Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Chicken Plan

I was raised on a small farm. Our family had horses, pigs, cows, rabbits, chickens, ducks and a myriad of cats and dogs at any given time. I want that. All of it. But we live on less than 2 acres (not including surrounding family land) and although I know there are many people that do it I just can't see us cramming all of that into such a small space.

Several years ago, in 2009 to be exact, my husband was in Pennsylvania for work. When he came home I had news for him; we were getting chickens. To my surprise he didn't have a whole lot to say about it one way or the other. Of course there way the 'why' question. Which, those of you close to us will know that is the man's motto. There had been many cases in the past of me forgetting to buy eggs and him waking up on a Saturday morning wanting to whip up a bacon and egg breakfast with none to be found in the refrigerator. So, I pointed out the plus of having hens producing eggs year round. I think I was able to finally seal the deal when I promised no rooster. I figured the first time the bugger crowed and woke my husband up on his day off he'd be in the stew pot that evening! Plans were under way.

I did plenty of research online, I even went out and bought the book Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. I found that, with the internet at my fingertips, I really didn't have a use for the book although it gets great reviews. I have since passed on my copy to someone else in need of it.

One of the first things I did was start making a list of things I wanted in a hen house. The list was long but fairly thorough the more I read through the forums at Backyard Chickens. I find that website and the people there more helpful than anything else.

Now, I'm going to share my list with you. These are/were my wants and needs. If you're looking into raising chickens your list will be quite different I'm sure. I have a big back yard and was able to make a fairly large hen house and run. I know there are also benefits of using a chicken tractor but at this time I've chosen not to, maybe in the future.

Hen House

~ Big enough to hold 10 chickens maximum.
~ 2 rooms - one side for hens living quarters and the other side for food storage and egg gathering.
~Ventilation! Chicken droppings are high in nitrogen that turns into amonia so a lot of ventilation is needed. High wall vents and windows that open.
~A pop door (the door the girls use to go from the house to the outside). One that can be closed at night to prevent predators entering the house.
~Linoleum flooring for ease of cleaning.
~Painted walls to seal the wood and brighten up the inside.
~Nesting box mounted inside divider wall so eggs are gathered inside, keeping laying hens warmer in the winter. At least 18" off the floor and painted dark brown inside (I recall reading that they like a darker nesting area).
~Roost. They will roost ANYWHERE. (That's almost another post in itself lol.) I believe standard is at last 24" off the ground but would have to double check that info.
~Feeder inside the house to keep feed dry and critters out at night.
~Light, on a timer in the winter months for prolonged egg production. Also mounted a heat lamp from the ceiling shining on the roost area for cold winter day/nights.

~2x4" welded wire.
~Bottom half of fence down in chicken wire laid out approx 1 foot along ground. Pinned down by cutting off the shoulder curves of wire coat hangers and using them as pins for the into the ground. Grass grows through and you never know the wire is there and can mow over it. (It's said that dogs and other critters will dig as deep as needed to get into something but if there is wire mesh over the ground they don't figure out how to move back to find the edge to dig under!)
~Whole pen covered in chicken wire (wire roof). Needs good cross support for snow load.
~Mounted roost sticks (2x2's) through the fence in the corners for the girls to roost in the sun.

Feed & Water
~Gravity feeder
~Galvanized waterer used in non freezing months, plastic bucket in winter (filled from house due to no water hook up at hen house).
~Feed layer pellets. I prefer pellets to messy wasteful crumbs (have used both).
~Oyster shell. I mix this in with the feed instead of putting it in a separate dish. Seems to work just fine this way.
~Scratch. Fed more in the winter months due to its "fattening" properties. Not needed in summer, use as an occasional treat then.
~No meat scraps. This is just a personal preference of mine and I'm not up for debating it. Occasionally the girls will get ground beef with spaghetti left-overs tossed to them but that is about all.
~No peppers or onions, again personal preference. Plus I need to have something left to put in my compost bin lol.
~I have found that food NOT consumed by them will rot in the pen and add additional stench. (i.e. pumpkin rind, watermelon rind, some non-cooked root vegetables) so you might want to be diligent in cleaning up what your flock doesn't eat within a couple of days.

I hope someone finds my list helpful. And to those of you looking to start raising chickens I hope you end up enjoying it as much as I do. I'll be writing up another post soon to include photos of the hen house project!

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