Tips for a Newbie?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Aggiegirl75, Dec 27, 2014.

  1. Aggiegirl75

    Aggiegirl75 Hatching

    Dec 26, 2014
    Hello, all! Brand new member here :)

    We are planning to get our first pullets-considering Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and Australorps, probably four or five total- in the spring, and hope to have some wonderful eggs to feed our family and teach our son (and us!!) about where our food comes from. My husband is making plans now for a coop/run, though we hope to free range as much as possible. We have 14 mostly wooded acres. I am somewhat concerned about predators. Anyway, being brand new to the wonderful world of chickens, I just wondered if any of you long-timers have any tips for me. Thanks so much for any and all insight!
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
  2. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Crossing the Road

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.

    You are about to start on a great adventure. Yes, there will be predators. Everything likes chicken! There is so much information to be had. I would suggest combing this forum and gleaning what you can. That having been said, there are as many opinions on chicken keeping as there are chicken keepers in this world. It can be as easy or complicated as you wish to make it. The basic needs of your chicken are food, water and shelter from the elements. That's really about it. Of course, if you wish to keep them for any length of time that shelter should be a secure coop for them to sleep in at night, and a good, solid run for them during the day. Free ranging is great, but you need to know that there are risks with it. The neighbor's dog, your dog, hawks, coyotes (they can be quite brazen), fox, mink, raccoons.... the list goes on. If you plan on hatching and raising chicks in the future, you need to have a plan for your extra roostersbefore you ever set those first eggs or buy those chicks. There will be some. Do you want to build them their own pen and keep them separate from your hens, feeding nonproductive birds for years? Can you handle processing them and eating them? Or would you sell (give them away) for little or nothing? I personally don't make pets of my chickens. It's easier on me that way when it's time to thin the flock.

    That's the advice I have for starters. If you have specific questions, please post them. There are many good, knowledgeable people here that are ready and willing to help.
    2 people like this.
  3. Hummingbird Hollow

    Hummingbird Hollow Songster

    Jul 1, 2011
    Colorado mountains
    I live on 18 wooded acres in the mountains in Colorado. There are bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, probably some type of weasles, hawks and owls...perhaps more if I'm forgetting something. I lost a pullet my first year to a bobcat in broad daylight while they were out free-ranging. Since them we purchased an Anatolian Shepherd puppy and his first year we'd all spend about an hour a day out with the chickens while they free-ranged. By his second year I would let the chickens out to free range for an hour or so in the afternoon while my ASD was teathered on a cable near where they liked to scratch and dust bathe. We now have a large outside dog run adjacent to the chicken run and every afternoon I say "Aslan, do you want to go guard the chickens" and he goes straight to the dog run and keeps an eye on things while the girls are out of their run. I don't let my hens out unless either I am outside doing yard work or Aslan is out in his run. I realize that he isn't in a position to actually do anything if a predator were to brave our yard, but I haven't lost a single hen while free ranging since I started this system. He is very much on duty while the girls are out and he barks if he sees anything that concerns him. I realize that purchasing an ASD doesn't work into everyone's lifestyle...they are a lot of dog and require a great deal of training to make them good family companions and guards, but even the family dog would probably become a good predator deterrer for a few hours of free range time.

    I have lost several young meat chickens and two young turkeys to raccoons during the night. I hadn't built my growout shelters as securely as I did my chicken coop and paid the price for my stupidity. Raccoons are horrible, they reach their paws into small opening and grab a sleeping chicken. They then pull the poor chicken to the opening and start eating. I lost three young chickens who each had a leg quarter gnawed off. The remaining body was still inside the shelter. The opening doesn't have to be big enough for the racoon to get in or the chicken to be pulled out, just big enough for those clever grasping paws to fit inside. Horrible.
  4. Aggiegirl75

    Aggiegirl75 Hatching

    Dec 26, 2014
    Thank you so much for the tips! We live in the woods in central North Carolina, and have lots of wildlife that could be potential predators. We are planning on making a large run attached to the coop, but may need to consider a dog to help monitor the girls' free range time. I am not interested in having roosters to help ward off potential predators, so maybe a dog would be a good solution. I have a couple of questions:

    1. Will the hens eat from the compost pile, and is it okay to feed them the same types of scraps that typically go into the compost?

    2. At what age can pullets start free ranging?

    3. Should we keep food/water in the run or in the coop?
  5. Hummingbird Hollow

    Hummingbird Hollow Songster

    Jul 1, 2011
    Colorado mountains
    I treat my chickens like a compost pile, giving them things like carrot peelings, beet greens, outside leaves off the lettuce. I usually cut it up in tiny pieces since chickens don't have teeth. There are some things that chickens shouldn't eat...although I don't have a list hand I bet you can do a search at this site and find a good reference...I never feed onions or potatoe peels.

    They can start free ranging pretty young if the weather is warm enough. However, the smaller they are the more vulnerable they are to predators. I usually have some sort of play pen set up for my young chicks that I'll set up outside on the meadow and transfer the chicks outside on warm days for a few hours. I always cover it with a screen to keep out cats, hawks etc. and make sure they have adequate shade and protection from the rain if it starts to shower. Once they're old enough to move out to the chicken run (again depends on the weather in your area) I don't let them free range until they know where home is and are going into their coop at night without any help from me. Then supervise the first few free range opportunities.

    I keep my food and water in the run, not in the coop and I bring the food inside our garage at night. I don't want to add any incentive for bears, raccoons or other varmits to break into the run during the night and I loose enough feed to squirels and chipmunks during the day to want to leave it out for mice and rats at night. Water comes inside the house at night during the winter, because I have to fill if from the kitchen sink. but I leave it out during the summer and refill from the garden hose.
  6. pdirt

    pdirt Songster

    May 11, 2013
    Eastern WA
    If you compost any food and the pile is open enough that your chickens can get into it, so could a number predators. You don't want to add any more reasons to attract predators if you have chickens. I'd build a covered compost bin if I were you. As soon as a predator gets a taste of your chickens, they will be back and you'll be faced with trapping or killing the predator. Unless it is a bird of prey (hawks, etc), which are protected.

    Very good point about planning on how to deal with roosters. Unless you buy all sex-linked breeds, you will eventually end up with a rooster or two. The sexing folks at hatcheries are pretty good, but not perfect. And if you hatch your own eggs, you have a 50/50 chance of getting roosters.

    Keep your food dry. It's usually not best to keep the water inside the coop, because it will add to humidity. We keep food and water in the covered run. We use a treadle feeder to keep the mice population down.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2014
  7. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Crossing the Road

    Nov 7, 2012
    Aggie, you will find that your composting methods will change. Many things that go on your compost pile now, will never make it to the compost pile after you get chickens. They are little hoovers. My girls eat any kitchen left overs. I often even save the water from cooking vegetables, and they slurp that down like it was a vintage wine. Lots of vitamins in that water! During the non winter months, my feed and water stays out in the run. If the weather is freezing, the feed goes in the coop. I use fermented feed, which cuts way down on waste, and also improves their nutrient absorption, which makes a bag of feed last much longer. Plus, there's none left in their bowl at the end of the day to attract vermin. On the rare occasion that there is some left, I just pop a lid over their bowl to keep it safe til morning. You'll do well to absorb as much info from this site, as well as reading books between now and spring. Some recommended reading: The Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery. Henderson's chicken breeds chart. Also, I'd recommend that you build your coop and run about twice as big as you think it needs to be. The more room your flock has, the happier they'll be, the less likely they will be to have behavior problems or be plagued by illness. And, there's always the possibility that you will decide that 4 - 5 birds is just a beginning for you! Also, a bigger coop will allow you to provide good ventilation for them.
  8. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    I am a strong advocate of Proper Prior nauseum, according to some of my friends.
    But I'd rather not deal with emergency drama and crisis caused by my own errors in judgement and I plan ahead, extensively.

    Make your coop twice as big and tall as you think you need....yes, free ranging can make you think that it can be smaller, but weather can coop birds up for days on end.
    A bigger coop is easier to operate in, easier to ventilate and healthier for the birds.
    Space and ventilation are, IMO, the most important(and misunderstood) aspects of good chicken keeping.

    Consider being able to partition off one or two sections of the coop for adding new chickens, isolating sick or problem birds.
    Plan your coop for your ease of maintenance......plan on paper before cutting wood, easier to fix mistakes on paper than it is in wood.

    Make a secure run, again larger than you think you need, covered securely with at least mesh against aerial predators.
    Again free range is great, but if a predation problem become acute you need somewhere they can be outside of the coop but safe from most predators.

    Read as much as you can of other's experiences before you begin building, keeping in mind the various opinions and techniques, until you can settle on consistancies/accuracies that will make your experience better and well informed.
    2 people like this.
  9. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Crowing

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    A good coop/run is important. Do read the articles on Ventilation in the signature line in the post above by AARt. Most people do not build enough ventilation into their coop, hoping to keep the coop warmer in the winter, and without it the coop is damp which makes for very cold.

    Get hens for eggs the first year, and get half of the amount that you think you want. Say 1/2 a dozen, sex link hens will insure that you have no roosters. These will be your learning flock, and there is a learning curve. Then the next year you can add chicks to the flock. If you get BO, often times those go broody, and really there is nothing more fun than a broody hen with chicks.

    By the third year, you will have lost some, or culled some, and then can add some more. a 3-4 year old hen is an old hen in my book, although others have had them live twice that long. They make great soups.

    In three years you will have a lot of things figured out, and which breeds you like and which ones you don't.

    This is a fun hobby, for years to come.

    Mrs K
    1 person likes this.

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