First, I'm starting to feel I'm not as prepared as I thought I was to start this whole backyard chicken thing! :/ I researched for about a year before we bought chicks from a farm supply store in late April/early May (chicks were sexed and only a few days old). We bought a premade "coop" (I'm assuming that is what we are all calling an enclosed area where nesting boxes are kept) I'm guessing on dimensions here (I'm at work and obviously don't have access to that info) but the coop is about 5 ft by 3 ft? So far we have kept a layer of pine bedding and baskets with more bedding. The chickens mostly sleep (from what we can tell, obviously they move when we open the top to look), nestled together, on the bedding on the "floor" and not in the baskets... they poop in here also. Then, off to the side, there is a ramp that leads to an enclosed "run" (again I'm assuming this is what we are calling an area that is entirely enclosed by chicken wire). This area was about the same dimensions as the coop, 5 ft by 3 ft. It seemed ok when they were smaller... but they have gotten much bigger (obviously)... oh.... 2 are barred rocks and 2 are Dom's (I know... they all 4 look basically identical! ;) ) Anyways, so 2 weeks ago we built a much larger enclosure on the front of the existing run... this time it is 5 ft by 46 inches by 5 ft tall (I know these exact measurements because we built it from scratch, measuring 2x4's as the frame, etc). The top is plywood covered in house shingles, the sides are chicken wire, the front is plywood and an access door (I'm 5'1 so I only have to slightly bend my head to climb inside the "pen") In this area we have a hanging feeder. They were being fed a mash (bought at the farm supply store) but moved them into a pellet per instructions from the employees there.
(Sorry I got diverted and lost my train of thought)... haha
So, my questions are:
1) in the coop/sleeping area, do the chickens need something better to "nest" in? Something more "private"? The baskets are open topped... 4 of them, just placed in there. They are often toppled over when we look, some covered in poop, etc.
2) Do the chickens typically poop where they sleep? (I just foolishly assumed like other animals, they typically wont poop where they sleep?) Is there a way to break them of this? Are they doing this because the flooring is covered in a pine bedding/wood shavings?
3) Is the food I'm giving them ok? They are 24 weeks and have not produced their first eggs yet!
4) What is the best way to water them? current method is filling 2 water tins that are mounted to the side of the newest pen area. It's not working because they stand in the tins? We've also done water bucket set on the floor (dirt) but also didn't work, they tipped it over, spilling water within minutes of it being placed. We also did nipplers in a PVC pipe, which I think worked the best except it was difficult to keep the water container (a 5 gallon jug) clean. We bought another 5 gallon jug to make another nippler system but were trying easier methods first (I think we will end up back at the nipplers).
5) How do I keep their water freezing once temps dip low enough? Currently, we have a heat lamp in the coop area only and have not used it for many months (too hot, not needed). We are thinking if we install another heat lamp in the top corner of the pen area (remember it's 5 ft tall), it will be enough warmth to keep water from freezing.???
Thanks in advance for reading to the end of this! :)