Often when people buy chickens from us they’ve never owned poultry before therefore I usually find myself explaining the basics of operating a healthy and effective coop. As I grew up on a farm much of it is second nature but many city folk are unsure of just whats involved. The easiest and quickest way to get the message across is to take them on a tour of our back section to see how everything in our coop has be arranged.
The important aspects I talk about are:
Because chickens grow so fast I use larger feeders as soon as possible. If you are raising them from day one there are feeders available that have been designed to cover the first couple of weeks. After that one on an adjustable rope works well as its just a matter of raising the height from time to time as the chickens grow. To get the best results it needs to be kept high enough to be accessible but not too low as to allow litter and droppings to be scratched into it. As can be seen in the photo above an off cut of PVC down pipe with holes drilled through it works well as a cheap grit feeder. Commercial feeds normally have grit added however I wonder if its sufficient as our hens regularly go through a 2 kilo bag of crushed oyster shell.
Feeding guide …
Day old to 6 -8 weeks … chick starter crumbles.
8 – 14 weeks … pullet grower or similar.
14 weeks onward … regular chook feed.
18 – 20 weeks or just prior to the commencement of laying … oyster shell grit.
Don’t over do the kitchen scraps as the nutritional value from these is fairly low. If they are fed as a substitute for a properly balance diet egg production will suffer.
Its important to have a plentiful supply of good clean water at all times. Hens don’t drink much at anyone time but they do drink often and even more so during spring and summer when air temperatures increase. I always leave the coop door open when our hens free range as they can get cool water whenever they need it. Hens drinking dirty contaminated water from containers and puddles is a recipe for disease.
If its not clean enough for you to drink you shouldn’t give it to your hens.
As shown above I prefer to used a fixed water container as the hanging versions leak and spill water when knocked. Its easily removed for cleaning and is installed in such a way to prevent debris getting into it.
Chickens have a natural instinct to perch therefore it important to provide good sturdy perches. The ones in our coup are about 5cm square and have the sharp edges taken off to make them more chicken friendly. Tree branches of a similar diameter also work well if they are reasonably straight. The perches shown above are approximately 50cm and 80cm above the floor however I set them at lower levels when I first introduce 3 to 4 week old chicks. They should be fixed securely to the coop walls whilst being easily removable for cleaning.
Even when I have day old chicks under lights I provide perches as its a habit that I want them to learn as soon as possible because it makes my job so much easier. There’s no space on my daily to do list for cleaning dirty nesting boxes and eggs. Perch space per bird should be about 20cm.
Without suitable perches hens will perch on what ever is handy namely nesting boxes, feeders and the like or they will crowd into a corner of a coop. The end result will be a hard mound of droppings which will ultimately end up in feathers on claws then into nesting boxes and subsequently onto eggs. Correctly positioned perches eliminates crowding, flighty hens, dirty eggs and ensures your hens will be more relaxed and manageable.
Like all females of the species they need to be pampered. My other half constantly reminds me that I pay more attention to our Flora’s that I do to her. Its not true of course !!
Nesting boxes …
For me keeping hens is all about egg production therefore when we built the coop I invested extra time and effort into creating workable nesting boxes.
- One nesting box for every 4 hens, wonder why sometimes as they all seem to lay in the same box.
- Easily accessible for me from the outside.
- Easily accessible for the hens from the inside.
- Removable for easy cleaning.
- Spacious … 40cm height x 40cm width x 40cm depth or thereabouts.
- Weather proof.
- 10cm lip at the front to keep shavings and eggs in.
When introducing young chickens I keep the boxes closed off until near the time when they will start laying. This is to ensure that they use the perches rather than sleeping in and fouling the boxes. As mentioned previously this means only one thing, dirty eggs.
Deep litter …
We use a deep litter system as it makes for easy maintenance and reduces the need to be continually cleaning chicken manure out of the coop. Simply put the floor is covered with a 10cm layer of untreated wood shavings which is raked over every few days. A more detailed explanation of this concept can be found here.
Access – easy and straight forward …
- Human sized entry, applicable if you need a large coop.
- Removing old litter is almost effortless, especially when I have to work the camera !
- Predator proof entry- exit.
A user friendly coop ensures that keeping hens doesn’t become just another unwanted chore so build or buy wisely.