Cold-Weather Chicken Care: How to Keep Chicken Water From Freezing

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In my neck of the woods, winter weather is almost behind us. But some parts of the globe are still up to their ears in some of the worst winter weather conditions they’ve had so far. So, as our final post in our cold-weather chicken care series, I want to offer up a few solutions for how to keep chicken water from freezing even when the temperatures plummet.

In case you missed our earlier posts on cold-weather chicken care, you can check them out here.

Cold-Weather Chicken Care: 11 Quick Ideas to Improve Chicken Comfort

Cold-Weather Chicken Care: The Tale of the Frostbitten Chicken and Lessons Learned About Prevention and Treatment

Cold-Weather Chicken Care: Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds

Now for some ideas to warm up your chicken water!

On-Grid Solutions

If I lived in a place where dealing with frozen water was a regular issue, I would most definitely get some power to my coop and use some kind of electric heat to keep my chicken water flowing. Plug-and-play devicesonce you have a reliable electricity source installedare about the most headache-free way of keeping chicken water from freezing in extreme conditions.

Even after you have electricity, you still have some decisions to make on which devices will work best for your purposes.

The Heated Coop

If you are giving your chickens supplemental heat and light to keep them laying in winter, and you have an insulated coop, then you likely just need to keep your water bowl close to your heat source.

If you are thinking about going this route, brooder lamps are a classic go-to for winter heat. But newer technologies like chicken-safe heat walls may require less maintenance, and are definitely better from a fire-safety perspective.

Heating Units That Work With Your Existing Watering Devices

If you have a lot of chicken-watering devices and just want to find a solution that works with what you’ve already got in place, consider these.

Fount heaters, which are basically heated pedestals, can be used with your existing self-watering founts and poultry waterers. They can also work well with the nipple-style bucket watering devices. They often look like an upside down pie tin with an electric cord. A high-quality unit will usually cost around $50.

DIY Fount/Bucket Cinder Block Heater

You can also make your own fount pedestal heater for around $10-$15 using a concrete block, paving stone, lamp socket with cord, mounting bracket, and a 60 or 100 watt bulb. Alternatively, you can use an extension cord and a plugable light socket.

The lamp socket you buy should be rated for use with a 100-watt light bulb. Also make sure you get a good fit between your cinder block and your paving stone to ensure that no water can drip into your light socket and create an electrical fire hazard.

Assemble the light kit, mount the light inside the block, and cover the block with the paving stone. Some people will drill holes to run the cord through the concrete block or will buy notched cinder blocks and use a file to deepen the notch to pass the cord through. If you have an elevated wood floor, you can also just drill a hole in your floor, run the cable through the hole, and set the open bottom of the cinder block over your light.

Plug in your cord. Turn the lamp on. Put your waterer on top of the paving stone. And voilà! The lamp will heat the paving stone and the paving stone will heat your watering device. The concrete barrier also provides some degree of fire protection.

You can build this in just a couple of minutes. In many cases, a 60-watt light bulb will be sufficient to keep the water flowing. But depending on your temperatures and the density of the paver top you choose, you may need to upgrade to a 100-watt light bulb to fully heat your water. As with any DIY project of this nature, you must keep a close eye on your homemade heater to make sure there are no safety issues until you are completely confident that your setup is working well.

Submersible Water Heaters

In addition to pedestal heaters, you can also modify your existing watering systems using a submersible deicer. These work particularly well for watering systems that have easy-access openings at the top. They can range in price from $15-$50 depending on design and quality. Many chicken keepers who live in extreme cold opt for higher-end heating models because they tend to last longer and end up costing less over time.

If you have larger water systems, like Marjory’s 55-gallon drums, then you would need to opt for a higher-powered submersible device. Make sure the device you choose is rated for the number of gallons you plan to heat.

To learn more about Marjory’s watering systems, check out this video:

(video) Simple And Effective Watering Systems For Small Livestock

Watering Devices With Integrated Heaters

For about the same price as high-quality submersible or fount water heaters, you can buy watering devices with built-in heaters.

This one is not my favorite method because I like to fill up my water containers in my house on cold days and bring a fresh container to my chickens as needed. So, I keep several watering devices ready to fill on my porch and just swap them out as needed. That means I’d have to buy three or four of these waterers with built-in heaters, and that’s a lot more expensive than just plugging in one fount base heater and using my regular fount water containers or buckets.

If your coop is close to your water source, though, then using a watering device with an integrated heater might be right for you.

There are lots more on-grid options for heating chicken water, but these are a few of the more common, tried-and-true methods to consider.

Off-Grid Solutions

Not all of us are able to run electricity to our coops. Luckily, there are some good off-grid solutions to keeping chicken water from freezing. Some of the ideas that follow are geared more towards us hard-core off-gridders who love to tinker and push our homesteading limits. But even if they seem a bit out there, most of these can be adapted to your average suburban backyard.

Easy Fixes: Double-Wall Waterers, the Saltwater Trick, Placement, and Insulation

Depending on your conditions, you may be able to keep water from freezing longer with a few easy fixes.

Metal, double-walled chicken waterers have better insulation and may keep water from freezing a bit longer than your standard single-walled waterers.

Saltwater has a higher freezing point than fresh water. By submerging a plastic bottle filled with saltwater inside your chicken waterer, you can increase the freezing point of the surrounding water. Make sure your submerged bottle is well-sealed and does not leak into your fresh water, though, or you may overload your chickens on sodium.

By using a dark-colored waterer and placing it in sunlight, it will absorb more heat and be less likely to freeze even in cold temperatures. I like to use blue or black buckets or black rubber concrete mixer containers set against a south-facing wall on top of dark-gray gravel. The dark containers draw the sunlight. The wall and gravel act as heat sinks, absorbing heat and releasing it back to my water container even when the sun slips behind the clouds or horizon.

Create an insulated water area in your coop, such as by making a bagged wood-shaving igloo. If you use wood chips in your coop anyway, just stock up and use the box-shaped bags as building blocks. Or, create a permanent insulated watering nook inside your coop to buy you lots of time between waterings. Similarly to protecting your pipes, buying appropriate insulation and creating a more weatherproof space for water access might even get you through extended subfreezing conditions.

Keep in mind, if you change your chicken water area in cold weather, you want to make sure they know where to find it. I like to leave a fermented scratch trail to the new water station as both a cold-weather treat and a training device.

Longer-Lasting Lake Effect: Use Large, Deep Containers Filled With Warm Water

In cold weather, I give my chickens warm water. I do this because they love it, and because I discovered that it actually buys me time in bitter cold before I have to bring out fresh water again. Here’s why.

When I use large buckets filled with warm water, the water at the surface actually freezes a bit faster than when I use cool water. This is something called the Mpemba effect. And it’s the reason why you can make ice cubes faster if you fill your tray with warm rather than cold water. However, once that surface-layer freezing occurs, that ice layer actually insulates the water underneath, keeping it from freezing. The ice layer will become thicker over time, but it will happen at a much slower rate than if you had the same volume of water in a shallower container.

With their powerful beaks, my chickens will then just break through the ice as needed to get to the fresh water below. Frankly, my chickens love breaking the ice, so this adds a bit of bonus entertainment for them in less-than-pleasant weather conditions.

Even during a string of single-digit days, this little trick meant I only needed to water once in the morning when I let my chickens out and once again in the afternoon when they were doing their heavy pre-roost eating.

Overnight, in cold weather, I remove access to food in the coop and do not try to offer water again until morning.

Keep in mind that chickens are not designed to be water animals. So make sure whatever container you give them can be easily accessed from the ground and does not create a risk for drowning.

If you are a really hard-core off-gridder and have the space, then you may just want to let nature do the work for you with our next suggestion.

The Drip Effect: Offer Constant Drip Water Sources

We have a spring-fed pond that always has at least one section that continues to flow even in our coldest weather. If it does start to ice up around the flow point, I’ll just break that area up with a shovel and keep it flowing longer.

Even if you don’t have a spring-fed water source, you can use this idea to keep water flowing in your coop. By using a bit of grit, you can jam up a nipple feeder to keep it dripping. Make sure to put some kind of collection receptacle below it to collect the constant flow so you don’t get ice patches in your coop.

Similarly, if you set up your watering system with ball valves, you can create a small wedge with a pebble in your valve suction so that the water keeps flowing in. This is like what happens when your toilet handle is breaking and the toilet keeps on running after you flush. If chickens don’t keep up with the flow, then you may need to set your water bucket or bowl in an overflow box full of absorbent material like wood shavings or sawdust.

In both of these scenarios, water will be constantly dripping, so you will need to keep a close eye on it to make sure your watering system doesn’t run out of water or overflow your collection areas.

The Underground Winter Coop

Now, this idea is speculative. I haven’t tried it. But, since we all know a well-built root cellar will keep liquids from freezing, adding an underground component to your coop should also work great to give chickens a suitably warm location for year-round water.

Keep in mind that a cellar will only work if you dig it well below your frost line. So make sure you find out the cellar specifications for your area before you build. Also, you need to take special precautions in your design to avoid potential flooding in your wet season or structural failure over time.

Now, a chicken cellar is probably only worth considering in extreme cold, or if you have a lot of time and are looking for a fun project to tackle.

Here’s one more idea that takes a bit of work, but also gives you great compost in the end.

Watering Chickens the Jean Pain Way

A Jean Pain Mound is basically a giant compost pile of wood chips with a heat-safe coil of tubing buried inside. (The method also calls for a methane digester—but that’s not necessary for chicken watering.) When the compost heats up, cold water is drawn through the coil and forced up through the pile where it comes out hot on the other side. This is called a thermal siphon.

Now, Jean Pain used this method with a really large pile to heat his whole house and also to trap methane gas. But you can also use this concept with smaller piles—like, say, your standard 4′ x 4′ compost pile.

During the winter, when I am giving my goats extra bedding materials and hay rations, I clean their barn thoroughly every 3-4 weeks. That gives me enough material to build a 4′ x 4′ compost pile in just a day. Since the chickens love to hang out on this pile anyhow, I discovered that I could make a divot in the center of the pile after it starts composting, insert a bucket, and keep water from freezing for several days. As the pile shrinks, I top it off, dig a new divot, and insert my bucket.

If you wanted to take this idea up a notch, you could install a thermal siphon that feeds into a bucket from a storage receptacle using a ball valve. The water may come out too hot to drink direct from the siphon, but thanks to Mpemba effect, it will also cool rapidly.

If you are really clever, you could even go further and create a repeating loop with a watering nipple system by harnessing the natural heating and cooling cycles of the water in relation to the thermal siphon. You’d just need to make sure to place your nipples at a point in your loop where the water is cooled enough to drink.

Check out this tutorial from Cornell University to get a basic idea of how to use compost piles to harness heat. Then you’ll be ready to start designing your own creative methods for turning that information into a winter water supply for your coop!

Learn More: http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2012/10/01/compost-power/

There are literally hundreds of ways to supply your chickens with warm water, even in freezing conditions. I’ve just covered a few to get your creative juices flowing. If you have a wacky, innovative idea for watering your chickens in winter, please share your ideas with our readers using the comments section below.

Now, as winter eases into spring, be on the lookout for more posts on chicken care—including ways to effectively use chickens in your garden and more!

 

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The post Cold-Weather Chicken Care: How to Keep Chicken Water From Freezing appeared first on The Grow Network.

Cold-Weather Chicken Care: Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds

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WOW! Did we have some crazy-cold weather this winter?!

I don’t know about you, but some of our cold nights had me rethinking my chicken breed choices. Luckily, most of my ladies are pretty hardy to begin with. But my lightweight, giant-combed Lakenvelder rooster and my dear, sweet rooster Rasputin had me a bit worried. And as I discovered, when it came to Rasputin, I was right to be worried.

You can read more about the plight of my poor frostbitten chicken, Rasputin, here:

Read More: “The Tale of the Frostbitten Chicken and Lessons Learned about Prevention and Treatment”

Now, read on for some recommendations to help you choose chicken breeds that will come through the cold with flying colors!

When picking chickens for cold weather, there are three simple things to keep in mind: weight class, feathering, and comb size.

Let’s look at weight class first.

Weight Class

Choose chicken breeds that have a fair amount of fat. Heavier birds tend to have more cold tolerance than lean birds. In most climates, dual-purpose breeds that are good for egg and meat production are usually sufficient for cold temperatures just above single digits, and maybe even a little below, on the Fahrenheit scale.

Consider these breeds for winter-friendly fattiness:

  • Plymouth Barred Rocks
  • Black Australorps
  • Rhode Island Reds
  • Delawares
  • Buff Orpingtons
  • New Hampshire Reds

If you live in conditions where you also have warm summers to contend with, these breeds tend to have decent heat tolerance as long as they are given sufficient access to shade and lots of fresh, cool water.

Feathering

For even more winter protection, choose chicken breeds that have extra-heavy feathering. The feathering gives a few more degrees’ worth of cold tolerance. However, in some conditions, feathery feet may actually be more at risk for frostbite if wet feathers ice over. So, in extreme conditions, take measures to keep your chicken’s feet feathers dry.

Consider these breeds for extra feathers:

  • Cochins
  • Favorelles
  • Brahmas

Comb Size

One of the biggest risks to chickens in cold weather is frostbite on their combs. In warmer temps, combs are actually a cooling device that helps regulate the rest of a chicken’s body temperature. This is why roosters, who often have more fat and more feathering, tend to have larger combs than hens. (Well, that, and because those great big combs are like flashing neon signs of virility and masculinity that help attract the beautiful ladies.)

Unfortunately, in wet, windy, and icy conditions, large combs are a liability. They are more prone to losing circulation from the cold and becoming frostbitten.

Choosing chickens with compact combs, such as pea or rose combs, can cut down on the risk of frostbite. Also, paying special attention to the condition of larger rooster combs in winter is important.

Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds - Buckeye

Consider these breeds for compact combs:

  • Buckeyes
  • Dominiques
  • Wyandottes
  • White Dorkings*

*Note: The Dorking breed may have either single or rose combs. If you are looking for cold-hardy combs, choose the White Dorking with a rose comb.

The really wonderful things about all of the cold-hardy breeds above is that they are great egg layers, excellent backyard chickens, and happen to be beautiful to boot! So, you don’t have to compromise chicken cuteness, productivity, and good disposition, to also get great all-winter birds.

Regardless of which breed you choose, if you live in areas with potential cold conditions, you want to make sure you give your chickens a coop that offers sufficient protection from the elements, while also being well ventilated.

Additionally, you want to be prepared to offer your chickens some emergency cold-condition remedies if you have weather that’s more extreme than normal (as many of us did this year). You can read more about some easy ideas for increasing chicken comfort in winter here:

Read More: “Cold Weather Chicken Care: 11 Quick Ideas to Improve Chicken Comfort”

Also, remember the lessons learned from Rasputin, the frostbitten chicken. And make sure you have a plan for how to prevent and treat frostbite.

In our next installment of our cold-weather chicken care series, we’ll cover methods for keeping water from freezing in the coop. In the meantime, though, you can check out these general tips on winter livestock watering for inspiration.

Read More: “7 Ways to Keep Livestock Water Tanks from Freezing”

Thanks for reading, and please share your comments about your cold-weather-breed favorites using the comments section below.

 

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The post Cold-Weather Chicken Care: Cold-Hardy Chicken Breeds appeared first on The Grow Network.

Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations

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If you are reading this article hoping to figure out the absolute best coop option available for raising chickens, you’re going to be disappointed.

That’s because the coop, as we know it today, is more about what humans want than about what makes chickens happy.

Depending on your location, regulations, and preferences, you might decide to go with a movable chicken tractor, a fixed coop and run, or a fixed coop with free-range access or paddock areas.

You can raise healthy, happy poultry in any of them, as long as they meet your birds’ six basic needs, provide them with enough space to keep your chickens healthy and happy, and make it as easy as possible for you to manage poop and thwart predators.

Meeting Chickens’ Needs

From a chicken’s perspective, its needs are basic:

  • Fresh air
  • Clean water
  • A patch of dirt to use as a dust bath
  • Lots of forage (particularly insects)
  • Options to let it escape from predators
  • Enough freedom of movement that it doesn’t have to spend all day standing in its own poop

Sometimes it needs a little private time, away from the rest of the flock. If it’s a broody hen, then it also wants a safe place to nest, undisturbed, for about twenty-one days.

The Last-Century Chicken

If it had been a backyard chicken a hundred years or so ago, it may have roosted in the barn with other animals, roosted in a tree, or found shelter around the porch of the family that threw it scraps.

Maybe it spent its nights in a designated outbuilding reserved just for chickens, but it probably wasn’t anything like the luxury chicken manors found on sites like Pinterest today.

It probably didn’t have a nest box.

Eggs were often collected by children in a manner resembling an Easter egg hunt, since the hen’s goal was to hide its eggs for safekeeping until it had enough to make it worth risking life and limb to set a nest.

As long as it laid eighty or so eggs a year and managed to hatch a brood of chicken replacements once in a while, the family that let it forage in the yard was content to keep the bird around.

As far as predator protection went, the bird and its flock mates kept watch and used elaborate vocal communications to warn each other when trouble was near. If there was a rooster among them and the flock was attacked, he might defend the hens in his care to the death, if necessary.

Mamas would also protect their chicks by sheltering them in her wings.

But, among mature hens, with the moral imperative to survive and reproduce hardwired into their chicken nature, the expression “you don’t have to be faster than a bear, just faster than the guy behind you” usually applied.

Weak or sick hens were often pecked to death by stronger hens for the health and safety of the flock.

And though the birds may have really appreciated it when the lady who lived in the house threw them kitchen scraps or a handful of grain, they’d watched her wring enough chicken necks to realize they should scatter if she got too close.

How Things Have Changed

Things have changed a bit in the last hundred years.

As more areas are developed and populations increase, so does predator pressure on livestock. And it’s not just your random roaming mountain lion (which is now a rarity in the suburbs) or a wily coyote.

Now, chickens have to be careful about domesticated dogs and cats, escaped pet snakes and ferrets, car traffic, and even overzealous or malicious neighbor children. Top that off with all the local legal ordinances, HOA requirements, and other lethal hazards in our environments, and we’ve got to rethink the way we raise chickens.

Toward that end, let’s take a look at chicken space needs.

The Truth About Chicken Spaces

A hundred years ago, eggs were eaten when available and chicken meat was reserved for special occasions. Now, the average American eats 90 pounds of chicken meat1http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/percapita-consumption-of-poultry-and-livestock-1965-to-estimated-2012-inpounds/ and about 250 eggs2https://www.uspoultry.org/economic_data per year.

In fact, chicken-based products rank No. 3, just below bread and dessert, among our sources of calories in the American diet.3http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/top-10-sources-of-caloriesin-the-us-diet

Living Space for Factory-Farmed Chickens

The amount of space and quality of life considered suitable for raising chickens seems to have declined in direct proportion to the amount of chicken meat and eggs we want to eat. Today, your grocery store egg layer gets about a sheet-of-paper-sized allotment of space and shares a battery cage the size of a filing drawer with five to nine other hens.4https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_cage

Your typical grain-fed broiler gets only eight-tenths of a square foot per bird.5http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/industry-issues/animal-welfare-forbroiler-chickens/

“Free-range” birds need only two square feet of space outdoors to qualify and “pasture-raised” requires 108 square feet per bird.6http://certifiedhumane.org/free-range-and-pasture-raised-officiallydefined-by-hfac-for-certified-humane-label/

All of us who are concerned about the state of our factory-farmed food system would love to give our chickens as much room to roam as their hearts desire. But sometimes you’ve only got a limited area to work with.

And when you factor in the costs of predator protection, less space starts to make a whole lot more sense.

The Ideal Amount of Space for Chickens

So, how much space do chickens really need to be healthy and happy?

We’re not talking about how much they can survive in, but more like what amount of space would be enough to keep you from having to trim their beaks to keep them from pecking each other to death.

The answer is, “less than you might think, but more than factory farms allot.”

Right-Sizing Your Coop

As Marjory tells us in her Grow Your Own Groceries video series, you will need about four square feet of space per chicken in the coop if they will be allowed to forage outdoors most of the day.

If your chickens will be confined full-time, then you need to add an additional 10 square feet to that number. If you have an 8-foot-by-8-foot coop, or 64 square feet of chicken space, you can protect 16 chickens for overnight lodging and only 4 chickens for full-time living quarters.

But as Marjory also points out in her video, a suburban backyard may be best suited for about two or three hens if you intend to allow your chickens unfettered access to your landscape.

Cost Considerations

Building or buying coops can be expensive—even if you free-source your materials by using discarded pallets, scrap wood, or non-traditional building materials.

The larger your coop, the more labor intensive it will be to build and the more space you have to maintain. It may also mean more regulations to navigate and more hoops to jump through. Additionally, if you live in cold-climate areas, smaller coops that keep chickens in close contact are warmer without supplemental heat.

So, bigger is not always better when building a coop. However, for overall chicken health and happiness, the more outdoor foraging space you can provide the better.

These space suggestions are just a starting point for determining your coop size and style of raising chickens.

Coop Concerns When Raising Chickens

All chicken owners need to think about two major things: predator protection and poop.

Chicken books and blogs often break these ideas down into more categories. But for simplicity and easy memorization, we settled on these two concepts as the big ideas chicken keepers should address to provide safe, healthy habitats for chickens.

Predator Protection

Many chicken owners will tell you that the hardest part about keeping chickens is keeping them safe. When you confine chickens to a limited space, you also limit their ability to protect themselves from predation.

Also, when you invest your time and resources into caring for your flock, you don’t want to face the 40 percent loss rate that would occur if your chickens were not housed in a predator-proof coop.7http://www.thehappychickencoop.com/a-history-of-chickens/

Suburban development has placed pressure on wildlife to seek new habitats and find alternate ways of feeding themselves. As a result, suburban areas are sometimes the most predator-prone places of all.

Add to that the number of backyard pets eager to express their genetic history (i.e., dogs descended from wolves, house cats from jungle cats), and you’ve got lots of incentive to place priority on building a rock-solid coop.

Ways Predators Can Breach a Coop

Here’s a few predator facts to be aware of when planning predator protection.

  • An owl can fly through an open window and carry away a small chicken.
  • A fox or digging dog can tunnel under a foot of dirt to get to your chickens.
  • A determined raccoon can claw through chicken wire, reach a paw through openings over an inch wide, and open many doors.
  • A bear can tear a door from its hinges.

Planning All-Around Predator Protection

Given these examples, as you are planning your coop, you will want to consider predator protection overhead, underground, and all around (e.g., windows and eaves).

This includes measures like the following:

  • Burying wire mesh (better than chicken wire) underground around the perimeter of your coop or placing it underneath moveable coops, over windows, around eaves, and over any openings otherwise not protected
  • Building a floor in a fixed coop or elevating a coop off the ground to deter diggers
  • The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD)
  • The use of overhead netting if flying predators (e.g., hawks, owls, magpies) are a big concern—or keeping chickens confined until they are full sized

You may also want to keep separate storage and feeding areas and make egg collection a frequent activity.

Many predators, such as bears, snakes, and opossums, are more interested in your chicken feed or eggs than in eating your chickens. By removing red-carpet invites like a feed trough housed in your coop and by emptying nest boxes daily, you can discourage some predators.

If there are other chicken keepers in your area, talk to them to find out what kind of predator pressure they have experienced to determine where to focus your efforts and what to expect.

Poop (Ventilation and Cleaning)

Yep, we just said poop, not manure. When the thick, putrid stink of fresh chicken droppings first hits your nasal passages, you’ll understand why.

This stuff doesn’t come out as lovely, garden-friendly manure.

It’s as rank and nasty as our stuff is until the freshness dissipates, which—depending on degree of soppiness and external humidity—can be minutes to hours.

How poop is treated in the collection process also determines whether it is useful manure or nuisance “feces” (as it is often referred to in city ordinances on chicken keeping).

Managing the Smell

Chickens may have just as many olfactory senses as human beings,8http://www.wardhenline.com/uncooped/behavior_senses so managing poop odors is as important for your chickens as it is for you (and your neighbors).

For indoor areas, good ventilation is key.

  • You can use wire-mesh covered windows or vents for this purpose and open coop doors during the day. Placing windows on opposite sides of the coop with access to the prevailing winds can be helpful.
  • However, keep in mind, ventilation is good, but drafts in extremely cold weather are bad.
  • For cold-weather areas, avoid placing ventilation openings directly across from nest boxes or roost bars.
  • For warmer climates, feel free to take advantage of cross breezes over roost bars. Or better yet, opt for an open coop, with plenty of fresh air for your chickens’ olfactory pleasure.

Other ways to minimize poop odors include adding a layer of fresh litter to poop-catching surfaces (e.g., straw, wood shavings, or cardboard chips on floors) or using a square head spade to scrape up manure and ladle it into a lidded bucket on a daily basis.

Alternatively, if you use a chicken tractor instead of a coop, you may need to move your chickens once or twice daily to keep them from spending the day standing in their own poop or creating problems in your soil from excessive nitrogen and phosphorous.

Except with a chicken tractor–style coop, you will need to the clean up the poop in the coop—and the more often the better if you want to cut down on pests, attract fewer predators, minimize the potential for health issues in your flock, maximize compost for your garden, and remain friendly with your neighbors.

(NOTE: Some people also use the built-up litter method to control odors, generate a little heat during the winter, and produce some nice compost for their spring garden.)

Coop Design With Cleanup in Mind

So, an important consideration related to poop and coop design is easy cleanup.

If considering an elevated coop, it’s a good idea to bring it up to waist height and make sure you can reach all parts of the coop by bending at the waist rather than hunching. This way you can use a hand shovel, dust pan, and brush for easy cleaning. In larger elevated coops, this may require more doors for comfortable cleaning access.

A coop that is tall enough to stand up in with easy-to-sweep floors or pitchfork-accessible areas also works. And the fewer unnecessary horizontal poop-catching surfaces, the better.

Bottom line, the easier your coop is to clean, the more likely you will be to clean it.

A clean coop contributes enormously to chicken well-being. It also cuts down on the likelihood that neighbors will take offense over your keeping chickens. Plus, fresh poop has a lot more benefits for your compost pile than old, dried droppings, so collect it early and often.

If chicken poop accumulates in outdoor run areas or heavily trafficked chicken hangouts, occasionally adding some kind of mulch material or hosing down the area to dilute and distribute can help.

You can also minimize poop plots by using movable pens or paddocks to direct chicken activity.

Once you’ve established how much space you need for the number of chickens you want to keep and how you want to manage the two chicken biggies of poop and predation, you can move on to choosing the coop style that works best for you.

Remember, there is no one perfect coop for everyone. But, by thinking through these coop considerations ahead of time, you’ll be well on your way to choosing a coop that’s perfect for you.

References   [ + ]

1. http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/percapita-consumption-of-poultry-and-livestock-1965-to-estimated-2012-inpounds/
2. https://www.uspoultry.org/economic_data
3. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/top-10-sources-of-caloriesin-the-us-diet
4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battery_cage
5. http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/industry-issues/animal-welfare-forbroiler-chickens/
6. http://certifiedhumane.org/free-range-and-pasture-raised-officiallydefined-by-hfac-for-certified-humane-label/
7. http://www.thehappychickencoop.com/a-history-of-chickens/
8. http://www.wardhenline.com/uncooped/behavior_senses

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