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What Do You Need In Your Coop?

Your chickens are here and you want to provide them with the best possible life.  But, you may feel overwhelmed with all of the coop equipment that you see.  What do your chickens need and what’s a waste of money?  Let’s talk about what your chickens need in the body.

A Feeder

Your chickens will need a feeder.  Although you could get by with an ice-cream bucket full of feed for a while, eventually you’ll want to invest in a good quality feeder.  Look for a feeder that is easy to clean and will last a long time.  Stainless steel feeders are easy to clean, hold up well to being sanitized and will last a long time.  They also won’t break down when exposed to sunlight like plastic feeders will.

You’ll also want to invest in a high-capacity feeder that can be hung off of the ground.  The top of the feeder should be pointed or slanted to discourage chickens from roosting on it.  Hanging feeders off of the ground will prevent water, dirt and debris from getting into the feed.  A high capacity feeder will make it easier for you to keep plenty of feed in front of your chickens.

 

A Waterer

Just like a feeder, you’ll need a waterer.  Chicken waterers are designed to keep the water fresh and clean.  When you put water into a bucket for your chickens, they may get in the water and make it dirty.  Chickens are also bad about roosting on the side of a bucket and either knocking it over or pooping in the water.

Both of these issues can be avoided by investing in a waterer.  Similar to a feeder, look for a design that is high-capacity, easy to clean and has a top that will prevent chickens from roosting on it.

 

Nesting Boxes

Your hens will appreciate the privacy that a nesting box gives them.  Many hens won’t lay around other birds and will only lay eggs when they feel safe and secure.  Nesting boxes can be bought or built.  They should have three sides and a top that is slanted to prevent roosting.

You’ll want to line your nesting boxes with shavings to provide a soft landing spot for eggs.  Keep the shavings a couple of inches deep in the nesting box to prevent cracked or broken eggs.

 

Bedding

The floor of your coop should be lined with bedding.  You should be picky about the bedding that goes into your coop.  Use pine flake bedding.  Don’t use cedar shavings since these can cause respiratory problems in your birds.  Straw is also a bad choice for bedding.  Not only is it not absorbent, but it can harbor mites that can affect your chickens.

You can use sand in the floor of the coop as bedding.  Sand can be easily cleaned out with a pitchfork, leaving the clean sand behind.

 

Roosting Spaces

At night your chickens will roost.  Chickens don’t sleep on the ground or on a flat surface.  Instead, chickens prefer to roost on a round pole to sleep.  A 2” rod is the ideal roost size for most chickens.  You can easy add roosts to almost any coop with round rods or tree limbs that you trimmed.  When adding roosts to your coop, put the roosts above the level of the nesting boxes.  Chickens want to roost on the highest possible point.

 

Feeder for Calcium and Grit

Your chickens will need constant access to calcium and grit.  Hens need their diet to be at least 2-3% calcium.  Most chicken feed will contain calcium, but it’s always a good idea to have a supply of oyster shell or limestone for your chickens to eat.  Simply fill a small feeder with either one and allow your hens to get it as needed.

Chickens don’t have teeth, so they rely on grit in their gut to physically break down food.  Place grit into a small feed container and keep it full.  Your chickens will take what they need to keep their digestive system working well.

 

Things you don’t need, but that are nice to have:

Treat feeders.  Chickens that are fed a well-balanced diet don’t need treats.  However, treat balls, blocks and other treats for chickens can be a great way to keep your chickens entertained.

Herbs.  Chickens are very intelligent when it comes to eating things that keep them healthy.  Many herbs that we use are also beneficial for your chickens.  Consider planting herbs around the perimeter of your coop’s run so that your chickens can eat some of the plant without completely mowing it down.  Some beneficial herbs to plant for chickens include oregano, thyme, citronella, lavender and rosemary.

Automatic coop door opener.  Chickens are the safest when they are locked up in the coop at night.  It may not seem like a big task to lock your chickens up in the evening, but have you noticed what time your chickens get up in the morning?  They’re ready for the day well before dawn.  If you go out to the coop at first daylight to let them out, you’ll probably notice that they seem like they’ve been waiting for you!  An automatic door allows your chickens to be let out and put up safely, without you having to walk out to the coop and do it yourself.

There are many things that you can find for your coop, but not all of them are things that you need.  Start by buying quality basics: feeder, waterer, nesting boxes and feeders to hold grit and calcium.  Once you’ve gotten the basics, you can start spoiling your chickens with treats, herbs, automatic doors and other fun equipment.

 

What is a Fairy Egg?

It started out like any other morning. After I got my husband and kids out the door for work and school, I went out to check on my flock and collect any eggs that may be out there. I was on my daily egg hunt (not all of my girls have taken a liking to nesting boxes). I was walking through the coop with a train of chickens behind me waiting for their morning treat. And there, next to a few other regular sized eggs was this cute little, tiny egg. I had read about “fairy” eggs. Otherwise known as rooster eggs, wind eggs, witch eggs, or on the funnier side, fart eggs. Call them what you want but either way, they’re a fun little surprise to find! I’ve only found one of these tiny eggs before.

These 2 eggs are from the same chicken

What is a Fairy Egg?

A fairy egg is an egg that is missing the yolk. If you crack your egg open to find only white, then it’s considered a fairy egg. These cute little eggs are nothing to cause you concern. They are laid more commonly by young hens early in their laying cycle. But they can also occur in hens that are nearing the end of their laying days. Fairy Eggs can also be caused by a disruption or stress while the hen is creating her egg. So, while not as common, it could happen in prime laying years as well. Fairy Eggs are produced when the egg white (albumen) begins forming before the yolk is released during ovulation. Did you know it takes a hen approximately 25 hours to produce an egg? Creation is fascinating and it boggles my mind almost every time I think about it!

I decided to crack my little fairy egg open to see what we’d find. Some people decide to not crack open these little cuties and just use them as decoration. But my family was curious as to what we’d find. I was actually a little surprised to see what looked like the traces of a tiny yolk! Isn’t it adorable!? With this tiny yolk, I’m not exactly sure if we can consider it a “fairy egg”. Maybe a “fart egg” would be more appropriate for this one! Haha!

You’ll likely find many things about raising chickens that surprise and delight you. You’ll also find a few things that surprise but not delight you. That’s just part of raising backyard chickens! I’ll tell you that the good far outweighs the bad. It’s the one hobby in my life that has never gotten boring or mundane. There’s always a new adventure with my girls!

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

Too Many Eggs? Dealing with a Surplus

Bringing fresh eggs from coop to kitchen is a backyard flock owner’s delight. Trouble is, sometimes there’s too much of a good thing.

Hens lay on their own schedule. Adding light during winter’s short days tricks birds into thinking it’s spring so they lay more eggs during the dark months. But lighting a coop isn’t a perfect solution.

All hens seem to lay more as daily natural sunlight expands and days warm. Families who don’t use artificial winter light see egg production strongly rev up come spring. Those that do use lights often see a smaller increase. Fancy breeds, not known for torrid egg production, and older hens sometimes only lay in the spring. Add up all the factors and most chicken keepers end up with the most eggs during spring’s delightful warmth.

Egg production sometimes doesn’t mesh with kitchen egg needs. Fall’s dwindling days and dropping temperatures discourage hens from laying just as the cool weather baking season arrives, and many eggs are needed to create holiday cookies and cakes.

Too many spring eggs. Not enough late fall ones. Here’s how to solve the dilemma.

Dealing with Surplus Eggs

Many families only have four or six hens in a backyard coop. Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, and other dual-purpose breeds lay four or five eggs a week per hen.  That’s often about the right number for a family, but sometimes full cartons stack up in the refrigerator.

Families love fresh eggs, but when they come on faster than they can be eaten cartons full of them stuff the refrigerator.  It’s easy to keep using the freshest ones in the top carton while ignoring those beneath.  There’s a solution. When a carton is filled mark it with the date and use the older ones first.

What to Do With Extra Eggs

  • Freeze them: Raw eggs freeze well. So, a May surplus can be popped in the freezer and used months later for holiday cooking. “Often people don’t realize that eggs freeze well,” said Lesa Vold, Communications Specialist for the Egg Industry Center. Eggsafety.org gives tips on how to safely and easily freeze them.
  • Give them away: Eggs make wonderful gifts. Neighbors, coworkers, friends and relatives all love them.
  • Sell them: Selling eggs is tricky, at least legally. Many laws and regulations make selling eggs confusing. Every state has its own regulations on top of Federal ones. Before selling eggs it’s wise to learn what’s legal. Some places require a seller’s permit and that eggs be graded, candled, washed, dated and stored in refrigeration. Other areas allow small informal sales of a dozen now and then to friends or neighbors. Interesting information on selling small quantities of eggs can be found on Lisa Steele’s Website at fresheggsdaily.com.  Far more legalistic but comprehensive information on state-by-state egg selling regulations can be found at www.nerous.org.  NERO stands for the National Egg Regulating Officials.

Whether eggs from the backyard coop are eaten, given away or sold, safety is critical.   If spoiled or contaminated eggs can make people or pets sick. Almost everyone who keeps chickens has found hidden eggs of unknown vintage or heavily soiled or cracked ones in the nest.  Eating or feeding them to pets could be hazardous. It’s safest to simply compost any questionable egg.

An outstanding egg information source is www.eggsafety.org. Although the website is geared for connecting commercial egg producers with people who buy eggs at the supermarket, the site includes information on buying, selling, storing, cooking, and eating eggs and much more.  Its information is helpful to owners of backyard flocks.

One of the most attractive of all foods is an egg carton filled with clean fresh eggs of various shell hues, sizes, and shapes. Some may even have speckles.  They are a delight to the eye and palette.

Tips on Keeping Your Coop Clean

Your chickens may be pretty and clean themselves, but without your help, they probably won’t keep their coop clean.  Cleaning the coop doesn’t have to be a major ordeal though.  There are a few things that you can consider when designing your coop that will help to keep it clean.  There are also some things that you can quickly do each day that will take less than five minutes.

Coop Design

Are you thinking about building a coop from scratch or modifying the one that you have to make it better?  There are a few things that you can do inside of the coop to make it easier to keep clean.

Let’s start with nesting boxes.  The nesting boxes in your coop should be a place strictly for hens to lay eggs.  To help make the boxes strictly for laying, make sure that the nesting box has sides and a top.  The top of the nesting box should be slanted to prevent hens from trying to roost on top of the nesting box.  Chickens poop throughout the night while they roost, so you want to minimized the amount of roosting that goes on in or around the nesting box.

Next, consider the space that your chickens use to roost.  Chickens like to roost up high, so they’ll choose the highest possible place in your coop to roost.  If the highest possible point is your nesting boxes, that’s where they will roost.  You can make quick and easy roosting poles with broom handles, round rod or tree branches that you’ve cut.  Make sure that the roosting space is higher than other spaces in the coop.  Under the roosting space, you can install a slanted board that will make poop clean up super easy.  Simply scrape the poop off  of the slanted board each day under the roosting space.

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the Coop Daily

When you go out to the coop to check for eggs, you should do a quick coop inspection.  If you get into the habit of doing this daily you’ll prevent yourself from having to deal with a smelly coop.  A coop that isn’t cleaned frequently can knock you off of your feet when you enter it.

The first thing that you’ll want to clean out is the nesting space.  Remove any feathers, poop or debris from the nesting boxes.  Make sure that they are lined with clean shavings.  Use pine shavings inside of the coop, not straw or cedar shavings.  Straw can harbor mites and cedar shavings can cause respiratory problems.

It’s a good idea to keep a 4” putty knife in the coop.  This makes it really easy to scrape poop off of boards and roosting bars.  Each day, grab your putty knife and do a quick scrape of the surfaces to remove poop.  You can either scrape the poop and debris into the floor of the coop or into a bucket and remove from the coop every few days.  Remember that chicken manure makes excellent fertilizer for your garden!

It’s also a good idea to keep a bottle of coop deodorizer in the coop.  You can find coop deodorizers that have special enzymes in them to help break down the waste.  One of our favorites is Chick Fresh.

Deep Cleaning

There are two ways that you can manage your chicken coop.  You can either clean the coop out weekly or you can practice the deep litter method.  When you clean the coop out weekly, you’ll remove soiled shavings from the floor of the coop each week and replace them with fresh shavings.

The deep litter method doesn’t require you to clean the coop weekly.  Instead, you’ll allow the manure and shavings to start breaking down naturally on their own within the coop.  Simply add fresh shavings to the floor of the coop as needed to keep it clean.  Before adding fresh shavings, use a pitchfork to turn over the shavings.

A coop that is using the deep litter method shouldn’t stink.  If the coop starts to smell bad, remove the soiled bedding.

When you completely strip the bedding out of the coop, you can clean it up with a chlorhexidine solution.  This will help to sanitize the coop and leave it smelling fresh.  Allow the coop to fully dry before adding shavings back into the coop.

Why Does My Hen Squat?

Have you ever walked near one of your hens and she suddenly hunkers down to the ground with her wings slightly open? She freezes and squats, not moving? This behavior is no cause for concern! Although it may seem like she is scared or in pain, squatting in this manner is a normal part of rooster/hen behavior.

As I once heard one person say, “Well, she’s easy.” All joking aside, many people assume this behavior means they want to be picked up and are tame. The funny, and kind of bizarre thing is, she actually sees the human as a rooster figure.

Hens squat like this in a submissive posture when a rooster approaches. The rooster sees this as an invitation to mate. He will usually grab her head feathers with his beak, hop on her back, do the deed, and it’s all over in a matter of seconds.

When a hen does this in front of you, it means she sees you as a kind of “rooster” authority. It is hard wired in her DNA, nothing personal.

Some hens are more prone to being submissive than others. They see you coming and will squat down every time. This would be fine time to give her a little pet on the back and gives you the chance to get a good look at her. I often use these opportunities to look over the hen and check for signs of illness. My daughter certainly takes advantage of a hen squatting by picking her up and giving her a quick tote around the yard. Even the most skittish of hens will do this, which does seem to tame them a little over time.

When the hen snaps out of her submissive mood, she almost always jumps up, fluffs her feathers, and gives a good shake. Squatting is a strange, funny, and totally normal part of owning backyard chickens.

 

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