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The chicken or the egg? I prefer the COOP first.
So a nice coop isn’t necessary, but it does make your time in the coop much more enjoyable while you care for your chickens. And good chicken husbandry is necessary for well cared for, happy chickens. My first coop I couldn’t stand up in, and it was awkward to clean and I just avoided having to spend any time in it. But man, I love seeing my chickens all snuggled in their nest boxes, or on their roosts, so I knew a better design had to happen on my next coop.
Making your coop easy to clean by allowing the door to be wide enough to wheel the wheelbarrow into, or a cleanup door at the back so it goes right into a compost pile are both features I built in this time. On my smaller coop for my silkies and more special hens, it has a back door for easy egg removal, and a clean out tray to haul out for droppings.
Less is more. The general rule is roughly 2-3 ft per chicken but I have found in our colder climate, during the winter a bit tighter quarters means more warmth. It also means more poop, so your coop cleaning will need to reflect that or you could build up ammonia in your coop, which is dangerous for them to breathe.
Ventilation but Draft Free ? What does that mean? So ventilation happens up high and drafts happen down low. I have cold hardy breeds so even in the winter there is fresh air blowing into the coop and ammonia gases being vented out naturally through a high window vent. My coop is uninsulated, and our temperatures in SW Nova Scotia only dip down usually between 0 and -8 Celsius. During winter, I put feed bags over any other window screens down low and close up the openings at night when temperatures dip and drafts can blow on the chickens legs while roosting. During the summer, when our temperatures are peaking at 30 degrees, my birds are usually free ranging, and I keep the coop as open to air as much as safely possible to prevent overheating.
Try to have a surface that’s easy to wipe down (Vinyl, glossy paint or panelling) makes for easy cleaning and keeping the coop fresh. I love my chickens and they are livestock so keeping the coop Pinterest clean all the time is a pipe dream I learned to let go years ago. Please don’t beat yourself up over impossible standards of cleanliness. I follow a cleaning schedule like this:
Once a day- Toss fresh shaving in, and toss with manure fork throughout. Clean nesting boxes and put in fresh shavings (and straw in winter)
Once a week in summer- clean coop: dust cobwebs with a broom; remove all bedding; spritz walls and floor with coop cleaner(see below); sprinkle floor with diametaceous earth; and replace with clean bedding. Sprinkle coop with herbs (Thyme, rosemary and oregano all discourage flies)
Every two-three weeks in winter – clean coop: dust cobwebs with a broom; remove all bedding; spritz walls and floor with coop cleaner; sprinkle floor with diametaceous earth; and replace with clean bedding (if this seems like a lot of work for you, you can always do the deep litter method, there is lots of methods online)
Every Spring- completely clean out coop, paint inside, replace roosts, curtains and clean out chicken run (replacing roosts and doing repairs). Remove heated waterers.
Every Fall-Clean out run, replace shavings with straw for warmth, and install heated waterer.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a secure coop for your chickens. My chickens free range during the day, so my run is not predator proof as they are only locked in it rarely. I have watched a hawk go overhead and my roosters sound an alarm and everyone runs for cover. We have had a mink attack at night once years ago when I forgot to lock them up. A neighbours’ dog attacked once but my roosters attacked it and it never came back, so those experiences have been the extent of predator experience in all my years of chicken keeping. But that was enough. The coop is what needs to be the most secure- Raccoons, dogs, Weasels, Minks, Rats, and overhead predators such as hawks, eagles, and even seagulls can all make an easy meal of chicks and chickens. and it can be heartbreaking.
CLOSE YOUR CHICKENS UP SECURELY AT DUSK EVERY NIGHT. This is my number one tip to anyone keeping chickens. I use ¼ inch hardware cloth on all my windows, and if I wasn’t free ranging, I would use it on my run as well. Chickens can’t see well in the dark, so it makes it very hard for them to protect themselves from predators at night.
Nesting Boxes are where you will get your golden eggs from. Sometimes. Sometimes they will find a secret spot to lay and sometimes all 15 will lay in one box. You never know but the rule is 1 nest box per 6 chickens. I add curtains to my nest boxes-and not just to be pretty. I have found my chickens lay more consistently in the boxes when they have the privacy of curtains. And because it keeps the box darker, it discourages that one egg eater you will inevitably get. Chickens can’t see in the dark, so finding the egg to eat is harder.
For Bedding, it’s this simple for me: SHAVINGS, STRAW 👍👍 HAY 👎(encourages mites) and use Sand ⚠with caution (can harbour bacteria).
You can keep food and water outside the coop for less mess, but put away at night to discourage pests.
Entertainment for chickens is so necessary: Roosts, Mirrors, Ladders, stumps, swings (outside too) are all like Netflix for chickens. They keep chickens from getting bored, and especially during bad weather days in the winter, they decrease behaviours.
Happy chickens in a clean coop suited to their needs and one you really want to spend time in really does translate to better tasting eggs, and a more enjoyable, intentional experience for you and your chickens.
Homemade Coop Cleaner
2 -500 ml mason jars
1L White Vinegar
4 Orange peels
2 Tsp of vanilla
4 Cinnamon Sticks
Fill each of the jars with peels from oranges, cinnamon sticks, and tsp of vanilla. Fill each jar with vinegar and let set one month. Drain and put in an empty spray bottle. Use weekly for coop cleaning.
*Also Food grade White Diatomaceous Earth can be purchased at Wilsons’ Home Hardware or any garden/feed supply store.
You can also read more about my method for winter chicken coop keeping, called deep litter method, here https://yellowbrickroadfarm.ca/2023/01/17/deep-litter-making-your-winter-coop-work-for-you/
Love Jenn xx
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