Chicken Housing and Needs

Everybody learned to cluck by now? Most of you know that chickens don’t speak English, Spanish or Russian. So that means if you want to speak with your chickens, you’re going to have to learn to cluck. No joke. You can call your chickens with certain types of clucking sounds. And you can.

No different than calling your cats or your dogs. So, has everybody got over themselves and learned how to cluck? Good. If you really want to impress your friends, the next time you’re at a social event, just start clucking. And don’t worry, you didn’t ever want to go back there again anyway. And if you really want to impress your friends, put your hands under your arms, start flapping your imaginary wings, raise your knees as high as you can and start walking around the room clucking. Now wasn’t that fun?? Your grandkids will love it. Their parents may think something has happened. And when you get to be my age, who cares?

Okay. We talked last time about chicken breeds. Hopefully you have found something that is of interest to you. A batch of straight run mixed heavies is a great way to start out. Words of advice. Don’t bring strange birds into your flock without a way to isolate them first. People go buy these Easter egg day old chicks for their kids. You know the people that raise these birds for that purpose are a tremendously caring group of people. That is until they dip these birds in some type of dye to produce the multiple colors. My point is, these little baby birds are cute, but a lot of adults never studied Science 101.

Baby birds grow up to be big birds if their infant doesn’t rip it’s head off first. And when those birds get big and they won’t fit in the parakeet cage anymore, they will try to find a place to dump them on their rural buddies. Don’t be tempted to take these birds into your flock. You don’t want to bring in some type of strange disease that will kill all of your birds. All chicken houses and all birds have their own little diseases. It’s like you and I walking into a mall. Don’t expose outside diseases to your birds. But, after you cluck a few times at a party, you won’t have anymore city friends.

Chicken houses. Chickens can live in just about any structure as long as they have some basic requirements met. They need to be out of the rain. They need a relatively draft free environment. They need a place to roost. They need a place to lay their eggs. They need food, water and a place to stretch their legs. But the last one is not required. And it needs to be predator proof.
During the daytime predators are not normally a problem. It’s kind of like humans that do crime, except for white collar crime committed in

Washington. Most crime is committed when it is dark. Examples: skunks, racoons, opossums, any of the weasel family (not the type in Washington), snakes, owls, coyotes and dogs. Most of these are nighttime. A couple of them are daytime. You’ll find some daytime snakes, your occasional hawk, and dogs. Dogs problaby kill more chickens put together than all the predators just mentioned. So, you’ve got to make your pen predator proof.

Now you can lock up your birds every night and let them out during the day. If your nighttime quarters are predator proof, then your daytime quarters only needs to be minimal. Or you can open up your predator proof chicken coop and let your birds free range. Advice about free range. Dogs love chicken. If a chicken runs, a dog will chase it. Most dogs will anyway. Big predatory birds will kill and eat parts of a bird on site, but it takes a big bird to carry off a seven pound hen.

So let’s get a picture here. We talked earlier that a chicken needs three to five square foot in a confined area. If you have 20 birds, you’ll need about 100 square feet. Okay, that’s 10′ x 10′, that’s not much, is it? So with a    10′ x 10′ square foot building, you could theoretically confine 20 birds full-time. This will work. Inside that house you’ll need about four nest boxes. You will need a roost for the birds to roost on and socialize. You can put this in a 10′ x 10′ building. 1 x 12’s make great nest boxes. Three 4′ long pieces, that is your top, back and bottom.

Five pieces cut approximately 11 1/4″. These are your two ends and three partitions. A 4′ long piece of furring strip placed across the bottom front, up about 1″, contains your nesting material (most folks use hay) and the 1″ up allows you to clean out your nest boxes periodically. Now you’ll need a roost. 2 x 4’s work great. In your 10′ chicken house, you just used 4′ for nest boxes. Make your roost about 4-5′ long at an angle where each roost is about 1′ higher and 1′ apart. Look at the pictures, you’ll get the idea.

A 45 degree angle works well here. You need a little bit of floor space and something for your birds to eat out of. A container to drink out of. Do not put these under the nest box or the roost. You will figure out why quickly. You will need a human door for your access. And if you like make a little chicken door about one foot square.

Birds like light. Windows are nice. They provide sunlight and ventilation. Make sure you predator proof your windows. Rabbit wire works well for this purpose. The 1/2″ type. To fasten it, use screws with a big washer.

Okay, now we talked about a minimum size house for 20 birds. This will give you about 17 eggs per day during the summer months when there is lots of daylight and 10 to 12 eggs per day during the winter. If you want to have extra space to separate birds for whatever purpose, then you will need a bigger chicken house. And this is if you keep your birds confined. If you open your chicken house at the crack of dawn and let your birds out, or let’s be a little more realistic, maybe 9:00 or 10:00. And you let your birds out, you can have an enclosed pen of any size that you like, or you can let your birds free range. I have found it better over the years to have a chicken coop that I can lock the birds up at night and they are safe and sound. But it’s your call.

My first chicken house was a three sided lofting shed about 10′ x 10′ with a totally enclosed pen surrounding it. The birds did fine, but it was a whole lot more difficult to predator proof that entire pen, than it would if I had built an enclosed chicken coop. But that was my first chicken experience and I have since learned and now I do it different.

Another tidbit here. You will read neat little stories about pretty little chickens working their way through someone’s garden. At certain times of year, this may be fine, but WARNING, chickens will destroy your garden. They will eat your seeds, they will eat your seedlings, they will eat your mature fruit, they will eat any leaf that they can reach and what they don’t eat, they will scratch and destroy. Yes, they will fertilize your garden, eating bugs and they will eat all of your squash and all of your tomatoes.

Again, it’s your call. If you want chickens in your garden after you put your garden to sleep for the winter, wonderful. But if you introduce your chickens to your garden anytime of year then they will climb a fence, fly over a fence, squeeze under a fence and they will remember where your garden is. It is just about impossible to keep a chicken out of your garden if it wants to be there. My advice, do not introduce your chickens to your garden. Bring the garden to the chickens. So much on the garden routine.

Some people are very, very proud of their chicken houses. So take the pictures with a grain of salt, but you might be able to get some ideas about how you want to get yours set up. I really like the one with the horse trailer idea. I think that’s very, very creative. If you have a large enough spread and you want your chickens to work other areas, there are all kinds of portable chicken houses. They don’t need to be built to travel down the interstate 85 miles per hour. So think about it, move your chicken house around, they’ll eat bugs, they will just about feed themselves, they love being outside.

Another note. We’ve had snow and ice here in southeast Oklahoma lately. My chickens will not walk on snow. So if you live in a northern climate with lots of snow that even if you open range or have a chicken run, your birds may not come outside. That means you will have to have enough space inside to accommodate your birds. Okay, back to the portable chicken house. Whether mobile or stationary, the same requirements need to be met. They have to be dry, fairly draft free, nest boxes, roosts, feed, water and enough square footage.

I think that about covers my idea of a chicken house. The link included here has lots of other chicken information. Look at it. We’ve talked about breeds. We’ve talked about housing. In our next post, we’re going to talk about baby chickens and their needs. Because their first few days of life are critical to their survival. The feed stores will start getting in baby chicks in February or March and they are really, really cute.

But that feed store gets their chickens from a hatchery and so should you. When the chickens come to the feed store, one of the tender loving employees helps these baby chickens get started in life and then 100 little kids will pick up and cuddle these cute little baby birds. Buy your chickens from a hatchery just like the co-op does. Get what you want, just like the feed store does. Your chickens will love you forever for it. So find you a hatchery, start thinking about what birds you want and next time we’ll talk about the preparations you’ll need to do. Remember, these are baby chicks. And just like any baby, they have special needs.

So, this is what we’ll talk about next time. This is not complicated by any means. Now go practice clucking for a while, so when your baby chicks get here in March, April or May they can see you for what you really are.

We’ll cluck more later.

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