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Raising a flock of chickens is fairly standard for any homesteader, but these days it’s becoming more and more common for people to keep a small flock in their backyards. Which is wonderful!
Knowing how to get set up for keeping chickens will make sure that your hens are happy when they arrive at their new home. Whether you are going to be keeping your hens on a homestead or in your backyard, your chickens needs will be the same.
How To Get Set Up For Keeping Chickens – Checklist
Here are the basics for Keeping Chickens:
- Safe shelter in the form of a chicken coop
- An enclosed run or fenced area
- Access to fresh water at all times
- Daily feeding
- A clean and safe place to lay eggs
- Worming when necessary
- Shade in the summer
Your chicken coop doesn’t need to be fancy. How pretty you make it is entirely up to you. It does however need to be secure, so that predators can’t get at your birds.
The coop should be waterproof and windproof, with several ventilation holes around the sides.
Chickens, like all birds, need something to roost on. Take into account the size of your chickens when deciding the diameter of the roosting bars. A larger breed will do fine with a roost made from a broom handle while a smaller bantam will do better with a roost made from a slimmer length of dowel.
The coop must be easy to clean out. If it’s awkward for you to clean out, you’ll start skipping this chore and the coop will get pretty unpleasant. So in addition to the little access door for the birds, make sure that you have a much larger opening in one of the sides to allow you full access.
Coops are widely available ready made, but a good quality one will be expensive. I find that manufactures tend to overstate the number of birds that a hen house can comfortably accommodate too. Keep in mind that a coop may indeed comfortably house six birds if they’re bantams, but only three of a larger breed. You can find some fairly decent chicken coops at Amazon.
Build Your Own Chicken Coop
A better option is to build your own coop from a set of well drawn plans, with detailed instructions. This will enable you to have exactly the right kind of coop to house your chickens properly. The carpentry skills needed to make a coop are very simple ones. If you can use a tape measure, a pencil, a saw and a hammer, then you can build coop.
You’ll save money too, especially if you can find some off cuts of wood somewhere.
When we got our first flock of chickens, we actually housed them in a play house that we built for our daughter and she had outgrown. That certainly wasn’t ideal and we ended up building a real coop after banging our heads, one too many times, squeezing through a door made for a six year old girl.
You’ll notice on the diagrams in those plans, that there is no notching on the rafters to let them sit nicely on the headers. If you’re handy you can notch them but you can easily find rafter hangers at your local builders supply/home store. That’s what we did.
For a really great range of chicken coop plans, that will allow you to grow as your chicken family grows, check out these plans here.
You will most definitely need a run of some kind for your chickens. And planning your run is just as important as planning your coop. It is healthy for your chickens to have exercise and to be able to pick and eat from a range of different food. They will be able to catch bugs and dig for worms and grubs to enhance their diet. The more natural a life your chickens live – the happier, healthier and more productive they will be.
Making sure you give your chickens a strong secure run protects them from predators and it keeps the chickens away from places that you don’t want them to be. Like in your flower borders or vegetable garden where they can be very destructive. You probably won’t want them on your lawn areas very often either. Chickens scratch and a verdant grassy area can quickly start to look like something from the dust bowl era.
Plus they will poop and poop and poop. You don’t want that on your lawn, patio or deck, especially if you have younger children around.
You can build a run from chicken wire and posts, or other types of fencing. Please make the run as big as you can. You wouldn’t want to be confined to a few square yards all day would you? Your chickens won’t be happy if they are caged too tightly.
It’s up to you whether you have a covered run or not. A covered run will keep your chickens in and predators out. If your chickens will be alone during the day, I advise you to keep them in a covered run. Our chickens free range on a fenced 3/4 of an acre pasture. We can’t cover all of that, but our goats that share the pasture are good at standing guard duty.
Find out what predators you are likely to be dealing with and beef up your security plans accordingly.
Consider growing fruiting plants outside the run that can grow up the fencing and add some variety to your hens diet. Raspberries are a good choice. Beyond the fruiting plants, add herbs and flowers to attract a wide range of insects into the area. Some of them will find their way into the chicken run and your birds will do what comes naturally. They’ll gobble them up.
Your chickens need fresh water – always. Not water that’s been sitting in the sun for days, slowly turning green, or water that they’ve managed to poop in. A chicken waterer keeps the water clean and fresh. These come in galvanized steel or plastic. I prefer the galvanized versions because they will last for ever.
You can make a water container for your chickens easily enough. This video below shows you how to make a very simple waterer from a 5 gallon bucket.
Chickens will eat pretty much anything, except, (in my experience anyway), onions, they are however partial to garlic. Go figure! Anyway, if your chickens don’t have access to a large pasture with lots of weeds and tasty bugs, you’ll need to feed them. Even birds kept on pasture will need supplemental feeding, this is especially so in winter time.
Your local feed/agricultural store will have special feed for layers. In most areas the big box stores will carry it too. You can use layer feed alone if you like, but that makes for a pretty boring diet.
Save your veggie scraps from the kitchen and feed them to your chickens instead of your garbage disposal. The wider the diet of your layers, the healthier the eggs they will produce.
Laying hens need plenty of calcium to make good, strong egg shells. You can buy ground oyster shells for this but it’s not really necessary. We wash, dry and crush some of the shells from the eggs that the hens lay and feed them back to them.
Chickens also need grit so that they can grind the food in their gizzard. If your birds have plenty of room to free range, they will find what they need themselves, but if you have your chickens confined to a small run then you’ll have to provide it. It’s inexpensive and easy to find from the same places you’ll buy your feed from.
If you grow a garden you can let your hens roam around on it when it’s not growing season. They’ll do a little digging for you and add plenty of poop to enrich your soil. If you have mulch on your garden you’ll need to straighten it up again after the chickens have finished scratching around.
My hens love to eat squash, so I plant extra just for them, especially winter squash, which gives them something to get stuck into on cold winter days. They get any grubby apples, pears and plums that we don’t want to eat, plus we treat them to cherries, raspberries and blackberries from our gardens too.
You could even plant raspberries in their run if you wanted to, the tall plants offer shade as well as tasty food for your hens when the plants are fruiting.
The easiest way to provide nesting boxes in to incorporate them into your chicken coop as the design linked to above shows. Or you can place a few large straw filled buckets on their sides, inside the coop. Proper boxes are the best idea.
Just put in as much straw as you think is needed for a nice comfy nest. If you’ve added too much, the hens will scratch it out until it’s to their liking.
However, just because you’ve given them a place to lay their eggs, it doesn’t mean your hens will use it! If you’re finding the expected number of eggs in your nesting boxes each day, then you don’t have a problem. If the numbers in your boxes are on the low side then your girls are laying somewhere else (or eating the eggs)
Take some time to observe your chickens and see where they are laying their eggs. They could be laying in bushes, in clumps of tall grass, behind junk, anywhere really. You’ll have to search them out.
Chickens are big copycats. I’ve had hens hanging around a nest made in a bag of straw, patiently waiting for their chance to get on to that particular nest, when four nesting boxes full of clean straw from that same bag were sitting empty just a few feet away.
One place that my hens are favoring at the moment is an upturned plastic tote that we placed for them to lay in. We spread some straw on the ground and popped the tote on top, leaving one side slightly propped open on a piece of wood. They might not be using their nest boxes, but at least for now we don’t have to go on an egg hunt each day.
Parasitical worms can kill your chickens. There’s more than one type of worm and there’s more than one type of wormer for chickens. Find out the symptoms of each kind of infestation and which treatments to use.
Personally, I prefer to use a more natural worming solution than chemical wormers (healthier chooks and healthier eggs to eat!). I highly recommend adding Diatomaceous Earth to you chicken feed. This will keep worms at bay and also supplies nutrients to your chickens diet. it will give them lovely glossy feathers, too.
Your hens will need a shady spot where they can settle down on a hot, sunny day. If you have built a raised coop then they will probably do fine in the space underneath.
Failing that you can use shade cloth in one part of their run. If you’re a homesteader then you might want to consider placing the coop in your orchard area as part of a permaculture system. Your hens will get fallen fruit to eat and plenty of summer shade.
I hope you’ve found this page helpful and I wish you happy chickens and lots and lots of tasty eggs.
Author: This article was written for Self Sufficiency HQ by Caroline Taylor of Klamath Falls, Oregon.