Beginner - Are chickens low maintenance?

mathie

In the Brooder
Feb 24, 2018
4
4
16
San Jose, CA
Hello,

Near where I live (San Jose, California) there is a city park (Emma Prusch Farm Park) that is surrounded by busy streets and yet I see free-range chickens roaming around year-round and they look happy.

I have a remote 1-acre orchard that I visit one per week. The orchard is located in a rural area with other farms with animals. Currently there are only fruit trees there. I'm thinking about adding some chickens to my orchard since I think their benefits sounds good: some eggs, manure for the fruit trees, weed management, etc.

My question is that is it possible to take care of a few adult chickens without being there every day (1 day/week to be more precise). My concern is not about productivity but just their survivability (given enough food, water, fenced shelter). Also which breed would be suitable for a very low maintenance setup? (our winter lowest is about 28F, summer highest about 100F)

May be am I too naive and it's just a dream? Thanks for any info/guidance.
Son Nguyen
 

ChocolateMouse

Crowing
6 Years
Jul 29, 2013
2,691
5,407
387
Cleveland OH
Chickens CAN be that low maintenance, yes. You will need large hanging feeders and waterers or have these things set on a timer from a large holding tank. I strongly recommend an automatic coop door with a timer to close the door for you at night. Your biggest concern will likely be other wildlife. Raccoons, rats, possums, foxes, hawks, skunks, bears, dogs, cats... If it eats meat it will try to eat your chickens.

As for breed, you will likely want to look at a flightier breed better able to survive without you and focus less on laying capacity. If you will only be there once a week you won't be able to focus on egg production... Eggs must be collected daily. If they aren't, the chickens may go broody on them, in heat they may start to rot or develop if you have a rooster, or wildlife will discover this treasure trove of food you left for them. Sure, once a week you might get some eggs to collect but you have no idea how old they are. from which hens or in what condition they will be.

I would suggest easter eggers, rhode islands, brown leghorns, plymouth rocks, or maybe even some rarer breeds like Jaerhons.
You may also want to seriously consider the option of keeping ducks instead if you have the space to have a pond for them. They might suit your needs better.
 

mathie

In the Brooder
Feb 24, 2018
4
4
16
San Jose, CA
Thanks everyone. I don't think I'll do free range but I like the idea of a chicken tractor. Will a big and secure chicken tractor help avoid the situation with predators? I'd move it once per week. What products or features of a coop do you recommend for a beginner to get for an auto/semi-auto setup?

Thanks
 

RonP

Crowing
5 Years
Apr 4, 2014
2,197
1,230
271
New Jersey, "The Garden State"
Food, water, and shelter...

This very topic has been debated.

Due to personal issues, I always maintain my very secure predator proof coop and run with a two week minimum of food and water for any unexpected absence.

With 5 minutes notice, they could easily go 6 weeks between visits.
I have about a dozen birds.

I often miss my birds more than they miss me, they are very self sufficient.

With a bit of planning, it should not be an issue.
 

ChocolateMouse

Crowing
6 Years
Jul 29, 2013
2,691
5,407
387
Cleveland OH
A chicken tractor may help a lot, especially if it is well made. Build out of heavy gauge hardware cloth, not chicken wire. Make sure it has a 1' skirt of wire around the edges so it can't be easily dug under. Make sure it's structurally sound. If you're extremely concerned, you can opt for electric poultry netting or a line of hotwire with a solar panel charger. Most things can be run off of a small solar array if you don't have electricity on site.

A hanging feeder that the chickens can reach but rodents can't is ideal, and a very large gravity-fed waterer or something like a 5-gallon waterer with poultry nipples, possibly with a heater for the coldest winter months. (You won't need any heat in your coop where you live, but you will need to keep your water thawed.) The specific kind you choose will depend a lot on personal preference. There's a lot of DIY options and some that are good to be bought from a store.
An automatic door that will close after nightfall also helps a lot but may not be a requirement if your door leads into an attached run/tractor space and that space is highly secure.

Stocking density and how many you have will also be worth considering. A smaller flock is easier to maintain than a large one. A smaller tractor is easier to move. Fewer birds per sqft means the soil becomes less compacted and the grass/ground cover grows better. Too small of a flock and they might not operate as smoothly and a single loss becomes more critical. If you only have 3-4 birds, the loss of any one means you don't really have a functioning flock any more. Fewer birds also means less production.

For you I would probably go for 5-6 chickens. I would build a mobile tractor coop that is 4'dx5w'x3h' inside the coop with two protruding nest boxes out the back and has a 5'x10' or 5'x12' pen that's about 3-4' high. The coop would be plywood to keep it light and have wheels or skids under it, and would be a part of the whole unit. I would put big handles on the coop and move it coop-end first. You have to build the pen out of heavy enough materials it won't shake apart as it moves over and over and over again (so think 2x4s and 4x4s), but even at that size it should still be capable of being dragged by a single healthy adult. An A-frame coop/tractor would also work well for this.
 

lazy gardener

Crossing the Road
7 Years
Nov 7, 2012
27,610
26,710
907
CENTRAL MAINE zone 4B
I am too much of a pessimist to ever trust this scenario. The biggest issues I see are these:

Predators: If your set up is completely predator proof: secure coop and run with 1/2" hardware cloth completely covering every opening, and a very well buried skirt, they may stay safe.

Rodents: If the above set up remains impervious to rats, and the rats are not able to figure out how to dig down under your skirt, you may be able to exclude them long term. If even one rat, squirrel or mouse gets into your set up, your feed will go missing, and you will end up with starving chickens.

Feed and water: If the feed gets wet or damp. If the water gets spilled or grossly soiled, you will have a bunch of dead, maggot infested chickens to clean up when you return to your orchard again.

Eggs: A week's worth of eggs in mid summer piling up in the coop would be beyond gross.

Free range: the birds would not last a single season.

Can you have a small coop and flock where you live?
 
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