1. If this is your first time on BYC, we suggest you start with one of these three options:
    Raising Chickens Chicken Coops Join BYC
    If you're already a member of our community, click here to login & click here to learn what's new!

Encouraging exercise & sanitation (Getting 'em off the ground) = cotes

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Yashar, Dec 15, 2010.

  1. Yashar

    Yashar New Egg

    246
    20
    111
    Oct 18, 2010
    Plymouth, Massachusetts
    For sure, not everyone will be able to put these ideas into practice, but for those who can...This threads for you!

    This tread is the product of several of us hashing out what the difference between a coop and a cote. Not really understanding where we were coming from and what we were trying to say, it sort of went back and forth a bit. In the end a final question was asked that I feel summed up what we were all trying to get to:

    When designing my chicken dwelling (i.e., cote, coop, "hens' hause") what specific features should I incorporate to most benefit the well-being of my flock? ... share practical information, including measurements and construction specs, that I can use to build my own.

    I liked the question so much that I wanted to start a new thread with this question as the basis.

    What I was hoping to focus on was how to get the chickens the exercise and sanitation that would lead to a long and productive life.
    Obviously, if you are raising meat birds that are ready in a very short time, or if you are going to replace your flock every 2 years you will not benefit as greatly from what is here.​
     
  2. Yashar

    Yashar New Egg

    246
    20
    111
    Oct 18, 2010
    Plymouth, Massachusetts
    To clarify the original question I was hoping to focus on how to get the chickens the exercise and sanitation in the cote, coop, or hen hause

    For example - Having the food off the ground and on a table, not having ladders, and allowing roosting spaced several feet (or 10 feet - depending) high.

    [​IMG]
    Food off the ground

    [​IMG]
    High roosting poles
    The food table and a corner shelf allow the birds to hop/flutter their way to the roosting poles easily.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
    notice the buff orpington in the nesting box.
    I have nesting boxes that are much lower but the two I put up high thinking that only the Americanas would use them are the favourite of all of them.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2010
  3. Olive Hill

    Olive Hill Overrun With Chickens

    4,203
    70
    253
    Apr 19, 2009
    Regardless of the flock's intended lifespan -- whether 8 weeks or 8 years -- all chickens (and other poultry) benefit from exercise and sanitation. The easiest -- and imo best-- thing you can do is give them ample daytime space. Imo, if they're in a space small enough they're wearing down the grass, it's too small.

    After giving them ample space most sanitation issues will resolve themselves. Beyond that you have high traffic areas to manage. Which are relatively simple. Keep them dry, remove manure regularly.

    Chickens are ground birds, not birds of flight. Keeping them "off the ground" is an artificial resolution to a man-made problem.
     
  4. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps

    This is good stuff Yashar!
    Here's a link to the thread where I reflect on the history of the chicken cote .

    Yashar you forgot to mention the tarps beneath the perches that collect manure for easy retrieval. This provides the gardener with the good stuff without wasting all that energy scraping it up off the floor- all the while thinking- geez- this is filthy - and geez- these chickens have been wading around in this- and geez- if their feet are filthy in this doesn't that mean the eggs are coming into the house coated in this stuff? The "poop hammock" as my friend Michelle coined the contraption- there are many different versions a person can envision and craft themselves- enables the birds a whole bunch more room beneath the hammock that is not polluted in - well - in poop...That makes for more physical space for the birds to live in. The hammock reduces the energy you need to clean out the enclosure. If you hire someone to do this for you- imagine how much less time they will spend doing this- time in savings. Money and energy saved in time. When you have more time and energy left after cleaning out your cote/coop/haus - you can turn around lend more attention to conditioning and maintaining the perches and next boxes against mites and etc .
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2010
    1 person likes this.
  5. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps

    Quote:I agree with your first comments and disagree with your last two assertions, the former not as much in principle, but the latter, most certainly.

    My intention isn't to start a semantics debate or come across as condescending. I don't read your last assertion as either condescending or patronizing, but rather, matter of fact.

    I'd like to underscore the necessity for poultry enthusiasts to think outside the box, or hen house as the case may be.

    Landfowl, save for Prairie Grouse or Coturnix Quail, are very rarely birds of flat terrain and these two species end up spending more time in the air, moving from one location to the other, than one might assume a ground bird capable. The wings of both these flat terrain species are long and sharp, versus round and concave, for example. Most pheasants, junglefowl and partridges actually prefer to spend a good part of each day on elevated places, be that a rocky outcropping, a deadfall log bridging a chasm, within the stalks of a timber bamboo- here is where ~65% of their lives are spent foraging for food, sunning, grooming, resting, sleeping, advertising, nesting- etc. Therefore, the precept of "ground bird" is a bit of a misnomer.
    Without exception, each species of Junglefowl inhabits hill forest. This habitat obliges birds to move across very uneven terrain, often by climbing, leaping, fluttering and by flying. Logs and trees are often the method of moving from one elevated spot in the sun to the next without the birds wasting energy walking all the way down to the bottom of a gully or deep ravine just to climb up the opposite side.

    To be certain, "keeping chickens off the ground" is not what Yashar is suggesting. I wish that people would stop assuming that he is keeping chickens in a dovecote! He is also not keeping them on wire.
    Some people keep grouse and quail off the ground in artificial hutches with wire floors. This is to prevent them from coming into contact with soil born pathogens, which are largely a product of fecal contamination of feed and feedstuff contamination of substrate. Wire flooring often leads to serious foot and leg issues. It's a highly artificial construct but then that's the point of domestication- keeping a livestock species in an environment that is not of its choosing for the convenience of humankind- after all- we would not keep the animals if there were not utilitarian reasons to our investment in time, finance and energy. Creating a hutch enables the quail farmer to rear as many quail as she or he desires without having to deal with all the infection and disease that may occur if the birds were kept in a "pen" (pen comes from the term penitentiary- not sure how that came to be...). The quail farmer is selling eggs and or meat is not concerned about the health and well being of the quail feet and legs because they are not going to live long enough for those problems to become chronic. This is all theoretics- just an example of one ideal as opposed to the next.

    The chicken coop is designed for people - every single coop I have ever seen in the last 40 something years of my life as a farmer have been filthy affairs. I'm not pointing fingers mind you. I've got plenty of filthy chicken coops on my property right now! My experience with chicken coops had me go back to the drawing board in time and history. Now, whenever I need a chicken enclosure built, those that I hire to construct them, must follow certain guidelines- They'll build a cote.

    And I cannot begin to tell you how many times I've had to go round and round with some know it all country boy who knows how to build a chicken coop. I'm a country boy and I know how to NOT build a chicken coop. Why? Because at some point in the year twice or five times a year- someone- generally me- is going to have to go out and clean these contraptions (built by every Tom, Dick and Harry that know just how to build the perfect coop/henhouse- but not how to clean one- they're carpenters after all-) because everyone else I send out to complete this task does a half hat job. That is, they turn their hats backwards to start the labour and leave half way in to complete something less intensive- like shovel out the barns of horse manure for example. There's more room and less dust involved shoveling horse manure out of the stalls than cleaning out a cramped up doll house of a filthy chicken coop.

    Creating a Chicken Cote as opposed to a Chicken Coop (and no, I am not in the chicken cote business people) enables the steward to create more space and reduce energy investment in maintenance. The tenants of Cote design and construction include putting the chicken as far away from fecal material as possible. This includes all that dust kicked up by normal activity like scratching, dirt wallowing and wing flapping. The designer of a cote is also keenly aware of feather dander and moulted feathers, as we know full well, left to build up in the enclosures- provide a route for infection. Dust build up of environmental dirt, fecal material, urea, feather dander, and food particulates is the ticking time bomb that many people except as status quo. Every farm I visit, almost without exception, has overlooked these issues to some extent. Its just a part of farming. Hobbyists are adopting the bad habits of the farmer that is just too stressed out for time to be doing much inventive thinking half the time. We "get er done". That's the bottom line in traditional farming. We overlook important stuff until whammee woops -we've got a problem there Houston.

    An aside- I keep getting these terse little missives from people that assume that I live on high looking down on people because my writing comes off like that of a snotty academic (to a few)). Let it be known that I grew up in agriculture. There has never been a single generation in my family that has not been completely invested in this way of life. I woke up at four am every morning to help milk our cows and I ran home from the school bus to the do the same. I milked cows in the same barn as great great so and so did in the late 1800's. We milked cattle from the same herds brought in during the 20's. Horses- don't get me started on horses- or pigs- or sheep -but all those livestock species were about 200% higher in priority than poultry. Chickens were the last thing on anyone's mind on our ranch. I collected the eggs, fed and watered -but cleaning only happened a few times a year and it was a filthy occupation that no one wanted to deal with. That's what I observe on farms and backyards all over the world.I live a bit differently but without exception, every single farm managed by anyone I know struggles with the same issues when it comes to the ongoing, consistent management and maintenance of a chicken coop. Aside over-


    Birds preen their feathers for obvious reasons. We tend to take for granted just how complex a structure each feather is. A down feather is not equal with an ear microplume or a wing quill or a brest feather- each kind of feather is its own unique creation. Each requires its own specific sort of maintenance. We always see them preening- so much we just shrug it off. Consequently, we don't often give it much thought -the significance of just how much time a bird spends preening- or where that preening is most likely to occur. We don't often give it much thought just how the plumage is preened-what mechanisms are going into this process and how vitally important an activity this is.

    The combination of these aforementioned organic materials is termed "poultry smut". It's not healthy for birds to live in. It's not healthy for them to breath in. It's certainly not healthy for you to breath in and that's why you wear a mask when you're cleaning our you coops! Their water should never be contaminated with this and yet their plumage is easily coated.

    When the enclosure that birds spend any considerable amount of time within is coated in thick layers of poultry smut, their plumage is as well. As the birds attempt to the clean their plumage of this filth, they inhale the material. The oils that they've produced in their special oil glands help the smut stick to their bills and when they go to drink and to eat, this material ends up further contaminating the water dishes. This is going down in even the cleanest chicken coop and its also happening in a chicken cote- perhaps only in a matter of degrees-perhaps only because before we were not aware that there was a problem to begin with. When we become aware-to become cognizant we start to get proactive about eliminating the source cycle of disease and infection.


    I have twin boys. I used to encourage them to get dirty and be as disgusting as only toddlers are capable in defiance of people that thought they knew better. I used to let them eat dirt until one day I caught them sharing some old dried up dog poop.

    Ancient Egyptian adage of the day:
    What you are doing does not matter so much as what you are learning from doing it; Understanding develops by degrees.


    Human beings are bipedal and human beings like to stay as close to the ground as humanly possible.
    We arrange our lives and furniture to enable us to do so. We have also worked diligently to select breed livestock species to live in very confined spaces and in unnatural conditions. Pigs do not like to wallow in filthy pathogen packed mud- that combination of manure, food and urea- this is a manmade condition to which the swine are obliged to adapt. Domestic strains of pigs tend to be more disease resistant than wild pigs. Regardless, food born pathogens are a constant problem.
    Chickens are birds. Birds breath through air sacs that act as bellows- circulating oxygen even through their bones. A cote puts the actual biology- the behavioral ecology of the bird as the primary objective-of its design. The natural history of the chicken should provide context for its confinement.

    Providing more physical space for the birds to move, rest, feed and drink off of the ground is beneficial for most species of Landfowl.

    The artificial environment we create for chickens does not need to be one that keeps them within inches of the least sanitary level of the confines...
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2010
  6. PunkinPeep

    PunkinPeep Chillin' With My Peeps

    3,643
    18
    221
    Mar 31, 2009
    SouthEast Texas
    Yashar, your open air coop is lovely, but do you not have raccoons and other predators where you live? I can't look at the rest of it for my concern that your chickens, roosting right next to that wire, are going to lose their little heads. Where i live, that's just an invitation. For their sleeping quarters, we use hardware cloth for any wire-enclosed openings.
     
  7. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    60
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    My sussexes really would not do well without ladders or the little table I have in there... they (the rooster especially) really do not get down off their (4' high) roost very gracefully, it is sort of a "plummet and thud" affair. That is why I eventually put the table and ladder in there... they were getting too close to hurting themselves.

    Everything else you describe, I guess I already pretty much have -- a droppings board under the roost that I clean daily, a run high enough for them to flap and fly a little in (and they occasionally do), and lots of space (15 sq ft per chicken indoors, plus run).

    Of these, personally I think that hands-down the biggest contributor to chicken welfare is lots of space, both indoors and out. More in the sense that their behavior seems really different with more space available (especially once you get past 10 sq ft or so, plus run, apiece).

    The other really big thing IMO is to give them something to DO... I put all my (nontoxic) weedings in the runs for the chickens to scratch and sift through, and they really really seem to enjoy it and get good exercise (and nutrition [​IMG]) out of it. In wintertime I periodically put horse stall cleanings in there for more or less the same purpose... I'd do it more often except my horses are only stalled about three nights per year so there just aren't many stall cleanings in the first place [​IMG]

    If I lived somewhere a lot south of here, the cute plexiglass-roofed open-air thing like yours would be good (if predatorproofed against dogs or whatever)... but not here in Canada, LOL Actually if I lived anywhere south enough for it to be good in wintertime, it'd be way too lacking in shade for summertime, do you perhaps have yours under super-dense pine trees?

    I am intrigued by the suggestion that you (I think?) made in the other thread, about putting their food up on a table so they have to hop up to get it... and have decided to try that with the two sussex pens, as soon as I get a chance to knock something together for it.

    Quote:Can I ask, how dander and moulted feathers "provide a route for infection"??

    I am skeptical that dirt and composting poo and food particulates are necessarily always a "ticking time bomb", since I have seen enough setups (chickens and other livestock) with a deep litter pack style of management that were actually quite unobjectionable and had always-healthy animals. You have to remember that in some circumstances a whole natural flora-and-fauna can colonize deep litter, which can actually contribute to LESS disease (for instance getting rid of coccidial cysts).

    Experience suggests that the situation is more complex than you seem to be making it out to be. I've seen no evidence that a white-glove-clean sparkling-new-bedding enclosure is necessary or always best... although certainly dampness and filth, or a lot of dust, *are* bad.

    JME,

    Pat
     
  8. kathyinmo

    kathyinmo Nothing In Moderation

    Thanks for this thread. I love the education.

    I do agree that the filth factor attributes to disease. I have read alot of people allowing their flock in compost piles, etc. I have had more than my share of botulism problems here, and I do all I can to keep the compost, poop, etc cleaned up and my flock away from it.
     
  9. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps

    Quote:Can I ask, how dander and moulted feathers "provide a route for infection"??

    I am skeptical that dirt and composting poo and food particulates are necessarily always a "ticking time bomb", since I have seen enough setups (chickens and other livestock) with a deep litter pack style of management that were actually quite unobjectionable and had always-healthy animals. You have to remember that in some circumstances a whole natural flora-and-fauna can colonize deep litter, which can actually contribute to LESS disease (for instance getting rid of coccidial cysts).

    Experience suggests that the situation is more complex than you seem to be making it out to be. I've seen no evidence that a white-glove-clean sparkling-new-bedding enclosure is necessary or always best... although certainly dampness and filth, or a lot of dust, *are* bad.

    JME,

    Pat

    Been working with Marans and Barnesvelders for many decades now. They are big ungainly creatures. Each breed type requires its own refinements naturally.

    I keep flocks of chickens on farms in Vermont and Colorado, Northern Nevada and Switzerland.
    Cold is something I've been conditioned to deal with as long as I can remember. Feather dander and moulted feathers are the source of transmission of Mareks . I've been in process of writing my arguments against the deep litter method-for a new thread. The gist of that is that the deep litter method can and often does perpetuate certain molds and bacterium that are harmful for fowl over the long term. This comes from some very focused data from the avian pathologists union. My biggest issue with the deep litter method is that so much biological material from the birds ends up in the litter and mycoplasma is rife in such environments. A bit of research on Avian respiratory function is something that's really helpful in making husbandry decisions.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2010
  10. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    12,521
    60
    341
    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    I have read alot of people allowing their flock in compost piles, etc. I have had more than my share of botulism problems here, and I do all I can to keep the compost, poop, etc cleaned up and my flock away from it.

    I think this brings up a really important point -- most things are not good vs bad, they are tradeoffs between different factors. High roosts are good exercise and birds enjoy them; but some birds can't get up there and some will hurt themselves getting down. Spanking-new bedding avoids some problems but also avoids some benefits. Giving chickens nontoxic garden weedings and kitchen scraps is good nutrition and exercise but, as Kathy says, is not entirely free of the potential to backfire. Etcetera.

    Makes me a bit skeptical that there is a one-size-fits-all Clearly Better Than Anything Else "level of stewardship". I think it depends a lot on the particulars of one's situation (for instance, there is nothing in my garden refuse that could go anaerobic and cause botulism; but there would be in some other peoples') and on what one's stewardship priorities are. Some of the things we (or the chickens) desire conflict with each other, and you have to decide which way you wanna trade them off.

    Pat​
     

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by