Posts Tagged Chickens

Baby Quail – How To Raise Quail, What To Feed Them & More!

Baby Quail - How To Raise Quail, What To Feed Them & More!

How to raise baby quail

The past two years I have been trying my hand at raising baby quail for eggs. Now that I’ve learned a lot, I thought I’d share how to take care of baby quail and how to raise quail. Many of you know that three years ago, I set a goal for myself to start growing most of my own food. Many of you might remember this past summer when I got my chickens, soon after I discovered quail was another way I could keep my food local.

While I was learning about chickens, I also learned of quail which have a few unique attributes that really appealed to me. In my journey to grow my own food, I knew I had to design everything to minimize the work I put in while maximizing what I get out.

Are Quail Easy To Raise?

Now that I’m over 2 years in Quail I’ve come to appreciate how easy quail are. In short, quail are quiet, easy raise with minimal space requirement, they produce a lot of eggs and require little cleaning. Here are a few of the main highlights of why quail are so easy!

Quail Are Prolific Egg Layers

Quail lay more eggs per bird than chickens do. While their eggs are smaller, you get a lot more. While a chicken will lay around 200 eggs a year, quail will often lay upwards of 300 a year. I also found them to lay more in the winter unlike chickens that slow down in the winter some.

Start Laying Fast Too

One of the biggest draws for me with quail is that from hatch to first egg is around 6 weeks! Compart that to chickens which don’t lay their first egg until their 6th month! This is a really big deal because you need to feed them during this lead up period and you’re spending money and time with no eggs in return. So quail are great if you want to get eggs sooner rather than later.

Quail Are Quiet

One thing that I really love about my quail is how quiet they are. While chickens are pretty quiet, except for a rooster, quail make almost no noise at all, even when startled. This is really good for raising quail in a city or in a small backyard. When I set mine up, most people didn’t know they were there even when they walked right by them. They barley make any chirping noises and that chirp doesn’t carry far at all.

Quail Are Easy To Raise

I’m still amazed at how hands-off quail really are, they are super easy to raise. When I raised my chickens, I thought they were easy, I setup my feeders and waterers and on busy days at work, I didn’t have to worry. With Quail I worried even less. They don’t eat or drink a ton, they’re cold hardy, and they can be raised on wire mesh so the dropping falls out, literally cleaning the cage on its own.

Quail Don’t Take A Lot Of Space

How many square feet per bird? You only need 1 square foot of cage per bird. When I first heard this I was very skeptical because one of the reasons I raise my own food is to make sure it’s done humanely. Well now that I’ve worked with quail, a square foot really is a lot of room for a quail. They’re small birds and they like to huddle together and are pretty sedentary animals.

You Can Raise Quail On Wire Mesh

Like my above point, when I heard about raising quail on ¼ inch wire hardware cloth I was worried that their feet might get cut up. I talked to a lot of people who’ve done it before and they all raised on wire too. When I built my quail cage hutch I did it with the hardware metal cloth with ¼ inch gaps, I’m glad I did. Over time I checked their feet and observed their behavior. I even put a piece of wood in there with some bedding to see if they preferred it, they actually avoided the wood.

How To Take Care Of Baby Quail

how to take care of baby quail

I raised my quail from both hatchlings and from eggs. The guy I bought my first round from threw in a dozen eggs for free so I tried it out. Quail are pretty much like chicks, you want to make sure they’re fed, watered and warm. You can read my post about how to set up a brooder for chickens, it’s mostly the same for quail.

What To Feed Baby Quail

Quail feed comes in crumbles called Game Bird Chow, which is a high protein between 19%-30%, for baby quail food you want at least 25% to let them grow. You want to get “crumbles” not pellets. The main producer of this is Purina and is available at any farm supply store. I picked up mine at Tractor Supply and just got the highest protein content I could find for the first 8 weeks. A 50lb bag ran about $20 and lasted a very long time.

How Much Water Does A Baby Quail Need

Only a few ounces of water per baby quail is needed, but you want to refresh it regularly to keep it clean. The one thing you need to make sure is that they don’t fall asleep in the water because they can drown in it. Baby quail are ridiculously cute and I remember them falling asleep mid stride only to lay down right where they were, so I did a shallow dish and put some smooth river rocks in it so they couldn’t lay in the water directly, but still access the water.

How To Keep Quail Warm

You want to keep your quail at around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When you setup your brooder (indoors) make sure it’s just big enough so that the baby quail can get away from the heat. The trick here is to point the heat lamp/bulb to one corner, then watch what the baby quail do. If they all pile in the hot corner, they’re not warm enough. If they all pile in the opposite corner, they’re too warm. If they move around without clumping up at either extreme, you’re pretty good. Move the lamp closer or further to adjust heat intensity.

How Long To Keep Baby Quail In The Brooder Before Going Outside

You want to keep the baby quail in an indoor brooder for about 5 weeks and I’d time things so when you put them outside it’s during the warm part of the year. Spring or summer is ideal, if you’re in the winter months, consider keeping them inside a bit longer.

 

What Type Of Quail Should You Get? – Quail Breeds

what breed of quail to get

There are a lot of different types of quail you can consider for meat, eggs and hunting. In general you’ll be limited to what you can find locally, but also consider online sources that you can purchase. My advice is to go what you find locally because you know they’ll do well in your local climate

Coturnix Quail

Coturnix Quail

  • Good For: Eggs & Meat
  • Size: 7 inches, 3 ounces
  • Can they fly: minimally

This is one of the most popular breeds of quail and the one I choose to raise. They’re good as egg layers and as meat birds, making them super versatile. They are also reasonably cold hardy and easy to take care of. They don’t really fly as much as they fall gracefully.

 

Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail

  • Good For: Eggs, Meat, & Hunting
  • Size: 9 inches, 6 ounces
  • Can they fly: Yes, they fly well

These are another common breed that people like because it can be used for meat, eggs with the addition of flying for hunting. They are about twice the size of a Coturnix so you get more meat from them if you decide to butcher them. Since they fly pretty well, you want to make sure you have netting to prevent them from flying away.

 

Button Quail

Button Quail

  • Good For: Pets
  • Size: 4 inches, 2 ounces
  • Can they fly: Yes, they fly well

Button quail are mainly for pets or if you want some variety. They’re very small and their eggs are about half the size of other quail breeds making them less practical. I’d suggest only getting this as a novelty or pet. They do also fly very well, so netting is required.

 

Japanese Quail

Japanese Quail

  • Good For: meat and eggs
  • Size: 5 inches, 3 ounces
  • Can they fly: Somewhat

These are also somewhat common among breeders. They are good for meat and eggs, but not really for hunting if you’re interested in that. They don’t fly very well, just enough to get out of harms way if a predator is around.

 

 

How To Raise Adult Quail

adult quail

Once you’re out of your brooder which you should be doing indoors, it’s time to move them outside during a warmer part of the year. I mostly kept feeding them the same food and just switched to a normal quail waterer.

The process is mostly the same as raising chickens, so read this post about my tips to raising chickens here. https://thetinylife.com/tips-for-getting-started-keeping-chickens/

How To Build A Quail Cage

quail cages

I built a quail hutch that was 2×4 feet and 2 feet tall with a small door. I put it on legs so it would be an easy working height for me. I made mine so that all sides, including the floor, were made of ¼ inch hardware cloth. Once I was done building it, I set it up so a compost pile was underneath the cage, letting the droppings fall into the pile below.

There isn’t any real special method to this, I’d just make sure you allow for 1 foot per bird and think about ease of cleaning. Here is a video of my quail cage hutch

How To Cook Quail – Quail Recipes

how to cook quail

If you’re looking to quail for meat, they taste pretty much like the dark meat in chicken. The easiest way I find is to grill them. How many quail per person? Typically, 2-3 quail per person gives you enough meat for a meal. You can either leave whole, removing the innards or you can “spatchcock” them flat.

Grilled Quail Recipe

  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 tbl garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh pepper
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tbl Cajun seasoning

Marinate quail over night in plastic bag. Preheat grill to at least 400 degrees. Cook 3-4 minutes a side or until internal temperature is 165 degrees.

 

Quail FAQs

What is a baby quail called?

A baby quail is called a chick.

How long before baby quail can fly?

A baby quail will start to fly as soon as 3 weeks depending on breed.

When re baby quail born?

Baby quail can be born at most any time, but often is more likely in warmer months.

What do baby quail eat?

Baby quail are feed a high protein feed called “game chow” in crumbles form.

Do quails fly?

Yes, some breed can fly. Some will not be able to fly at all or flutter around.

How long to boil quail eggs?

It takes about 2 minutes to hard boil a quail egg.

How long do quail live?

A typical quail will live 2-3 years

How long does it take a quail egg to hatch?

A quail egg can take up to 8 weeks to hatch.

How often do quail lay eggs?

Quail will lay eggs most days, roughly 1 per day, around 300 per year.

 


Quail are a great way to have livestock in the city or another way to grown your own food easily. They produce a lot of eggs quickly, they are raised in a square foot per bird, are able to be kept on wire without harm (so dropping simply pass through the mesh) to minimize cleaning.

Oh did I mention they’re really cute?

Your Turn!

  • Have you ever raised quail or considered it?
  • What tips do you have about raising baby quail?

DIY Chicken Nesting Boxes Ideas For Chicken Tractors – Quick, Easy And Cheap Options

DIY Chicken Nesting Boxes Ideas For Chicken Tractors – Quick, Easy And Cheap Options

DIY chicken nesting boxes ideasNesting boxes in a chicken tractor can be a tricky thing. When I was building my own chicken tractor for my first flock of chickens, I ended up trying a lot of things. Some things worked and others didn’t. The absence of a floor is a challenge because the tractor is open to the ground. There is no surface to put anything on and the ground is not an option because the coop has to be moved each day.

I needed a DIY nesting box idea that was easy to make, cheap, easy to clean, and something my ladies liked to cozy up in to lay their eggs.

Chicken Nesting Box Considerations

things to consider with your nesting boxes

Before we get into my experiments, let’s talk about the purpose and function of your box. A nesting box is simply a container of some sort, located in your coop, where – you hope – the chickens will lay their eggs. This does two things: the hens are more likely to lay eggs because they’re less stressed and the eggs are easier to find.

Typically, you want this place to be out of the main area of the coop, a little more private, a little cozier, lined with hay/straw. You’ll save a lot of cleaning If you can avoid having these boxes under or near the roosting bars because chickens poop a lot when they sleep.

Some people have finicky chickens that are little prima donnas – my silkies were kind of like that – but in general, I don’t have time for that! If you stick with your typical chicken breeds, you’ll find good layers without the drama. For me, my ladies never had issues laying eggs anywhere I put some dry hay. There were days I was like “screw it” and I literally just put a gob of hay on the ground and called it good.

Nesting Box Size

nesting box size

You want a box that is 12” x 12” x 12”. It can be bigger; it could be a little smaller depending on your breed. Honestly, it doesn’t matter that much. When I first started, I was so concerned about finding the “right” answer to this. After years of keeping chickens, I’ve come to learn they’re not picky, so don’t fuss over this too much.

What Do You Put In A Nesting Box

what to put into a nesting box

Hay. It’s that simple – any old hay that’s dry and free from mold will work. The most important thing is that it’s dry. If you have hay that’s soaking wet you could run into issues with illnesses in your flock, but dry-ish hay keeps this at bay.

Again, when I started, I wanted to make sure I did things right. So, I bought a round bale from a farmer. One round bale is about 5 feet cubed and that gave me a ton of hay. In a pinch, I’ve used dried leaves from the yard, but I find hay easier to use and is readily available.

How much hay do you put in a nesting box?

how much hay to put in your nesting box

I put enough hay to cover the bottom of my nesting box about 2-3 inches thick when fluffed up. I only changed it when it got significantly soiled or wet, otherwise, I let it ride. If the hay was older, I’d reach in and fluff it up some, if it didn’t fluff up because it was so broken down, then I’d change it.

How often do you clean the nesting box?

how often should you clean your chicken coop and nesting box

My general rule of thumb was to clean the nesting box once a month when I changed the hay. All my boxes were plastic to facilitate easy cleaning. I’d use a Clorox wipe to quickly wipe it down and sanitize the inside. If the boxes were really dirty, I’d clean it right away. If the hay got wet, I’d clear it out right away, make sure it fully dried, then covered the bottom with fresh hay.

How to Prevent disease in your chick coop?

how to prevent disease with your chickens

Every two-ish years I’d replace the nesting boxes just as a matter of course, grime builds up and things break down. Doing this kept things fresh, germs at bay and since I chose cheap options for my nesting box, it wasn’t a big deal.

The one exception to the above rule of thumb is when I found a dead chicken, which thankfully happened rarely. Over the years I had two chickens die, one from a dog attack and the other just dropped dead. If I knew it was killed by an animal bite, I didn’t worry because I knew the cause of death.

If the chicken just died without an apparent cause, my thoughts would wander to a possible disease, though it’s not super uncommon that their little heart just gave out. Out of an abundance of caution, I removed the chickens from the coop and looked them over. Next, I removed all the bedding, raked out the run and let it l dry out really well. Then, I scrubbed down every inch of the coop and replaced all the bedding.

How Many Nesting Boxes Do You Need?

How many nesting boxes do you need for chickens

You’ll want one nesting box for every 4-5 laying hens. This will allow them to have enough space so they will not be crowded. This also prevents e piling two chickens into one nesting box; although they still may do that if they are feeling chummy.

What Should The Nesting Box Be Made Of?

what nesting box materials can you use to line a nesting box for chickens

This is one thing that doesn’t get asked enough. I try to have as much of my flat surfaces in my coop be made of durable and easy to clean materials, such as plastics, laminate, metal, etc. It’s also great if your nesting box is made of something that is cheap, because after cleaning things for a while, the grime just doesn’t want to come clean. If your container is cheap, you can just toss the old and swap out with a new one.

I’ve tried several things, which I’ll get into now.

Nesting Box Ideas And How They Worked For Me

chicken nesting box ideas

Traditional Wood / Metal nesting box

I’ve built these before out of plywood and looked at buying them from places like FarmTek or Tractor Supply. I think a lot of people try these when they first start because they’ve decided in their mind it’s what a nesting box “should be”. For your average backyard chicken hobbyist, I find them to take more time to build than they are worth. The store-bought metal boxes are expensive and make me feel guilty when tossing them out because the funk won’t disappear even after cleaning them a million times.

They’re great to look at and could be justified (or required) if you’re running a commercial operation but there are many other workable options that are easier to build, just as easy to clean, and cheap to replace. I’d skip this option unless you really want to build them.

5 Gallon Bucket Nesting Boxes

five gallon bucket nesting box idea

nesting box 5 gallon bucket nesting box lid perchThese were my first nesting boxes I ever made. I bought a few buckets with lids, cut an opening into the lid, then made a bracket to hold them in the coop. A bucket with a lid costs less than $5 new from a big box store and you can find them everywhere. If you are on a tight budget you could try to get free buckets from the bakery at the grocery store. By and large, these worked very well with only one main drawback.

Cleaning out the buckets is a breeze; the plastic is slick and super durable. I can wipe these out quickly and every now and then wipe down with vinegar or a bleach solution to sanitize. If you can, choose a darker color so any grime stains don’t show, the white ones get a little dingy looking after a while even though they’re clean.

The one major downside I found was that they were hard to mount. The bucket will be on its side so you need to mount a round object. To add to the complexity, they’re often tapered making it trickier to make a bracket.

how to make a 5 gallon bucket nesting box

The best way I’ve found is to cut the lid opening, then lay the leftover piece of plastic on the bottom of the bucket as reinforcement. After that, screw right through into a solid wall. You can use some washers to make sure the screws don’t tear through. The trouble with my coop is I didn’t have enough wall space to mount them all so the chickens could get into them easily. Otherwise, this would be my preferred method.

Milk Crate Nesting Boxes

using a milk crate for a nesting box

black snake in milk crate nesting boxI tried these when I first went from a permanent coop to a chicken tractor for the first time. I used to two screw hooks drive into the wall that held the milk crate. It was off the ground by a few inches so that when I moved the coop they didn’t get hung up. They worked really well in general and I had the crates laying around.

Here is the only photo I have of them, when a black snake climbed into the box and starting eating eggs.

The one downside to these was the latticework because it collected grime and dust. Unlike the smooth simple surface of a bucket, it took more effort than it was worth to clean all those little nooks. I soon abandoned this nesting box to make sure I kept things sanitized.

Cement Mixing Tray Nesting Bin

cement mixing tray nesting box for chickens

hens and rooster in chicken tractorThis ended up being what I settled on for my nesting box solution, though if I had more wall space, I’d stick with 5-gallon buckets. I was walking around one of the big box hardware stores when I found these tubs, they’re a smooth plastic tub that’s all black, roughly 2 feet by 3 feet.

I liked that they are black and would hide any dinginess. The slick plastic was very easy to clean and the tub was pretty sturdy because it is intended for mixing concrete. It also was just enough space for up to 15-20 chickens in one tub, meaning I only had to go to one spot for all my eggs. It also had a thick rounded edge all around the container, which let my ladies hop up on the lip comfortably without any danger of cutting up their feet.

The tub was filled with hay and placed on the ground directly. Then when I pushed the tractor, the tub was so slick and light that it was pushed along without any problems.

Chicken Nesting Box Tips and General Advice

chicken nesting box tips

To sum things us, I wanted to finish with a few points that I wish I was told more directly when I first started. Chickens are the perfect homestead animal because they’re easy to take care of, they are fun to watch, and they make a lot of protein each day. They don’t require a lot of effort, they are very forgiving, and they give back so much.

Ryan’s Tips

  • Chickens aren’t that picky, so don’t over think things
  • Set yourself up for success by choosing the right breed
  • Make the nesting box easily accessible
  • Choose nesting boxes that easy to clean and cheap to replace
  • Make sure the hay stays dry and clean
  • Keep your nesting boxes out from under roosting bars

Hopefully that helps you wrap your head around making a nice home for your hens. You’ll enjoy keeping chickens and all the eggs-ellent benefits that come from the newest members of your homestead family.

Your Turn!

  • What tips do you have for raising chickens?
  • What do you use for your nesting boxes?

Getting Started With Chickens

Chickens are, as I like to put it, the gateway animal.  You start out with chickens and then all a sudden you have your eye on a few goals, a couple pigs and maybe even a mini Dexter cow.  I have had chickens several times through out my life and always loved having them around. Even years ago when I got my first chickens I made a lot of success very quickly and the entire process was a lot of fun.

starting with chickens

The nice thing about keeping chickens is they are quite easy to take care of, requires a few minutes a day to tend, in a pinch can be left for a long weekend and if you travel you can teach someone to take care of them quickly.  Of course as with any animal, owning chickens you need to take it seriously and make sure you understand that their welfare is your responsibility, so make sure to consider it carefully.

Know Your Local Laws

The first thing you need to do before you do anything is make sure that keeping chickens is allowed.  You’ll need to check with the local authorities, see if you have any rules in your home owners association or deed restrictions and then also consider your neighbors.

golden comet chicken In my city I’m allowed to have up to 50 birds per acre, the coop must be offset from any property line by 15 feet and obtain a permit for $10 a year.  Your city or town may be different, so make sure you do your homework!

Learn All You Can

Obviously if you’re reading this post, you want to learn about starting a chicken farm and it may even be because you’re thinking about getting chickens of your own (go for it!).  Use this post as a jumping off point to learn as much as you can about the various aspects of chickens.  You’re going to make mistakes and that is okay, we are learning, so don’t beat yourself up if you’re doing your best to care for these animals.

Get Setup Ahead Of Time

Once you’ve researched your local laws you want to get setup with some basic infrastructure.  You’re going to need a few things so you can be ready for your chickens.  You should consider the following

Brooder

If you’re going to raise chickens from freshly hatched babies (chicks) you will need what is called a brooder.  A brooder is like a nursery for the chicks where we protect them a little bit more, give them some added heat and let them grow a bit before you let them out into the real world.  I typically do this in a large Rubbermaid tub with a heat lamp and some bedding.

We have a whole post on how to set up a brooder and raise chicks. Below is a video I have of some baby quail I raised a few years ago from eggs. Their setup was a bit simpler, but you get the idea.

Build A Coop

A coop is just what we call the house we keep our chickens in at night.  During the day we will let them free range (go were ever they want) or let them into a run (a fenced area that provides some protection).  The coop needs to be about 2 square feet for each chicken you have.  Much more than 2-3 feet per bird assuming they have more room to range during the day doesn’t do much because they all like to pile on a roost and cuddle up with each other anyway.

chicken on roost in coopA roost is just a bar that chickens like to sit on, usually about a foot or so off the floor of the coop or ground.  I’ve had chickens that all piled onto a single bar leaving several empty and then I’ve had others that didn’t use them at all.  I usually add them because it seems like most chickens like to roost because it makes them feel a little safer.  The top most roost is often taken up by the alpha hen and the rooster if you have one, but some flocks don’t get too tied up in pecking order.

You want to make sure that there is at least some ventilation, but make sure it hardware cloth over it so predators can’t get in. The rule of thumb is around 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of coop.

The last parts of a coop are your nesting boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in (usually one box per 3-4 birds) and some sort of bedding to catch droppings from.  Chickens put out a lot of droppings and they tend to concentrate under the roost bars.  However you plan to handle droppings, make it bomb proof because it can get messy quickly and if you build your coop to easily clean out, you can make your life a lot easier.  More on coops coming soon.

Chicken Tractors And Chicken Runs

Many people who want to get into raising chickens want to try a mobile chicken tractor, which is basically a coop with no bottom that you move to fresh grass every few days.  I’ve done both a fixed coop and chicken tractors and I think chicken tractors are my favorite because it cuts down on the cleaning (no floors, the chickens just poop on the grass) and it reduces the amount of feed I need to buy.

Here is my old chicken tractor:

chicken tractor

There are a few things you need to consider if you decide to go the chicken tractor.  Whatever coop you design it should be able to be moved easily by the smallest person in your household, it makes it difficult if only some of the people can actually move it each day.

Finally make sure you have enough room, if you have more than a few chickens you’ll need to move that coop most days so that the chickens do remove all the vegetation in that one spot to the point that it can’t bounce back.  You want the grass to get roughed up a bit, but no more.  This will let the grass bounce back and grow stronger.  Having enough space is easier in the summer months because things grow so quickly, but in the winter you may find that a spot where the chickens were takes 30-60 days to heal.

Life And Death On The Farmstead

With any animals it’s great to have animals around your yard, it can bring a lot of good energy, fun and happiness.  The other side of the coin is that with life comes the end of if.  Sometimes chickens get sick, sometimes a predator circumvents our fences, or they might just grow old and die.

hens and a rooster

For good caretakers these days are few and far between, but it is a reality of this lifestyle.  When I bought my first chicks I ended up with several roosters despite me trying to avoid it.  As they grew they began to struggle for dominance as the alpha rooster.  It was at that point I had tried giving them away, but couldn’t find anyone that would take them even for free.  As they fought I knew the only outcome was that there would be only one alpha and the rest would suffer injuries or death from the skirmishes that were taking place.

It was then I realized they would end up being pecked to death by the alpha rooster.  I wasn’t comfortable with a prolonged and painful death, so I made the decision to process them for meat.  It was a difficult and somber affair as I did the deed, and while I was resolved in my mind, it didn’t make it any easier as I placed them in the kill cone and nicked their artery with a knife.

Just understand that it’s mostly good, but there are a few bad days too.

Self Sufficiency

Not only is keeping chickens pretty easy and a lot of fun, but the eggs and potentially meat are a solid first step into self sufficiency.  If you think about it, we grow a lot of things in out garden and while they are loaded with nutrients, vitamins and minerals, they are often very low in calories or protein.  It’s great to eat healthy, but if we want to make our way to self sufficiency, we need to figure a way to cover our caloric and protein needs too and eggs help in that goal.

nutrition in a farm eggAs you can see an egg has some good calories and a fair bit of protein and you get an egg per chicken each day in many cases.  Compare that to a tomato which can take 90 days to grow and only has 22 calories.

Having a few eggs a day for breakfast or a quiche for lunch or dinner is a great way to start making up some of the calories that we need, which means we don’t have to rely on the grocery store as much.  Eggs can even be a way to make a few bucks to cover the cost of feed and if you ever need a chicken sitter, them keeping the eggs is often compensation enough.

Letting Chickens Work For You

my chickens in my gardenNot only are chickens a great source of food, but they can be helpful in reducing your work load.  Chickens by their nature scratch at the dirt, root for bugs and grubs, and till up the first inch of soil.  We can utilizing their natural tendencies to get things done in our gardens. Setting chickens loose on compost piles will be like letting a child loose in a candy shop.  They’ll turn the compost, peck out any grubs and bugs (breaking the pest life cycle) and add their manure to the pile all in one fell swoop.

I’ll often move my chickens to my garden area before I begin to prep the garden for a new season.  Since my garden area is fenced in for deer, I set them up there for a month and let them take everything to bare dirt.  If there are any perennial plants or plants I want to keep, I’ll just fence them off so the chickens can get to them.  After a few weeks the ground is often removed of weeds, bugs and a fair bit of manure has been scratched into the soil.

Chickens are a really great first step into bringing animals into the mix on your land and they have a lot of upsides.   So if you are thinking about chickens, check out some of the other post here on the site and let us know in the comments what your plans are!

Your Turn!

  • What seems like the biggest challenge for you when it comes to chickens?
  • What are your chicken plans?

 

How To Build A Chicken Coop

When you’re starting out with chickens you need to have a place to lock them up at night.  Building a chicken coop will be one of the first thing you need to do before you order your chicks or pick up some pullets (young hens).  I love how chickens just naturally gravitate to their little home when the sun starts to go down, roosting inside all on their own.

how to build a chicken coop for your chickens

The coop is an important part of your plan to keep your birds safe from predators that lurk in the night.  So we want it to be a sturdy structure that keeps the bad things out, the chickens in, provides a place for them to nest and lay their eggs.  First a few bits of terminology so you can get caught up to speed if you’re new.

  • Roost: a bar that chickens sit on and sleep on at night
  • Run: the fenced in area that chickens walk around during the day
  • Nesting Box: a separate area where hens sit to lay eggs in
  • Hardware Cloth: metal mesh that has very small openings
  • Bedding: saw dust, wood chips, hay or saw

So those are some of the basic terminology, now let’s get into some of the details.

The Coop

my chickens in my gardenYou can build the coop out of whatever building materials you have on hand or repurpose shelters to suit your needs.  When I built my coop I just went and bought a few sheets of plywood, created a box and sealed the entire inside.  Whatever you build it out of, the coop needs to be about 2 square feet of floor space for each chicken you have.  Much more than 2-3 feet per bird assuming they have more room to range during the day doesn’t do much because they all like to pile on a roost and cuddle up with each other anyway.

Height wise I usually build the coop so that I can easily clean it and room for at least 2 feet above the upper most roost.  If I have a lot of chickens I’ll make sure whatever it is, I can stand up straight if I need to go inside.

For the floors of my coop the biggest piece of advice is to make the inside as easy to clean as possible, really think ahead on this part.   I design mine so all the corners inside are not 90 degrees and no little nooks.  To do this I build my coop, then lay in a 2×2 cut at an angle so when I lay it in with glue all my corners are 45 degrees, which is much easier to clean.

Once I have my coop inside done I always sealed with a super heavy polyurethane. I coat every surface several times, making sure to soak it into the corners.  I put several layers on all surfaces then let it dry.  Next I focus on adding more layers to floor and the first foot of the walls.  You want a super thick layer of poly covering every inch of your floor and sealing every crevice and seam.

I let the whole thing dry and off gas for at least a few weeks.  If you build your coop before you even order your chicks, you’ll have a lot of time for all the fumes to escape by the time the chicks are grown up and ready to be put in the coop.

Roost Bars

chicken on roost in coopA roost is just a bar that chickens like to sit on, usually about a foot or so off the floor of the coop or ground.  I’ve had chickens that all piled onto a single bar leaving several empty and then I’ve had others that didn’t use them at all.  I usually add them because it seems like most chickens like to roost because it makes them feel a little safer.  The top most roost is often taken up by the alpha hen and the rooster if you have one, but some flocks don’t get too tied up in pecking order.

The roost bars can be branches cut from your woods or a 2×4.  You want your roost to be about 2 inches wide and not metal if you can help it.  You want a flat level surface around 2 inches wide because chickens like to sleep flat footed.  They can grip if they need to though.

Ventilation

Many first time coop builders forget that coops need to breath, even if you live in very cold climates.  This is because their droppings put off a lot of moisture and ammonia, so you want a way for that to vent well.  You want to make sure that there is at least some ventilation, but make sure it hardware cloth over it so predators can’t get in. The rule of thumb is around 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of floor space in the coop.

Nesting Boxes

You want one nesting box for every 3-4 hens you have.  All a nesting box needs to be is a small more enclosed area roughly 1 cubic foot in size with some hay on the bottom.  I’ve done everything from milk crates to 5 gallon buckets on their side.  Just make sure you can easily get into the nesting box to grab the eggs as they are laid and they you can clean them easily.

Make sure you can see well into your nesting boxes because sometimes you find things other than hens in them.  Here is a black snake that snuck into my nesting box.  The joke was on him though, that egg was a plastic egg that we were using to teach the hens to use the nesting box.

snake in nesting box

A Chicken Door

This door only has to be about a single square foot, maybe a foot and a half tall so that a single chicken can come and go into the coop.  The door should be able to be closed up tight at night with a lock that raccoons or other critters can open.  Some people build in a sliding door that operates on a motor with a special sensor that closes when the sun goes down.

golden comet chicken

When I did my permanent coop I had it so the chicken door opened directly into a fenced in chicken run.  The run was covered too and the whole thing tied into the coop itself so that I didn’t have to be there each night to lock the door.  Even if you have your coop in a protected run like I did, its still good to have a door because sometimes you want to shut them up in coop for you to clean things or if a predator is spotted.

A Light

Many people put lights for some heat in the colder months.  Unless you are in a very cold part of the world, I wouldn’t suggest this.  Experience has shown me that if you put a light in a coop and then one night it gets broken or burns out, you’ll end up loosing all your chickens.  I live in North Carolina and for many parts of the US I wouldn’t worry about it.  For colder parts of the US, I’d just build a bigger coop so you can keep them inside for a week if you have to when it’s super cold.  Chickens are pretty hearty.

lights in a coop

The last parts of a coop are your nesting boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in (usually one box per 3-4 birds) and some sort of bedding to catch droppings from.  Chickens put out a lot of droppings and they tend to concentrate under the roost bars.  However you plan to handle droppings, make it bomb proof because it can get messy quickly and if you build your coop to easily clean out, you can make your life a lot easier.

Chicken Tractors

Many people who want to get into chickens want to try a mobile chicken tractor, which is basically a coop with no bottom that you move to fresh grass every few days.  I’ve done both a fixed coop and chicken tractors and I think chicken tractors are my favorite because it cuts down on the cleaning (no floors, the chickens just poop on the grass) and it reduces the amount of feed I need to buy.

Here is my old chicken tractor:

chicken tractor

There are a few things you need to consider if you decide to go the chicken tractor.  Whatever coop you design it should be able to be moved easily by the smallest person in your household, it makes it difficult if only some of the people can actually move it each day.  As you can see above there are wheels on this tractor, I later switched them to larger wheels because some of the bumps and lumps in the grass would catch the edge of the coop or the wheels.

Consider where you’re going to store feed and how you’ll get water to them.  Where is the closet storage spot?  Where is the closet spigot and will your hose reach to the far corner of the yard?hens and a rooster

Finally make sure you have enough room, if you have more than a few chickens you’ll need to move that coop most days so that the chickens do remove all the vegetation in that one spot to the point that it can’t bounce back.  You want the grass to get roughed up a bit, but no more.  This will let the grass bounce back and grow stronger.  Having enough space is easier in the summer months because things grow so quickly, but in the winter you may find that a spot where the chickens were takes 30-60 days to heal.

Waters

There are three main types of water devices for chickens: Bell, nipple and standard waterer/fountain.  Larger operations tend to use the bell style, I don’t have much experience with those.  The older style of waterer or fountains work pretty well, but I’ve found they get dirty pretty easily.  That leaves my favorite type of waterer which is the nipple style.

chicken waterers

These are just a little valve with a shinny metal tab sticking out that the chickens peck at to get water.  Sometimes you need to show your chickens how to use them, I just take one or two of them and hold it right in front of the nipple.  Basically chickens see something shinny, peck at it and get wet.  Eventually they figure it out and the rest of the flock follows suit.

The nipples are cheap and can be installed into a 5 gallon bucket or into a run of pvc pipe.  This means I can do long runs of these that are tied into a water system so I can set it up for several days of water without any extra work.  An important side note is that you can’t uses these on chicks.

Feeders

There are several types of these, I still haven’t found a favorite type, so let me know what has worked for you in the comments.  I am looking for something that will feed the chickens easily for a few days automatically.  Right now the best option is a vertical PVC pipe about 6″ wide with a opening cut at the bottom.

So that’s some of the key things you need to work into your design when you build your own coop.  Let me know what you plan to do for yours in the comments!

Your Turn!

  • What kind of coop do you hope to build?
  • What tricks have you learned?

Guide to Raising Chicks and How to Set Up a Brooder

You can’t stop looking at pictures of chickens, the sound of their cluck melts your heart, and you catch yourself daydreaming about cooking breakfast with freshly-gathered, blue and brown eggs. It is time for you to get some chickens! How do you get started? Do they sell chickens at the pet store?

I suggest starting with chicks. They grow up quickly and are such a joy to raise. You need to start by setting up a chick nursery called a brooder. My favorite brooder set up is a big, clear-plastic storage bin. The sides are nice and tall and it is easy to clean out.

chick brooder set-up

Setting up a Brooder

  • Storage Bin: Start with a clear plastic storage bin. Make sure the sides are tall. If you are getting several chicks then get the biggest one you can find. You will be surprised by how fast they grow.
  • Bedding: It is very important that chicks are kept dry and warm. I like to lay down several layers of newspaper with a good thick layer of wood chips on top of that. You can use shredded paper or sand as well. Just make sure that whatever you lay down stays dry.
  • Heat source: Chicks are very easily raised on their own, but without a mother hen to keep them warm they need a heat source. You can hang a heat lamp above the bin or buy an electric chick warmer to place down in the brooder.
  • Feed: Chicks grow very fast so they need a good, high-protein chick starter feed. Adding in some dry sand is also important. Chickens don’t chew their food. They need some grit or sand in their gizzard to help “chew” their food.
  • Water: Chicks love to scratch and peck right from day one but can be so messy. Placing a few small bricks (not taller than a couple inches) under the water will help keep their water clean. Make sure to watch them all get up and get water before you walk away. If they can’t get up on the bricks then place on the floor of your brooder until they are a few days old.

chick waterer raised

Now you need chicks

Chicks can be purchased locally at the feed store or ordered from a hatchery and come to you by mail. I prefer to buy locally because the feed store will only have breeds that do well in your climate. If you have a specific breed in mind then ordering from a hatchery is a great way to go.

Keep them warm

When chicks are comfortable they have a sweet little peep that is soft and pleasant. If they are noisy then something is not right. Usually they are cold or their bedding is wet. Keeping a thermometer in the brooder is an easy way to help regulate the temperature. You are aiming for 85-90 degrees under the lamp.

Another way to “read” the temperature is to watch their behavior. If they are all huddled under the lamp and not scratching and pecking then it is too cold. Lowering the heat lamp usually is all it takes to solve that problem. If they are all on the opposite side of the brooder and no one is under the heat lamp then the temperature is too warm. Raise the heat lamp a little. What you are looking to accomplish is the chicks milling around happily, some under the light and some not.

chick brooder set-up

Keep them clean

Aside from keeping chicks warm and dry with plenty of good food and clean water there is not much else a chick needs. In the first couple days you do need to watch out for pasty butt. That is where their poop is runny and sticks to their feathers instead of well formed droppings. If left uncared for it can build up and block their vent which can make them ill.

The good news is that it is super easy to take care of. Just make sure they are kept clean. Use a nice, soft cloth to clean the poop from their feathers. Be very careful to not pull the poop off. Pasty butt is only a problem in the first couple days and can be almost completely eliminated by making sure that they have grit available.

chicks outside

Move them to their coop

As the chicks grow you can slowly raise the lamp. Just watch their behavior and don’t let them get cold. When the chicks can handle 70 degree temps without being cold or crying then they are ready to be moved to their coop. Use common sense at this point. If it is February and 30 degrees outside then it is too cold outside for the chicks.

Eggs!farm fresh eggs

Now just love on those chicks and in five months you will be gifted beautiful, fresh, home grown eggs. When your hens are five months old that is when you will switch their feed from starter/grower feed to layer feed. Starter/grower feed has high protein to support growth and the layer feed has the calcium they need when they have started to lay eggs.

Chickens are one of the easiest farm animals to raise. Keep them warm, fed and watered and they will reward you with constant entertainment and fresh eggs. If I was allowed only one animal I would pick chickens every day of the week.

Your Turn!

  • What most excites you about backyard chickens?
  • Which baby animals have you raised?