When Covid hit and the grocery store shelves started going a bit bare, I started feeling like we needed to be a little more self sufficient. I’ve had chickens in the past. I really enjoyed having them. I parted ways when coyotes found them and I couldn’t stop them. It was pretty sad, you get attached to your birds, their quirks and silly personalities, the wiggle butt waddle when they get excited to see you and come running… We had the sweetest rooster that loved to be held and hang out with you. His death was the worst for me and after that I gave my remaining hens to a friend. So did I really want to get back into it again? We live in a different state now and in a rural neighborhood with large yards and a slightly more limited set of predators. I decided to take the plunge. We had an open area around the back shed that would work perfect for a coop and plans to fence off more of the yard to make it safe to let them free range.
Granted, I’ve owned them before… My research this time around was a little more specific. I was wanting friendly, non-broody hens, no roosters. I didn’t mind looks so much, just good layers and large so the hawks would leave them alone. After a lot of reading, I decided I must have Bielefelders. They were described as the German engineered “Uber Chicken.” Good layers, big size, not broody, you could determine male from female at hatching due to different coloration and dog like in personality. And of course, bigger price tag. Can’t do anything cheap around here! Since they are not sold at Rural King or Tractor Supply, I found a breeder about 3hrs away and determined that he had some 6 week old girls available. I only wanted 4. The breeder only sold in groups of 6. When I got there to pick them up, he had two extras in that age group that he threw in for free… I was then a proud owner of 8 hens… When I only wanted 4… If you are looking to get into chickens you need to know that this happens… They accumulate. So when building your coop, make it as big as you can. I now own 10 and looking to add 2 “Easter Egger” hens to add some blue eggs to my colorful egg basket…
Tip #1- Chickens can stink. Their runs can get gross. I learned previously that using shavings or straw was a mess and you didn’t want the runs to get muddy. This time around, I decided to use sand. Good old contractor sand. Not pretty play sand, nothing with silica. Too fine and it could compact their croup. But a good contractor sand will actually help them break down their food. Sand has been a life saver. I rake it out once a week. After 6 months I noticed some smell and my sand level was getting low. I put lime down and added 6 more bags of sand, problem solved. They love to scratch in it and give themselves dust baths.
Tip #2- Eggs get gross… If you’ve visited Europe you might have noticed that a lot of people keep their eggs on the counter, not in the fridge. This is because they buy farm fresh eggs that have not been washed. Our cold, store bought eggs have had their shells sprayed off with cleaner before they are packaged up and sent to the store. Once the protective coating is washed off your eggs must be refrigerated. Chemicals are absorbed through the shell, so if your eggs were cleaned with anything more than water, you’ll be eating that cleaner with your breakfast. My problem having hens before was that the eggs would always have poop on them. They sit in their nest box and poop while they are laying… Then they all seem to love to share the same box and the poo accumulates. If you aren’t cleaning that box regularly, your eggs might be sitting in a weeks worth of poo. I didn’t want this problem again. I wanted to keep my eggs on the counter, displayed all cute in my farmhouse kitchen. I found rollaway nest boxes. You can make them like this guy did… After 2 yrs of home renovation I don’t want to make anything… There are a couple pre-made options. This one runs cheaper at $99. What I didn’t like about it is the plastic front. Chickens can be picky and not like the insecure feeling of slick plastic. It also required coming up with bedding in the box that would still allow the egg to roll. Option 2 is more expensive, the Best Nest Box, this model coming in at $165 for the double size. But it had a washable bedding mat in it and the opening was still big enough I thought my large hens would use it since it is all open with no dividers. It also didn’t have the plastic piece on it and had a solid back. Reading through reviews it had me sold. I installed mine down low but you can certainly hang it. However, my young hens wanted nothing to do with it and were actually scared to walk in it… So I ended up finding a couple cheap backyard hens that were older and laying and added them to my flock. They had no qualms with going into the nest box and started laying right away. Once my other girls saw this, their fear was gone and they too started using the box. The eggs roll out just as described and rarely do I ever get a messy egg.
Tip #3- “Automatic” Feeder and Water. Maybe you can hook into plumbing, maybe you cant. I can’t. I had a small chicken waterer like this. It was constantly getting messy and required daily cleaning. There had to be an easier way. I found a video of a guy converting a plastic garbage bin into a chicken waterer with the use of these Rent a Coop Make Your Own Waterer Nipples. Picked up a sturdy plastic can that was see through enough that I could see the water line, drilled the holes and installed the nipples in a few minutes and then magic… I had an automatic chicken waterer that held enough water to last my girls a couple weeks. I did worry if they would use it, but it turned out not to be a problem at all. They were all curious and started pecking at the weird red things within minutes. I had puddled a little water at each nipple so they realized quickly that water came from it when they messed with it. I no longer have dirty water. I do spray it out with some bleach and clean it well between refills. This has worked so nice I also use it for my little pet bird, who also learned how to use it very quickly. Great for vacations as I don’t have a pet sitter cleaning out his water bowl every day.
For a feeder, I originally started with a standard chicken feeder like this one. What a mess. The hens would just scratch the food out everywhere and most of it went to waste. I looked at making one with rubbermaid containers and PVC elbows… But again, I’m sick of building stuff. So I found this one, 45lb chicken feeder. I’ve had no problems whatsoever with it. They can’t scratch the feed out and they don’t knock it over.
Tip #4 – Automatic door. If you free range your hens or keep them locked in their coop at night, you might enjoy letting them in and out… Can’t say that’s my jam. I have one hen who thinks it’s a fun game to run away when it’s time to come in and I don’t want to wait around for her to decide it’s dark and she wants to come in on her own. I also want to keep my freedom to travel and need to make life easy on my pet sitter. So I found this automatic chicken door. LIFE SAVER. It has a light sensor. It opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. You can set this one to open or close 30-90 minutes later too. Which is great for my annoying hen that likes to come in after dark some days. I know she’s not stuck out there. It does require electricity, which for us wasn’t a problem as we have electric ran to our shed. But something to think about. There are solar powered doors but they will run you well over $300. In my location, it’s mostly shaded by large trees so that would not have worked for me anyway. My hens love their door.
So if you are reading this and starting to add up how much we’ve spent to have our backyard chickens just to produce eggs at home… Yeah… there is NO savings happening here. You could probably buy free range, all organic, farm fresh eggs from your local farmer for less in your lifetime than what we’ve spent on building our coup, buying the girls, and outfitting it to be the easiest set up possible to keep them… But you don’t have the fun of owning them. Watching them get excited for treats. Sharing your extra eggs with friends. Or trying hilariously to photograph your cute little fluffy butts. Is it all worth it? For me, yes. It’s been a fun hobby, and somewhat addicting… And I might need more hens… 😂🤷♀️🐓🐓🐓🐓