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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Backyard Chickens 101: Part Two

In our last Chickens 101 post we discussed some of the basic concerns about chickens. In this post we're going to discuss housing. I am going to share my own experience with chicken ownership not as an explicit rulebook on how to raise chickens but to give you a starting off point as you figure out what works for your family.

What do I house my baby chicks in?

If you purchase your chickens as chicks they will not be ready to go out into an outside coop and will need something temporary. There are some definite housing requirements and I will go over a few here but there is a really great ebook from MyPetChicken.com that goes over the entire process in detail. On our first batch we used a cardboard box with some newspaper in it and we kept it in a closet off our kitchen. This worked ok but they were very quickly trying to jump out of the box and they did get a little stinky for the house. On our second batch we used a large bucket-like thing we had and kept them in the screened in back porch. We used pine shavings(those these can cause trouble - see the ebook) and a light we had purchased at the hardware store. The chicks need warmth - 95 degrees the first week with the temperature requirement going down by 5 degrees each subsequent week after that. I mention my experience to show that there are many options which will work and chances are you can pull things together from the garage which can be useful!

What about a coop?

There are so many ways to house a chicken and as long as it meets the basic requirements you needn't worry if it's cute or traditional. I have even heard of people using an old truck trailer top as a chicken coop! We opted to use a dog house our neighbor was getting rid of and built a structure to put it in. We elevated the dog house on beams - chickens like to be off the ground a little - and placed hay inside as bedding. This worked excellently and was plenty of room for our three hens - we eventually added two more and the space was still plenty adequate. We learned the hard way about predator proofing - it was almost as if we were playing some game with the raccoons, possums, and hawks in the neighborhood to see who was the smartest. Eventually we added locks to the doors, barriers to the floor to keep anything from digging in, and a secure top. We were in eastern Texas at the time and there were so many animals interested in our hens that it felt like we were living in the jungle! We didn't ever having nesting boxes but the hens made little spots in the hay to lay their eggs and we just collected them from that.

If I don't want to build my own coop or use scrap materials, what are my housing options?

There are many options for coops from beautiful chateaus that house your hens in style to basic a-frames that get the job done without any fuss. Here are a few:

Someday I plan on building something as beautiful as this one - it retails for nearly $1600.00 but can house 12-15 chickens and comes in many siding options. This coop is for someone who has outgrown the small flock and is ready for moving up - in style, mind you!

This is a cool option that comes from the U.K. and even has a run that attaches to it. What neighbor could complain about such a sleek design that comes in multiple colors? Plus, it seems pretty easy to clean. Something like this will set you back upwards of $450.00 but will probably last for years and years to come.

But this one is one of my favorite designs. It's a stealth coop that disguises itself to look like some sort of trash receptacle but in reality is a chicken coop! The stealth coop is easily moved around your yard and comes with everything your chickens need: a nesting area, a waterer, a feeder, and a discreet, predator-proof run. It is not recommended for more than two hens at a time though and retails for $499.00 shipping included.

There are still not a lot of websites out there that sell chicken coops but I have seen them in local classifieds and on craigslist.


mike said...

For those that are starting with their first chickens, I would also mention that it's not uncommon for some of your baby chicks to die. When you get them from the store or in the mail they are very young and fragile. They might have a disease or a virus, or they just might be a weakling. I bring this up so you don't think you are a failure. Normally if we want 2 new chickens we buy 3 chicks. If they all live we find someone that we can give the 3rd chick to. This allows us to proselytize our joy of rearing chickens to others.

Michele said...

I'm thinking about chickens (and pigs and goats and ...) but what always stops me is I have no idea what to do with one if it died. Bury it? Is it that obvious? Okay, a chicken I can dig a hole for ... but a pig?

Anonymous said...

Hooray! Love this blog post. We did purchase the Eglu Go by Omlet and have just brought home our first 1.5 month old girls. We just love them so far and are already looking at the Eglu Cube.