New chicken logistics

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Xtina, Jul 1, 2008.

  1. Xtina

    Xtina Songster

    Jul 1, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    Hello everyone,
    I'm new to chickens and to this forum. I am trying to decide whether chickens are right for my family, given the amount of space we have and the current uses we've put it to. I have tons of questions, so I'm hoping you guys can help! (although, I am going to talk to chicken owners in my area and buy a book)

    My questions don't really have to do with coop design, since tractor and coop pictures are all over the internet and my husband's an engineer. My questions have more to do with keeping the chickens in fresh grass, dealing with their poop, keeping them safe from the two dogs, and keeping my vegetable garden safe from the chickens. The dogs are already not allowed on the vegetable garden side of the yard, and my husband would prefer to keep the grilling area free of chicken poop (which I imagine is harder to scoop than dog poo). To help visualize this situation, here's an image of the backyard:


    The area I'm thinking of using is the 5 foot by 19 foot area next to the vegetable beds. This keeps the dogs double fenced away from the chickens and the chickens out of the vegetable beds. I'd like to get three chickens. My questions are:

    1. If they are confined to that space, will they be happy enough?
    2. How can I keep grass growing in the chicken area? I like the thought of them being able to eat grass.
    3. If that's impossible, what's a better solution?
    4. Does any other section of the yard strike you guys as a better solution?
    5. Has anyone had success training dogs to not eat chickens? I have a 7.5 year old lab mix that I'm pretty sure I could teach to not kill birds, but the 10 month old German Shepherd mix puppy seems trickier.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you guys can give.
  2. Akane

    Akane Crowing

    Jun 15, 2008
    Sorry I can't help about the space but I have plenty of experience training dogs. I have an akita right now. Natural hunting dogs (they were used for bear hunting at one point) with a prey drive through the roof. Most shelters won't even adopt one to a home with other pets sometimes including livestock. She won't chase cats, horses, helped me raise an orphaned kitten, and I have guinea pigs, degus (south american version of the squirrel), and just gave my 2 gerbils to my sister. I'm waiting for my chicks to hatch and then we will have chicken lessons. I'm planning to free range my chickens so such lessons are going to be very important. I'm hopefully going to get a vid of that cause I've been meaning to post our training for other pets on a few sites. Even if your going to keep the animals seperate it is good to go through the training and get the dog used to the animal. You never know if one day one or the other is going to escape or it might just come in handy for some other critter.

    First you need to make sure the dog is absolutely never allowed to chase the animals you don't want them to. Until you are certain they will not do anything (and for a while longer than that) they should be penned or leashed so they never get the chance. Don't rely on verbal corrections. Everytime they get to chase it makes it 10times harder for you to train them not to. For my akita it pretty much sets us back a month every time she gets to chase something I don't want her to. That includes letting them run along a fence line or around a pen not just where they can catch the animal. Absolutely no chasing.

    Second the dog needs to understand sit and remain sitting for an acceptable amount of time. Stay and Down are also useful. This not only gives you more control but ensures your dog has at least some basic manners to work off of. You can't train a dog anything if it doesn't even listen enough for basic manners.

    Then just take it slowly. Hold the animals near them but make sure the dog can't reach them. You may have to have someone else hold the collar or leash and try to keep the dog sitting. I tied my akita to the diningroom table to start with. It's better to hold the animal still or in a small cage than to let the dog watch them run around all over. If possible introduce the dog to the animal before they see it loose in it's new home. I'll be starting with the chicks in an aquarium brooder and then my akita's puppy crate she out grew and will let her see them daily. I may even put them out in the livingroom instead of back in the small pet room if the cats aren't a problem. I trust my akita more than I do my cats. By the time they are running around loose she should be completely calm while watching them move around a smaller pen.

    As the dog gets used to the animals and calms down you can progress to giving them more and more freedom. If the dog is wiggly and excited don't let them get any closer. It helps to talk softly and calmly to the animals and repeat a common phrase you want them to get to know. Such as "be nice", "nicely", or "gentle". This is very useful. Remember I said it's good to go through the training even if the animals you intend to have are always seperated? Well I've had to use it when someone's little black pug got loose and my akita thought it was prey. She will chase and kill a wild rabbit but not touch something I've shown to be a pet such as my guinea pigs. She went into rabbit kill mode after the pug when it ran and I yelled "NO! Nicely!" and she immediately dropped back and just followed the pug close enough to sniff it until it ran under my truck. After that the pug was decided to be more like a cat than a wild rabbit and she didn't try to chase or harm it.

    Never get an animal within reach of the dog if you aren't 100% certain it won't lunge for it and then I still usually set my hand on top of their nose so I can shove or even hold their mouth closed until they've shown no interest in putting it in their mouth. Do not jerk the animal away from the dog to keep it out of reach. That only sets off their prey drive and makes them want to lunge for it. Control the dog as much as you do the prey your holding and move slowly and calmly. The dog will pick up cues from you. The owner really determines what the dog sees as prey or pet. Your behavior and attitude is extremely important. Don't act jumpy or nervous. If you aren't confident don't progress until you are and the dog is calm.

    Last never trust a dog alone with a prey animal. Even one that has never shown any interest in them. Even the lab. I've heard so many horror stories of a dog who was so nice to the pets and licked them while they were out. The owner decides for some reason to lock the dog in the room alone for a minute, not put it in it's kennel while gone, etc... and opens the door to find broken cages and dead bodies. Never trust a dog that much. I will let mine hang over the carrier and lick and sniff my guinea pigs while I'm catching them and moving them to and from their outdoor pen but just now when I knocked a light bulb off the brooder I zipped the carrier shut before putting my attention on the broken light bulb. Always supervise or pen properly.
  3. 1. If they are confined to that space, will they be happy enough?

    5X19 is a TON of space for only 3 chickens, yes they should be fine with that!

    2. How can I keep grass growing in the chicken area? I like the thought of them being able to eat grass.

    This is tough or so it seems, apparently chickens will destroy the grass quickly... my current brilliant plan is to build a chicken-less tractor... a large area that will be covered from the chickens while it grows back.. and then I'll move it around after a month.

    3. If that's impossible, what's a better solution? (not sure other than my bright idea above)

    4. Does any other section of the yard strike you guys as a better solution?

    I would put them by the tree probably so they have some natural shade, but by the veggies should be fine too..t hat's alot of space.

    5. Has anyone had success training dogs to not eat chickens? I have a 7.5 year old lab mix that I'm pretty sure I could teach to not kill birds, but the 10 month old German Shepherd mix puppy seems trickier.

    I'm in this right now. Iv'e been training & working with dogs my whole life. While 2 of my dogs should be fine, a third is a grump and we just got a stray Pyranese mix puppy who is 6 months old and more than nutty. That's 4 dogs to train.

    Our training follows the pack mentality, I'm pack leader, and these chickens are part of my pack, I own them, and the dogs have NO right to even SNIFF them IMO, unless I give them permission to.

    The training starts with allowing the dogs to sit behind me while I visit with the chickens. If they appear too interested they are told to "back up" which they know very well. If there is still interest, they are ordered to "lay down" and then I say that I mean "all the way down" onto their sides and they comply. In this fashion, I dictate their allowed level of interest.

    Now when we started, the dogs were all over the chicken cage, but each session, they had to "back up" and "lay down". After a couple of days, they were not allowed any closer than say 2 ft from the cage. Still plenty close to sniff & see. Once 2 ft was easy and they had no interest in the chicks anymore, I invited them closer by 1ft. If they remained ok, then they stayed, if they had too much interest (which IMO is ANY interest) then they had to "back up" and start over again.

    Now, after 4 weeks, both dogs lay uninterested in the chickens at my feet. Occassionally the chicks do something crazy & make a flurry of feathers & noise & still one of the pooches gets too excited & has to "back up".

    Yesterday we started removing the chicks from the cage & working with the well trained dogs (not the stray). Dog #1 could care less about the chicks, Dog #2 turned her head away from the chicks when i showed them to her up close.. Dog #3 got VERY excited, and then scolded & had to backup & lay down. Dog #4 the new stray pyranese hasn't met the chickens muzzle to beak, but has gotten to see them in the cage and he barely noticed them. He's 4 weeks behind in training as he showed up late last week.

    My point? Slow & steady wins the race, NEVER EVER trust any animal completely. Akane is so right, never ever allow the chase either... always leash your dogs in the beginning around the loose chickens. It will be a pain in the tail feathers but I will have to do the same with all 4 of my dogs in order for everyone to eventually free range together. Even though my dogs in the beginnng will be on the OTHER side of the fence from the chickens, I will still leash them to prevent the chasing along the fence line.

    I cannot stress enough how important it will be to socialize your dogs with the chickens...and other dogs & cats. The more experience your dog has, the better behaved in general they tend to be. Aloof comes from having "seen it all".
  4. WoodlandWoman

    WoodlandWoman Crowing

    May 8, 2007
    I think they would work fine in that area. You may want to cover part of the run, usually closest to the coop, to give them some shade and protection from precipitation. I don't know what your weather is like. You could also grow some vines on part of the run, for shade.

    I doubt you will kept grass in your run if you keep the chickens confined all the time. You can make some hardware covered frames that protect a few areas of their grass. They won't be able to eat it down to the roots or scratch it up, just eat what pokes through. You can also have flats or pots of grass or chicken greens that you rotate in and out of the run for them. You can also throw weeds or scraps from your garden in the run for them.

    Although it's good to protect your garden from the chickens, you may still want to let them out to forage some of the time. If you are in the garden area with them, you can shoosh them away from anything they are causing too much trouble with. I say this only because you said three, not thirty chickens. [​IMG]

    After the growing season is over, they can scratch around in the beds all they want. My girls are actually cultivating for me right now, around the perennials I have planted in the flower bed next to the patio. You will love the chicken litter from the coop, for compost material.

    I think you can train your dogs. The most important thing is to always supervise them. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because the dogs are leaving the chickens alone while you are there to correct them, that they will leave the chickens alone when you aren't there. The chickens can get startled by something or excited because they see a bug and go running off really fast. That really sets off a dog's prey drive. Dogs that are fine with a chicken that's slowly wandering around may really take off after a fast running chicken.
  5. Xtina

    Xtina Songster

    Jul 1, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    That is very helpful guys! Thanks a lot!

    I think that dog training advice is going to be helpful. It's close to what I had in mind, but much more detailed. I knew your experience would prove to be valuable.

    Also, the gardening advice from WoodlandWoman is going to be great. I knew chickens could help, but I was thinking mostly for their poop. They can probably be great weed control in that area of the yard during the winter.

    Any more advice that other members want to add will be great! Especially as it concerns the garden. So, how do you guys that freerange the birds feel about having chickens running around in the same area as people (and dogs?). My aunt in Greece kept free ranging chickens in her backyard, but it was an orchard, not a grassy space, so it seems quite different. All I remember is dust and poop everywhere, not to mention the occasional aggressive chicken.
  6. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    Quote:After looking at your excellent post, I'm wondering - SO whose the engineer, here? [​IMG]

    1. If they are confined to that space, will they be happy enough?
    Happy? Yes. Chickens dont know much else, being rather dimwitted.
    19 sq ft/bird total living space - well, that isn't enough, long term. It takes 400 sq ft per bird for the land to absorb their droppings and scratching alone and not be affected greatly.
    With that space, they will have a run covered in dirt and poo-cement in a short season, unless you practice some serious waste management.

    2. How can I keep grass growing in the chicken area? I like the thought of them being able to eat grass.
    You can't. They wil denude an area that size in pretty sort order. Its what they do:
    Scratch, scratch, claw - - look for bugs. Scratch, scratch, claw - - look for bugs.
    As long as the sun is up, this is what they do.

    3. If that's impossible, what's a better solution?
    Let them in the garden space. You can fence and erect barriers around your growing beds, to keep them out of the edibles. On the fallow beds and everywhere else, just let them roam. They can cultivate the ground, and control insects. Theyre gonna love that compost pile.

    4. Does any other section of the yard strike you guys as a better solution?
    I personally dont see a problem with opening up the entire area, including the greenhouse. Again, erect barrieres for the planting sections in there. Put up a nice little fence to keep them out of the BBQ area, if that suits you.
    Clip their wings so they dont fly and youre set.
    (BTW, you have to keep them clipped, as the feather grow back.)
    5. Has anyone had success training dogs to not eat chickens? I have a 7.5 year old lab mix that I'm pretty sure I could teach to not kill birds, but the 10 month old German Shepherd mix puppy seems trickier.
    They can be taught, yes. Is it simple? Depends on the dog. Chickens trigger the prey instinct in most dogs to some degree - theyre just dogs, after all. SO dont trust them more than that. Knowing that is half the battle.
  7. caddyeldorado2006

    caddyeldorado2006 In the Brooder

    Quote:well you have tons of questions, the question about if they will be happy yes they will, but if your area in the garden is fenced and ur putting them in the garden , it wont work . They need to be free range sometimes. And the poop is not a problem usually. My chickens have a coop my boyfriend built and i open up the coop each day and i have a garden fenced in. THe chick coop is outside the garden fence and they poop in my yard of 1 1/4 acre of land i dont have a prob with poop which most poop is in their coop when they sleep and when they lay. The grass they will eat. You will need a coop that moves so that when they grass is gone you can move it to a larger part of the yard where grass is long, i move mine every 2-3 days because i dont want my yard looking like sand. I would put them behind the greenhouse if that is closed in. if you put ur dogs on leashes one at a time and show them the chickens and each time they go near the chicken or show aggressiveness take a lil stick or newspaper and tap them with it. Not hard but enough to show them its not ok. I had to do this with my dogs and they do not go after my chickens.

    chickens need to free range due to their pecking order. coops need to be cleaned out daily with chicken poop into a compost pile. As far as the compost pile, you need to move that to an area that they can get to. Trust me i have one and they can get to it. and they are happy , and they pick out the bugs and grass in it and old food. they dig through it and circulate it. LOL I hope i was a big help. Compost pile should be where i dont know if your zoned for agricultural or what but mine is where no one can see it from my road i live on. its in the back yard by my patio. I also give my chickens a worm here and there but not too many because they will get worms.
  8. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    You can build a coop and run in the 5x19' area that will keep three chickens quite happy. It will go to dirt in a while. You can then put in a truckload of sand or roadbase or gravel to make it less muddy, less smelly, better looking and generally more pleasant for the chickens. Yes, as David says you will have to do *some* waste management, but this is true of pretty much any animal we keep and for 3 chickens in a good-sized well-drained well-ventilated space is not a big deal <shrug>

    (e.t.a. - another advantage of the coop right among the garden beds is it makes it easy to chuck weeds and damaged produce into the run for their enjoyment [​IMG])

    In order to let them get grass or bugs, you could either let them free-range in the garden when the dogs aren't out (assuming your fences are high enough and you're willing to accept the possibility of losses from hawks etc) or you could build a lightweight tractor pen that would fit between the garden beds, and on days when you have time to supervise them for a few hrs or an afternoon you could pop them in the tractor pen and give them access to the grassy areas. (This would be VASTLY less work, and more secure, than trying to make a full-time tractor for them in the dogs' half of the yard).

    Training dogs not to eat chickens is fine but there will never be a 100% guarantee, and it seems like an awful lot of people are absolutely mortally certain that their doggies would never touch their chickies... right up to the moment they post about the pile of feathers [​IMG]

    Good luck and have fun (and of course yes, you *should* get chickens <vbg>),

    Last edited: Jul 2, 2008
  9. JennsPeeps

    JennsPeeps Rhymes with 'henn'

    Jun 14, 2008
    South Puget Sound
    Remember that chickens will eat your garden!
  10. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    Pat has said it well - one can always hope she chimes in on such posts.

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