I love chickens. Hens, that is. Roosters are too noisy, but hens just quietly cluck and peck the ground, and nobody even knows they are there. They eat flies and other insects for you, keeping to a minimum the annoying flying things in your yard. They also eat your vegetable scraps, lowering your volume of garbage. And, eventually, they give you eggs. Lots of them. Have you ever wished you had been raised on a farm and had to scatter a handful of corn to the chickens every day? Now you can. With a simple coop, and a flock of 3 (they do best in groups of at least 3), you can have fresh eggs even if you live in a basic subdivision with neighbors, curbs, and paved streets. Backyard chickens are on the rise in this troubled economy, and keeping a small coop fits with being green–you know where some of your food (at least your eggs) come from. Try it!
I subscribe to Instructables.com, a great website where people post instructions on how to make all kinds of stuff–from sewing, to metalworking, to electronics. Each week they send out a newsletter showing some of the top new posts added. This week’s newsletter included an “Arduino Controlled Chicken Coop” instructable. Arduino controlled? I had to click to find out. I know an arduino is a piece of electronics, but that is the far reach of my knowledge there.
This guy (the author calls himself “Robot-Chicken”–the photo is funny!) did a bunch of research and came up with a chicken coop that would open up in the morning (you set the time for each month) and also close up about a half an hour after sunset, after your chickens have gone in to roost. Here is the link to the instructions for the self-opening chicken coop.
According to the article at Instructibles.com, the main features of this wonder are:
“• Based on the Arduino architecture for easy prototyping and adaptation to your coop requirements
• Uses common parts easily found at your local DIY/hardware store/shop such as cheap electric screw drivers
• Uses a real time clock to maintain time even when the device is temporary disconnected from power
• Adjusts the opening and closing times of the door according to the current month – you can set it to your own timezones
• Provides a manual override just in case one of your lovely darlings misses sunset!
• Provides a min and max temperature reading inside the coop from midnight so you can keep an eye on your brood’s well-being
• A display which can be switched on and off to read out the current “open” or “closed” status and will not disturb your feathered friends sleep at night.”
Really, I need this for my own family, let alone the chickens! He closes with an estimate from eBay for the parts that were under £30–so in 2012, at about $1.59 dollars to the British pound, $48.00. Not bad for something that can provide protection to your coop, and you don’t have to get up extra early to do it!
The woman from www.myindoorchickens.com says so:
Cindy wrote to ask this:
Can chickens eat bird seed? I have bird feeders and the seeds fall out.
Yes, chickens do fine with eating bird seed. It cannot replace their regular feed, though (some people have wanted to buy the less expensive bird seed and it doesn’t work). If the bird seed is just a supplement, your pet chickens will be fine. Actually, some people intentionally spread some bird seed on the ground to give their chickens another thing to peck at. So you should be fine with allowing your pet chickens to scratch below your bird feeders and eat the seed that falls out.
When you are raising baby chicks from their early stages of development, your chicks could develop something called “pasty butt.”
Chickens have one hole that is used for laying eggs, pooping, urinating and mating. This hole is called the cloacal vent. A chick’s mother hen keeps her chicks’ cloacal vents clear, but if you are raising the chicks yourself, the vent can become clogged and you end up “pasty butt.” I have read that this can happen during shipping–some say from temperature changes, some say from stress. A chick can actually die from pasty butt because it cannot poop until the pasty butt is cleared. The result: you need to clean your chicks’ bottoms. Use a warm wash cloth and move it slowly on the chicks’ bottoms. You can use a Q-tip and olive oil or mineral oil to rub around the vent and surrounding area.
Some people actually run the pasty butts under warm water to help dissolve the poo. Make sure your room is well heated. Dry the chicks off before putting them with the other chicks so their bottoms do not draw attention. You may end up plucking some of the pasty goop, irritating the skin, which then may cause other chicks to peck at it.
Check your chicks’ bottoms daily for the first few days to look for buildup.
When your chicks first arrive, give them sugar water the first day to help increase their energy levels; feed them chick starter food and scrambled egg. Yes, egg. I know it sounds cannibalistic.
In the meantime, watch those chicken butts! This YouTube video shows what it looks like and demonstrates the cleaning technique:
Chickens really do have a pecking order–they literally peck at each other to establish who is the ‘top chicken’. If they peck another chicken to the point where it bleeds, they continue to peck at the bleeding chicken and they actually can kill it. The upside of this is that chickens can be not all that smart, and there is a way to take advantage of this.
Chicken keepers have figured out a way to add a new chicken to the flock safely, without triggering a massive pecking on it. They sneak the new chicken into the flock at night, right onto the roost with the other sleeping chickens. When they awaken the next day, they accept that new chicken as one who has been there with there with them all along. . .after all, the new chicken was there on the roost when they woke up; she must have been there when they retired the evening before.
Inside your chicken coop, you need to install a roost: this is a place for your chickens to sleep. Once it starts to get dark, one by one your chickens will go into the coop itself and settle down for the night. There are just a couple of things you need to keep in mind to give your chickens a safe, comfortable place to bed down. Here is a photo of chickens on their roost, used with permission from http://www.gardenplotter.com.
Why Provide a Roost for your Chickens?
By instinct, chickens want to roost (“go to bed”) in the highest point available, and be gathered together in a group for protection and warmth while they sleep. Your chickens will be happier animals if you play to their instincts when you are designing their living space. If you were to place multiple roosts inside your coop with some higher than others, they may fight to get the highest (“best”) spots: to avoid this, you keep the roost at all the same level
What Does a Chicken Roost Look Like?
A chicken roost is a very simple board–a 2″ X 4″ or a 2″ X 2″–or a wooden clothes rod like you would put in a closet, or even a thick tree branch that is about 2″-3″ across. Most research I have done recommend that if you are going to use a board, you round off the corners to make them easier to grip and smooth the edgees so the chickens will not get splinters. It can be one simple piece, or, to fit more chickens in a small coop, placed in a “+” of two intersecting pieces, crossed in the middle, but all at the same height.
Where is a Roost Placed?
The board/bod/branch for your roost is hung all at the same level, so that no bird is higher than another. The most important part of placing your roost, though, is to know an important part of chicken life: they poop (a lot!) during sleep. If you know this before you install your roost, then you can select the areas of the coop that will get the most poop. You can plan to have the poop fall on areas where you are not walking to gather eggs, and you can make sure the poop does not collect in the nesting boxes. Just a little planning can go a long way toward making your chickens much easier to manage–who wants to clean off their shoes every day when they gather eggs? Some people go so far as to place plastic trays or cat litter boxes filled with straw beneath the roost to collect the poop, which makes clean up even easier. And straw and chicken manure, together, make a good garden supplement.
So there are two rules:
1. Do not place the roost over the nesting boxes where the chickens will sit to lay their eggs, and
2. Do not place the roost over your walking path to the nesting boxes to pick up the eggs.
How Long Does the Roost Need to Be?
Allow 9″-10″ of board length for each chicken. If you have 3 chickens, then 27″ – 30″ of roost length will give them enough room to not have to fight for roost space.
What is the Little Ladder I Sometimes See Leading to the Roost?
Some people clip the ends of the chicken’s wings to keep them from flying away (and into the mouths of predators). These chickens may need a little ladder to get up to their roost–a simple plank with some sticks screwed onto it for steps or a ledge helps the chickens to “get a grip”, so to speak, as they walk up to their roost. If your chickens do not have clipped wings, you do not need to provide this.
What is a nesting box?
A nesting box is a box for the chicken to sit in while laying eggs. Typically, it is open on one side for the chicken to come in and out. You can improvise a box from something you already have, or you can build one from scrap wood. Here are some of the things you need to think about when you are going to make a nesting box for your chicken. The nesting box is lined with wood shavings, shredded paper, or straw to cushion the surface–the egg can break when it hits the bottom of the hard box if you do not provide a cushion.
- The box should be clean and dry, with pine wood shavings or straw in the bottom. Some people use a plastic tray, litter box, or cardboard in the bottom of the nesting box to make it easier to replace the wood shavings or straw.
- If you have a small flock of 3 hens, they can all share the same box. Chickens don’t lay their eggs all at the same time.
- A size of one foot on all sides is usually large enough–you want the chicken to fit in the box easily. Some chicken keepers report that if the chickens can stand up inside their nesting box, they are more likely to eat the eggs, or scratch so that the straw lining ends up outside the box.
- A lip at the front bottom of the box will give the chicken something to jump to before climbing into the box, and it keeps the shavings/straw in the box, and also keeps the eggs from rolling out.
- If you put a sloping top on the box, this will prevent your chickens from sleeping on top of the nesting box. Since chickens poop a lot while they sleep, this creates a mess directly under wherever they roost.
- If you make your nesting box, use a plywood that exterior grade, and do not use paint or stain on it.
Where do I put a nesting box? Usually, the box is 1-2 foot off the ground, but some people simply put the box on the ground.
Since chickens tend to roost (sleep) in the highest location inside the coop, you want the nesting box to be lower than the “roost” you provided for them to sleep on. When you are designing your nesting box, think about access for you to collect the eggs. At the very least, you want the box to be close to the door where you enter the coop, so you do not have to walk far across the dirty (think chicken poop) floor to get your eggs. And for a really deluxe chicken keeping experience, put a hinged door on the back of the nest box, and make it so you can open that door from outside the coop so you do not even have to walk inside. Now that is the easy life with pet chickens. If you opt for this “backdoor”, add a small lip to the bottom of the back entrance of the nesting box–otherwise, you could lift the hatch for the egg collection, only to have it fall out onto the ground!
How do I clean a nesting box? You want to regularly replace the straw in the nesting box so that the box is clean and dry. If your chickens poop or otherwise soil the nesting box, or in the rare event that an egg happens to break, you will want to clean the box immediately to replace the lining material.
How often do I collect the eggs? You want to do this treasure hunt to collect your fresh eggs at least once a day. You will get to know your chickens and how often they lay.
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When you look for a waterer for your pet chickens, the most trouble free are the kind that you can hook a garden hose up to and have them automatically refill. That way, you do not have to worry that they will run out of water.
Think about how the chickens will drink from the waterer–does the design make it possible for them to poop in the drinking trough? Overturn it? (Especially if it automatically refills, an overturned waterer will lead to a big muddy mess!) The same holds true for the feeder, make sure they can not overturn it. Try to position it so the chickens will not poop in their feeding trough.
You want your birds in good physical shape, contented and happy. You want them ready and able to lay eggs for you. There are certain things you should make sure you provide when you are planning your chicken coop.
Keep the Predators Out
- One of the first things to consider is making the coop safe from predators–and this means all sides. Make sure that all openings are protected with the correct size of wire mesh – 15mm square so that so that predators can not reach inside the coop!
- Make sure that the area surrounding the coop (the “run”) is protected with wire-mesh fencing with the base buried to keep foxes, raccoons and rats from burrowing into the area. Rats would especially be drawn into the area because of chicken droppings, but chickens have a lot of predators who would love to break in, and the fencing needs to be buried at least 15″ into the ground.
- Make sure the coop is well ventilated to prevent respiratory diseases, but if you have a choice, try to keep it directly out of the flow of air). Although chickens have a tolerance to cold weather,wind is another matter and you want to avoid being in the direct wind path as much as possible.
- You want enough room for the chickens to roam around in the coop, so plan at least 4 square feet per bird.
Inside the Coop: Roosting Poles
- Your birds need roosting poles–that is where they sleep! Make sure that there is adequate spacing so they don’t crowd out one another. More on this in a separate post.
Inside the Coop: Nest Boxes
- If you only have a flock of 3, you only need 1 nest box. (Put 1 nest box for every 4 or 5 birds). Put it in a dark corner of the coop to encourage your chickens to lay eggs.
- Nest boxes should be a little bit off the floor but lower than the roosting pole inside.
Inside the Coop: Feeder/Waterer
- There should be a waterer and feeder inside the chicken coop.
The Cleaning Plan
- Think ahead–plan to make the coop easy to clean. On a separate post, I will describe the cleaning tasks; you will want plans that take into account the easiest way to keep the coop clean.
- For easy disposal of droppings, place a removable plastic tray under the roosting poles.