Chicken project 6 month update

When the SHTF do you have a sustainable food source already setup? Or do you plan on bugging out to the wilderness with your family and foraging for food? Given the options, I would rather stay at home and have fresh eggs and oatmeal – eggs from my chickens and oatmeal from my food stockpile.

In mid-late 2011 my wife and I talked about getting chickens. I started looking at coop design, types and breeds, drawing designs for my own coop, working up a bill of material, cost,,, just general plans.

February 25 2012, our first chicks.

August 23 2012, got 10 eggs.

First 5 chicks were 3 Black Jersey Giants and 2 brown Speckled Sussex. 1 black Jersey giant and 1 Speckled Sussex died.

Next set of chicks were 2 Barred Rocks (aka Plymouth rock), 2 silver laced wyandottes and 2 australorps.

Next set were 4 Rhode Island Reds.

My wife and I take showers, so we put a plastic tub in the bathtub with a light, food, water and paper on the bottom of the tub. I read somewhere that paper does not provide firm footing for the chicks. Sometimes the toes of the chicks can deform if there the chicks are on a slippery surface.

When we bought the chicks we also bought 2 dispensers that my wife and I thought would work for feed and water.  Well, the dispensers worked well for water, but not for feed.  Realizing the dispenser was not going to work for feed we made a trip to the feed store and picked up a feed dispenser.

Within days of getting the chicks my wife and I started on the chicken coop. I had originally thought we were only going to get 4 or 5 chickens. But we ended up with 13. The original coop design was going to be too small, so it was doubled in size.

Half of the coop was built one weekend, the other half was built the following weekend. Building the coop in halves and putting them together was a pain. If I ever build another coop, its going to be in one solid piece. The coop worked out to be 6 feet 3 inches wide and 8 feet long. I wanted the coop to be wide enough that it could be loaded on a trailer. That way if my family and I have to Bug Out to the camp, we can take the chickens and the chicken coop with us. To build the coop cost around $750. That includes the hardware cloth, hinges, plywood, treated lumber, screws, tin,,,, and everything else.

Instead of building a sloped roost like what was originally planned, the roost was changed to flat so it could accommodate all of the chickens.

Four screened windows were installed, one on each side of the coop. Two windows at ground level so the chickens can stand on the floor and look out. Two windows at perch level so the chickens can get a cross breeze during the summer heat. Instead of using window screen, 1/2 inch hardware cloth was used to screen the windows in. Treated 1x4s were used on the outside of the window to hold the screen in place. Non-treated 1x4s were used on the inside of the windows.

The chicken coop door was built so the door can be raised and lowered.  This prevents any predators from finding their way into the coop at night.  The bottom of the door was secured with 1/2 inch hardware cloth to prevent any snakes from squeezing between the slats.  The chickens have been in the coop for 5 months.  We have not lost a single chicken to predators.  With my luck I will get home from work next week to find all of the chickens dead, but hopefully not.

The covered run attached to the coop gives the chickens some extra room. The run is made out of treated 2x4s and is 6 feet wide and 12 feet long. The hoops are UV resistant PVC pipe. Chicken wire was strung over the hoops and secured in place with cable ties. The problem with chicken wire and zip ties, is the chicken wire will start rusting, and the zip ties will break down from UV rays. The run is a temporary enclosure until we get the real chicken yard built.

So that one end of the run is shaded in the hot summer sun, I tied a 4×8 foot tarp to the chicken wire.

Chicken Feed – for the first 2 months the chicks were fed a chick starter.  From 2 months – 5 1/2 months the pullets (pullets are hens less then 1 year old) were fed a chick grower.  At around 5 1/2 months the pullets were started on Lone Star laying feed, which is 17% protein.

My chickens HATE feed pellets. If I mix hen scratch or oats in with their feed, the chickens will scratch the pellets out of the feed dispensers to get to the other pieces of food.

After the first 50 pound bag of pellets, the chickens looked like the stopped putting on weight. I think its because they only eat the pellets when they have no other choice. Its only when they are given nothing but pellets will they finally eat the stuff.  I had to switch to crumbles to get them to eat.

Chickens do not like to eat while they are in a raised coop.  For some reason my chickens will not go into the raised coop to eat.  They would rather eat directly off the ground.  I can take a feeder out of the coop, set it on the ground and the chickens will run over to it and start eating like they are starving.  This caused me to start rotating the two feeders between the coop and the run.

At six months old my 13 chickens are going through 50 pounds of feed about every 2 weeks. This includes a morning treat of hen scratch, oats and oyster shells.

The first eggs had a nice thick shell on them. Over the next few weeks the shells got so thin that a couple of them were transparent and flexible. Adding oyster shell to their daily treat fixed the thin shell issue.

Chickens started laying when they were around 5 months old. At first the eggs were very small, these are called pullet eggs. The oldest pullets laid an egg, few days later lay another egg, few days later lay another egg, until they were laying almost everyday.

Water – One of the biggest issues I having to deal with is keeping fresh water available at all times. The waterer in the run is up on blocks, but it still gets dirt throw in it.

During hot days in late July early August the chickens drink a lot of water. I am seriously considering installing some kind of automatic watering system.

While in the run, the chickens are too lazy to go into the coop to get their water. Rarely, and I mean rarely would the chickens go into the coop to get some water during the heat of the day. I figured they were not getting enough to drink, so I moved their 3 gallon waterer from the coop to the run. With a waterer in the run, the chickens are drinking water all the time. With the 3 gallon waterer in the run, that leaves a single 1 gallon waterer in the coop.

Observations on raising chickens

Here are some of my notes, observations and thoughts during the first 6 months of raising chickens.

Australorps seem to be growing faster then all of the other types of chickens, except maybe the Black Jersey Giants.

One Australorp seems more aggressive and defensive of the flock. When I reach into the coop to get a chicken, there is one Australorp runs over and starts pecking my arm. If the chicken I picked up starts acting scared, the Australorp acts like she is angry or in distress.

The Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks seem the most eager to dig into a pile of grass clippings thrown into the run. When I throw a rake full of clippings into the run, almost every time the Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks are the first ones to jump on the pile and start scratching.

If I mix anything with the pellets in the feeder, such as scratch or oats, the chickens will pick around the pellets to get to the oats or scratch. The scratching gets so aggressive that the feeder is knocked over from time to time. The coop is up on legs. When the chickens scratch the feed the feed falls through the wire and onto the ground. When I let the chickens out of the coop, they will eat the food on the ground.

After cutting the grass I will rake up the clippings and throw them into the coop. The chickens seem to have a good time scratching through the clippings. Funny thing, the chickens eat a lot of the clippings. I guess this would be the same thing as if the chickens were free range.

The first chickens to sleep on the perch were the two silver laced wyandottes, one Rhode Island Red and one Barred Rock.

The first chickens to start roosting were around 3 months old.  Only about 3 chickens started to roost, then a few days later a couple more, a few days later a couple more,,,.  The majority of the chickens started roosting when they were around 3 1/2 months old.

If you have a raised coop with hardware cloth for the chickens to stand on – if the chickens eat grass, the grass will pass through the chicken in their poop, and the grass gets hung up on the hardware cloth.  This makes washing out the chicken coop a pain.  Even though the poop washes through the hardware cloth, the pieces of grass hang from the wires.