We Have Chickens!Print
City Sprouts has chickens! I’m so happy to learn how to care for them as one day I’d love to have chickens in my own yard. Fresh eggs any day of the week!
They seem to be adjusting well to their new home. Proper housing is the key to happy, healthy birds, but building a chicken coop to the right specifications is a little more involved than it may appear. A happy chicken home must:
- Be predator-proof, not just from the sides, but from above and below as well. Predators include but are not limited to raccoons, foxes, wolves, coyotes and hawks. (Be sure to select the right wire mesh. The holes in standard chicken wire are actually quite large. Yes, it will keep the chickens in, but raccoons can reach through the holes. One-half inch square “hardware cloth” is recommended.)
- Be secure from nasty rodents (yes, rats!) that will be attracted to the feed and droppings. Rodents are burrowing creatures, so you need to block them from slipping into the coop from below. If your coop doesn’t have a floor, you need to bury small-mesh fencing down into the ground about 12″ all around the coop.
- Be breezy enough to prevent respiratory diseases, to which chickens are especially prone, but not so drafty during winter that they are uncomfortably cold. Chickens can withstand the cold as long as it’s not too drafty.
- Be easy to clean so bugs and bacteria don’t fester.
- Provide “roosting poles” for your girls to sleep on (2″ wide; rounded edges; allot 5-10″ of space per bird side to side and 10″ between poles if more than one is necessary; plus ladder-like grading so the pole furthest away is several inches higher than the closest).
- Encourage egg-laying with 1 nest box for every four or five chickens. Nest boxes should be raised off the ground at least a few inches, but lower than the lowest roosting pole. They should also be dark and out of the way to cater to the hen’s instinct to lay her eggs in a safe place.
- Be roomy: at least 4 square feet per bird if birds are able to roam freely during the day, and at least 10 square feet per bird if they are permanently confined.
- Accommodate a feeder and waterer, which should hang 6-8″ off the ground.
- Include a removable “droppings tray” under roosting poles for capture and easy disposal of droppings.
- Similar to the coop, the sides of the attached chicken run should be buried 12″ into the soil to keep predators and rodents from digging their way in. Again, use chicken wire fencing or half-inch hardware cloth. It’s also a good idea to secure the top of the run with aviary netting or deer netting. This will keep wild birds (which can carry communicable diseases) out and provide further defense against sly predators.
- Keep feeders and waterers full.
- Make sure the waterer is clean. Chickens will be less inclined to drink dirty water, and a dehydrated bird can very quickly become ill or die.
- Check to make sure they all look active, bright and healthy. Make an appointment with a vet if they don’t.
- Collect and refrigerate eggs, pointy side down for maximum freshness.
- If you’ve opened the coop door to let your chickens out, always be sure to close and secure it at dusk.
Diet and eggs:
- Hens lay one egg per day and fresh eggs keep for several days without refrigeration.
- Eggs may have some slight traces of dirt or chicken feces on them. Resist the urge to scrub them clean! Outside of the egg is a delicate membrane called the “bloom” that wards off bacteria and other foreign matter. Scrubbing will damage this membrane. If you absolutely need perfect-looking eggs, rub them very gently with your fingers under warm water. Then wash your hands thoroughly.
- Chickens can eat almost anything people can–so you can throw those unwanted leftovers into the chicken run. Leaves, weeds and grass clippings are a treat for chickens. They’ll happily dig through whatever you give them, eat what they can, and pulverize the rest.
- Chickens are great for cleaning up leftovers but they should not eat: citrus fruits and peels (they can cause a drop in egg production), bones, any large serving of meat or meat that has gone bad, garlic and onion (unless you want your eggs tasting like them), avocado skins and pits, raw potato skins, long cut grass, and chocolate.
Why have chickens?
- Research shows that chickens allowed to roam freely and eat grass lay eggs that are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E and at the same time lower in cholesterol than store-bought eggs.
- You can feel good about the organic eggs you’ll be feeding your friends and family. You’ll notice the eggs taste better and yolks are richer in color due to the fact that they’re minutes old instead of weeks or months.
- If you’re aware of conditions in factory farms, even in some of the so-called “free range” farms, enough said. Factory farms are no place for a living creature. By keeping a few pet chickens of your own, you’re reducing the demand for store-bought eggs and sending a message to those factory farms that you don’t want what they’re selling.
I’m learning as we go here, so I’ll update regularly.