Managing Chickens – Housing

Willow Creek Farm shares the basics of chicken housing and space requirements for a happy healthy flock.

the-coop

This is our first post in our series on how we manage our chickens here at Willow Creek Farm and we thought the best place to start would be housing… Continue Reading

 

Backyard Chickens, Know What You’re Getting Into

Is keeping backyard chickens cost effective?
How much time in caring for them is involved?

These are valid questions, and certainly something you should prepare yourself before you buy those cute little chicks at the feed store. Chicks are tiny and super easy to manage the first couple weeks. But, about the time they reach 3 weeks of age they will  begin to outgrow the brooder box and become a bit of a chore to clean up after.

They will most likely be in a box in your house or garage with a heat lamp dangling overhead until they reach at minimum 4 weeks of age. By this time they are still about two weeks shy of being fully feathered and ready to be moved to the outdoor coop. From day old to six weeks is a long time, and indeed a commitment. During this time you are going to be busy cleaning the brooder box every day multiple times. They will also need to be slowly weaned off the heat lamp each week. Trust me, you will spend countless hours adjusting the temperature.

Timing is everything, make sure to buy your chicks when the temperatures where you live aren’t extreme. Otherwise you’ll be struggling to either keep six week old chicks warm or cool during the transition from indoors to out.

TBN Chicken Coop

Keeping chickens can be fun and easy to care for , but you just can’t skimp when setting up their housing, one way or another you’ll pay for it.

In other words, chickens are expensive, no matter how you slice or dice it, that first fresh egg from even a small backyard flock will cost at minimum, about $700. It’s true! That’s a lot of store bought shelf eggs.  But everything comes with a price,  the value of fresh eggs vs shelf eggs is something only you can decide.

I’ve thought about the cost effectiveness of raising chickens, and it really doesn’t add up. I’ve done the math, and well…there’s just no way! A dozen eggs can be bought for about a $1.29 here in Phoenix, sometimes even less. It definitely costs more to feed a small flock than it does to buy eggs! A $20 50lb bag of layer pellets for six hens will last about 30 days.  That equals about 180 shelf eggs a month from your local grocery store.  If each one of your hens lays 5 eggs a week, that will give you 120, not taking into consideration your hen’s rate of lay will significantly decrease in the winter and during molting. Let’s not forget you’ll be feeding those hens for 5 to 6 months before they even reach their point of lay.

Even raising meat birds can’t possibly be cost effective. I can go to any grocery store in town and buy a hot fully cooked rotisserie chicken for only $5.00! Oh my, it would cost me way more to feed that bird, and then I have to slaughter it too? Nah… I’ll pass.

There is an expense involved for the bedding in the coop and nesting area too. Pine shavings, hay, or straw will be necessary not only for the hen’s comfort, but it will keep the hen house cleaner and much easier to maintain.  The bigger the coop, the easier it will be to keep clean, but bigger also means more bedding to buy.  It also means your hens will be happier, and better egg producers. It’s like anything else, better always comes with a higher price tag.

Chickens are fun to watch, bring much enjoyment, and having fresh eggs is wonderful. There is no dispute over fresh eggs being a healthier choice, just be sure you are willing to put in the effort for the benefits.

How Much Space Your Chickens will Need

The subject of how much space per bird is often a question of great debate. There are guidelines of the minimum requirement, but most chicken keepers would agree that 1 foot per chicken is indeed a cramped environment.

If your flock is not allowed to free range during the day and kept in constant cramped quarters, you’re going to find yourself scrambling around looking for a way to separate the docile birds from the aggressive ones.  A pecking order is established in all flocks, confined or not. If there isn’t enough room for the weaker birds to escape trouble, you’ll be quite frazzled by their battles and the sometimes the unfortunate outcome.

You can get away with a small housing space if your chickens will be free range during the day.  When it’s all said and done, at the end of each day there is usually only one argument… the nests. This problem is usually resolved quickly by the boss hens who choose first, leaving the weaker birds with what’s left.

The best living arrangement for your flock is to offer them space, and the more the better. Happy chickens are those who are free from conflict. Happy chickens are healthy chickens, and that means better egg production.

Recommended Space per Chicken… my opinion

At minimum, 2 square feet floor space in the coop if your chickens are allowed to free range or have a fenced area attached to housing area. If your birds are confined all the time, 3-4 square feet floor space. You won’t gain anything by trying to house too many birds in a small space, truth is, happy birds fill the egg basket plain and simple.

Chicken Enclosure at TBN Ranch

The Flock 31118