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How do I get started with chickens!?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Limecat, Feb 25, 2012.

  1. Limecat

    Limecat In the Brooder

    Feb 25, 2012
    So I've decided to raise chickens. My three year old son wanted a "pet" of his own, and chickens seem much more useful than a hamster or goldfish.

    I've read a lot of the forums the last few days, and browsed other backyard chicken-type sites. While some of my questions have been answered, I still have others. Most of them involve the coop itself, so I hope no one minds if I post in this forum when some of my questions aren't about coops. :)

    With regards to a chicken coop, I understand that I should have 4 square feet per chicken. I want to have 4-6 hens so I'd need 24 square feet for the indoor portion. I'll probably build a 5' x 5' coop. What I'm wondering are what the internals of the coop need to have. I'm guessing it should be more than just four walls. For the outside, the place I'm planning on putting the coop will either be a barren run the our dogs have long ago turned into mud, or a spot that's mostly rock and gravel. What do I need to put down so that the chickens will have a good place to walk around, peck, and be chickens? How much sunlight should they get per day, and how cold can they handle? I'm in the Bay Area of California so it seldom dips below freezing and we have a few days in the 90s but very infrequently.

    I want chickens that are pretty mellow and lay good eggs. What breeds should I be looking at?

    Thanks! :)

  2. mikecnorthwest

    mikecnorthwest Songster

    Mar 27, 2009
    Vancouver, WA
    My Coop
    For easy going breeds that are good layers I would recommend buff orpingtons and barred rocks.

    As for the inside of the coop, you'll want a place for them to roost (roost bars) and a place to lay eggs (nest box). If you take a look at my BYC page you'll see how I did it.

  3. DCasper

    DCasper Songster

    Jan 13, 2012
    Benton, KY
    Orpingtons and Barred Rocks are both good layers and they are gentle. How to get started depends on how much money you want to spend. You can either build or buy coop and if you have a fenced in yard, you might not need to build a run. I you start out with chicks, I would recommend using a medicated chick feed.

    For a brooder you can get by for a while with a large plastic tub with newspaper and pine pellets in the bottom. You will need a heat source which can be a heat lamp and a reflector which are on sale at Tractor Supply for 8.00 each. A plactic feeder and water bottle will run a few dollars each.
  4. BantamoftheOpera

    BantamoftheOpera Songster

    May 24, 2010
    Southern Maine
    Hello, and welcome!

    The insides of the coop should contain nesting boxes. They will probably try to squish into one but you should have two for 4-6 birds. Also roosting poles. I have a long board on top and a tree branch for variety down below. You may also consider putting poop boards under the roosts for easy cleaning. I use a thick gravel in my run with some dirt in some areas. In the fall I add all of the pine needles and fallen leaves into the run for them to play in. As for the sunlight mine have access to their run whenever they want it so it's seasonal. I live in Maine and I have had them out in -20 and it gets into the 90's some days too. For mellow breeds I highly recommend the Easter Egger, Brahma, Black Sex Link and Barred Rock. All of these breeds allow me to hold them and are not particularly flighty for me. The Sex link lays the most eggs, followed by the Barred Rock, then the Brahma, then finally the Easter egger, but all lay well. I recommend getting one of each for a base to your flock.

    Good luck in your endeavors!
  5. Linda Watkins

    Linda Watkins Hatching

    Feb 25, 2012
    Carlton, OR
    Thanks for starting this thread - I too am wanting to get started w/ a small chicken "herd." I feel really dumb asking such a basic question, but: do I need a rooster?
  6. gryeyes

    gryeyes Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers

    Nobody NEEDS a rooster unless they want to hatch chicks. Do they want a rooster? Usually they think not, especially if roosters are prohibited in your area. But there are folks like me who would never have a flock WITHOUT a rooster - but it's for "want" not "need."

    Hens lay eggs whether there are roosters to fertilize 'em or not.
  7. Limecat

    Limecat In the Brooder

    Feb 25, 2012
    Thanks for the helpful replies.

    Would anyone mind breaking down the different terms found in a coop, like nesting boxes, roost boards, etc?

  8. ScottM

    ScottM Songster

    1 person likes this.
  9. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Nesting boxes: Usually at least 1 ft. square and can be larger, with nesting material of hay, straw, or pine shavings. Some folks even used dry grasses from their lawn clippings. Your nest boxes can be on the floor or mounted up on the wall and some even build outside access into their nest boxes. You can use 5 gal. buckets, cat litter containers, old milk crates or even dresser drawers. I think the different materials used for nest boxes add character to a coop, so it is only limited by your imagination and resources.

    Roosts: Picture a bird on a limb. Chickens are just big, fat birds that need somewhere comfortable to sleep and they prefer to be up on a roost for this. Your roost needs to be higher than your nest boxes by at least a foot or your birds will sleep~and poop~in the nests. This is not a good thing. You'll read nonsense on here about round roosts causing exposure of toes and possibility of frostbite but that is a myth. Just make sure whatever you use is not too narrow/slender as this may cause discomfort to the chicken. Make sure what you use is stable and doesn't move much, as this makes a bird nervous. Chickens like to roost in the highest spot available and they have a "pecking order" in the flock that they work out between them wherein the boss roo or hen gets the choicest place to roost. Only the chickens know what they consider the choice place and that can change at any given time. Do no be alarmed if it seems like they fight or fuss with each other at bed time...this is normal and they will not cause each other harm.

    Poop Board: A tray or broad board structure that lies under or is suspended under roosts to catch any poop they put out each night...and they do this a lot. Some people use these and just scrape or empty the board instead of letting it drop into the bedding or onto the floor.

    Bedding: Bedding is material placed on the floor to absorb moisture from fecal matter, spilled water, dropped eggs, etc. But mostly for fecal matter. Some people use pine shavings, hay, straw, pine needles, dried leaves, dried grass clippings, etc. The preferred bedding is pine shavings and you can purchase them at any pet or feed store. You will have to play around with how deep you want your bedding, how long you keep it in the coop before cleaning out and what kind you prefer. Some people clean out daily and just sprinkle a fresh, thin layer. Some put down a few inches and clean out when it gets dirty. Some use the deep litter method wherein they just add fresh bedding as necessary, fluff the old bedding and monitor the moisture and odor levels, to create a deep bedding layer that will culture good bacteria, will slowly compost all year and will add warmth to your coop in the winter. Some people clean out this deep litter bi-annually or annually. And, no, it doesn't stink if it is done properly. As a newbie, I'd suggest you not go with deep litter until you are more comfortable in your chicken knowledge.

    Feed Storage: Most use metal trash cans, some use plastic trash cans. These are pretty much the best feed storage you can utilize...whatever you use, make sure your feed stays dry and safe from rodents.

    Feeder: There are many different kinds of feeder styles and you will have to play around with these until you get the one that suits your needs and your husbandry style. Feed waste is a big issue because chickens like to bill, or flick, the feed out of the feeder while looking for choice bits to eat. Everyone has their own methods to prevent this...too many to mention.

    Feed: There are many kinds of feed and this is personal choice also. Usually chicks are fed chick starter(medicated or non-medicated)until they use up a bag and then are switched to general flock feed until they are laying age. When they start laying they will need a layer ration(mash, pellets, crumbles) as it contains the protein and calcium levels needed for laying birds. You may also supplement their calcium needs by offering a small container of oyster shells(found at any feed store)for them to eat as they wish. You will have to decide what feed you like the best and how well your chickens do on any given kind.

    Grit: Chickens grind their food in their gizzard with the aid of small grains of sand, rock fragments, even pieces of glass. If you do not free range your birds or if they do not have access to soil that contains these elements, you can buy a bag of grit at the feed store and offer it free choice like the oyster shell. No, oyster shell can not stand in for grit, nor can grit stand in for oyster shell. Both are needed at any given time, depending on your area and husbandry style.

    Waterer: Water receptacles vary in style and you will have to find one that works for you. Some have the hanging plastic ones, some use the metal kind and some use rubber feed pans that one would use for feeding horses grain. Again..you will have to experiment around and see which one suits you. You may wish to add apple cider vinegar (ACV) to your water as part of your health regimen but you cannot do this in the metal waterers due to corrosion and leaching of the metals by the acidic vinegar...this is a very bad thing and can kill your birds if it goes on long enough.

    Ventilation: If you are buying or building a coop, you must provide adequate ventilation in your coop, as birds clustered together on a roost breath humidity in the air and their fecal matter also adds to the humidity, along with humidity in the environment. Humidity in an enclosed coop is a chicken's enemy, summer or winter. It can cause illness and contributes to frostbite as the humid air collects near the ceiling of your coop and leaves chicken's combs and wattles moist during cold weather. Ventilation near the top of your coop is desired so that fresh air can enter through the small chicken entrance at floor level and exit, as it rises, out near the roof line. Cold or hot climates need good ventilation but be careful to not place venting directly next to the roosting areas in colder, windy climates as the drafts can steal chicken warmth and hinder their ability to keep warm. In warmer climates, the more openings in the coop, the better. You also might want to provide "double shade" in hotter climates, meaning placing your coop where it is in good shade.

    Pop Door: The small opening by which the chickens exit or enter the coop. This should have a door on it so that it can be closed when needed.

    Is that enough? Anyone else like to add to this....my fingers are worn out!
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2012
    4 people like this.
  10. The Old Whittler

    The Old Whittler Chirping

    Oct 31, 2011
    Central Kentucky
    I don't know if this is a Sticky or not but it should be. Pretty much says it all and is a great source of information for anyone that's new to chickens. Good job Beekissed!!!!!!! [​IMG]
    1 person likes this.

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