Today, contributing writer, Candice is stopping by to share her best “tricks and treats” for keeping chickens on a urban homestead.
When I first got chickens, I wondered:
Are they like dogs or cats?
Do they get bored?
Do they need to release energy?
I quickly realized they’re not dogs, thus no chicken parks. But, after some research I did realize they love to scratch (also known as digging in the dirt) as well as perch. Most chickens sleep perched. Mine don’t, their odd birds, no pun intended. Because chickens love to perch I originally planned on buying dowels. That’s until I realized that you can go to your local brush site and pick up amazing perches for play or sleeping. “Dowels” made of the closest thing to nature: tree branches and stumps. All sizes and shapes and with a little creativity you too can create a chicken playground for your girls. A place to perch or dust bathe, simply a place to hangout and enjoy the day.
The best part, it’s all free!
Be sure the branches are secure so no chickens are harmed by a loose branch. This is one of my girls most favorite places to hang out.
Next, let’s talk about housing tricks.
Since we live in Florida where it’s HOT, I came out one night to find my girls in their very comfortable, well-ventilated co0p, panting!
Did I mention it’s HOT?
Chickens can’t sweat. They don’t have the sweating system to cool themselves down. They must wait for the blood to rush to the waddle and comb and be redistributed into the blood stream to cool. This equals miserable on a super hot day. Feathers, next to hay, in a room with other chickens with feathers? Sounds like a stuffed elevator stuck in the elevator shaft.
Besides plenty of cold water and lots of shade, I found you can make an easy air conditioning cooling system for chickens so they don’t have to work so hard to cool off. This translates to healthy happy chickens and more eggs.
Simply take a spill proof jar and fill with ice and the natural condensation will cool them without being too moist and causing any respiratory problems. Ice is always free! My girls love to lay against it, like our dog who prefers the cold tile floor on a hot day.
On those super miserable hot days we also offer a small clip on fan in the upper coop “attic” area just so the coop air doesn’t get stagnant. Our clip-on fan cost us nothing because it happen to be lying around but I have seen them for inexpensive (like this).
As I mentioned above, water is so very important for chickens. Like us, it keeps them hydrated. Without it they could easily become sick or even die if left too long without a water source. Not to mention essential for egg production. Always have plenty of watering stations around.
Now would be a good time to mention good ground material for your coop.
First, let me start with what NOT to use.
We started with hay.
Hay rots when it’s wet. Yuck! So, then you get flies! Fun! However, hay is amazing for coop bedding or nesting boxes because it’s soft as well as “compostable” as it DOES break down fast making a perfect mix with chicken poo for manure! Composting is a great way to recycle that chicken poop. It can be used around your yard for gardening and enriching the soil.
Next, we tried using pine shavings. That was better than hay, but they got expensive over time and needed replacing daily to stay fresh and clean. The pine did clump well. So, I went to mixing hay and pine shavings. This combo works great in nesting boxes. I usually do a nest of hay with some shavings in the middle. Perfect clean eggs each time!
The winner in our coop for flooring is sand. Inexpensive and easy to rake and clean. We have tons of sand since we live in Florida and our entire back yard is beach! Sand also works wonders as a natural drainage system and cuts down on mud. We did end up buying some play sand. Also inexpensive and when using a cat litter scooper, it makes cleaning poop easy.
Speaking of poop, I clean daily, weekly, and monthly. Daily I clean by scooping it. Weekly I replace hay and shavings and rake the indoor and outdoor runs. Monthly I rake both runs clean down to the dirt and take out all the hay and shavings from the coop. I usually do this on a nice sunny day so I can wash the coop down with a water/vinegar solution and let it air dry while my girls scratch and open roam. I use a small pressure hose that works great.
Take care that the coop is dry and clean before the hens retire to the coop for sleeping.
A clean coop feels amazing, just like after spring cleaning. The house just feels great, smells clean, and that makes for happy hens.
Once it’s completely clean and dry an hour or two later, I replace fresh hay and shavings and sprinkle Diatemacious Earth (where to buy). Nothing like cleaning just to sprinkle dirt back on everything, huh? Its okay, this “dirt” cuts down on mites, lice, and disease and makes for really comfortable chickens, seeing they bathe in dirt!
Next trick, I add a few bags of fresh untreated mulch to the chicken run. Remember those tiaras that we discussed earlier in this series? Yea, this is where they start to come into the picture. This is not necessary for backyard city chickens who may not have fields of green grass to roam, but I do my best to give them new scratching ground. Preferably not my freshly planted flower beds.
Simply pour in a pile of mulch and let them do the work. That’s what they love. Heck, sprinkle some seed or meal worm (where to buy) in there and let them scavenge. Pay special attention though to what you choose. Corn makes chickens warm. So it’s best used in cold winter months to keep them warmer, not summer when they are already trying to cool off. Corn equals a chicken hot flash. No bueno in Florida! Two other foods to avoid completely with chickens are raw potato and avocado. These both make chickens deathly ill or send your poor chicken to an early grave. Stick with sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts, or special wild bird seeds for treats.
And after a few hours…
This also lasts a few months and cost me just six dollars.
Okay, ready for overboard? I am always trying to find new ways to make my girls happy. Amazingly, I’ve never had a chicken “egg strike” at my house yet. Maybe it’s first time chicken owner luck or perhaps it’s that I have super happy hens.
I bought a few pallets of grass for them. Crazy I know.
You bought chickens grass?
They loved it.
Of course, most of it is gone which I knew would happen but it was like any other treat and I was happy to buy it. Again, a few dollars bought me 6 pallets. And for the two weeks it was lush and thick they loved it. When the grass disappeared I sprinkled seed and it’s regrowing! And they still love it!
It was just that a “treat”.
Lastly, a resourceful “trick”.
If you read part II of my introduction,“How to Build a Basic Coop From Scratch for Under $50”, you saw how we built our chicken “palace”. Realize that as newbies we didn’t take rain into consideration when it came to the run. We tweaked our current design and created an angled roof that let air go through, covered it with a tarp, and added an inexpensive gutter. This turned into a rain catcher. Brilliant! Left over wood, plus two blue tarps from the shed, plus a gutter, and a plastic box equals dry.
Now that I’ve shared just a few of my favorite chicken tricks and treats, I only have one more tip to share.
One part happy owners added to four parts happy chickens makes a perfectly happy recipe for a backyard chicken homestead.
Learn more about keeping backyard hens in my favorite resource “Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally”