My coop set up and what am I doing wrong?

Fluffyhenkeeper

In the Brooder
Apr 3, 2022
38
43
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Hi group!

I am pretty new to keeping chickens, I got my first flock 2 years ago but have been researching and dreaming of chickens for many years before that. When we finally moved to a place where we could have them I got right to work building my coop. I’ve loved having my hens they have brought me immense joy and I spend time with them everyday. My problem is it seems like I am having more deaths then I should be and more weird issues. I was hoping I could share my coop and chicken management with the group here and if anyone sees anything I could add or do differently or perhaps my problems are more genetic? I would greatly appreciate any advice, I’m heartbroken about loosing my hens. I decided the post up into chunks of what I’m currently doing and some past history:

The flock:
I started my flock off with 6 chicks from a mail order hatchery that vaccinated them and was one of the most reputable hatcheries I could find. One ended up being a rooster, and the rest were hens. One of the hens I quickly discovered was a scissor beak, so I fed her moist food when she could no longer feed on food, she lived to be 8 months old and was the sweetest hen, but I think she finally succumbed to her deformity she had an extreme crossbeak. One of my Rhode Island reds passed away a few weeks ago and I’m not entirely sure why, but I was treating her for sourcrop so that could have been the issue. It started when I was away for a couple days for work.

I had another hen pass away yesterday while I was out of town for the day. (When I’m out of town for more than a night I have someone stop by and check on them) I was actively treating her foot for bumble, she is prone to them and the vet said I did a good job treating it last time. This time her bumble was small and I was working on treating it. She seemed totally fine, healthy, laying eggs, doing her normal thing and then she passed away the next day while I was away, it was very sudden and no signs of trauma.

Medication and supplements:
As a preventative after my Rhode Island hen passed away it was suggested I deworm them, so I recently started them on valbazen drench a little less than 1/2cc for each hen and the rooster. I don’t administer any other medication. I provide grit and free range oyster shells.

Feeding:
They are fed using grandpa treadle feeders to keep out mice and rats. We’ve only had one mouse issue this past winter when it was super cold out but they were quickly removed. I feed them layer crumbles.

Water:
Both the rooster and hens receive fresh water twice a week or so and have never run out. They have nipple waters to keep water fresh. When it’s hot or they are stressed I give them chicken electrolytes in their water.

Treats:
I give them fresh treats daily, maybe a small hand full of strawberries or blueberries or some cabbage on a string. I also fill their treat roller with dried black soldier fly larva once a week. They always come running up to the door when they see me.

Coop:
I actually have two coops connected together. One of them is 3x3 feet with attached run and houses the rooster. The hen house is 4x4’ with a 4’x16’ covered run. The run has sand and is cleaned daily and I occasionally add new sand. The inside of the coop is deep litter pine shavings and is added to weekly and a total clean out happens twice a year, I have had no issues with smell or flies doing it this way. I use chicken only shoes to clean and visit the coop, I keep them in a bucket outside their run. They have a dust bath area with sand and diatomaceous earth. I don’t free range the hens as we have extreme predators, it’s not uncommon to see eagles, hawks, great horned owls sitting and waiting at dusk, we also have coyotes, cougars and occasionally bears.

Thank you in advance for any help and guidance, I’m so bummed out loosing my hens and want to learn if I’m doing something wrong. I would also like to get 4 more pullets this year, I’m thinking of giving heritage chickens a try this time as I’ve read they have less genetic issues. Does anyone have thoughts on that?

Thanks so much!!
 

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Is looks like you are doing things quite right. So you lost 3 hens. The cross-beak,,, well just cold not thrive sufficiently.
The RIR,,, may be a mystery why she passed :idunno
The bumble foot hen,,,,, also a mystery.:old

Here is what I would do differently.
I do not use much DE. (very limited, and only small amount at base of coop bedding) DE is hazardous to human lungs if inhaled. (read precautions on container) or (read more about it online) Chickens have lungs also,, and very small ones. If the DE would get inside their lungs,, it may cause severe breath shortage,, that could cause health concerns,, that could lead to worse.
Skip adding it to their dust bath area.

I am not very familiar with worms, and never had them in my flock. That means I am also not familiar with the dangers of using de-wormers. It is possible your bumble foot chicken just could not tolerate the deworming meds. :idunno
I would skip the preventative measures,
Different if you have a confirmed care of worms that need attention.

All chickens are good to have. Heritage chickens do generally live longer lives. Sexlink chickens are also good,,, but their mission in life is,,,,, lay many eggs,, and not live very long. :(

Consider Easter Eggers. They tend to live long,, and lay colorful eggs. I had 3 one time. The one that lived longest was 11 years old. Her 2 sisters lived shorter lives. One of them got a respiratory infection,,, and died along with 2 other chickens in my flock. It was not pretty.:hit.. Rest of the flock did not get infected,, so I was very relieved. :old


WISHING YOU BEST,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and:welcome
 
Welcome to BYC. If you add your general location to your profile we can give you better-targeted advice. Climate matters. :)

Nothing stands out to me, but let's review the basics.

The Usual Guidelines

For each adult, standard-sized hen you need:
  • 4 square feet in the coop (.37 square meters)
  • 10 square feet in the run (.93 square meters),
  • 1 linear foot of roost (.3 meters),
  • 1/4 of a nest box,
  • And 1 square foot (.09 square meters) of permanent, 24/7/365 ventilation, preferably located over the birds' heads when they're sitting on the roost.
6 hens
  • 24 square feet in the coop. 4'x6' is the only really practical build for this given the common dimensions of lumber. If you can't walk into it, put the access door in the middle of the long side to make sure you can reach all areas of the coop because a stubborn chicken WILL press itself into/lay an egg in the back corner where you can't reach.
  • 6 feet of roost
  • 60 square feet in the run. 6'x10' or 8'x8'.
  • 6 square feet of ventilation.
  • 2 nest boxes, to give the hens a choice
You've apparently modified some prefab coops, right? How much ventilation did you add? Prefabs are notoriously under-ventilated. The goal is for the temperature and humidity inside to be the same as outside.

https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/repecka-illustrates-coop-ventilation.77659/

When you give electrolytes be sure to give them in a separate waterer so that they always have the choice to drink clean, fresh, PURE water if they want to. Imagine having nothing to drink but Gatorade in a flavor you don't like. 🤢

I'd lay off all preventative medications. They tend to build resistance so that when you really NEED them they're not effective.

It's possible that you just happened to get weak stock. :(
 
Agree that sometimes chickens die. So, you haven’t had any connected losses, which is good.

Water: ALWAYS provide plain water as a choice when offering additive water. When offering electrolytes too, remove the electrolytes after 12 hours as they are a great breeding ground for microbes. Do not offer electrolytes or other additive water on a daily basis (but it does not sound like you do that). And…chickens drink cool water better than warm water, so if water temp is high enough to feel warm, then you may want to refresh it more often or add a block of ice if it’s really hot or put the water in some all-day shade.

Shade: do your chickens have access to shade all-day? This can be different spots throughout the day, but they should be able to get out of the sun at will. If not, then provide some. This could be buying some taller potted plants or bushes you line up along the south side of their run on the outside so they don’t tear up the plants. Or shade cloth.

Chickens are fun, and it’s great you are such a conscientious keeper.
 
Chickens can run into a lot of health issues in those first couple years. Sorry about your losses! You're smart to keep evaluating your setup (though it looks conscientious and clean). I'm the same: I don't think I'll ever stop researching ways to improve.

x2 for...
A) Dialing back DE. There's a lot of misinformation about it, and it's probably terrible for their lungs. We had a mite problem once, so I'm all about prevention. I sprinkle full-on mite powder in their coops a few times a year but under the floor mats so they don't touch it or kick it up when they flap.

B) Ensuring they have a plain-water option at all times. Electrolytes aren't always so great. In fact, the brand they sell here has Red #40, which gives me instant migraines. If it's that hard on me, I really don't like to give it to animals smaller than me.

I do put out ACV water maybe once a month. There are lots of myths about ACV as well, but they seem to enjoy the option once in a while. I *think* it does help them excrete calcium. If we've been seeing extra calcification on eggs, that may be reduced for a few days after the ACV water.

We end up worming 2-3 times a year, usually with Safeguard/Panacur, after several positive fecal tests for roundworm from a vet. I don't think it's bad to worm occasionally, especially if your soil has a history of worms and your birds are always on the same dirt and showing symptoms. The more our birds forage, the less we see worm-type symptoms, but knowing roundworms are abundant in our soil, if I see bad poops and anyone looking low a few days without other indicators of what's wrong, worming stays in our bag of tricks.

A few things things I thought about reading your post...
1) Is there enough shade on your coop?
2) Can you do supervised free range (assuming AI isn't in your area right now) at least a few hours a week so they can have grass and more stimulation?
3) The extra calcium in layer feed can apparently be hard on a rooster and hens past lay or in molt. Some feed brands are also low on protein/methionine/etc. so you may want to make sure your feed's good quality. We mix chick starter with layer feed for layer flocks with roosters and give just chick starter to all boys or ladies not laying for whatever reason. That's completely unscientific. Just what I've been doing for a couple years.

I've been adding poultry probiotics and kelp supplements for the past 6 months, which some would rib me for, but I'm liking the results 🤷‍♀️

Plenty of us believe those basic space guidelines should be multiplied by 10 or 100, depending on who you ask, but that's unrealistic for many people (thanks, predators!), and some birds don't care to range much. It's funny: we have athletic Legbars who prefer to hunt bugs under a patch of rose bushes in their run all day, while our bumbly Brahmas would walk to the other side of the county and back if they could.

Anyway, ask 10 chicken tenders, get 10 different answers 😊 Best of luck going forward!
 
Chickens are really not forever friends. And a lot of them don't have real long lives. I too once kept a crossbeam, and never again. Eventually no matter what you do, she cannot eat enough to sustain the size of the body.

To me, the best way to keep chickens is to keep a flock. A flock has birds that come into it, and birds that leave.

You have had some rotten luck. And for me it always seems to be my favorite. Looking at your set up - I don't see anything wrong. You have nothing to feel guilty for. You gave your birds a good life while they lived.

As my granddaughter says to me, "That sucks, she was so nice... well now we can get chicks." Circle of life.

Mrs K
 
Is looks like you are doing things quite right. So you lost 3 hens. The cross-beak,,, well just cold not thrive sufficiently.
The RIR,,, may be a mystery why she passed :idunno
The bumble foot hen,,,,, also a mystery.:old

Here is what I would do differently.
I do not use much DE. (very limited, and only small amount at base of coop bedding) DE is hazardous to human lungs if inhaled. (read precautions on container) or (read more about it online) Chickens have lungs also,, and very small ones. If the DE would get inside their lungs,, it may cause severe breath shortage,, that could cause health concerns,, that could lead to worse.
Skip adding it to their dust bath area.

I am not very familiar with worms, and never had them in my flock. That means I am also not familiar with the dangers of using de-wormers. It is possible your bumble foot chicken just could not tolerate the deworming meds. :idunno
I would skip the preventative measures,
Different if you have a confirmed care of worms that need attention.

All chickens are good to have. Heritage chickens do generally live longer lives. Sexlink chickens are also good,,, but their mission in life is,,,,, lay many eggs,, and not live very long. :(

Consider Easter Eggers. They tend to live long,, and lay colorful eggs. I had 3 one time. The one that lived longest was 11 years old. Her 2 sisters lived shorter lives. One of them got a respiratory infection,,, and died along with 2 other chickens in my flock. It was not pretty.:hit.. Rest of the flock did not get infected,, so I was very relieved. :old


WISHING YOU BEST,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and:welcome
Thank you for all your helpf
Is looks like you are doing things quite right. So you lost 3 hens. The cross-beak,,, well just cold not thrive sufficiently.
The RIR,,, may be a mystery why she passed :idunno
The bumble foot hen,,,,, also a mystery.:old

Here is what I would do differently.
I do not use much DE. (very limited, and only small amount at base of coop bedding) DE is hazardous to human lungs if inhaled. (read precautions on container) or (read more about it online) Chickens have lungs also,, and very small ones. If the DE would get inside their lungs,, it may cause severe breath shortage,, that could cause health concerns,, that could lead to worse.
Skip adding it to their dust bath area.

I am not very familiar with worms, and never had them in my flock. That means I am also not familiar with the dangers of using de-wormers. It is possible your bumble foot chicken just could not tolerate the deworming meds. :idunno
I would skip the preventative measures,
Different if you have a confirmed care of worms that need attention.

All chickens are good to have. Heritage chickens do generally live longer lives. Sexlink chickens are also good,,, but their mission in life is,,,,, lay many eggs,, and not live very long. :(

Consider Easter Eggers. They tend to live long,, and lay colorful eggs. I had 3 one time. The one that lived longest was 11 years old. Her 2 sisters lived shorter lives. One of them got a respiratory infection,,, and died along with 2 other chickens in my flock. It was not pretty.:hit.. Rest of the flock did not get infected,, so I was very relieved. :old


WISHING YOU BEST,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and:welcome
Thank you for all your helpful advice. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming with all the conflicting information on the internet. I did a ton of research before getting chickens but I feel like you don’t really learn everything you need to know until you just start doing it and encountering problems… I’m sorry about your chickens, that must have been so hard! Would you recommend adding the DE to any other areas for free eating or just skip it all together? I’ve read conflicting things about it and how it can be good for them, I understand it’s not good for their lungs so I’ll skip it in their bath area.

I think I’ll look into getting some Easter Eggers they look like great ones to have. I have one Americana and she is a great little bird. 🥰
 
Chickens are really not forever friends. And a lot of them don't have real long lives. I too once kept a crossbeam, and never again. Eventually no matter what you do, she cannot eat enough to sustain the size of the body.

To me, the best way to keep chickens is to keep a flock. A flock has birds that come into it, and birds that leave.

You have had some rotten luck. And for me it always seems to be my favorite. Looking at your set up - I don't see anything wrong. You have nothing to feel guilty for. You gave your birds a good life while they lived.

As my granddaughter says to me, "That sucks, she was so nice... well now we can get chicks." Circle of life.

Mrs K
Your exactly right, birds do come and go. I just have trouble saying goodbye to animals. I’ve always been that way, but I’m trying to be more accepting and just offer the best care I can and enjoy them while we have them. Your right the crossbeaks are very hard to care for. I was only able to care for her like I did because I was working from home, so I could go out and feed her twice a day, but they can’t be left alone for a weekend.

I’m definitely going to be adding some more chicks to the flock soon, so that should be an adventure, adding new flock members in when they are big enough!
 
Chickens can run into a lot of health issues in those first couple years. Sorry about your losses! You're smart to keep evaluating your setup (though it looks conscientious and clean). I'm the same: I don't think I'll ever stop researching ways to improve.

x2 for...
A) Dialing back DE. There's a lot of misinformation about it, and it's probably terrible for their lungs. We had a mite problem once, so I'm all about prevention. I sprinkle full-on mite powder in their coops a few times a year but under the floor mats so they don't touch it or kick it up when they flap.

B) Ensuring they have a plain-water option at all times. Electrolytes aren't always so great. In fact, the brand they sell here has Red #40, which gives me instant migraines. If it's that hard on me, I really don't like to give it to animals smaller than me.

I do put out ACV water maybe once a month. There are lots of myths about ACV as well, but they seem to enjoy the option once in a while. I *think* it does help them excrete calcium. If we've been seeing extra calcification on eggs, that may be reduced for a few days after the ACV water.

We end up worming 2-3 times a year, usually with Safeguard/Panacur, after several positive fecal tests for roundworm from a vet. I don't think it's bad to worm occasionally, especially if your soil has a history of worms and your birds are always on the same dirt and showing symptoms. The more our birds forage, the less we see worm-type symptoms, but knowing roundworms are abundant in our soil, if I see bad poops and anyone looking low a few days without other indicators of what's wrong, worming stays in our bag of tricks.

A few things things I thought about reading your post...
1) Is there enough shade on your coop?
2) Can you do supervised free range (assuming AI isn't in your area right now) at least a few hours a week so they can have grass and more stimulation?
3) The extra calcium in layer feed can apparently be hard on a rooster and hens past lay or in molt. Some feed brands are also low on protein/methionine/etc. so you may want to make sure your feed's good quality. We mix chick starter with layer feed for layer flocks with roosters and give just chick starter to all boys or ladies not laying for whatever reason. That's completely unscientific. Just what I've been doing for a couple years.

I've been adding poultry probiotics and kelp supplements for the past 6 months, which some would rib me for, but I'm liking the results 🤷‍♀️

Plenty of us believe those basic space guidelines should be multiplied by 10 or 100, depending on who you ask, but that's unrealistic for many people (thanks, predators!), and some birds don't care to range much. It's funny: we have athletic Legbars who prefer to hunt bugs under a patch of rose bushes in their run all day, while our bumbly Brahmas would walk to the other side of the county and back if they could.

Anyway, ask 10 chicken tenders, get 10 different answers 😊 Best of luck going forward!
Thanks for all your thoughtful answers and questions! I’ve read the apple cider vinegar can be very helpful, I like your idea of providing it once a month or so.

I’m feeding layer feed that doesn’t have any added calcium, so I thought it was ok for the rooster, but perhaps I need to relook at their food and make sure I’m feeding them appropriately. The rooster is so big and beautiful, definitely not something I originally had planned on having but we live out in the country so he is fine to have.

I like your idea of supervised time outside, I could do that with them, I have a veggie garden that connects behind their coop and if I’m there monitoring them in the evening I think they would enjoy that stimulation. I know they can ruin a veggie garden but I figured as long as things are grown up well enough and they are only out there a couple hours then I should be ok?

I treated for worms due to the suspicion that I might have them due to the death of one of the Rhode Island reds, I also had one chicken that had diarrhea so I thought I might have them, but I never saw any signs of them. Plus like you said if they are always on the same soil it can lead to problems.

I do provide both fresh water and the electrolyte water when it’s hot, so they have a couple options. 😀 they do have lots of shady areas in their run and lots of sunny areas too.

What kind of supplements are you adding? Do you have a link to them?

Thanks again!
 
The way you phrased your post brought out a lot of responses from experienced folks. It's always cool to see different perspectives and recipes for success.

Layer feed contains more calcium since it's made for layers, who need it to make eggshells. Attached is a picture of 2 feed labels, chick starter on the left and layer on the right. The writing is tiny, but if you zoom in, you can see the big difference in calcium min/max.

There are posts here on BYC where people say the extra calcium doesn't affect roosters, and posts where people say it does. I lean towards the latter just in case. I really, really don't like sick chickens, and nutrition is our first line of defense. So I take care with roosters and calcium. IMHO, the boys get kinder, smarter, and more indispensable with age. If I can help it, I want them to live a long time.

At one point, we took a few months off from layer feed. They've always had free-choice oyster shell in multiple stations, so even the lazy ladies find it, but without layer feed, we had more soft-shell eggs. It could've been the weather or something they were finding seasonally while foraging--not sure--but I now I feed 1 part layer to 3 parts chick starter, and we almost never have a weird egg. I wonder if the Vitamin D or some other balance in layer feed makes a difference.

If you want to fall down the chicken-feeding rabbit hole, check out Jeff Mattocks with Fertrell. A few good podcasts here:
https://www.owltail.com/people/7AfIK-jeff-mattocks/appearances

Some of his science is 🤔, and we don't follow all of his advice, but he makes you think. He's the real deal when says his mission is to help small-scale folks keep poultry healthy. I called Fertrell last year on a lark, and sure enough was connected with a staffperson who spoke with me at length about our feeding routine. Not in a salesy way. It was awesome.

Supplements: I hate to admit it because I'm not a big fan, but I've been digging Lisa Steele's probiotics and kelp. Ask me again in 6 months, and I may have changed my mind 🤷‍♀️

They might eat your garden. They might not. You might want to add little barriers around any plants they like. They do eat pests, which is great. And any kind of ranging puts them at risk, but it's worth it. When we first started, I wouldn't leave ours alone even to go to the house for a glass of water. We have everything from bobcats to black bear waiting for us to slip up, but we've learned ways to carve out safe space for the chickens. Mobile poultry net works really nicely.

We love our Easter Egger/Americanas, too. The hens are such characters, and I can't believe how cuddly they are. One of our EE "pullets" turned out to be our main rooster, and he's a gem.
 

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