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Egg Layers and Meat Birds -- Warning lots of newbie questions

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by CESpeed, Dec 24, 2012.

  1. CESpeed

    CESpeed Chirping

    Dec 24, 2012
    Hot Springs, AR
    I read that egg layers and meat birds have two differwent diets. I take this to mean that they should be kept in separate coops. Is this true? I 'm going to have Australorps which are dual purpose birds. I'd like to have a dozen to hatch chicks and a dozen to produce eggs. Also, I want to allow them to free range and go on bug patrol in my garden. If I do this should I rotate which flock goes out (ie meat birds one day, the egg layers the next day)?

    As for their coop I understand that the roost should be about 3 ft off of the ground and the nesting boxes 1 ft. How much head room do chickens need? And would I need nesting boxes for both the egg layers and the meat breeders? Or just the ones who are raising chicks? What would I put in a coop for the egg layers to lay their eggs in?

    Sorry for the number of question I just want to make sure I'm taking goos care of my babies.

  2. Judy

    Judy Crowing Staff Member Premium Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    If you're talking about using Australorps for both meat and eggs, which is perfectly sensible, there is no reason to keep them separate. It's possible you would want a "breeding pen" to separate the hen and roo for a month or two, to choose which birds reproduce -- or you may not want to bother.

    People do usually keep their "meat birds" separate, and they do have different feed requirements, but that is in reference to raising the classic meat bird, which is a Cornish Cross -- which essentially tastes like a store bought chicken. Freedom Rangers and maybe a couple more are also intended for use as meat. They are a hybrid but behave and grow more like a dual purpose bird, like Australorps. You can only buy chicks of Cornish Cross, you cannot buy hatching eggs, and you can't really breed them yourself as they are a cross and do not breed true. There are a lot of threads in our meat birds section discussing various attempts people have made to breed a functional meat bird for their own use.

    I have several Australorps. They tend to be heavy birds and do prefer having room to "fly sideways" when coming off the roost. My roosts are 30" high and they have maybe 6' of clear space to fly laterally when they come off the roost. Chickens will generally roost about as high as they can -- but heavier breeds like Australorps can injure themselves if their roost is high and they don't have room to flap and half fly on the way down.

    Nests can be on the floor or whatever height you want, though it is recommended to keep them lower than the roost, to discourage their sleeping in the nests instead of on the roost. Australorps can stand way taller than a foot, particularly a rooster. I think my hens are taller than 1,' and my Australorp roo was around 18" or 20" tall.

    You may not let your eating birds get old enough to lay, or barely so, as they are tenderest and tastiest around 16-20 weeks. I see no reason to have two nesting areas. I put hay or pine shavings in my nests. They seem to like hollowing out a nest in the hay better than the pine shavings. But there are a number of plant materials you can use for litter, depending on what's available locally to you. people use rice hulls, ground up corn cobs, etc., etc.

    This is a great article on eating old fashioned or dual purpose birds. It's just not the same as the usual grocery store chicken. Many people prefer "yard birds." The article is in the sticky on the Meat Birds forum.

    If you plan on having a broody hatch out chicks, you will probably want a separate area for them to set on their eggs. It doesn't need to be very large, but they do need room to walk around, poop, get a little exercise, along with the nest. Once the chicks have hatched, I let the mama and chicks back into the flock. They can set on eggs in one of the regular nests, but they tend to return to the nest after their daily exercise/feeding, others lay eggs in their nest, they steal eggs from other nests -- etc.


    And here is an article about broodies. There are a lot of options on how to manage them. Australorps are supposed to make good mothers. I've had maybe half mine go broody.


    You can make a nest box out of many things. Generally it's a box about 1'x1'x1', maybe a little larger for Australorps. Something like a 1x4 across the bottom of the front discourages them from pulling all the hay out. People make them out or 5 gallon buckets, old dresser drawers, kitty litter pans -- all sorts of things. I've never bought one. They can be open on top or in front. I have a plastic bin, open on top and with a cutout on one side, that I like to use for a broody.

    Do plan on something wider than a broomstick for a roost. Mine are the wide side of a 2x4. Many people use a thick branch. They are not comfortable on a narrow pole as their feet don't curl around a pole to the extent many birds' do.

    You would find a walkin coop very convenient; I would recommend 8x8 at a minimum. Chances are, with your plan, if you build a mimimum size coop, you will be building another in a year or two.

    There is a huge amount of information in our learning center and our coop section. Enjoy!
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2012

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