Home

FROM OUR BLOG

Adding Enrichments to the Coop

You’ve probably heard the phrase “busy as a bee”.  Not to knock how productive bees are, but have you seen how busy chickens can be?  If your chickens have access to a large area to free range, you probably know that they’re up before dawn and they don’t stop wandering around, scratching and searching for food until the sun goes down.  They’re naturally very active animals.  The only time the stop for rest is at night.

 

Chickens that are kept in a coop still have that same desire to be busy.  Without something to do, chickens can become bored.  Bored chickens can develop health issues, become stressed, and even start bullying one another for fun.  One of the best ways to keep your cooped chickens occupied is to provide enrichments for them.  We’ve rounded up some chicken-tested enrichments to easily add to your coop.

 

What is an enrichment?

Have you been to the zoo recently?  If so, you’ve probably noticed that the monkeys have jungle gyms to climb on.  There’s usually tires and large balls in with the big cats.  These are enrichment items.  An enrichment item is something that your chickens can use or play with in their coop.

 

Enrichment items can help satisfy the physical and mental needs of your chickens.  This is important for their health when they are in a coop.  Chickens aren’t going to play with a big ball or tire like a lion would, but there are some simple things you can provide for your chickens to entertain them.

 

What can you use as an enrichment?

Chickens are naturally curious and active.  If you’ve ever let your chickens out of the coop for an extended period of time, you’ve probably watched them spend their day walking around, dust bathing and looking for food. You can play off of their natural instincts to find items that you can add to the coop that will keep them entertained.

Food as an Enrichment

Chickens love a good treat.  Who doesn’t, right?  While the majority of your flock’s diet shouldn’t come from treats, you can use them as a fun enrichment.  Chickens naturally spend the majority of their day searching for food.  Chickens that are cooped up can easily get bored because their food source is always there and it’s easy to find.  There’s no work or searching involved.

 

Try adding treats to the coop that your chickens will have to work for.  You can find treat dispensers or you can make your own.  There are a lot of ways that you can whip up an easy treat that your chickens will have to work for.

Pop a few kernels of corn into the cells in an ice tray. Cover them with water and freeze.  Remove the frozen ice and add it to your chicken’s waterer.  They’ll enjoy pecking at the floating ice to try to get to the corn.  This is a fun treat for them in the hot summer months.

Cabbage can be a great treat for chickens and you can turn it into a fun toy for them easily.  Simply take an eye hook and screw it into the bottom of the head of cabbage.  Tie a piece of string to the eye hook and hang it in the coop.  Your chickens will enjoy pecking at the hanging cabbage.

 

Take a clean plastic bottle and cut holes in it in various places, making holes all around the bottle.  Fill the bottle with scratch grain and put the lid on.  Lay the bottle on the ground in the coop.  Your chickens will enjoy rolling the bottle around to get the scratch grains out.

Toys in the Coop

You probably don’t think about your chickens playing, but there are some enrichments that you could add that they would enjoy.  Enrichments should be safe and incorporate a chicken’s natural curiosity.

Chickens love to roost.  In fact, the higher a chicken sits on the roost, the higher social standing that chicken has.  It’s a natural desire for chickens to roost high.  If your run doesn’t have roosts and your roosting space is only located in the coop, add some roots in the run.  You can add cut tree branches as a fun roost for your flock.  They’ll enjoy hopping up onto it during the day.

 

On a similar note, you can add chicken swings to your chicken run.  These miniature swings are the best entertainment for you and your chickens! You’ll enjoy watching them hop onto these moving perches and try to balance on them.

 

Dust baths aren’t really considered a toy, but they’re a great enrichment that your flock will love.  Chickens dust bathe themselves for hygiene and to socialize.  Provide them with the ultimate dust bathing area by mixing up soil, wood ash, diatomaceous earth and herbs.  They’ll love it!

 

If you haven’t added enrichtments to your coop yet, what are you waiting for? Your flock will thank you!

Chicken Combs

Why do chickens have combs?

Despite being iconic to the look of a chicken, combs actually serve a very important purpose. Besides being attractive to the opposite sex, combs are important heat regulators. Chickens are unable to sweat. Heat radiates out of their combs and wattles, thus keeping them cool.

As we know, roosters are the showmen of the poultry world. Long shiny feathers, huge combs, a sharp spurs, they are certainly lookers!

A rooster will have a larger, redder comb due his influx of hormones. This helps him look impressive to his ladies. In addition, studies has shown that wild game fowl hens with large red combs are easier to see, thus resulting in roosters mating with them more.

Why do they vary?

 

There are many different types of combs, many specific to certain breeds. Just as each breed has a particular shape, feather patterning, and disposition, they also have specific combs.

The most common type of comb is the single comb. It consists of a stiff single lobe, with 4-6 tips at the top.

Another common comb is the pea comb. Most commonly seen in colored egg layers, a pea comb is tiny and looks like a row of tiny red peas perched in the middle of the head.

 

Rose combs are also common, and seen mainly in Wyandottes. The bumpy cluster of red lumps run along the middle of the head. One true way to determine if your chicken has good breeding is if the comb matches the breed standard.

 

Some more unique and rare combs include the buttercup, v-comb, walnut, and cushion comb..

Common comb issues

 

One common comb issue in winter is frostbite. If you notice the very tips of a comb turning blue or black, it is time for intervention. Simply apply some Neosporin or Petroleum jelly to the comb and it should keep it moisturized and sealed during the cold nights.

You can also detect a sick chicken by noticing subtle color changes in their comb. If the comb is blueish and dull, dry looking and flopped over, the chicken is likely dehydrated and sick. This is most often seen in anemic chickens, who should be immediately treated for mites with a Python powder.

What type of comb is your favorite?

 

A Swedish study found that hens with larger combs tended to be more prolific layers. This is certainly the case for Leghorns! Leghorns have unusually large and floppy combs, and everyone knows they are some of the best layers around!

Do some research on types of chickens, and you ‘ll soon be amazed at the diversity of combs out there! Take a closer look at your flock and see what types of combs your birds have!

 

 

 

You Made Your Bed

Many of us who have begun this wonderful life by involving poultry into it have started off with the small starter coop, which after a year and chicken math begins will be transformed into a larger coop or become the introduction pen for new chicks for the following years to come. When we begin this journey, we are always making lists!

Those lists may entail

● Coop

● Bedding

● Feed

● Water and feed bowls or canisters

● Heating supplies for chicks and seasons to come

● Toys and treats

Well, I am here today to talk about bedding! What bedding is going to be best for your flock, as well as for you in cleaning and smell. There are a lot of types of bedding so we are going to cover the health benefits, cleaning aspect and smell for your flock. After all, we don’t want to use a bedding that is going to stink to high heaven and notify the hawks and racoons to your birds’ beautiful home. We will be discussing shavings, straw, sand, coffee grounds, and good old nature (grass clippings and fallen leaves).

When shopping for our supplies we usually hit the big box places, why not? They have it all! So, while shopping we hit the aisle of bedding.

 

Shavings are what they use in the bins when you have chicks. Personally, I contact our local news writers and ask for any old additions they could donate to my flock for new chicks, we usually leave with a box full. It is always nice to lay this down then roll the pine shavings up to throw away. Now though, after 6 years I will never touch shavings again and this is why. Shavings are easy to clean out of a tote or whatever you choose to keep your baby chicks in, but be cautious when purchasing them. Good shavings at some locations are kept outside or housed outside in sheds or under lean-tos; make sure it is housed inside. If you live where humidity can be an issue, please keep in mind mites. We don’t usually think about these bugs when purchasing bedding, but it is definitely a main source of them. Some pine shavings are processed through a kiln drying process and this will kill any mites and eggs that may be harboring on the shavings, but it makes them very toxic to your flock and other animals on the homestead if ingested. Chickens and turkeys and game fowl can and do easily break down the wood pieces while eating, which is also why it breaks down so quickly. It is honestly my biggest complaint while using shavings. I have a flock size of 40+ chickens and 40+ ducks with a few turkey and guinea fowl. I will throw 3 bags of pine shavings down and within a week I will have powder almost. While shopping at our local pet store, a kind woman overheard me complaining and that is when I found out about the kiln drying process. It can cause respiratory issues and shut down organs on your birds. It is impossible to not have your flock ingest what is used on the floor in their home. Some farmers call pine shavings the secret killer to flocks! Pine shavings also can not be used in compost due to the kiln process. If it is fresh mulch from a tree, this can be used in the coop, as well as in the garden compost (but watch for mites). Needless to say, we do not touch pine shavings on our homestead.

 

Cedar shavings smell amazing!! Don’t you agree? It makes everything feel fresh and clean, but if you have a homestead let’s think twice about this one too. Cedar wood chips have been known to damage the liver and respiratory tracts in small animals and guess what else? POULTRY! The closer to the ground the more exposed to the natural oils in cedar wood that cause the respiratory issues. When searching for food or bugs the chickens will peck through the bedding which will cause the issue with the liver. Their liver is unable to process these oils and it can kill a chicken easily within months of using, sometimes weeks. SO, NO CEDAR!! If you want something that smells amazing, then this next one will be for you.

 

I was going to discuss straw or sand, but I am going to discuss COFFEE GROUNDS! So many of us love the smell of coffee grounds and there are companies that make Decaf processed and grinded coffee grounds for bedding. I personally have never used this. I have heard amazing things in some chicken groups and this is the first year I even heard of it. So, I took the liberty of scooting down to a local shop and checked it out! Coffee grounds that are not decaffeinated though are toxic to your chickens, dogs, cats, and livestock. Caffeine is known as a chemical known as Methylxanthine and because its levels are so high it is toxic to our feather and fur babies. The companies that make it into bedding use 100% recycled coffee grounds that contain no caffeine so that it is safe in case ingested. The only negative thing I have heard about this product is that if the inside of your coop is damp a lot or has leaks where it is constantly getting wet, it has the potential to mold. So, avoid wet and humid places. Coffee ground bedding helps repel flies and keeps your coop smelling fabulous. It is easy to shovel or to use a litter scoop to clean the areas concentrated with poop. If you do use this or try it, share it with people! How cool is it that we have something that smells so amazing available for our little feather butts!

 

Straw! This is the most commonly used, it is actually what I currently have in the coop. Since we have so many ducks, I am questioning this choice. They poop A LOT! So, I am out rotating my straw every other day and I use Wondercide Lemongrass Spray to reduce the smell and flies. Straw is cheap, roughly $4 a bale, one bale covers a decent amount of area, and it is GREAT FOR YOUR GARDEN! That’s right! Chicken poop and duck poop work much better in compost than livestock manure, holding higher levels or nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Instead of throwing it away, you can add the straw into your garden. It’s basically a new form of gold. The only negative side to straw is that it can be sprayed with pesticides when grown in large fields. Whether it be through cross wind contamination or just what the farmer ordered, it’s in the soil and on the straw. So always be aware of this. If you can purchase organic straw you are blessed. I have heard of brands, but take a sneak peak online and see what you come across. OR if you have an indoor greenhouse, feel free to grow some for your flock’s bedding.

 

Oh Sandy, Oh Sandy sand… you are so sandy! This is a wonderful bedding to use if you are someone who doesn’t like to completely remove all of the bedding inside the coop. With a litter scoop on the end of a broom stick it is easy to sift through and clean. It also works well to drain soil from the wet areas in your coop. it can also help level your coop from dust baths. It does tend to create a great environment for mites and fleas though! The best suggestion for this is to add First Saturday Lime to your sand and coop regularly. They will appreciate it as well as you because it will keep the smell down. This can be added with all bedding but please do use it with the sand. I promise you will thank me later when it’s 90 degrees and while on your patio you don’t smell chicken or duck poop.

 

The last one to discuss is good old nature’s grass clippings and old leaves. We all know if the grass clippings are wet and you put too many in one clump it can mold, same with old leaves. Just be careful and just spread it thin to dry then repeat every other day. Flip to keep it from molding in the coop. It is one of nature’s options, it can create a home for bugs, so spread lime down first. I love this bedding especially if you choose or are unable to allow your flock to free range. Grass is wonderful for their digestive tract and can add more nutrients to eggs as well as leaves. Plant-based foods and remains work great for our flocks because they are full of probiotics and digestive enzymes. Feeds are nice enough to add it in, like my personal favorite NatureServe Layer Pellets. With grass clippings and leaves, the chickens can eat as much as they want and it will never hurt them, only benefit them. Just remember to flip it after it rains to keep it dry. After a while it will turn into dirt, which means if you are not in the mood to add it to the coop, just add it to the compost pile.

 

So! Think, think, think… what will your next bedding be? I recommend trying a few different ways to complete your idea of what you feel is best. If you have not tried it, please do not knock it, we all have our reasons why we do what we do for our flocks. Let me know and keep me posted on what you all decided! And MIX N MATCH! I bet coffee ground bedding would work great with sand, and smell so amazing.

Talk Soon, Amanda B.

Do Birds Lay Different Colored Eggs Over Time?

One of the most interesting aspects of owning your own chickens is the beautiful array of colors that you can get.  At the grocery store, you’ll be lucky to find brown eggs, much less eggs that are shades of green, blue, cream or chocolate colored.  It’s a breath-taking experience to fill a carton with different colored eggs.  Can you pick out which hen lays which eggs based on the color of the eggs?  Do hens always lay the same color egg? Or does egg color change over time?

How do chickens lay different colored eggs?

The way that eggs are colored is almost as interesting as different colored eggs are to look at.  All eggs start off as white within the hen’s body.  The eggshell is composed primarily if calcium, which is a white substance.  Hens that lay white eggs will build the outer layers of shell and lay their egg, resulting in a white colored egg.

Chickens that lay a colored egg will use a pigment to color the outer layers of the shell.  This part of the egg-developing process comes last, which is why the outside of the eggshell is colored and not the inside of the egg shell.  Remember, the shell itself is normally white so any color that is added on the outside of the eggs will stay on the outside, leaving the inside of the shell white.  

Generally speaking, hens will lay the same color egg each time.  So, a hen that lays blue eggs will always lay blue eggs.  She won’t wake up one day and start laying brown eggs all of a sudden.  Hens will lay eggs that are close enough in color each day that you can usually identify the hen that laid the egg (unless all of your hens lay the same color egg).  If you have a mixed breed flock, you’ll be able to tell which hen laid which egg.

 

Now, there are some exceptions to this rule.  Some hens will have slight variations in their egg coloring.  This is especially true if your hen lays speckled eggs.  The speckles can be caused by a number of reasons from a change in diet or stress, to excess calcium.  If your hen lays speckled eggs, you’ll likely notice that the speckling changes from egg to egg.  It’s also possible that a hen lays a speckled egg when she usually doesn’t.  Speckling is most common in brown egg layers.

Another exception is seen very subtly throughout the season.  Hens will lay the most from spring-fall.  Over the winter, their bodies produce fewer (if any) eggs, which allows their body to replenish and recouperate.  One of the things that is replenished is the pigment used to color eggs.  If your hen is a seasonal layer and takes the winter off, you’ll notice that eggs laid in the spring are more richly pigmented than eggs laid in the fall.  This is due to the fact that her body has more pigment available in the beginning of the laying season than in the end.  This won’t cause drastic color changes, but subtle ones.

 

Looking for more colorful eggs?

Egg color is determined by the genetics of your hens.  Certain breeds will lay different colored eggs.  The best way to add different colors to your egg carton is to incorporate different breeds into your flock.  

 

If you want blue eggs, we recommend the Prairie Bluebell Egger.  These pale blue eggs look like a true Easter egg!  Several breeds lay green eggs. If you want pastel green eggs, try adding Americana or a Starlight Green Egger.  For a darker green egg, the Olive Egger will fit the bill.

 

Just as there are different shades of green eggs, there are different shades of brown eggs.  For light brown eggs, you’ll find many breeds.  Orpingtons, Welsummers, Brahma, Rhode Island Red, Wyandottes and many others will lay light brown eggs.  For deep, chocolate colored eggs, you’ll want a breed like the Barnevelder or Maran.

 

Having an egg carton with a rainbow of egg colors is so satisfying.  It sure beats a carton of plain white eggs that you can get from the grocery store!

Should Chicken Keepers Be Arenophiles?

Some chicken keepers may be secret arenophiles!  They lug sand into the coop and use it for bedding. Is that a good thing?

 

The word “arenophile” is a blend of Greek and Latin tracing back to ancient Rome.

In those days crowds gathered in huge arenas to watch gladiators fight to a gory death.

Before bouts workers covered the arena’s surface with a thick layer of sand to absorb blood.  Gross!

 

Fortunately, those violent days are gone.  Today the word “arenophile” generally means someone who collects samples of sand from such far-flung places as the beaches of Tahiti or Normandy. Others may come from coral reefs or vast deserts.  It can be a fascinating hobby, since sand is so variable and beautiful.  It is simply tiny grains that can originate from broken pieces of shells or many types of rock. By far the most common is quartz sand, composed of the earth’s most abundant elements – silicon and oxygen. Varied sands make fascinating displays, but does this humble material have a place in chicken care?

 

Absorbency is important for chickens.  Materials placed on the ground or floor inside and outside coops should absorb water or channel it downward, reducing odor and keeping hens healthy.

 

Sand works wonderfully in outside runs.  It filters rain down into the soil beneath it. A dirt run compacted by thousands of chicken footsteps doesn’t shed rain well. Puddles form, promoting disease.  In contrast, a sandy run quickly dries following downpours and won’t form muddy puddles.

 

Sand also boosts chicken digestion. A bit of coarse quartz sand in a hen’s gizzard helps her grind coarse seeds into a slurry that passes into her stomach for digestion.   Chickens need grit, and coarse quartz sand is perfect. Come winter’s chill, when the ground is frozen, hens appreciate a handful of sand sprinkled on the indoor litter.  Every once in a while, they’ll swallow a few grains to help the gizzard grind hard seeds when outdoor grit is frozen and unavailable.

 

A coop’s interior is a different story.  Rain never hits material on the floor, called litter.    Wood flakes, ground corn cobs, or other coarse organic fibery materials all work perfectly inside to absorb moisture from droppings.  It lasts for months, looks and smells great, and when removed can be composted into a perfect garden soil additive. A blend of decomposed chicken manure and wood fibers encourages vegetables to jump from the soil and yields delicious crops of tomatoes, beans, and other summer delicacies.

 

Sand is a poor interior litter. It’s heavy, doesn’t absorb as well as wood flakes, and is less useful in the garden when shoveled out of the coop.  But it shines outside.

Using Sand

 

Do you have heavy, compacted soil in the chicken run?  Do puddles form after rain?    Sand can solve both problems. Spreading an inch, or so, of sand on the compacted soil gives the hens a chance to gradually scratch it into the dirt.  The result will be more porous soil that lets water drain through it. Filling a puddle with sand also prevents breeding mosquitoes while creating a pleasant walking surface for hens.

Thousands of kinds of sand can be collected or bought, but there’s good news for chicken keepers. The least expensive sand sold at home supply stores is usually marketed as traction sand and sold to sprinkle on icy sidewalks. It usually has grains of varied size and works perfectly in the run. More expensive play sand or concrete grade sand also work but costs more. Sharp edged grit sold in farm stores is basically human made sand. It works perfectly when used to fill run puddles and is ideal for chicken digestion but is pricier than plain old traction sand.

 

So, perhaps it’s good for chicken keepers to be arenophiles and use sand to help manage the flock.

Let’s Talk Gardens… For Chickens!

Most people want to save money and these days, let’s be honest, we are pinching our pennies. When it comes to owning your own chickens, many save by free ranging, buying cheaper feed, feeding table scraps, and if you don’t do this last one well, you might want to after this! I always recommend building a garden for your chickens. Let me show you some SUPER SIMPLE ideas that will save you money this year! We will talk about what to plant, how to plant it and what is safe to just grow in the yard where they roam.

It is not as hard as it may sound, you don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of items or plants. Think big but small. Chickens are simple and with our luck they love to eat fruits and vegetables that grow a lot for one plant!

Let’s start with where to put your garden. I know, I know chickens eat everything so many worry about starting plants near the coop. Starting them near the coop though is an amazing idea! If you want to keep things simple and put up a fence just buy some garden t-post and hammer them in. Zip tie some chicken wire to it. Your garden does not have to be big: 6ft x 6ft is what I would consider to be a perfect size for 40+ chickens, but you can be the judge of what you want when we discuss the types of plants. In my opinion, you do not need a fence for this garden. We attempted a pumpkin patch last year with over 50 chickens and 20 ducks and none of them destroyed the plants. They simply ate all the bugs that were merely surviving on them. Which meant, everything blossomed beautifully. To prep the land easily I would:

  • just find a nice sunny spot near your coop

  • take some cardboard boxes and open them flat and lay them down to cover the ground you want to grow on

  • wait about 3 weeks (so many will want to start when the snow melts if you live where you have 4 seasons like me, in Michigan) or start very early spring

  • once the grass is dead and yellow just throw some mulch and dirt down or nothing. If you really need to save money just dig some holes about 1ft x 1ft and plant your seed according to the description on the seed bag.

  • if you don’t want to do seed then use your starter plants. I recommend going to your local farmers market for these! They have amazing deals and you will meet some beautiful souls!

Once you have an idea of where to put your little new garden well now it is time to pick the plants!

What Oh What Shall I Plant for Thee?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is where the fun begins! I am so excited to share some of these ideas with you and I know you will be thrilled as well!

Let’s start with my favorite, Sunflowers! Not only will these clean the dirt they are grown in and replenish some of the lost nutrients with rich mineral from its roots, but this plant is so easy to grow and easy to feed to your poultry. Plant as many as you possibly can and each one foot apart. I recommend starting them in solo cups. This works very well and you can just place them outside away from your lovely peckers. Once they are about 3 inches high just plant them in your garden space. This year, I have almost 50 chickens and will be planting about 6 rows 10-12 plants per row. Once they are done flowering the seeds till begin to form on the face of the sunflower. Once the seeds have formed it will not look like the beautiful sunflower at first glance, that is because the beauty is now the whole center/face of the flower. Go ahead and cut those tops off and let them finish drying, Save them in a garbage can for whenever you feel like throwing a few tops into the coop for your flock.

Next are the vines!! My favorites are acorn squash, spaghetti squash, pumpkin and melons. I recommend 2 spaghetti squash and 2 acorn because these you are able to freeze and when they thaw they are ready to serve to your flock. So, why not get more for less of your time. I do recommend making sure you have a floor freezer or extra freezer top on maybe a refrigerator you don’t use as much. Spaghetti squash do grow large, football size, whereas acorn squash is smaller around baseball to softball size. Melons I would feed as they ripen. Pumpkins you would want to plant in early to mid-June for anyone with Michigan seasons. They will be ready in September to cut and feed. Pumpkins can also be frozen and thawed. This plant as well as your other squashes have special seeds rich in several vitamins such as vitamin K and Zinc. Make sure you either same them and dry them or feed them with the plant. If you dry them/freeze them make sure to use them all winter to add nutrients to your flocks diet. They will truly appreciate you for it.

Butternut Squash is my last one and most favorite! I personally eat this on a regular basis! I recommend Peeling, cutting and bagging it in zip-lock freezer bags if you plan to keep some for winter. But if you grow these vines you can solely feed the plants and veggies provided as a sole meal for them. The larger squashes and melons need to be broken for them. It helps them understand the food is on the inside. After a couple of years of doing this you will no longer have to break open the thinner lined melons and squashes.

I can not express enough how important it is to grow your own food for you and your family. We are raising our animals in different and difficult times. So try your hardest to save where you can. Also, save some for your family too! These chickens wont mind sharing with your beautiful self! After all we do have to survive to care for them!

So feel free to do a row of each herb: thyme, basil, parsley, dill and oregano. Once they are full grown and before they seed trim them down and dry them. I like to dry them and then grind them to add to their food in the winter. If you do not have a grinder just dry the plant and cut it up with scissors and when it is dry the leaves will be so easy to crumple in your hands.

 

All herbs can also be added to the water to steep like a tea in the winter. Herbs have many healing properties. So I cant push enough on how important they are!

I hope this helps a bit on cutting cost and gives you a sense of love for gardening. So please go, grow, and glow! Because honestly, we all know you’re a shining star! YOU RAISE CHICKENS DUH!

Keep me posted on your likes and dislikes as well as what you add to your flock! We all have ideas and need to share them! Let us know and until next time, HUGS!

Amanda B.

Poultry Watering Systems

Poultry watering systems come in many shapes and sizes these days, and your local feed store will have several options. So, which one is right for you?

There are advantages and disadvantages to any product, so choose the one that is best suited to your situation. As I tell any farmer, beekeeper, or gardener: “Do what works for you!”

Some of your choices for watering systems are:

-Metal founts

-Plastic founts

-Water troughs

However, my personal preference is poultry nipples. While the founts work, I found not only did they have a tendency to get dirty, but they would also often develop a tiny leak that would cause the whole thing to dump out, leaving a wet spot in the coop. If we didn’t catch it on time, the flock would run out of water. If you are going to use a fount, I recommend building a stand to keep it up off the ground and minimize some of the contamination issues.

The main advantage to poultry nipples is that the water you are giving your birds stays clean and cool as long as it stays in a shady place where the chickens can have constant access. They are also inexpensive and can be installed in a variety of ways to suit your needs.

For mobile coops, you can simply install them on the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and suspend it inside your coop. This setup should be sufficient to keep a small flock of backyard birds well-hydrated for a week without needing to refill.

If you have a larger flock in a mobile coop, you can attach the nipples to a PVC pipe by drilling the recommended size hole and screwing them in. I like to have at least one nipple per six birds, spaced out every 12 inches along the pipe. This pipe can then be attached to a 30- or 55-gallon drum as the water source. Fill your drum with water weekly and your chickens will have plenty of cool clean water to drink.

For a more permanent coop, you can use a set up a similar system using a PVC pipe attached to a water supply. If you are going to go this route you will also need a pressure reducer to take your pressure down to below 1 PSI. These are available to order, just be sure to look for the reducers specifically designed for poultry nipples. For the DIY enthusiasts, you can also build an inexpensive reducer by putting a stock tank float in a five-gallon bucket. Then hook the PVC pipe up to the bottom of the bucket and allow the water to feed into the line using gravity.

A few recommendations I have no matter which system you choose:

-Always plan on having a way to clean out the system. For the PVC pipe design, this can be as simple as a ball valve at the end of the line that allows you to flush the system. I like to run a bit of bleach through the lines at least every 6 months to keep things sanitary.

-In colder climates, plan on keeping your system from freezing by using heat tape.

-Train your birds to use nipples from the youngest age possible. I put them in the coop along with a fount when the birds are about a week old, then I raise the bucket as they grow and can reach up higher.

-Make sure your waterer stays in the shade on hot summer days.

-Have fun raising your birds, take time to observe their daily activities, watch and listen as they peck at the watering system to fulfill their needs. They are fascinating creatures, especially ducks!!!

Drew Erickson is Farm Manager for Rodale Institute Midwest Organic Center in Marion, Iowa. Learn more about Rodale Institute and their work in the Midwest at RodaleInstitute.org/Midwest.

podcasts