Brand new, seeking advice

otter_flogger

Hatching
Jun 11, 2017
5
4
4
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Hello all,

I've been wanting to build a coop for some time and would finally like to get around to it this summer. There is a ton of information online as you all know, but I stumbled upon this site and thought I would tell you all what my objectives are and you can help me and point me in the right direction.

I would like to raise chickens for both eggs and meat. There are some saying it's okay to raise them together and some who say not to. I have lots of room so it wouldn't be required but building and dealing with two coops would be more costly (although cost isn't a huge deal). Like I said, I have all kinds of room to build a large one. I also see there are dual purpose birds... this really interests me as it seems very convenient. Although, I see a problem of having way too many eggs as I would like to raise around 25-30 to eat each year. Thoughts?? I figured I could just butcher them as I need them and add new ones as the flock diminishes. I could just give excess eggs away to the neighbours I suppose. Who doesn't want fresh eggs?

That's the first question. Secondly, I need help with the construction. Size? I live in a climate where our winters are very cold. Northern Ontario. Will this affect the type of birds I should get? Are there dual purpose birds that live well in cold climates? I also have predators in the area. Should I have metal meshing underneath the coop/run... at least around the border? Or will just burying the fencing suffice?

Guess I'll start with that and come back when I think of anything else. Thanks very much.
 

Benevolent Barn

In the Brooder
Apr 22, 2017
60
23
35
I do not do any slaughtering, but I have heard that old hens are mainly for stews and soups. As a vegetarian I would not recommend slaughtering ever as I would get too attached to the birds. Just remember meat birds are getting feed to grow and grow super fast. Egg layers need vitamins and nutrients that meat birds do not. I would get cold hardy breeds like Orpingtons because of the temperatures. I would recommend no heat lamp as fires do happen. All of the small songbirds make it through the winters, and so should much larger chickens. You could insulate your coup.
 

NorthTexasWink

Songster
Jun 11, 2017
1,117
3,117
236
Arlington, Texas
Here in Texas we have food pantries, mission or church kitchens, and shelters for the homeless and needy. If you have any of those in your area, I'm sure they would be ecstatic to receive donations of your excess eggs and/or meat. Perhaps you know of a needy family? It builds good karma to give, no?

As for housing, I recommend using egg layers for egg laying and meat birds for meat production, each type housed separately. My past experience with dual purpose birds was ok, but since you have room and funds, why settle for "Meh, just ok"? As noted before, the nutritional requirements for each type is different, as is their management. You'll be harvesting your meat birds at an early age to maintain eating quality. Your layers will probably need supplemental light part of the year where you are, and won't appreciate the disturbance caused by removing part of their flock for meat harvesting. I could go on, but I bet you see what I mean.

I've never lived that far north, but I'd think you'd need insulation, heating, and a way to keep your water lines or waterers from freezing. Nipple waterers might be good for keeping things dry and not dealing with ice in your pens all winter. If you can keep the pipes from freezing. I'm sure you have different predators there, so all I can say is build strong and bury a barrier around all perimeters.

You probably know more than I do about snow and ice on roofs. It's something I'd be worried about, myself. But I am a tropical blossom unused to such things.

Good luck, and be well. Wink from Texas
 

IZZYBELLA

Songster
7 Years
Jan 11, 2013
512
168
156
Maine
Hello and welcome! I am from Maine, so north, but not as north as you! We do get below zero, but usually not for extended amounts of time. My coop is not insulated, but if I could start from scratch I probably would insulate. Here is my two cents about winter.
- Make sure your coop has electricity! It will make your life so much easier in the winter if you can have a water heater and a light.
- I do not use a heat lamp. I worry so much about fire and also what happens if the chickens are used to the heat and then the electricity goes out? (Unless your coop is connected to a generator.)
- Instead of a heat lamp, I think the key thing to keeping them safe in cold is keeping them out of the wind and keeping moisture low through good ventilation. Moisture in the coop in winter will give the bird frostbite. Make sure the ventilation doesn't cause a draft near the birds, though.
- I don't use artificial light to make my birds lay through the winter. I let them use their energy to keep warm and healthy.
- Position your coop and run for maximum sun exposure and keep in mind that you are going to have to shovel to the coop in winter, so you don't want it too far!
- Always make sure your birds head into winter healthy. Check them for worms in the fall and treat if necessary.

As for breeds, I have had all sorts of dual purpose and they have all done fine. Try out a bunch and see what you like.

I would bury a wire skirt around your whole run and coop. Since you are starting from scratch, make it a fortress from the get-go!
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
27,513
20,793
907
Southeast Louisiana
You need to decide what you want to do as far as chickens before you even think about building. As far as coop size goes you can follow the link in my signature to get some of my thoughts but as far north as you are make the coop bigger than you think you need it.

You cannot beat the efficiency of the specialists when it comes to production. The meat birds are bred to put on a lot of meat at an excellent feed to weight gain ratio. They grow so fast you need to slaughter them around 6 to 8 weeks of age or they start having health problems like heart failure or their skeleton breaks down because it can't support the weight unless you really restrict the feed. You'll need a fair amount of freezer space to store all of them. One advantage is that you get the chicks and two months later they are in the freezer. You don't have to fool with them after that. if you only raise them in the good weather you don't have to worry about winter for them.

The hybrid layer hens are bred to produce a lot of large eggs at a great feed to egg production ratio. They are not as delicate as the broilers but they are prone to medical problems compared to dual purpose, especially if you overfeed them. Their bodies are small though so they don't make a good meat bird. That said, you can eat any chicken of any size or age, you just need to know how to cook them.

The meat birds grow really fast so they are quickly much larger than the egg pullets. To a great extent the only place the broilers go is between the feed and water. Broilers mainly eat and poop, poop and eat, then do it again. They really make a mess. Most people that try to raise them together only do it once. The second time they separate them.

The dual purpose are not as efficient at feed conversion as the specialists. They take a lot longer to get to butcher size so you have to feed them a lot more. The hens typically lay pretty well but eat more to do it. If you are buying most of what they eat that can make a big difference. If they forage for most of what they eat the food bill isn't that bad.

I have dual purpose. To me an advantage is that you can butcher them whenever you feel like it, they are not going to fall lover dead if you wait. If you keep a rooster you can hatch your own. As many as you want to eat in a year, you'll probably need to get an incubator and hatch them yourself as you are unlikely to get enough broody hens to handle that for you.

My laying/breeding flock is one rooster and 7 to 8 hens. I raise my own replacements and eat both pullets and cockerels, as well as older birds when tit's time to replace them. I give my excess eggs to friends and relatives, any above that go to a food bank.

What you are talking about is certainly doable, either way will work. My suggestion is to try one and see how it goes. If you consider that a mistake, well eat your mistake and try the other method.
 

otter_flogger

Hatching
Jun 11, 2017
5
4
4
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Thanks everyone for the prompt replies!! Much appreciated. I guess what I am leaning towards is a dual purpose chicken. I like the idea of gathering the eggs and slaughtering a chicken when the need arises. If I decide to move towards both laying and meat chickens down the road, I can just build another structure later.

We do get a fair amount of snow here, so I guess I should build the whole thing up higher. I can easily run power to the building. A neighbour of mine has a few laying hens and doesn't bother with a heating source. Just a well insulated unit and they seem fine. He has a light source, but I believe he told me he hasn't bothered turning it on as it didn't seem to make a difference. I hadn't even thought about a water source in the winter. There is plenty for them to eat around here in the months from April to October or November, but the ground is frozen and covered in snow for the remainder of the year, about 4 or 5 months. It's my wife and two young children here, so we consume a fair amount of poultry. I hunt my red meat, my geese and ducks and catch all my own fish. aWe also have a huge garden. Adding the ability to have fresh eggs and clean organic chickens will just be another box ticked to a cleaner, more sustainable lifestyle.

I read the link at the bottom of your post Ridgerunner. Informative. So how big should I go? How many chickens should I start with? The number 20 comes to my mind, but for no particular reason. If slaughter some and am down to 15, can I just introduce more chicks to a group of mature birds? As far a roaming goes, I work half the month or less and between my wife and I, someone is usually always more during the day. So they'll be able to leave the coop/run most days. In the winter as well, which makes me think... will they forage well in the winter? After all, there's still a lot of evergreens and other brush around. Just a thought.

What are the other elements of the coop and run? I'm having a hard time picturing exactly what needs to be constructed. Is there pictures on this site or perhaps someone can share a link of what the inside of the coop is supposed to look like. In the mean time, I'll google and find many examples I'm sure. But perhaps someone has a specific link or thread they think would be especially helpful.

Thanks everyone!!
 

Egghead_Jr

Crowing
10 Years
Oct 16, 2010
7,482
3,547
436
NEK, VT
If you're going to hatch your own birds and maintain a self sustaining flock then think of housing chicks too. The coop can be sectioned off for a grow out area or if you go the route of meat birds later they can use that space.

Now you say 25-30 birds. In reality if you're only using the hens for eggs and keeping a cockbird or two for fertile eggs you don't need that large of a flock. In terms of a sustainable homesteading setup you'd hatch a lot of chicks every spring or space out the batches of hatching through the year. Half of what you hatch is male. Those dual purpose males are very good as broilers if butchered at 12-14 weeks. Still young enough to be a broiler- tender. Will not be as tender as commercial broilers as they are slaughtered at 8 weeks of age. In effect as the birds are nearing adult size and your thinking you don't have enough space you just butchered half the population for food. Old hens that aren't laying well or you want to replace with a pullet as the pullet year of lay is the most productive and they usually will lay first winter if started laying by the solstice. The retiring hens are great for gumbo, chicken and dumplings and stew. Never let the bird boil in the pot, simmer at best or you'll toughen the meat more than it is. Crockpot cooking old birds is safer. Pullets or cockerels you let grow out after 20 weeks of age are roasters. You can stew them too if you want but can't grill or broil older birds. The name of bird is most heat of cooking they can take and is also by general age of bird. If you like fried chicken take the birds by week 20, week 18 would be better.

Canada has one breed of chicken that was created there, Chantecler. It has a pea comb for a reason. I'm in climate zone 3 and breed single comb birds. No heat and well ventilated coop for winter. The larger combs on the males get frostbite. There is no way around it unless you add heat and it's only the tines on comb and ends of wattles if they touch the drinking water will freeze and fall off. No need to add heat but if a touch of frost on the cockbirds bothers you then go with a rose or pea comb. Single comb hens are fine as they have short combs and tiny wattles. The Chantecler is a dual purpose bird and is making a comeback. Perhaps looking for a breeder to purchase eggs from and maintain your own flock of national pride interests you. Breeder stock birds lay the amount of eggs the breed is said too- 5 eggs a week per bird is about as good as it gets with dual purpose birds bred to the standard. Hatchery dual purpose birds lay very well as they are bred for that and merely resemble the breed name. Hatchery birds don't grow as large as breeder birds either.

Everything can go into one large building as you can always section off areas with cheap chicken wire to keep different birds or ages. Runs should have a dig apron around them and fencing should be thick gage not chicken wire. We use 2x4 inch 14 ga. welded wire. Same us used for perimeter dig apron. Do a search here on the apron. Climbing predators can be foiled with a strand of hotwire.

The point of my ramble was your thinking in terms of adult birds when in reality you wouldn't keep that many at all. It's the stages of growing birds and how their numbers can get out of hand that really counts. The good thing about them is butchering early for broilers and making space. It's the young birds you're mostly eating as they go into each phase of cooking method. And if your breeding your eating the smallest birds so the breeder stock is your larger birds to give you better quality the next year. We keep up to 15 birds going into winter. It's starting in spring the flock numbers start to grow then are culled back to 15 (two cockbirds and 13 females) of the best quality to winter through.
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Nov 27, 2012
96,578
130,263
1,807
SW Michigan
My Coop
My Coop
Welcome to BYC!

You've gotten a lot of good advice already, not sure I can add to it.
I will second these already mentioned:
Power for liquid water in winter.
Large building with sections for main coop, grow out/isolation area(maybe 2 of them), and storage of feed and supplies. It's really, really nice to be under cover when tending the birds in the winter.

Lots of closable ventilation....top hinged windows to leave open all summer, high and large roof overhangs all around to protect year round open eave venting.
A solid roofed run for shade in summer and snow protection in winter...you can add wind blocks in winter too.

Dual purpose, meh....I'd rather have good layers and meat birds.
I hatch replacement layers every year and eat all the cockerels by 16 weeks and before they start to cause too much trouble.
Not much meat but tender enough for the grill(if you rest carcass before cooking/freezing). I don't have much freezer space so buy meat birds from a local who does big batches of them and has lots of freezer capacity. Can't see slaughtering a bird as you need them, older birds are only good for stewing IMO. Try it and see if you like it.
I keep 25-30 birds spring/summer then cull the flock down to about 15-18 before winter sets in.

I'd suggest you start with a dozen or two of straight run chicks of various breeds, see how it goes the first year or so. You'll know a lot more about what it is about and what will work for you after a year or two.
 

otter_flogger

Hatching
Jun 11, 2017
5
4
4
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Hmmm... maybe having meat and laying birds might be a good idea. I could incorporate a second coop within the building for the 6-8 weeks in summer for raising meat chickens and separate them with wire in the run during that period as well.

I can't, at this point, see myself hatching eggs. Incubators? Roosters?? Noise? Seems advanced and I do happen to like a few of my neighbours. Maybe it's less complicated than I'm imagining it to be. And less noisy??

If I get this under construction this summer, will I be able to raise chicks in the Fall or will the winter approaching be trouble?

I frequent a feed store in my area for deer feed and other stuff. I'll be up there again shortly so I'll inquire with them as well. I think they even have some courses now and then for interested people like myself.

I'll rummage around the site for ideas and think about this a little more but all this talk has certainly gotten me very excited!!

Thanks again all and any more advice is appreciated. More the better. :)
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Nov 27, 2012
96,578
130,263
1,807
SW Michigan
My Coop
My Coop
@otter_flogger what is your climate?
Adding your location to your profile can help folks give better answers/suggestions.
When to add chicks and especially raising meat birds can definitely be a seasonal consideration.

Yes, incubation, either artificially or with a broody hen, adds a new learning curve.
But you can just buy new chicks to add to your flock.
Cockbirds can be certainly be annoyingly noisy at inappropriate times....
.....but hens can make quite a racket too.
Especially a bunch of pullets just coming into lay.

Being able to split the coop and the run,
with easy access to both for the keeper can be is really nice.
I planned ahead for this with a second people door into the coop and it has worked great, just wish I had made the split section bigger, at 4x6 it's tight to maneuver in there.
 

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