What does raising chickens have to do with photography? Absolutely nothing, but when there’s a pandemic shut down that all but closes down your business, you’ve always wanted chickens, you build a chicken coop, and raise some chickens…over a year later you have learned a thing or two about raising chickens! I’m not one to blather on and on so I’ll get right to my “list”, but if you have any questions feel free to reach out, I am always happy to share information!
- The number one thing I wish I would have known: You have two choices when you live in a cold climate: Provide heat for your chickens or no heat, but the thing no one tells you is that if you decide to go with no heat, those water heater things that are designed to keep the water from freezing don’t work during a blizzard or when the wind chill temp. drops below 10 degrees, which turns out is pretty frequent where we live (just outside the Twin Cities metro area). So what do people do who do not use heat? What did people do before electricity? Well, they bring out fresh water every couple of hours to their chickens (because they require a continuous source of water to survive). We for someone who has a job outside of the home, or someone who wants to be able to leave the house for more than a few hours, this just does not work, so for me, I am so glad that I installed a heat safe light fixture “just in case” because just in case ended up being a whole week that if I did not have the heat lamp on inside the (well ventilated) coop, the water froze, even with the water heater. After much research in my chicken forums, it turns out this struggle is real with a lot of chicken keepers. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I at least built a 100% predator proof coop and run system…because if I had to deal with some of the other problems in addition to the heat issue, I think I would decide to not have chickens anymore.
- Build your coop to hold at least 12 inches of litter, if not more. I feel like my coop and run design are pretty much perfect, the only thing that I could have improved on (which thankfully I was able to modify) was to accommodate deeper litter. It turns out the deep litter method is really the way to go, makes life sooo much easier and is also way better for the chickens in the winter.
- Build your nesting boxes deeper than 4 inches. My nesting boxes are 4 inches deep. That seemed like a good depth, and I went with the 12×12 inch size box for each one, which is just perfect for all of my hens from my small bantams up to my big fatty Wyandottes. Yes, I have a variety of breeds, which is very fun. However, it turns out my chickens are competitive…once and a while (maybe 2 or three times) they have pushed eggs out of the nesting box into the main coop area! That is something I never even dreamed would happen. It’s not the end of the world of course, I just grab my rake and fish them out of the coop. Just a small thing I wish I would have known.
- My awning (which is over the entire coop and run) hangs over about 2 feet which protects the entire area from a build up of snow. It also prevents snow from blowing in through the (hardware cloth screened) windows in the coop (that are always open for proper ventilation) I have yet to have to shovel around the door. Also, the door opens IN to the run, not out. The roof is made of a polycarbonate clear roofing material to allow lots of sunlight into the run and keep everything dry and safe from predators. I am sooo glad I made these choices in the design of our coop/run setup. I can’t tell you haw many times I have read in chicken forums that people are having all kinds of issues that could have easily been prevented by designing a better coop/run setup.
- You can handle your rooster multiple times a day as a baby, but once they are fully mature, they still need daily attention from you or they will turn into a jerk, unless you have chickens that come from a really good breeder who breeds for good disposition (not hatchery birds, which I made the mistake of getting first time around). If it has been a few days since I have been in the run with my chickens, my rooster will charge at me if I don’t have a rake in my hand. (he respects the rake for no good reason-honestly, I have never given him a reason to be afraid of it!) It makes me feel like I have a safe barrier to protect my shins, so after being charged at the first time I started holding it in from of my legs when I enter. Why do I have a rooster? Honestly, only because I purchased a random mix of chicks and ended up with one. We don’t live “in town” so there was no reason not to. Moving forward though, I think any future birds we purchase will be very carefully selected from reputable breeders.
- Chickens personalities change dramatically as they age. One of our hens that was absolutely the most feisty ended up being the nicest one out of all of our birds, so weird…
I cannot stress enough the importance of building a completely predator proof coop/run setup. You can always choose to free range your birds, but when you are not home to supervise them, or at night when they are sleeping, the last thing you want is to come home to see all of your birds dead. I can’t tell you how many times I have read about people having runs made of chain link fencing material, chicken wire, or a hole has been dug underneath and they come home to a dead flock. Our coop and run were designed after much research on best design for our climate and our needs. I wanted something that would require the least amount of work and or worry. I designed a modified version of an inspiration of the Carolina Coop. After experiencing each of the 4 seasons with my chickens, I could not be happier with the design and highly recommend it to anyone thinking of getting chickens. Our design includes a foundation (2 feet below)of predator proof hardware cloth and cinder blocks, so we never have to worry about animals getting to our birds, and a clear polycarbonate roof that allows lots of sun into the run area, but also protects from rain. One of the most important things for chickens health is to keep them well ventilated and dry. In the winter we have 3 sides (north, east & west sides) of the run area wrapped in plastic to protect from snow and wind. The door is 8 feet tall to give you an idea of the size. I just like tall doorways.