New Florida Chicken Owner - Some advice Please

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by 40StoryChicken, Dec 22, 2016.

  1. 40StoryChicken

    40StoryChicken New Egg

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    My daughter wanted to raise a chicken for 4H, and we had been talking about getting them anyway, so it seemed the perfect time to dive right in! I have several questions and I would sure appreciate some experienced help!
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    1. We live in South Florida, it can get down to 30 degrees once in a while, the floor in our coop is small fine fencing so there will always be airflow, is this ok? Should I lay straw over the fencing? Any issues with Florida heat? See pictures.

    2. The coop is about 8x6 and the run about 8x8, I dug down 1 1/2 feet and lined the run floor with fence and then covered it - is this enough room for 10 hens? We have 6 but my daughter really wants to get 4 more mixed birds in the next few days. Also, the Coop door stays open during the day and they walk back and forth from the run to the coop

    3. The guy at the feed-store gave me a 5 grain, game bird food (corn and other grains), is this ok? What do you all recommend I feed them? They are about 12 weeks old and from what I understand about 2 months from laying, when they lay their first eggs, then I switch to Layer feed, right?

    4. Do chickens get bored? Do they need stimulus?

    5. How do I let the roam? Will they run away?

    6. Will my[​IMG]

    little lab terrorize them, any tips on how to socialize them? Right now she sits next to their coop and its really funny, she got pecked on the paw and the nose already.

    Here are some pictures of the coop. I would love feedback, new Chicken Dad here!
    My daughter chose purple and blue! She got the blue done so far.
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    As you can see we put the coop in a very shady area to keep the sun off them in the summer.
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    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
  2. dragonthehunter

    dragonthehunter Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
  3. AllynTal

    AllynTal Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, so not quite as hot and humid as you are, but plenty of heat and humidity for most of the year.

    1. Walking on the fencing will cause foot problems. I don't remember what they are offhand. Someone will chime in with an authoritative answer. I've never put chickens on wire floors except to break broodiness, but that was only for a day or two.

    2. The coop is big enough for 12 chickens (8 x 6 = 48 sq feet / 4 sq ft per bird = 12 birds). However, the run is sized for only 6 (8 x 8 = 64 sq ft / 10 sq ft per bird = 6 birds). If they all get along and you let them out to free-range for most of the day, the run will probably be adequate for the occasional containment.

    3. I wouldn't feed them game bird food. That has a lot of protein. At 12 weeks, you could feed them a chicken starter/grower feed such as Nutrena Starter/Grower or Purina Flock Raiser. When they start laying, you can switch to a layer feed, but I find the extra protein (more than the layer feed but not as much as the game feed) in the starter feed is beneficial. You could continue to feed them starter/grower and then offer oyster shell as free-choice on the side once they start laying. My birds lay good, strong-shelled eggs and they've never had layer feed -- just offer oyster shell as a calcium supplement. Don't get too bogged down with feed. The guy at the feed store will insist you HAVE to have layer feed, but that's not true. If you've already opened the game bird feed, use it as a treat and give them handful once in a while until it's used up.

    4. Do chickens get bored? Yes, when confined in that small area, they will. Do they need stimulus? In that environment, yes. It doesn't have to be complicated. Adding something new to their environment can keep them occupied -- leave a bucket or a stool in there, for example, and switch it out daily so there's always something new. That'll keep them focused on something so they don't get bored and start pecking each other. You can hang a head of cabbage to let them peck at. If you let them out to free-range, they can find their own entertainment -- like eating the blossoms off your flowers and vegetable plants, digging all the mulch out of the flower beds, et al. Ask me how I know. Mine free-range all day. They occupy themselves, though it isn't always at something I would have encouraged.

    5. Once they're acclimated to the coop and run, they will stay close and come back to roost in the evening. If you've had the chickens in the coop for more than...say...a week, they know that's home, they know where the feeders and waters are, they know where the safe roosts are so that's where they'll go at night.

    6. It's hard to say. As a species, most dogs have a prey drive and chickens do all the sounds and actions to trigger that drive. Some dogs will leave them alone, but I'm willing to bet most will try to chase them. When you let the chickens out to free-range, I'd keep the dog on the leash and see how she reacts. Correct her if she shows intense interest and focuses on the chickens. There are a lot of threads talking about dogs and chickens here. That'll be a night of reading all its own.


    Is the roof on the coop a roof-over? If it isn't, you might want to consider doing a roof-over on it before spring. Even in the shade, if the roof gets sun at any time during the day, it'll make that coop quite warm. Folks in other parts of the country don't have to deal with the intense, hateful heat we get down here and so may not fully appreciate how much of a Godsend a roof-over can be in our climate.

    In the Florida climate, I'd like to see a lot more ventilation in that coop. Ten adult chickens pooping in there all night is going to make a lot of ammonia if you put straw on the floor and you'll need good ventilation to remove it. Cut some ventilation vents in the top of those walls and cover them securely with hardware cloth. Save the pieces you cut out and put them back on with hinges so you have shutters to close ahead of storms. Having open vents even up under the eaves can still let rain in when you have wind-driven rain such as in tropical storms or hurricanes (again, something folks in other parts of the country don't have to deal with).

    I see a lot of spray-foam overflow in the interior. Chickens will peck and eat that. You might want to trim that excess foam away and paint over the exposed part of what's left to avoid the pecking.

    I would wrap the bottom 24 inches of the run with 1/2-inch hardware cloth. You did good using welded wire, but the mesh in the wire is plenty big enough for a predator to stick his arm in there and grab a chicken. Also, I can't tell if the wire is covering the top of the run and if all the openings in the coop (eaves, for example) are covered. The run can have welded wire on the top, but put 1/2-inch or even 1/4-inch hardware cloth securely over any opening in the coop that is bigger than a quarter ($0.25 piece). If the spray foam is supposed to plug holes bigger than a quarter, the gap also needs hardware cloth. Predators will chew through the foam quite easily.

    I can't see what kind of latches you have on the nest box door. Raccoons have hands that can open latches, hasps, and slide bolts as easily as human hands. If you don't already, put some two-action latches on all the access points to the coop.
    Like this:
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    or the kind of clips like on the end of a dog leash. There are quite an assortment of ones to chose from, but anything that requires two actions -- ie pull back the spring and then lift -- will go a long way to thwart a raccoon.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
  4. dragonthehunter

    dragonthehunter Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Oh excuse me I misread Wire floor is a bad idea
     
  5. AllynTal

    AllynTal Chillin' With My Peeps

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  6. dragonthehunter

    dragonthehunter Chillin' With My Peeps

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    New brunswick Canada
    I would quarantine for a month(or so maybe a little less if they are healthy) Then I always just put them on the roost at night and they are all fine by the end of the 48hrs
     
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    1. We live in South Florida, it can get down to 30 degrees once in a while, the floor in our coop is small fine fencing so there will always be airflow, is this ok? Should I lay straw over the fencing? Any issues with Florida heat? See pictures.

    Many chickens are raised and kept on wire and do fine. One potential issue is that not all wire is created equal. During the manufacturing process some has sharp nubs on it. These nubs can tear up their feet. Not all wire has it and due to the way it is manufactured, those sharp nubs should all be on one side. You might want to carefully rub your hand over the top of that wire to see if there are any sharp nubs looking up.

    The floor of my grow-out coop and of my brooder is made form ½” hardware cloth. Until they are maybe 12 to 14 weeks old the poop falls through. After that it starts to build up, it gets too big to go on through. You might need to do some cleaning when they get older.

    What material is your roost made of, I can’t tell? It should be wood. Metal or plastic are pretty good conductors of heat, wood is a great insulator. In cold weather metal or plastic can cause frostbite to their feet.

    In general they should not have any problems with the cold, that’s just not that cold for chickens with their down coats. The heat is different, it is dangerous. I don’t see very much ventilation in the coop. Maybe it is there and I just don’t see it. If that were mine I’d rip open the top 3” to 4” of the walls under the overhang and cover that with hardware cloth to keep predators and rain out. In the shade like that you should be OK. But heat kills a lot more chickens than cold. It is your true enemy.

    I can’t tell if that is windows or the nests with the tops open. If it is windows, put hardware cloth over them so you can leave them open in warm weather and keep predators out.

    How much sun hits your nests? Are they going to become an oven in the summer heat? If they are on the north or east side of the coop they are probably fine but if the sun hits them you might want to add some shade to them. Are they well-vented up high so hot air can rise and escape?

    2. The coop is about 8x6 and the run about 8x8, I dug down 1 1/2 feet and lined the run floor with fence and then covered it - is this enough room for 10 hens? We have 6 but my daughter really wants to get 4 more mixed birds in the next few days. Also, the Coop door stays open during the day and they walk back and forth from the run to the coop


    I really don’t believe in magic numbers for chicken space or much else to do with chickens. There are way too many variables for any one certain square feet number to work for all of us. You can follow the link in my signature to see more definite thoughts on that. In general I find the tighter I house them the more behavioral problems I have to deal with, the less flexibility I have to deal with any issues, and the harder I have to work. A lot of that is about my convenience and stress levels, not just about the chickens.

    Will that be big enough for 10 chickens? Probably. Chickens do not differentiate between coop space and run space, if they need space they need space no matter where it is. So how you manage them and when you open that door to the run might make a big difference in how well it works out for you.

    When you integrate new chickens into a flock you generally need more space than after they have lived together for a while. You may have serious issues trying to integrate four new chickens into that area, it may be a piece of cake. A lot of us do it all the time but when I do it I have a lot more room. How to integrate new chicks in that set-up is probably worth a totally independent thread of its own.

    3. The guy at the feed-store gave me a 5 grain, game bird food (corn and other grains), is this ok? What do you all recommend I feed them? They are about 12 weeks old and from what I understand about 2 months from laying, when they lay their first eggs, then I switch to Layer feed, right?


    How to feed them is a topic you can get a huge number of different opinions. We feed them in so many different ways that we can’t agree on one best way. Some people seem to fixate on protein, protein, protein. I’m probably in the minority on this forum but I don’t consider protein to be all that important by itself. The need adequate protein, it is important, but they need a lot of other nutrients too. Fats, fiber, minerals, vitamins, certain amino acids (those are the one with the funny spelling on the label), and various other things.

    Chickens are not game birds. If you look on the various bags of poultry feeds at the feed store, you will normally see what fowl that feed is intended for and what age it’s meant to be fed. It may be on the label, it may be on the bag itself. I don’t know what is in the analysis on the label of that bag, percent protein or any other additional things. The ingredients should be on the label also but by analysis I’m talking about percent protein, calcium, fats, and such. Without knowing what’s on that label I’m guessing, but my suggestion is to get an age appropriate feed for chickens and make that their primary food source. That mix of grains would make a nice treat, but only give them enough that they clean it up in about 15 to 20 minutes once a day. That way they are getting a balanced diet containing the ingredients they need to grow and develop properly.

    A lot of people would be happy with that game bird feed as the primary feed for your chicks. It’s high in protein and that’s what they want. A lot of people feed stuff like that to their chicks and they do OK. I’m stating my opinion, not laying down a law.

    4. Do chickens get bored? Do they need stimulus?

    This comes mainly back to how much room do they have. If they have enough room they don’t get bored. They will find something to do. But if they are crowded they can develop bad habits, like picking feathers off of each other all the way to cannibalism. Your space will probably be OK but it is a little tight. You can create more space by adding levels. Put up some perches they can play on or higher flat surfaces. Give them things they can hide behind or under. If they can get out of line-of-sight of each other the space becomes much bigger.

    5. How do I let the roam? Will they run away?

    Once chickens learn a certain place is home, they return there to sleep every night. If you leave them locked in there for a week or better two before you let them out, you should not have any problems with them returning as it starts to get dark.

    What they do between when they are let out and dark is different. Initially they tend to stick pretty close to familiar territory. But after they have been out a while they tend to roam more. How far they actually roam will depend on the personalities of the individual chickens and your terrain. Barriers like walls or fences tend to keep them more constrained but some will go over or past these. I’ve had some that stay within a couple of hundred feet of the coop at all times, I’ve had some regularly roam more than 500 feet.

    6. Will my little lab terrorize them, any tips on how to socialize them? Right now she sits next to their coop and its really funny, she got pecked on the paw and the nose already.

    Some dogs will always be a threat to chickens, some will accept them as “pack” members and protect and care for them. Some learn to ignore them. Some do OK until the chickens run away from them, then they just have to chase. Like everything else you’ll get all kinds of stories on here about chickens and dogs.

    I introduced my dogs to the chicks while they were still baby chicks in the brooder. They could smell but the dogs could not lick or grab. When I let mine free range, I was always out there when I first let them start. If the dogs showed much interest in the chickens, I’d speak harshly to them. One time a chicken ran away from one of them and the dog started chasing it. I grabbed the dog, held her down, spoke harshly, and spanked her with my baseball cap. Not hard enough to hurt her but hard enough to make sounds she did not like. I let her know immediately that behavior was not tolerated. After a few weeks I could leave them alone together. Not everyone is so lucky.

    I think you are off to a pretty good start but I don’t know if your lab will ever be safe with them or not. Farm dogs, whether pure breed or mixed, have been used for thousands of years to guard farms and livestock. Sometimes those dogs work out great, sometimes they get replaced. Some dogs are bred to be livestock guard dogs, they are really good at it. But they still have to be taught which animals they are supposed to guard. A friend failed to do that and her LGD pup killed a baby goat it was supposed to guard.
     
  8. AllynTal

    AllynTal Chillin' With My Peeps

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    You're right about the space, but 4 and 10 is a good rule of thumb -- not rule of law, just rule of thumb -- and bigger is better especially for someone new to the game.
    Folks who feed their chickens game bird feed are usually folks who have meat birds, not layers. (Yes, protein isn't the only consideration, but it is easier to explain the difference in feed by using a major component than to get into the nuances of all the nutrients and turn a simple answer into a chemistry/nutrition essay :) ). Game feed really isn't appropriate for laying hens as a steady diet.
     
  9. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I understand that people starting out need some guidelines. I mention that 4 and 10 in my write-up, but as a starting point not something final. Some people can be so rigid about stuff like that.

    And I totally agree on game bird feed not being appropriate for laying hens, I never go above 20% protein and usually not even that high, normally around 16%, sometimes just 15%. I don’t have a problem with game bird feed for chicken chicks under 4 weeks if I’m raising turkeys with them, but after that I don’t go above 20%. If I don’t have turkeys I don’t go above 20% protein for chicks.

    It’s something you can be a little fluid on but I don’t believe too much of a good thing is always a good thing, whether nutrition or medicine.
     
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  10. 40StoryChicken

    40StoryChicken New Egg

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    Thank you all for your feedback, I already started implementing some of your suggestions!
     

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