Monday, January 28, 2013

Preparing to get some chickens

Ben and I want to get some chickens this spring. We are thinking we'd like to get 6-10 laying hens, and possibly a couple of guineas. So, now we have a few decisions to make.

1. design and location of chicken coop
2. whether to let them roam free or what sized fenced-in run
3. should we get chicks or already laying hens
4. what breed
5. when should we get the birds

1. chicken coop
We will be building the coop with material we can find around here, which won't be a problem since there is a ton of scrap wood laying around. So we are thinking it should be roughly 5' x 8' with 4 or 5 good size nesting boxes and a roosting perch. We are concerned about predators, since we know there are a lot of coyotes in this area, so we are thinking of elevating it a bit. I love this one

It's so beautiful! It's 5' x 8' Amish made, also costs $1000! Ouch! like I said we will be building out own out of scrap material so I am sure it won't be quite as aesthetically pleasing. Also, Ben shot down my idea to paint it and make it look pretty, he wants it to be functional, so whatever! I like the windows, and the ease of access to the nesting boxes, so it will be easy to retrieve eggs.

Here is a picture of the roosting perch on the inside.

I really like the idea of the chicken wire under the roosting perch, it should make clean-up a lot easier since the poop will just go straight through to the ground. If the coop is portable you could move it around to fertilize the garden. I wonder if this would cause it to get too cold in the winter months?

We think we will put the chicken coop in between the house and the garden. That way it will be easy access from the house and the garden for scraps.

2. We would rather not spend a lot of money on fencing in a run for the chickens. We will have to have at least a minimal space for them for situations in which they have to be contained. Ben thinks we should keep that to a minimum and just let the chickens run free everyday, and close them up in the coop at night. I am wondering about a few things with this. First of all how will that effect their safety? Secondly, there will be chicken poop everywhere! Like possibly on our front steps, right outside in the yard, even worse the dogs will be rolling it, and then most likely be coming in and laying on the couch!!

3. Next thought - chicks are chickens or somewhere in between?? I guess we want eggs soon so maybe we should get chickens, but chicks are so cute. Also, I guess we would want young chickens since I understand they slow down egg production when they get older.

4. What breed of chicken should we get? does it matter?

5. So, the timing of getting the birds depends also on the age of birds we decide to get. My question is how old should they be to go out in the temperatures we are having now (20s)? Would a 3 month old bird who is fully feathered be ok outside now? If so, that would not be a bad option, if they are 3 months old now, they should start laying in the spring. Or should we wait until it warms up to get birds?

I am very excited about this. We moved up here over two years ago with the urge to live closer to the land, keep animals and garden. We have had a garden the last two summers, but they were not much to speak of since they were rather neglected. We have moved twice, and have not yet felt permanent in a place yet. I am hoping we will get our enthusiasm up this spring and summer and work harder on our garden, and finally get some chickens and have fresh eggs. We have been talking about getting pigs too, but that is something that will have to wait.

Chickens seems like a good starting place when it comes to raising animals. We are considering guineas too for a couple of reasons. For one I think they would really contribute to the safety of the hens, and we definitely have a lot of predators in this area. I know how loud these birds can be (thanks Keely!) when they notice something unfamiliar. Also, we have Baldur our Great Pyrenees. So, I figure if anything gets near that chicken coop the guineas will sound the alarm and Baldur will definitely notice that to go check it out. The second reason is I understand that guineas eat a lot of fleas, with three dogs and two cats that sounds like a big benefit.

Please give me any and all advice in the comments!


  1. Okay-- I'll try this again!!

    It is my experience that loose chickens will always congregate on your porch/deck, and they will poop everywhere. And chicken poop is pretty big. I think the best housing is a nice coop (but not too nice-- it is a chicken house, after all) with 6-ft wire fencing yard. That way, you can still let them out frequently, but they have a spot to be when you don't want them roaming and you don't feel bad for keeping them "cooped up."

    Guineas have a slightly different set of needs than chickens. And they won't be any help against night-time predators, since they will be roosting and asleep, just like the chickens. Check out the "Gardening with Guineas" site for lots of good tips on how to raise/keep guineas.

    I would put the coop fairly near your house. And Baldur should be very helpful in keeping predators away.

    I like to raise my own chicks, but you can try and buy young pullets, too. If you get chicks in February, they should start laying by about August/Sept. The general rule is they start laying at 6 months old.
    As for what kind, I have a great list of which breeds are the best layers, but really, have fun with it. Maybe get a few Production Reds, but a variety is always fun. I love the beautiful heritage breeds, they come in such a variety of colors and feather-dos.

    And, as far as I know, guineas will eat fleas, but they're really better at eating ticks.

    As far as housing, once chicks are fully feathered, they no longer need a heat lamp. But until then, they do need an external heat source. Heat lamps are just those garage/construction site lamps that are really cheap and easy to find. Bulbs are about $5.

    For your coop, it doesn't need to be fancy, but it needs to be well-ventilated for the summer and free of drafts for the winter. Also, tree branches make the best roosting poles, poles that are uniform in diameter aren't good for their feet muscles.

    There's more, but that's all I've got for now!!

  2. oh, and the coop in your post has a square roost pole, which is a big no-no!


comments greatly appreciated