Secure the feed and the wild birds will leave quickly

  • No poison to kill other wildlife
  • Prevents wasted feed
  • The constant source of feed means faster growth, more eggs, and healthier chickens
  • Saves money on feed
  • Chickens learn to use quickly

 

 

 

The Best Method of Keeping Wild Birds Away from Chicken Coops

 

Poisons that find their way into wild predators, bird netting that deteriorates or causes the coop run roof to collapse when it snows, fake predators like owls that constantly need moved to keep them effective, none of these methods will work as well as simply putting the chicken feed into a treadle feeder that has a spring loaded door and a narrow and distant treadle.

Not all treadle feeders are the same though as many have wide treadle steps that can be overwhelmed by massive numbers of wild birds.  The models that have a narrow and distant treadle step work best as not enough birds can roost on the step at once to trip it and if they did the couldn’t reach the chicken feed anyway.

A large counterweight is also a good feature as it provides mass that must be moved, something that a five pound chicken does easily but wild birds weighing just ounces won’t every be able to operate.

Check out our review pages on the various treadle feeders by clicking on this link.

 

The best feature on a  treadle feeder is a spring loaded door, something that few treadle feeders on the market have.  The spring provides extra pressure to hold the feeder door tightly closed so that the wild birds can’t just push the door open.   Some of the prettiest feeders on the market don’t have this feature and while the treadle feeders are sharp looking they can’t keep wild birds out of the feed which is why we want to spend our hard earned money on such a product.

Treadle feeders are very simple, an inward swinging door operated by a narrow and distant wooden step on a treadle bar with a spring holding the door tightly closed.   When a five pound chicken steps on the treadle the door opens easily yet a wild bird standing on the ground in front of the door can’t push the door open and a dozen wild birds roosting on the treadle couldn’t reach the feed if they managed to get the treadle tripped.

 Our favorite brand is this model made by The Carpenter Shop.  It is all galvanized sheet metal, easy to assemble, holds around a half sack of feed, and best of all it has the spring loaded door, a narrow and distant treadle, and a massive counterweight.  The customer reviews are amazing, over 130 four and five star reviews and the people are not only pleased, many are ecstatic at having their wild bird or rat problem solved.

 

 

Save

Keeping birds out of a coop can be easy or difficult

  • Simplest solution, buy a treadle feeder
  • Enclose your entire coop in small mesh chicken wire
  • Cover the existing coop with bird netting
  • Try scarecrow type methods such as fake birds of prey, CDs hung on string
  • Netting gradually deteriorates and scarecrow methods become ineffective

“Wild birds can easily eat more feed than a flock of chickens.  While they are smaller in size there are a lot more of them and they tend to gorge on the feed before leaving.”

 

 

 

What Works, What Doesn’t?

How to Stop Wild Birds from Stealing Chicken Feed

 

Wild birds will vastly increase your feed costs and provide enormous opportunities for disease to decimate your flock if backyard chickens.  Keeping them out can be as simple as purchasing a good quality spring loaded chicken feeder or you can attempt to fence the birds out or frighten the birds away.

The simplest and surest method to control wild birds is to simply deny them access to the feed.  Birds have to eat a lot and often, they won’t survive hanging around your coop if they can’t get to the feed .

The best treadle feeders have a spring loaded door and a counterweight to ensure the wild birds can’t overwhelm the treadle with numbers or simply push the door open.

 

The best wild bird proof feeder is actually this  model sold as a rat proof feeder, manufactured by The Carpenter Shop in Oklahoma City.  The feeder came on the market in early 2012, starting out as a wooden feeder but by 2013 it had morphed into a sheet metal feeder that became the market leader due to its innovative design, spring loaded door, and massive counterweight system.  One of these feeders is going to cost you $75.00 to $100.00 depending on size and how far it has to be shipped but it is the surest method to eliminating wild birds from your coop.

 Another method is to  try to fence the wild birds out of the coop using small mesh chicken wire.   Chicken wire by itself doesn’t make a good barrier wire for a chicken coop because a larger dog or racoon can easily rip through the wire as it is merely twisted together.  People tend to use larger mesh wire that is welded together but the larger mesh also allows small wild birds through.  You can go to the expense of covering the welded wire with small mesh chicken wire or even hardware cloth if you have that kind of budget.

Next up is bird netting or deer netting that can be found in most garden departments or seed stores.   The netting will stop most birds but the netting deteriorates over time and small birds will become trapped in the mesh.

 

 

 

 The next method is trying scare the wild birds away from your chicken coop and chicken feed.  People have tried using fake owls or other birds of prey that are mounted on a post near the flock.  The wild birds eventually lose their fear of the decoys and many times your chickens are afraid of the owl decoys too.  The decoys do need to be moved constantly to trick the wild birds into thinking they are real.

Some have had success using shiny objects tied to strings such as CDs or aluminum foil or aluminum pie plates that will twist and flutter in the wind.  The wild birds will eventually realize there is no danger and the clutter is unsightly if you are the type to keep a neat yard and coop.

If you have a pack of young boys around buying a few b b guns will cut down on the wild bird numbers but there is a risk anytime you have kids and b b guns involved.

 

Another issue is if you allow your birds to free range or leave your coop door open during the day.  The wild birds will fly right in the coop and gorge on the feed.

 Other than the stolen feed the wild birds will leave their droppings everywhere and aside from the smell and filth the disease danger is enormous.  Wild birds carry many, many, varieties of parasites and disease, some of which they are carriers of without becoming sick themselves.

If you use the bird netting or deer netting and live where there is lots of snow make certain that the coop top is well braced as the netting will allow the snow to accumulate and collapse the chicken run roof.

 

 

Save

Save

 

 

Aspergillus or Brooder Pneumonia

Aspergillus is a fungal infection in poultry caused by Aspergillus fumigates.  It affects the lungs so the typical chicken is going to be gasping for air and might have eye lesions.   Signs of infection are low appetite, weakness, gasping for air, rapid breathing, unusually thirsty birds, drowsiness, eye discharge, weight loss, and on rare occasions nervousness.

There is no real treatment for Aspergillus unless the bird has considerable value then Amphotericin B and Nystatin can be used or any antifungal medication recommended by your vet.  Medication usually isn’t going to work and culling is the cheapest option.   The best preventatives are dry litter, good sanitation, and in areas where the disease has been a problem you can use Thiabendazole or Nystatin in the feed.   Remove wet litter and any signs of mold.  Clean the feeders and waterers often.

The spores aren’t passed bird to bird or bird to human  but the spores can be inhaled.  The mold grows when the litter is wet and the spores spread and are inhaled when it is dry.

Individuals report that garlic ground up and added to the water helps birds survive mild cases of Aspergillus but there haven’t been any scientific studies that we are aware of. 

Prevention appears to be the best method of dealing with the disease and culling any infected birds.  Keeping good ventilation and .keeping the litter as dry as possible will prevent the mold from ever growing and producing spores.

 

 

Save

An infected bird

 

Chlamydiosis

symptoms in humans and can cause pneumonia and abortion.  The incubation can be one month to many months.   Infected birds might have puss eye and nasal discharges, a higher temperature, and rapid or troubled breathing.   Bloody or green droppings are common, depression, weight loss, and swollen eye lids.

Chlamydiosis is a pretty serious disease and there is no effective vaccine available for chickens.  The disease can be managed with treatment but the organism  isn’t going to be eliminated completely.  Mortality rates can be lessened and the transmission to other birds managed by using Tetracyclines.  Tetracyclines can be blocked by dietary calcium so additional sources of calcium should be suspended in the weeks required for treatment.  Poultry outbreaks are not common and medicated feed will help manage the disease and protect the flock owner from contracting the disease.   At least 45 days of feeding the medicated feed to prevent building up immunity to the antibiotics and be aware that not all Tetracyclines are allowed to be used on poultry.   Throw the eggs away for about ten days and if on medicated feed allow at least two days of non medicated feed before slaughtering birds .

Doxycycline is probably the best drug among the Tetracyclines for poultry as it has less interference with dietary calcium.   400 mg per liter of water is a suggested dose.

Biosecurity is essential to prevent the spread of chalmydiae in chickens.  Preventing wild birds from coming in contact with your chickens, quarantining and examining all incoming birds for several weeks before exposing the rest of the flock to the new birds, prompt removal of any sick birds, and thorough sanitation of everything that comes in contact with the chickens is a must.   Chlamydiae doesn’t tolerate heat and common disinfectants such as bleach or alcohol but acidic and alkali

disinfectants  might not be as effective.  The organism can survived for months in litter and nest box materials.

Unlike many poultry diseases Avian Chlamydiosis can be caught by humans through respiratory or from contact with the infected birds.  If in doubt don’t handle a sick or dead bird unless you are well protected with mask, goggles, and gloves.  Pregnant women in particular ought not to be anywhere around a suspected outbreak.

 

 

Save

This is why we made this website….

While this is a feeder picture  might be of a different style Olba feeder, belonging to a guy that thought his bird was injured by “pecking”,  it shows just how dangerous these deep style feeders can be to the chickens.

  Full width treadles are not safe nor are they truly vermin proof as customer reviews sometimes point out.  The rats and wild birds can walk right up on the wide treadle with plenty of room for plenty of buddies, and if their weight alone doesn’t trip the treadle and open the door they can simply push the door open due to a lack of a proper counterweight system and a spring pre-loading the door.

Olba, a European manufacturer, offers their standard plastic top/plastic treadle/plastic feed tray and bottom feeder but they also will make variations of their feeder, even custom make a feeder to your specifications.  But they all revolve around the basic side panel with the deep recessed door like the Olba feeder in the picture above.

Primary Link | Secondary Link

 

Customer with Bloody Head Chickens Gets Slapped on the Head by the Re-Seller Too

We found this comment on an Amazon customer review section for the Olba Feed o Matic sold by a re-seller of the Olba Feed o Matic treadle chicken feeder,  a company named RentAcoop.  The screen shot is tiny so here is a link to read the actual customer review and the reply by RentAcoop.

 

 

The comment says:  “The hens heads were beaten up by the door – to the point of bloody heads – the pellets do not flow easily.”    And the reply blames the bloody heads on the chickens fighting…. not getting trapped in the Olba Feed o Matic sold by RentAcoop.  Now really…rarely do ALL of the birds fight and rarely do ALL of the hens get bloodied up.  It is always one, two at the most.

The re-seller has an inventory of these items, shipped in at great expense and they want to recover their money by selling the feeders, we get that, but dismissing the customer’s complaint without asking for proof… and they probably knew better than to ask them to post pictures, is not good customer service.

Enlarged section of the screen shot of the Amazon product search page showing over twice as many reviews as sales
Unicorn Smasher screen shot of Amazon product search page with the Olba Feed o Matic sales and review details

Never Trust Amazon Reviews

  • The reviews can be manipulated, re-sellers set up Amazon IDs and post fake reviews, some even purchase their own products through the other ID accounts and post “verified buyer” reviews
  • Prior to late 2016 Amazon allowed product give always in exchange for reviews, you will see that almost all of the first ten initial reviews for the Olba feeders were free product reviews
  • Amazon still gives away their products in exchange for reviews but has stopped other sellers  from doing the same
  • As a reviewer, do you imagine that you are going to get another free product if you turn in a bad review?

Uh Oh!  Busted!


The picture to the left if you are viewing on a laptop or desktop is an enlarged section of the Unicorn Smasher screen shot below the enlarged section.  Unicorn Smasher is a Chrome plug in that can list the sales and other info from Amazon search pages by accessing the Amazon data that is usually  unseen when using a browser.

What it shows is 77 reviews for the Olba Feed o Matic, with about 50 of the 77 being “verified buyer” positive reviews.  The problem being that they only sold 38 of the Feed o Matic feeders and the sales total pretty much matches 38 sales.

Three lines below it shows another anomaly, 21 actual sales, with the dollar sales confirming it, and 134 reviews with the majority being “verified buyer” reviews.  Note how the rest of the listings will have a ten to one ratio of sales versus reviews, about what is expected as most customers don’t leave reviews.

 

 

Amazon Fake Reviews

Save

© An even smaller heading.

“Mites are very similar to lice but they are much smaller and tough to see unless there are vast infestations on a bird.  Some hide in cracks in the wood and building, coming out at night to feast on the hens.  ”

 

 

Mites and Lice on Chickens

Mites and Lice make life pretty miserable for your birds and the same pests can bite humans.  But there are things you can do, actually that you should be doing already, that will reduce the chances of you having to deal with mites and lice on chickens and there are ways to deal with a infestation of mites and lice on chickens.

Preventatives:

  • Clean coops at all times
  • Healthy birds are less likely to get infested
  • Check the birds for signs of infestation on a regular basis

 Signs of an infestation:

  • Seeing bugs on your hands or bites after handling the birds or being in their coop
  • Sick looking birds
  • Birds not wanting to roost in their normal spot
  • Pale combs
  • Ruffled feathers caused by abnormal dirt bathing
  • Preening more than normal
  • Head shaking
  • Dirty looking feathers that might be egg clusters and not dirt
  • Scratching more than normal and damaged feathers
  • Red skin, especially around the vent
  • Scales on legs raised and scabby looking
  • Raspy breathing caused by air sac mites
  • Unexplained deaths

 

© An even smaller heading.

“Northern fowl mites and red roost mites are the most common type and are tiny eight legged insects that live in cracks during the day. Grey colored, or dark brown, or reddish color, you will find them after dark on the feathers and vent areas where they suck blood from the bird.”

 

 

There are many types of lice that will infest chickens:

  • Cuclotogaster heterographa, or head louse, they are visible to the human eye, about one tenth of an inch long.  They will stay right at the base of the feathers to eat skin and feather, not suck blood.  Found frequently on young birds and can kill birds if there are a lot of them.
  •  Eomenacanthus stramineus (= Menacanthus stramineus), the body louse is probably the most common type of lice and the most harmful pest.  Between 1/10th  and 1/8th of an inch long, brown to tan colored.  Feeds on feathers and blood.  Found mostly on the skin where there are fewer feathers but will be found all over the bird in bad cases of infestation.  You can see the egg clusters on feathers and skin.
  • Goniocotes gallinae, the fluff louse, is tiny, 3 to 6 hundredths of an inch long, barely visible in good lighting.  They feed on feathers around the base of the feathers.
  • Lipeurus caponis, the wing louse, is just over a sixteenth of an inch long and is grey colored.  Found on the inner parts of the wings, the tails and head feathers.  It eats feathers so bad that it is called the depluming louse. 
  • Menopon gallinae, the shaft louse, around one sixteenth of an inch long.  Feeds on skin and feathers and can suck blood.  Eggs are white looking clusters around the base of the feathers
  • Columbicola columbae, slender pigeon louse, is a sixteenth of an inch to 3/32th of an inch long, found everywhere on the bird.  Feeds on feathers, lays eggs under the wings on fine feathers

Mites are very similar to lice but they are much smaller and tough to see unless there are vast infestations on a bird.  Some hide in cracks in the wood and building, coming out at night to feast on the hens. 

.

 

Whitewashed coop interior

“Doing a thorough cleaning of the coop, followed by a good coat of white wash, followed by a good spraying with permethrin both inside the coop and out including the exterior of the coop during dry weather.”

 

 

.  Northern fowl mites and red roost mites are the most common type and are tiny eight legged insects that live in cracks during the day. Grey colored, or dark brown, or reddish color, you will find them after dark on the feathers and vent areas where they suck blood from the bird.  DE or diatomaceous earth isn’t very effective on mites and works better on lice.  Spinosad, a product of Saccharopolyspora bacteria, will kill mites, flies, beetles, and many other insect pests.  It is diluted and sprayed on a thoroughly cleaned coop, even on the birds themselves.  Elector is a popular brand containing Spinosad and can be found on Amazon at this link.  The product is quite expensive but will kill mites in one application.

Chemical controls

Permethrin spray and/or dust, Ivermectin either oral or injected or topical, and Vectra 3D although it is not approved for use on poultry.  Ivermectin is not cleared for use on laying hens though so avoid it unless the eggs are used for replacement chicks.  The old standby, Sevin dust, is no longer approved on chickens due to its ability to put traces into eggs.  If you aren’t eating the eggs but hatching replacement stock you could probably get away with Sevin dust.

The best method of control is to carefully inspect and dust all birds when they are brought home, isolating them in a distant coop for a few weeks to see if any pests hatch out after the initial treatment.   Providing a dry dusting bath for the birds, either inside the coop or out under the covered run, helps.  Wood ashes, fine playground sand, and some poultry grade diatomaceous earth mixed in will help prevent mites and lice from getting out of control.   Dusting the roosts and nest boxes with pyrethrin or permethrin powder  a few times a year is a good idea.

 

© An even smaller heading.

“There are signs that some mites and lice are becoming resistant to permethrin and the old poultry lice standby sulfur is making a comeback.   Back in the sixties sulfur was the go to insecticide when you were going out into the woods or picking blackberries to keep ticks and chiggers off.”

 

 

Ivermectin applied to the skin at the back of their neck helps on some birds.    Doing a thorough cleaning of the coop, followed by a good coat of white wash, followed by a good spraying with permethrin both inside the coop and out including the exterior of the coop during dry weather.  More on whitewashing at the end of this article.
Both lice and mites are spread by wild birds, mice, and rats so a good treadle feeder is a must to keep the vermin from infecting your flock.  Diatomaceous earth can be rubbed into the feathers on infested birds.  Diatomaceous earth comes in many forms and is safe if you pick the right type.  It is approved for a commercial kitchen bug killer in the right form.  Food grade or Amorphous diatomaceous earth will have a small amount of crystalline silica, less than one percent, while swimming pool grade is going to be 20% dangerous silica so avoid that type even if it is cheap. 

Then there is calcined diatomaceous earth, which has been heated till it melts, cooled and fractured into tiny sharp shards, not safe for hens because of the inhalation risk but good for a general outdoor insecticide.  Calcined DE is dangerous for humans if you breath the dust so avoid using it.  The Amorphous DE can be used as a food additive, a desiccant in grain, even fed to chickens to kill fly larvae.

ADE kills by absorption and eroding the outer layer of the chitinous exoskeleton of bugs.  The ADE slowly erodes the out layer till the bug starts leaking fluids and the combination of fluid leaks and the ADE absorbing four times its weight in fluid will desiccate the bug.  ADE will dry out naturally once the humidity drops so the dust doesn’t wear out or go bad. Wear gloves when working with it as it will dry out your hands really, really, bad.  Try to find large 50 pound bags marketed as ADE for feed, much cheaper than the repackaged 2 pound bags marked up 20 times the price. 

 

There are signs that some mites and lice are becoming resistant to permethrin and the old poultry lice standby sulfur is making a comeback.   Back in the sixties sulfur was the go to insecticide when you were going out into the woods or picking blackberries to keep ticks and chiggers off.

 

.

 

© An even smaller heading.

 

Scaly leg mites are another pest that does a lot of damage to chickens.  Ivermectin will help, Vaseline, Vicks Vapor Rub, and Campho-Phenique also help smother leg mites.  There are stories out on the internet that dipping the chicken’s legs in gasoline will kill the mites, followed by slathering Vaseline or other oily ointment and repeating the ointment treatment several times.   The old farmer’s remedy for dog mange (also mites) was used motor oil.  The dogs hated it, were shamed by it to the point they would run off for half a day before returning, but it worked with one treatment.  The oil would have higher levels of sulfur than new motor oil and the oil smothered the mites. 

The old state university publications on treating mites and lice listed cresol (coal tar) and gasoline mixed together and brushed on the chickens.   Kerosene and cresol were also listed, mixed with laundry soap, to be sprayed on the chickens.

When you treat for scaly leg mites expect several months before the legs are looking healthy again.  The old scales will slough off and new, healthy tissue will grow back in time.    Another prevention method is to whitewash the coop.  Most people thought whitewash was a cheap paint but it was disinfectant and pest control back when we didn’t have modern chemicals.

 Take a gallon of warm water, mix in two cups of salt and seven cups of hydrated lime that is found at a feed store or garden store.  A quarter cup of Elmer’s glue makes it stickier.  Keep it stirred up and paint it on, spray it, use a rag, just get it on the wood, cement, or anything else that isn’t moving around.  The mixture will go on clear but dry to a white, shabby chic looking surface.  The lime is a caustic, the other end of the pH scale than acid, so it acts as a natural insecticide.  Besides killing pests it acts as a crude paint to whiten everything and make the inside of the coop brighter.   

There are other mites that gather on the combs, wattles, and faces of chickens.    Applying castor oil or any other thick oil to smother them works along with the other treatments for lice and mites.  There are also stick tight fleas, that suck blood just like a normal flea except they bite in and stay while sucking blood out of the host.  These fleas are tiny and burrow into the host and are difficult to eradicate.  They are found on wild rabbits, dogs, cats, people, almost any mammal.  If infested try using the castor oil and regular lice/mite treatments before moving on to the more specific stick tight flea remedies.

 

Elector on Amazon          

 

Permethrin 10%

 

Save

Two small coops for a couple of hens.

” Windows are a must, South facing if possible to catch the winter sun.  If the window is to serve for ventilation, put it up as high as possible to remove the  hottest air.”

 

 

Chicken Coop Design

Hopefully if you are reading this you have already read our articles on square foot requirements per bird and chicken coop materials.  Whether you are purchasing a coop or wanting to build your own a design needs to be decided upon before you get started.

 

We’ve already covered the size requirements, four to five square feet per bird in the coop and ten square feet per bird in the run.  Next pick out a good location, preferably under a deciduous tree for shade in the summer but still exposed to the sun in the winter.  If no shade is possible consider building a double layer roof so the coop will be cooler. The top layer need not be waterproof, just to provide shade for the lower roof.

In the coop itself, raise the entire coop off the ground enough so that a dog or cat can get under the coop for ratting duties. 

  You want to have the inside to be high enough to easily enter and walk around in so you can clean and care for the birds. Or have very large sections that swing open that will allow you to reach every part of the coop to reach a sick bird or to clean. The floor can be plywood s long as you either cover it with sheet metal or heavy plastic and keep deep litter in place to soak up water spills.  Make your door wide enough to poke the nose of a wheelbarrow through which is also wide enough to pitch a shovel full of manure/bedding through as you are cleaning the coop.

 

The walls need to be solid and as air tight as possible.  You will add ventilation at the top to cool the coop in warm weather and to remove ammonia and moisture but you want ventilation that you can control, not a drafty coop once the temperature drops below freezing.  Windows are a must, South facing if possible to catch the winter sun.  If the window is to serve for ventilation, put it up as high as possible to remove the  hottest air.  Insulate the walls if possible so the bird’s own body heat will help keep the coop warmer than outside in cold weather.   A low hardware cloth screened vent is nice, put a sliding plywood hatch so it can be closed off if needed.  Don’t forget to leave a 12” x 12” opening for the ramp into the  lower run.

Looks more like a doll house but perfectly functional for a small free range flock

If you are building a stationary pen either cover the floor of the run with hardware cloth or dig a trench around the coop and bury the first section of hardware cloth about a foot deep to prevent predators digging into the coop.  Use hardware cloth everywhere except for any inner partitions that can be chicken wire.

 

Your roof needs some pitch or slope to allow the water to run off.  Asphalt shingles need at least 4” of drop per foot of run (4/12 pitch) but if you use the roll roofing you can go as low as 2/12 pitch.  Metal roofing can go even lower to 1/12 but the steeper the roof pitch the more water tight it is in extreme weather and it will hold up to snow loads better.   It is good to cover about half of the run with a roof for the rainy days and snow days.  The run will require cleaning too so make the run at least six feet tall in back and eight in the front, or six feet on both sides and an 8’ tall peak in the middle.  Provide a six foot tall door that is at least 36” wide to allow a wheel barrow to be pushed in and out of the coop. 

You will want electricity for additional light in the winter and for freeze proofing the water.  A single 15 to 20 amp service is plenty.   A water source is good too if you can bury it deep enough to prevent freezing.  Get one of those metal freeze proof  faucets but place it outside so it drains well or when you back fill the hole around the faucet use small stones with gravel on top to make a drain for any spilled water.

You will need a ramp to connect the lower run to the coop.  Chickens can handle a steep ramp but make it a bit longer if you have the room.

Inside the coop, cover the back one third with chicken wire, providing a tray under the chicken wire to catch the droppings from the roosts poles that you wlll install overhead.  The tray will provide the predator protection so chicken wire will work fine and allow the droppings to pass through easier than hardware cloth.  Roosts should be 2 x 3 lumber, set with the narrow side up for strength.  Keep the span down to less than six feet length, 18” between roosts, at least 9” from the outside wall, and between three and four feet off the ground.

The walls need to be solid and as air tight as possible.  You will add ventilation at the top to cool the coop in warm weather and to remove ammonia and moisture but you want ventilation that you can control, not a drafty coop once the temperature drops below freezing.  Windows are a must, South facing if possible to catch the winter sun.  If the window is to serve for ventilation, put it up as high as possible to remove the  hottest air.  Insulate the walls if possible so the bird’s own body heat will help keep the coop warmer than outside in cold weather.   A low hardware cloth screened vent is nice, put a sliding plywood hatch so it can be closed off if needed.  Don’t forget to leave a 12” x 12” opening for the ramp into the  lower run.

Cute coop for four to five hens.

Nest boxes need to have an outside access door, be around 12” wide x 16” deep x  14” tall with a pitched roof to prevent roosting.  Set the next boxes at least 24” off the floor and add a 2” front rail to keep the bedding inside.  Put a good latch on the outside access door that a raccoon couldn’t open.  One nest box per five to six hens.

You should provide space for one treadle feeder per 12 to 16 birds, ideally placed against a wall and even better is placed in a corner so that one side is close enough to a wall so the birds won’t try to lean in to eat from the side.  On the other side of the treadle feeder provide a thin, short partition to do the same thing, leaving room for clearance.  Water is best left outside unless you also provide a water tight drain area for the inevitable water spillage.

You will want electricity for additional light in the winter and for freeze proofing the water.  A single 15 to 20 amp service is plenty.   A water source is good too if you can bury it deep enough to prevent freezing.  Get one of those metal freeze proof  faucets but place it outside so it drains well or when you back fill the hole around the faucet use small stones with gravel on top to make a drain for any spilled water..

The run can be covered with a thick layer of straw, dried leaves, rice hulls, or wood shavings.  Anything that is dry and absorbent.   Provide a hook to hang a water dispenser from or set the water dispenser on a cement block fitted with a light bulb for winter use.  Paving the area around the water dispenser with patio blocks is a good idea.

What are your thoughts on chicken coop design?   Please leave a comment or message in the comment section below. 

How Much Space per Chicken is needed?

Chicken Coop Materials

 

Save

Save

Definitely a Coop de Ville

  • Heavy is good as long as it isn’t a mobile coop
  • Narrow lumber will warp and bend, 1.5″ minimum thickness for strength
  • The thicker the plywood the further apart you can put the studs
  • Always hardware cloth, never chicken wire
  • Screws and bolts will help hold things together if you want to move the coop
  • Make sure the wheel size you choose will carry the weight in wet weather
  • Wire mesh needs securely stapled, not clamped between wood strips

“Plan on a long weekend to create a small coop from scratch if you have decent carpentry skills.  There are no end to plans online or just find a picture of a coop you like and figure out how to adapt it to the size you need..”

 

 

Use what you have!

Chicken Coop Materials

Unless you have plenty of money to spend you are going to be using basic building materials when building your coop.  Or if you are purchasing a coop you are going to find two choices, locally made out of substantial materials  or prefab coops that are built to be cheaper to ship and thus lighter in weight.  Many people will simply use what they might have on hand or can scrounge.

 

If you are building a barn style, stationary coop you are going to need:

  • Framing lumber, 2 x 4s and 2 x 3s, and some 2 x 8s or 2 x 6s for skids. Posts are usually made out of 4 x 4s.
  • Plywood for floors, walls, and roofs. OSB (oriented strand board) or T1-11 plywood are popular choices that are found at the big box stores.  Thickness will vary depending upon use and portability requirements.
  • Solid wood lap siding is attractive and durable if you want to copy the doll house look of the Chinese prefab coops.
  • Plenty of nails and screws and framing brackets/braces. Screws are stronger, especially if you are building a mobile coop.
  • Shingles for the roof. Cheap OSB can be used for the roof if you cover it with tar paper and asphalt shingles.  Or you can use 2 x 3 runners and steel sheet panels or fiberglass panels.
  • Rolled roofing, similar to shingles but on a 36” wide solid roll, is a cheaper alternative to roofing shingles.
  • Wire mesh, hopefully not chicken wire which is little protection against larger predators like raccoons or dogs. One half inch square hardware cloth is best, one quarter inch square is available if you think you are going to try to fence out rats and mice but it is a fool’s errand to attempt that.
  • Staples to secure the wire mesh to the framing, U shaped nails hand driven with a hammer.
  • Hinges, hasps, and steel angle braces to secure everything
  • Windows are a nice touch or at least slide open hatches that are screened with hardware cloth
  • Wheels and sturdy handles if you are going to make it mobile

.

 

Very neat and professional coop

  • Buy or scrounge, use solid materials and do it once
  • Top heavy is bad unless it has a foundation

 

If you are building a mobile coop many of the same material will be used but smaller in section to keep the weight of the coop to a minimum.  Roofing could be good quality tarp or even old political banner materials.   If you are inventive you can consider using PVC pipe or electrical metallic tubing (EMT).  Heavy wire panels like cattle panels can be used as the structural arch if you are making an arched coop, with hardware cloth providing the predator shield.   Something like a possum can squeeze through a 2.5” diameter hole, if their head will fit through, their body can come through, so cattle panels along aren’t enough.
 

 

Finally almost anything can be incorporated into a chicken coop if you aren’t particular on how it looks.  Old windows, old doors, recycled lumber and steel sheeting, some amazing coops have been made out of salvaged materials or even pallets.  A good coat of paint will unify everything and make it presentable.

Your coop can be built much more solid than anything you might buy online or from a local company but consider the weight of the final coop if you are planning on making it mobile.  A good heavy coop is insurance against a storm blowing the coop over so sometimes a fixed location coop is the way to go.

.

 

 

Save

Requirements will vary on many factors

  • Is the coop mobile?
  • How much time are you willing to spend cleaning?
  • Bantams or Jersey Giants?
  • Breeding stock, layers, or meat birds?
  • Replacement layers growing out?  Culling the roosters eventually?

“So for larger birds figure four square feet per bird with constant fresh ground, eight square feet for layers.  If you try to pack more birds in per square foot you are going to have behavioral issues and disease.  .”

 

 

One of the first decisions…

How Many Square Feet of Space is Needed per Chicken?

That is a lot like asking “How much is a new car?”  Size matters, style matters, brand matters, and longevity matters. Are you wanting a Yugo, a Ford Escape, or a BMW?  With a coop you need to know how many and what size of birds, how long they are going to be using the space, and for what purpose.

A coop that is too big costs more money and if you want it to be moved to fresh ground on occasion a bigger coop is going to be heavier and riskier to move without damaging the coop.  But if you crowd your birds in too tightly you are either going to be finding a need to build additional space or dealing with diseases, aggression, and other overcrowding problems.  When you decide to raise chickens the single largest initial cost is going to be the cost of the chicken coop so you need to get the size determined before you get started so you can plan the design and estimate the costs involved.

How you manage that coop is going to be a factor.  If you have a small chicken tractor and move it to fresh ground each day you can house more birds as they aren’t walking in their own waste each day..

.

of each day. Only during the summer is there not fresh grass, but even then, chickens start the day with fresh ground, free from their own manure and the birds have fresh ground and grass to keep them occupied.  The same size coop that isn’t moved turns into a mud hole quickly as the birds dig dusting areas which retain water and the grass is gone and won’t be returning till the coop is moved.  You are going to be able to keep a lot more birds in the mobile coop than the stationary coop.

Then there is the size of the birds.  A flock of Jersey Giants are going to need more room than a flock of bantams.  And if you are raising meat birds that have a lot of the natural instincts bred out of them there can be more birds per square foot than a heritage breed that is active and seeks distractions.   How old the birds are is a factor too, chicks don’t need a lot of room, pullets more room but they won’t be in the grow out pen for long, but long term layers or brood stock will need the most room because of the infinite time they will be living in the space.  Meat birds will grow quickly and while it is less humane they are only going to be the most crowed for three weeks or so before they are butchered.

Breeding stock requires the most room because you have the most invested in them and healthy breeding stock puts out healthy eggs and chicks.  A meat bird that has its back pecked up is going into the freezer, not so for a prize hen.  A good rule of thumb for breeding stock is to allow 8 to 20 square feet per bird if they are large breeds and if you are moving the coop to fresh ground every few days.

 

Coop in the garden

  • Stationary coops need more room per bird
  • Behavioral issues come with crowding
  • Plenty of ventilation helps
  • Ammonia from the manure will harm chicken’s lungs
  • Inclement weather requires more space per bird
  • Bantams will take up about 25% less space

“There is roost space to consider too and for larger birds you are going to need a foot of roost space per bird and enough room between the roost bars that they don’t bump into each other, around 18” center to center will work. ”

 

 

A small flock of replacement feathered out chicks could be squeezed into a pen with 2 square feet each until they are 7 weeks old and at that age you can usually pick out the roosters and split them off, giving the hens four square feet each, again assuming you are constantly moving the coop to fresh ground.  In another 7 weeks you would need to split the pen again as the larger birds are going to be too crowded.

So for larger birds figure four square feet per bird with constant fresh ground, eight square feet for layers.  If you try to pack more birds in per square foot you are going to have behavioral issues and disease.  You can go a little more if you keep clean litter, have excellent ventilation, move the pen to fresh ground often,  get rid of ill birds immediately, have good protection from rain and wind when it is cold, and have plenty of good quality feed and fresh water available in abundance.

Crowded conditions will stress the birds, they will fight or pick on each other more if for no other reason than they can’t get away from each other in a small pen.

.

So far we have been talking about a combination of  coop and run space on a constantly moved mobile coop.   There is roost space to consider too and for larger birds you are going to need a foot of roost space per bird and enough room between the roost bars that they don’t bump into each other, around 18” center to center will work.

If you over crowd chickens the increased amount of stress and contact with their waste will increase the chance of one bird coming down with a disease that will quickly spread.  They will bully and peck each other more, the coop will require more frequent cleaning, ammonia from their manure builds up and harms their lungs, more stress will be present, fewer eggs and more broken eggs, less exercise as the birds can’t really move around without bumping into other birds, and you might lose more birds to suffocation if they pile up at night instead of roosting.

But if you have a stationary coop you need to allow more square footage per bird.  For larger breeds figure on at least four square feet inside the enclosed coop for those days when it is snowing or raining and the birds stay inside and at least ten square feet per bird out in the run.  For bantam breeds you can cut the footage requirements by about 25% at least.   You are going to need to spend more time and effort cleaning the pen and keeping deep litter to avoid having health problems than you had.  If you are allowing the birds to free range or have a large penned in run figure about 300 square feet per bird.

 

A small stationary coop

  • Access to gardens are a great way to increase bird density
  • Plenty of room equals relaxed chickens
  • Allow plenty of roost room including flying up and flying down to the coop floor
  • Height of the coop  is for the caretaker’s access
  • Plan for nest boxes, waterers, and feeders in your footage plan

“There is roost space to consider too and for larger birds you are going to need a foot of roost space per bird and enough room between the roost bars that they don’t bump into each other, around 18” center to center will work. ”

 

 

Having a garden for the birds to forage in helps as the birds will gravitate to where the loose soil, bugs, and plants are.  If they don’t have loose soil they will start digging dusting areas and over graze your lawn creating bare spots and the chicken manure is going to cause problems if the outdoor space is crowded.

Increasing the amount of garden to grass can help, you might even want to plant a garden just for the chickens, ideally surrounding the main garden to act as a chicken moat that bugs have to pass through before getting to the main garden.  The higher quality forage will keep the chickens healthier and happier and your grass lawn will remain healthy.

Another way to  increase the number of chickens on a particular plot of land is to split the area up into paddocks and rotate the birds every week to allow the areas to rest for three weeks before the birds come back to forage.

Chickens that have plenty of room to live will behave very differently, more relaxed.  It is not pampering a bird to allow as much as fifteen square feet per bird inside the coop, that is less than the size of a bathtub to put it in context.  Most backyard chicken flocks aren’t high production, they don’t need to squeeze in the birds due to ROI requirements, the people are after healthy and responsible and sustainable food.

Vertical height is far less important as the birds don’t need more than a foot over their heads for normal activity.  The roosts do need to be above the nest boxes to encourage roosting.   However cleaning and maintaining a two foot tall run isn’t fun unless it is a mobile coop, even then retrieving a dead or sick bird is going to take some effort.   A run high enough for someone to crouch over in is a good investment and a coop high enough to stand and work in is almost a necessity unless you have just a few birds.   If you keep the nest boxes at least 18” off the ground the birds will utilize that space or have the next boxes project out of the coop so there is no lost footage and the eggs can be collected from the outside.

 

A simple chicken tractor

  • Manure trays easy cleaning
  • Birds will share waterers easier than feeders
  • Plan conservatively, better too much room as too little

“Chickens will jockey for position on roosts and they need room to get up and down off the roost, usually by flying, so make sure there is more than enough room for a few birds to fly ”

 

 

Don’t forget to plan for the space needed for feeders and waterers.  Birds will take turns eating and drinking but if you use limited access feeders like treadle feeders plan on no more than twelve to sixteen birds per feeder unless there are other sources of feed during the day or free range available.

Your roost needs to be over an area that has a manure tray as a lot of the manure generated will come from under the roost.  That leaves the coop that much cleaner and more sanitary. Chickens will jockey for position on roosts and they need room to get up and down off the roost, usually by flying, so make sure there is more than enough room for a few birds to fly up to a crowded roost and enough room on the floor to avoid hitting nest boxes, feeders, and waterers. 

 

Save

Feed scraps to chickens is good

  • More sustainable to produce part of your feed
  • Less waste in a landfill
  • Good nutrition for the birds
  • Saves money on feed
  • Chickens really, really, love table scraps or anything different than laying pellets and crumbles, like going out for dinner!

“As far as the “Yuck!” factor of using road kill,  most pets that are euthanized at a vet or animal shelter wind up in the local rendering plant where they are cooked down and the oil sprayed on pet food for flavoring..”

 

 

What’s Good, What’s Not?

Feeding Table Scraps to Chickens

 

Chickens will eat about anything that a human will eat. Table scraps, canning waste, fruit or vegetables going bad won’t hurt the birds and it won’t disrupt their nutritional balance.  They aren’t going to eat citrus rinds, banana peels, or avocado skins, shouldn’t eat green colored potato peelings, and probably won’t eat onions unless they are finely ground and mixed into other foods.  Just watch what they leave behind and put that stuff into the compost bin.

Regular potato peels are fine.  Vegetable scraps and seeds, any kind of meat including fish of any sort, oatmeal or any cereal left over from breakfast. Bread, lettuce, pepper tops and seeds, bones that have meat left on, fats, over ripe bananas, lawn clippings, weeds, almost anything that grows, crawls, or flies.  Crushed egg shells and shells from shellfish are all edible, old yogurt, milk turning sour, pumpkins, squash, watermelon or watermelon rinds.

If you are generating more scraps than can be fed to the birds such as after a holiday meal (and yes, that turkey carcass should also wind up in the coop) you can freeze it in small batches for later use. The chickens will drink any broth or water left over from cooking potatoes or pasta, just use a separate bowl to keep their main water supply clean.

 

People also use road kill, both cooking it and hanging it over the coop for a ready maggot supply. Wild animals killed by cars are fairly safe but to be sure cook before giving it to the birds.  They will eat it raw though but you never know if that wild animal got ran over because it was sick and moving slow or if it was just dumb or unlucky.  Wild animals are also carriers of disease and parasites so cooking it is the only way to go.  As far as the “Yuck!” factor of using road kill, most pets that are euthanized at a vet or animal shelter wind up in the local rendering plant where they are cooked down and the oil sprayed on pet food for flavoring. Some of these products coming out of rendering plants are used in cosmetics too!   Rendering plants will take any kind of animal that is rejected at slaughter houses or found dead laying in a farmer’s pasture.  Fish guts or offal from butchering any animal or fish are okay to feed raw as long as it was freshly killed.

 If you have ever seen people buying or picking up free rooster on Craigs lists or the Facebook groups chances are they are going to be fed as live food for reptiles but some will grind them up for feeding chickens.  I wouldn’t feed too much chicken back to your chickens and I would cook the meat before feeding but moderate amounts aren’t going to cause problems or disease.

As long as you have high protein commercial feed available at all times the birds won’t overeat on scraps, if they are craving protein they will eat the pellets or crumbles.  Raising show birds especially meat birds can be a different matter so be a bit more selective in feeding them.

What are your thoughts and experiences?  Leave a comment or more info on feeding table scraps to chickens below in the comment section.

 

Save