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Raising Chickens

We have lost 30+ chickens to predators over the last 1.5 years. We have built a “fortress” to protect the birds at night. Because we have so much sand, I thought concrete is cheap, I’ll make it from that. So The base is concrete to about knee-high. We were worried that the heat here would cook the birds if we used plywood walls, so we started with used chain link fence as the walls, but critters got through. So we added chicken wire to the chain link fence. Again critters got through. Then we had to go to hardware cloth. Expensive, but it keeps the critters out. So far while trying free ranging we have seen bobcats carry off a chicken in broad daylight, hawks that swoop down and grab chickens in daylight, and some other predator that gets in if we forget to close the coop door at night. The local predators seem to think that we are their source for chicken McNuggets.

The weirdest experience was finding an owl in the coop one morning. I still don’t know how that owl got into the coop. It was not happy as I used the broom to gently guide it towards the door.

I learned the hard way that the nesting boxes should be low to the ground with the roosting areas up high. Otherwise they roost in the laying boxes and poop everywhere.

We originally wanted to have free range chickens, and that is what has led to the death of many birds.

Now we have them in a wired-in run connected to the coop. A neighbor warned me that my cheaper plastic bird netting over the run would not keep the predators out. He has about 40 chickens. So we had to wire the sides and the top of the run to keep them out. This has worked for 1.5 years.

Most of the predation happens at night, so the hardware cloth has helped with that. Finally a solution. Chicken wire is cheaper, but did not seem to keep out the predators at night. The reached in, grabbed a sleeping bird and ate parts of it, then dropped the carcass on the floor of the coop for us to find the next morning.

So we’re down to commercial feed and table scraps mostly rather than free ranging. Sometimes we’ll let them out at odd times for a few hours before nightfall.

We made a wooden “moveable” chicken tractor in Austin, Texas. But the weight of the chicken tractor made it very difficult to move. Now that we have a riding mower, perhaps it could have pulled the moveable tractor. We sold that their before moving away from Austin.

The problem with a chicken run is that the chickens quickly eat all plant life and bugs inside the run and then rely on feed from us for the rest. I’ve recently seen som DIY designs for making a hoop house style of moveable chicken. I haven’t designed my “airlock” of sorts to connect the moveable tractor with the coop yet, so I’m not yet sure how to get them to their grazing spot. Getting back is easy enough. In late afternoon, we could open the door of the chicken tractor and they would find their way back to the coop just like their prematurely-departed ancestors did.

Others have reported that moving a chicken tractor with birds inside causes the birds stress as they run for escape. So I’m now thinking maybe some enclosed wagon of sorts that can hold 10-20 birds. Connect that to their coop door in the AM, let them leave the coop, thereby entering the wagon. Then drive the riding mower with wagon attached over to the new tractor location (on a different acre) and use this yet-to-be-designed moveable chicken-transfer-tunnel to get them to leave the wagon and go into the fresh grazing area under the movable chicken tractor. Hmmm. That might work for the morning transfer. The end-of-day return to coop is easier. Just open the door of the tractor and the birds leave it and head to the coop at dusk. This seems to be instinctual for them. I’ll have to sketch out a few possible solutions and test a few things.

I remember seeing one of those flexible tunnel toys for toddlers that might make a good moveable chicken-transfer-tunnel, never to see service to human toddlers again for sanitary reasons.

We also got a small 5 foot by 5 foot by 3 foot chain-link fence dog kennel from a neighbor that was moving away. They had very small dogs, not like our Great White Pyrenees or Retrievers. So we covered that in hardware cloth sides, top, and bottom to let the baby chicks that hatched stay safe with their mom’s until they were old enough to join the rest of the flock. A refuge from the others who might peck them to death. It is disgusting to see dead chicks that adult chickens pecked to death apparently for sport, not even eating them. If I can get that kennel onto the mower wagon that could work. I’ll have to rig it so it doesn’t fall off during the drive over and traumatize all the chickens as it tumbles to the ground.

At one point we were considering an automated coop door, but the design of our coop has a sideways opening door on galvanized fence hinges. Most auto doors are vertical door opening designs. I looked into a battery powered screw-drive piston that could close and open the sideways door, but the cost of the set up has made me hesitate. I’m trying to think of a less expensive test before buying this expensive piece of hardware. Then, is it worth learning Arduino to make a DIY controller or better to just buy a light sensor and program the open/close signal?

The coop is way out back behind the barn, so we don’t have electrical power to the coop yet.

My dad spent time on his grandfather’s farm as a youth and his question to me was “Why don’t you just buy eggs at the store?” It is a valid question.

Part of my answer is that we want to learn how to raise chickens. We also want the kids to be aware of and to participate in the process of raising chickens. We done the worst parts of disposing of birds and other yucky but necessary tasks. The kids help with feeding and egg collection. Overall the journey has been worth it for the four years we have raised chickens. That worth is measured in experiences and great eggs rather than profit margins however.

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KW Lanham


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