Saturday, May 1, 2010

Getting Ready for Chickens

I wrote a few posts as I prepared to own chickens, but I don't think I summarized what exactly I did and what exactly I bought in order to prepare for the little tykes when I got them in February.  I read a ton of stuff, but didn't feel that any of it prepared me.  Fellow blogger Chicken Mama (who has that moniker for a reason) helped me through the startup via email by telling me exactly what to do.

First, I got a coop and modified it by taking off the plastic shutters and adding hardware cloth windows and a door.  I don't recommend that anyone go and buy a used 12 square foot Little Tykes playhouse like I did, because it's not technically a good coop.  A good coop is well-ventilated, but not totally drafty.  When I realized how drafty this playhouse was (and it was February with lots of snow and verrry cold), I decided to put the coop inside my porch area on concrete blocks and plywood.

I put a nesting box and a roost in the playhouse.  The nesting box is just a wooden box I had lying around that I put on its side and screwed a 1x4 across the front.  The nesting box is raised by sitting it on top of an overturned recycling container.  One nesting box has been fine for the 5 birds.  The roost is a piece of wood I found in the yard.

I bought cedar shavings to use as bedding (edit: WOOD shavings, not cedar shavings).  I haven't cleaned the coop out, but have been letting the shavings and "stuff" build up.  It doesn't smell as bad as I thought it would, but then it's been cold.

I bought a trash can to hold the food (and have been buying layer mash from Agway in 50 pound bags). It has been taking the 5 birds about 3 weeks to go through a bag of feed. Tractor Supply also sells chicken feed.  I bought a feeder and a waterer.  Both of them are supposed to be hung up, but I have them sitting on top of glass blocks to raise them a few inches.  The space is so small that when the birds are on the roost, they can poop in their water - and they do.  So I replace the water twice a day.

My hens are Delawares, which are a heavy breed.  Literature (the internet) says heavy breeds should have 4 square feet per bird.  Smaller breeds can have less space, down to 1 sq foot per bird.  The henhouse started out at 12 square feet, but the nesting boxes and feeder and waterer take out about half of that space.  The birds're all still alive, but they're not happy about being "cooped" up, and showing it by only giving me about 2 eggs a day between the 5 of them.

The new coop should be in town on Tuesday, so the chickies will have an outside country club to live in soon. I'm so thankful they're still clucking! 

It's true what they say about chickens being a gateway drug to harder core animals.  I've gained some confidence taking care of these girls that made me feel ready to try goats.  Watch out - here I come!


  1. Just a note- in the future, buy PINE shavings. Actual cedar shavings, while smelling nicer perhaps, are toxic. But clearly, since the girls are still here and going strong...not as toxic as I was told!

  2. "It's true what they say about chickens being a gateway drug to harder core animals."

    Hee hee! I hadn't heard it put that way.

    Fort Collins passed an "it's OK to have hens inside the city limits" law a couple of years ago, but I haven't been struck with the desire to get any more animals, besides finding one that's about 6' tall, well-educated, charming, funny....

  3. Aah, I was wrong! Upon looking at the bag, it says WOOD shavings, not cedar. Whew!

  4. I may have missed a post regarding this so excuse my comment if you've already addressed. Do let your chickens out during the day? If not, what are your reasons? Chickens always "come home to roost" as the saying goes so you needn't worry that they'll run away, no need for a fence. Even if you can only fence in a small area for them you'll both greatly benefit from their daily foraging trips. You'll notice the egg yolks become orange and more nutritious from the grass they ingest and you may even notice fewer creepy crawlies in your garden!

  5. Thanks for asking Anon, I didn't say why I keep them cooped up. I have 2 dogs. The younger one is a chaser - she tries to get the cats to play with her, and I think she'd do the same with the chickens. Do chickens ever fly into trees and not want to come down? That's what I'm worried will happen.