It is time to decide if I’m really going to be able to do the chicken thing this spring. We have the surviving few chickens in the back pen, but we keep coming back to the idea that chickens are the best subcontractors to put to work in the large area at the front of the acre. I already have more garden space than I can handle, the soil is terrible there, we don’t have a good watering system for it, and I love chickens.
Since we don’t have any chickens down there right now, this is the perfect time to think about what we can do differently with everything from the coop to predator protection. I have been researching and reading voraciously, especially in the last 24 hours, so I thought I would share with you some of the best ideas I have come across.
Cleaning the Coop:
In the book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, 3rd Edition I was pleased to find out that cleaning the coop does not have to be a regular chore. If the litter system is set up correctly, just a little spot cleaning should do the trick for most of the year. One key to this idea is to do things in the spring that create the composting cycle. This website talks about healthy low maintenance chicken coop cleaning some, but the book gives more thorough understanding and prepares you for problem solving.
Creating Nesting Boxes:
Providing nesting boxes makes it fairly likely that the chickens will lay eggs where you can find them. But having had chickens for over 10 years now, I have come to the conclusion that most of the nesting boxes are designed to be aesthetically pleasing to the owners in ways that the chickens couldn’t care less about. I’m not against making things look nice, but 3 very cost effective nesting box options appeal to me.
- The sideways bucket chicken nesting box idea is probably the cheapest, and I may go with it yet, but I can just picture the poor chicken struggling with the curved edges. Of all the options for making a lip on the end, to keep eggs from rolling out, I like the length of 2 x 4 lumber the best. It looked easier than cutting a bunch of lids. Home Depot is currently selling their orange buckets for $2.78 each. No painting necessary if you want a little color in the coop! Lids are separate.
- The nesting box I like next best is the covered kitty litter box as a chicken nesting box. (scroll at least half way down the page to see the photo) It has a bit more room and a flat bottom. And it is handy that the top comes off. I’m thinking this would make it easy to clean. I found all kinds of prices on amazon.com. I am hoping Walmart has a more standard version.
- My favorite idea is the stackable vegetable bins as a chicken nesting boxes. These seem space efficient and ventilated. They are missing the top covering of the other two options, but a plank over the top row could take care of that. They may require more screws in the back to keep them stable. Stacking would be more important if I had space issues, but it is just such a good idea! I have had limited luck finding them online, but here is one possible source. I will be making a trip to Walmart to compare prices and sizes of these with the kitty litter box option.
Since I will be reinforcing the whole pen area against predators, I don’t need to worry about getting the nest boxes very far off of the ground. I’ll want them raised just enough so that as the bedding builds during the compost cycle, it doesn’t overflow into the boxes. I also like the idea of them being low just in case there is some hatching that goes on in there. Since I’ve never seen a chicken lay its eggs in a tree, I don’t think they will feel inhibited by being closer to the ground. 🙂
Keeping Out Predators:
Even though we are patiently proceeding with acclimating Kiwi to being a chicken guard dog, she does not sleep outside and she is not in the front yard a lot.
- So, we will probably be putting up both a lower and a higher lever hot wire around the outside of the fenced chicken pen area. This should do a lot to deter climbing and digging critters.
- It won’t, however, do much for the hawk problem. For this, we are considering another line of fence posts down the center of the wide pen to support a covering of aviary netting. This is not necessarily the source we will use. It looks like there are many choices of where to buy from! Hardworking Greg found this sports netting site that will make custom sizes. Here’s another one. Even if a critter manages to escape electrocution and chew through the netting, we don’t see how it would be easy for them to escape. There will be one less chicken-eating-critter in the world….
Little Coop Details That Could Make a Big Difference:
- I really hope to be able to get electricity to the coop, because the idea of a timer to open a small door to let the chickens out in the morning sounds so good. This would also be useful for lights and water dispenser heaters.
- If we insulate the coop walls, the chickens will do better in both summer and winter, plus, if a rooster crows in the middle of the night, it will be muted.
- Cement bricks for a foundation can be layered from below ground level, for extra protection against predators at night; and they will keep the wood part of the structure from rotting next to the soil, since we will have a dirt floor for composting the manure-litter layers.
If all goes well, I should be ready for my chickens in late March or early April, just in time for my birthday. I have had McMurray Hatchery recommended to me. I used their nice chat online feature and found out that I can order the chickens anytime and set a delivery date that I choose. Now, I have to decide what kinds of chickens I want, and if it will be worth it to get “started pullets.” It’s a wonderful world －