m merely trying to share all the bits and pieces I’ve picked up along the way.
Types of Shelters
Chickens don’t have a *lot* of needs for their coop and run, for their health and well-being, but you do have to find a balance between their needs and the reality of your specific situation. Chickens can free range, or live in a floorless portable tractor, or a permanent, floored coop, or a permanent large building, or finally a cage. In Vancouver a cage is illegal, just FYI. With backyard hens you also can’t legally free range, and of course there are predators here like eagles, raccoons and coyotes to worry about. A tractor doesn’t make sense when you don’t have a lot of room to move it around, and don’t need to be spreading the manure over an entire field… A permanent large building is meant for raising large amounts of broiler or meat chickens, which also isn’t allowed in the city. So a permanent, floored, small coop is probably the way to go. There are benefits for this type of shelter – for example it can be insulated, made of stronger, heavier materials and have windows , and it is better for protecting the chickens from predators and the weather. – all of which I’ll get to in more detail below.
What’s in the Coop?
Chickens need, at the very minimum, the following:
- nesting boxes (1-2 for every 4 chickens or so)
- roost (12″ of roost per chicken, minimum)
- natural light or a lightbulb (windows must be predator-proof)
- pop hole (predator-proof chicken-sized door)
Size, Stress and Pecking
We talked about the dimensions of the coop last time, in order to be compliant with city bylaws. Space affects the chickens, and the less they have the more stressed they can get. When chickens are stressed they are more vulnerable to disease. Another issue with overcrowding is pecking. Chickens who don’t have enough space can start to fight, and the chickens at the low end of the pecking order are going to suffer. This is why city mandates 4 square feet per bird, and why I’ve actually gone with 7 and a bit.
Feeding – Us and Them
So obviously chickens need food. You do need to keep some food and water in the coop rather than just the run in case of dreary days or early nights. It can get wasteful and messy if you don’t use the right kind of gear though. You don’t want them to be knocking or scratching the food out everywhere into their bedding, and you don’t want them to be able to perch on the feeder and poo in the food. So, look for either a hanging or tube feeder with holes for them to peck the food from. You can build them quite easily out of PVC tubing with a 90 degree elbow and some holes drilled in. Same for water actually, and they’re cheap, easy and can’t be sat on. That’s what I’m going to go with. It’s also nice to run a hose line to your coop so you can fill your waterer there. Keep your feed in a metal can, preferable in a locked storage space. You need to deter rats and raccoons etc.
As for next boxes, you really don’t need one per bird. They’re all probably going to end up using the same one anyways. I’m planning on just one box for my four birds. You can use a milk crate or other box turned on its side. You’re looking for something around 1 foot square and 18″ high(ish). I’m going to build mine, for a couple of reasons. One, I want it exterior to the coop to save space inside. Two I want it on an angle so that the egg rolls down and away from the chickens – to avoid accidental crushing. You also don’t want the eggs sitting around with easy access in case the chickens do get a taste for eggs. Three I want to put a hinged roof or door on it to make it easier for the kids to collect the eggs – and they won’t have to open to whole coop to get to it.
Night and Day
The pop hole, or pop door, or chicken door, is a small door that either opens and shuts automatically (on a timer) or that you go out and open in the morning and close in the evening. It’s added protection for the hens when they are sleeping at night. This needs a racoon-proof latch – raccoons can open hook and eye.
Chickens sleep on roosts, so I’ll be putting in a 2X4 or tree branch or both for them to hang out on. I’ll put a sliding tray underneath to catch their droppings. The roost can’t be too wide or it will just ended up covered in manure, which is bad for their health. The roost needs to be at minimum 18″ above the floor. Different breeds can jump/fly to different heights, so the final height will really be dependent on the height of the coop and your breeds. It has to be no less than 18″ from the ceiling as well.
Chickens lay better when they’re getting enough daytime activity. In the winter months natural light might not cut it – depending on the breed and your particular hens. So I would recommend having at least one window for light, and maybe even electric light to cut down on sleeping hours in the winter. I wonder if chickens get SAD? Anyways, consider running electricity to your coop if it’s possible.
Talking about poo. There are a few different things you can do to help make cleaning the coop an easier job. Put down linoleum on the floor. Have the floor be a slide-out “tray’ that you can actually pull out to scrape into the compost. Use the “deep litter method”, explained here
, to cut down on how often you need to clean. I need to do more research on Diatomaceous Earth
before I’m ready to use it myself though, especially because I’ll be using the manure in the garden, and because the kids will be helping with the chickens. There are all sorts of products you can use to clean with, but really hot water is the best. I’ll be doing some posts later on about disease etc that will mention the kinds of cleaners you may need to use to eliminate an outbreak.
Breath of Fresh Air
Also talking of poo, ventilation is key. It’s not just about the smell, but the moisture and air quality as well. One of the main protests neighbours make is that the chickens might smell. They’re only going to smell if you’re not keeping the coop clean, and/or if the coop is not well ventilated and it gets stinky too easily. Also, the chickens aren’t going to be able to fight off respiratory illness if there isn’t enough fresh air. Chickens can handle the cold fairly well, especially cold weather breeds, so it’s worth it to allow some heat loss to bring in fresh air and push out the old. You are probably going to need a combination of a few eave soffets, a gable end vent and some windows. Make sure the windows have hardware cloth over them to protect against predators – which leads me to my next point.
So you live in a city, you probably think there’s not much to worry about in terms of predators. Unfortunately not only are wild animals starting to push further into the city limits in the search for food (or we’re encroaching on THEIR habitat), but we have enough to start with! We have a couple of eagles living in our downtown neighbourhood, and certainly plenty of raccoons. We also have coyotes wandering around here and there. Other predators you might have to look out for include hawks, opossums, some dogs etc. To protect your birds you are going to need good locks on your human and chicken doors (no hook and eye!), you need 1/2″ hardware cloth, not chicken wire. You also need an apron of sorts – if you’re building a hardware cloth run you need to dig down to sink the cloth either 12″ into the ground, or 6″ down and then 6″ out. These are minimums. They protect against burrowing predators. Don’t forget to have a strong roof, especially if your run is near a fence or tree. Finally, always supervise your flock when they’re free-ranging.
So that’s it for the necessities. I’m looking forward to my next chicken post – it’ll be the more fun stuff, the wants not needs. Highlight? Green (salad) roof!!