Preparing ground for chickens & other ?s

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by SparksNV, Jun 27, 2010.

  1. SparksNV

    SparksNV Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jun 13, 2010
    Spanish Springs, NV
    The area I am putting my coop is an unused side yard that we covered the ground with pea gravel to keep the dust down. I am removing most of the gravel to give the chickens ground to scratch. I was planning on leaving the gravel underneath the coop (wich will be raised up 2 ft) and around the french drain that goes through the middle of the pen. Will this be ok?

    I bought a cabinet (to use as a nesting box) at a salvage area that is 36' wide x 13" deep x 15" tall - I thought I would partition it into 2-3 individual boxes or can I leave it as one open nesting box? Also, after getting it home and thinking things through - I realized it is a metal cabinet. I will have it on the east side of the coop - totally protected by the coop and a 6 ft fence. Do you think it will be too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter? - we get sub freezing temps and snow - although most of the snow melts quickly. Our temps in the summer can get above 100 - but it's very dry (high desert climate)

    My pen is 17' x 15'6" with the coop inside. The coop will be 8'x4' with nesting boxes on the outside. I was thinking about 5-6 chickens - how many would ya'll recommend?

    The pen is surrounded by 6' fencing on north and east, house on south, and 4' wire fencing on west. The long backside of the pen will be close to the north fence. We do not have problems with racoons, possums, coyotes, or hawks. The most annoying animal will be pigeons. Can I get away with just clipping one wing on the chickens or should I cover the area? Do you think the pigeons and other local birds will fly into the pen and eat the chickens' feed?

    Thanks everyone!
     
  2. Heathercp

    Heathercp Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jul 23, 2008
    Durham, NC
    Five or six chickens sounds like a great number to start with. Following the general rule of 4sq.ft. of space per standard chicken in the coop, you could have 8 chickens. You should make sure you've got enough roost space for them, but that shouldn't be an issue. I've got 8 BAs (they're good sized birds) in an 8'x7' coop and have two 7' roosts made from 2"x4"s with the corners rounded off. That's 14' of roost for only 8 birds, but I'm glad I've got that much for them. It's easy for the two lowest in the pecking order to find a place to go without getting the tar beat out of them. I've only had my chickens for a short time, but from my limited experience (about 5 months), giving the girls more than the minimum amount of space is key to keeping the birds happy and healthy. I've got two pullets that have grown up with the remaining hens who are just starting to get pecked like the dickens by the alpha-hen. It would appear to me that as they approach "adulthood", the alpha-hen is sparing no effort to let them know who is and who will remain the boss. I can only imagine how tough it would be on them if they couldn't seek out their own space. I guess what I'm trying to say is: less is more. Especially in the beginning.

    Your run will have about 230sq.ft. of space after subtracting the area covered by the coop. I've only got about 120sq.ft. of open space in my run and honestly, I really wouldn't want to keep my eight layers locked up in there all the time. The birds I have have free-ranged since they were peeps, and they're not accustomed to being confined. I have had to confine them on occasion and they're not in any distress, but if I knew I'd have to keep them confined more often, I'd feel much more comfortable with a run the size of yours. At 230sq.ft. they'll have lots of room to do what chickens do - and that includes avoiding the chickens that want to peck them into submission. The ones on the bottom are always going to get reminders of their place in the pecking order. It's just the way chicken society (which looks a lot like Lord of the Flies) works. [​IMG] But more space means that they're less likely to get seriously hurt simply because they aren't able to get out of the way.

    We started with 10 chickens. Four of these were peeps. Two of the peeps turned out to be roos, so they went off to someone's chicken farm out in the country (and eventually to freezer camp, I'm sure). Eight was a good number. Yup. We thought we'd stick to eight. ... Fast forward a bit to the point where we got our first broody. Couldn't get her to quit, so gave her some eggs. Those didn't hatch - felt sorry for the poor girl, so now we've got 11 chickens. Broody number two deserved the same treatment, right? So now she's sitting on 4 eggs of her own. You see how this goes?? I really recommend you start with your 5 or 6 chickens and see how things go. If you're not having to stress out about injured or sick chickens, you'll enjoy them a lot more. And fewer chickens does mean less poop. It'll make it easier to manage in the beginning. Having chickens can be so much fun; it is for me. But I can also understand the folks who are frustrated and not enjoying themselves. Take it slow and enjoy the ride. We've got homes lined up for some of our hens once the peeps have grown up a bit and we know how many will be roos. We will get back down to 8-10 birds. No, really....[​IMG]

    If your nest box is on the outside of the coop and in the sun, it could get pretty hot - like fry-an-egg hot. It all depends on how much sun it gets. Maybe you could shade the nest box somehow. Otherwise I can't think of any reason that a metal nest box wouldn't work just fine. The size sounds pretty good to me, too. You could turn it into three individual boxes, but I think I'd just partition it in half. Trust me, they'll cram in there together if they need to. We've got three nest boxes for our 8, but when one was occupied with a broody, they just used the other two. Nobody laid their eggs on the floor. They either waited or doubled up. In my experience, they're going to pick a favorite nest box and use that one. It took forever our third nest box to become popular. It really didn't happen until the broody blocked off box #1. If you decide at some point that you need another nest box, they're easy to make or fashion out of some existing box/crate thingy. How's that for technical chicken jargon.[​IMG]

    The chickens will scratch in pea gravel, no problem. Mine scratch on the river rock that we have up close to the house. Their preference, I'm sure, would be to scratch in the dirt, however. They really like dust - even though you might not. Dustbathing is a favorite chicken pastime. And they're looking for bugs and other things to eat. Those are going to be in the dirt. Over time, they'll dig down to the dirt if they can. Dirt isn't a necessity, but if they can't get to it, you might consider providing them with a dustbath that you've mixed up for them in a tub or some other container. A big old dresser drawer from a salvage place might do the trick. I use a plastic mortar tub. Cheap and works great. I fill it with a mixture of Red Lake Earth, peat moss, ashes and sometimes some new shavings if it seems too heavy. It's about the dustiest dust you can get. Of course, they love it. Dustbathing is one of the ways chickens instinctively keep themselves mite- and louse-free. What's good for them will ultimately be good for you, too. Just read the mite and lice posts. Ick!

    I hope this answers some of your questions. Have fun!

    Good luck.
     
  3. SparksNV

    SparksNV Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jun 13, 2010
    Spanish Springs, NV
    WOW! thanks for all the info - sounds like I'm on the right track. I was going to do 2 - 4' roosting poles but I think I will do three. How far apart do the poles need to be and what is the height difference. I was thinking about doing a stair step type of roosting poles. How far from the wall does the last pole need to be?

    So if the first pole is 24" up from the floor (I plan on doing DL with pine shavings up 6" from ground), should the next pole be 12" up and 12" back, then the third pole the same and 12" away from wall? Hope that makes sense. I have salvaged metal poles that I was going to put non skid stickers on the poles so the chickens won't slip off. I know that 2x4 are the best though especially during winter. Does anyone have any other suggestions for the metal poles? They were removed from closets.

    The metal cabinet will not be in the sun at all - it will be protected by the coop and 2 fences. It is on the east side of the coop. I'm glad to hear it should be okay. I will use straw for nesting material.

    Again any info is much welcomed!
     
  4. Heathercp

    Heathercp Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jul 23, 2008
    Durham, NC
    I've got two pictures of my roost in my uploads, but the angles are a bit strange. I hope you can get the idea anyway.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    The 2"x4"s are set into u-shaped brackets made from scrap wood and held in place with wooden wedges. They're easily removable when needed - although I don't need to remove them often. Still, I'd make them removable again if I had it to do over.

    I also use the deep litter method and love it. So far, so good. Since mine are really only in the coop at night, the droppings have plenty of time to dry out and the coop doesn't stink. I stir the shavings about once a week, but my husband does it more often. I honestly think it doesn't matter. He likes to mess with it - I don't. As long as it get stirred up before the top completely crusts over, I think it's fine.

    The upper roost is about 48" off the floor of the coop and the lower roost rests at about 36". I think they're about 12" apart horizontally and about 14" from the back wall. I'm guessing at these dimensions because it's too hot to go out and measure in the coop right now and I remember that our studs aren't exactly 16" on center. They're somewhere between 16" and 24" on center. (We had decided not to insulate the coop, so we didn't need the spacing to accommodate rolled insulation.)

    As far as the shape of the roost goes, chickens can grasp onto round poles or other thin objects, but it's not their preferred way to sleep. They supposedly prefer something that allows them to hunker down and balance for the night without having to hold tight. Since my chickens don't talk to me about these things, I'm just going to have to take the word of many of the more experienced chicken keepers at BYC (and Storey's Guide). Standard breeds, especially the bigger ones, need a wider roost. One reason that makes complete sense is the idea that the wider roosts provide more protection from extreme cold than the narrower, round poles. Frostbitten toes are unpleasant and to be avoided if possible. Seems logical, I'd say.

    We've got about 8" of shavings in the coop at this point. I think the best decision I made when starting the DLM was to put plenty of shavings in from the very beginning. I've only added shavings once because I wanted to get the open bales off the porch. It didn't need fresh shavings, but the old ones do break down and settle, so it did bring the "ground" up a bit.

    When we first got our chickens, my husband wrapped welded wire around the legs of a small wooden side table (maybe 20" high), leaving one short end open. I put the table in the corner of the coop under the roosts. The broody and her babies slept there for a little while. Then mom moved up to the roosts and the babies hopped up on the table and then onto the roost next to mom (under mom, on top of mom - you get the picture). I was surprised at just how strong and agile the peeps are. The peeps roosted next to their mom for about 3 months or so before they finally gave up and sought out a spot of their own.

    Our window placement looks a bit odd, I realize, but it's really worked out quite well. It get's really hot here in the summer and the low windows on the back wall allow more air to move through the coop and out the ventilation holes in the front of the coop under the roof. The air moves past the roosts, so the birds can take advantage of whatever breeze there is. It's rarely breezy here, I should say, because we're in the woods and are lower than the surrounding lots. There's one spot on the lower roost right next to one of the windows on the side wall that's become the favorite spot of one chicken. She goes to roost early so she can get that spot. All the windows are covered with hardware cloth and have glass panes that close from the outside when needed.

    Where we live, we don't have problems with birds eating our chicken feed. It's the squirrels that come for the smörgåsbord. When we lived in the high desert in New Mexico we didn't have problems with raccoons or possums, but we did have coyotes. You may not know if you have a coyote "problem" until you have the chickens.[​IMG]

    Our hens could fly over a 4' fence, but they don't (usually, that is). They do like to crawl under things. Under the new 8' fence, for example, or through the hole in the old fence that we left for the cat. Big, heavy birds tend to stay on the ground, but if they decide they want or need to go elsewhere, they will. A 4' fence will not stop them. And all bets are off for the juvenile birds. They're excellent flyers until they get too heavy for their wings. If you make your run predator proof and cover it, you won't have to worry about anything coming in and eating your egg layers. If you don't, you might lose some. Our run is predator proof, but the birds are almost never confined to it. I feel comfortable letting my birds roam around during the day, so I take my chances. I don't want my birds leaving my yard though. Right now my neighbors all think my chickens are great, but if they had frequent chicken visitors, that could change. You know best what you can get away with in your neighborhood.

    Hope all this helps.
     

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