Over Christmas break we had some time on our hands, in between doing other projects around the homestead, to get some improvements done on our chicken coop and run that have been waiting. I’ve been wanting a dust bathing box for our chickens for some time now and I just happened to see another project where some people created a “greens box” for their chickens to snack from. So here are the improvements we’ve been working on lately with more to come:
The dust bathing box was very simple to construct but after it was in place it had to be filled. I did this by mixing equal parts dirt, sand and wood ash. I do have a small amount of diatomaceous earth on hand here but with so much controversy as to whether it truly is good for your chickens or not I left it out of the mixture. I have seen them using it some but they still prefer to dust bathe in the spot under the water tower right now which is cooler and moist. I may need to move the location of the box for their preferences but we will see.
The “greens box” was also very simple to construct and will be a treasured addition to the run as soon as it is finished. Basically you build a box that you plant grass in (or in our case transplant) and then cover that grass with 1/2″ wire. This allows the chickens to eat the shoots of grass that poke up through the wire but protects the grass from being scratched apart and killed. A “living feeder” of sorts for our hens to enjoy greens from. I plan to supply our chickens and ducks with greens each day from our garden (or purchased) but this in-run supply of greens will ensure they get some every day. We only have the one in the chicken pen right now but I would like to put one in the duck pen if the one in the chicken pen takes off and works.
We have a rain water collection system on the coop which feeds the pipeline running through out the coop and runs on both sides. The pipeline is fitted with water nipples which the chickens peck at and get water from. This is more hygienic for them because it rids the problems with getting poop and other things in their water. It also simplifies things for me greatly because I’m not constantly having to check waterers, haul water to fill them and daily clean the waterers. This is our first dry season with the water tower so we will see how it goes. We have had this system in place for some time but over our Christmas break Dave added an additional nozzle inside the coop for me for doing fermented feed, cleaning dishes, mixing up medicated water and refilling the chicks’ water bottle. Eventually I would like to make an installed nipple watering system for the chicks too with a bucket that we refill on occasion.
As well as “running water” in our coop Dave also took the time to run a power line to the coop from our house as a permanent source of power in the coop. We now have a power strip for plugging in things like our brooder heater for chicks and power tools if we need to use them inside the coop. Dave also installed a string of LED lights inside the coop with a switch on the door frame so we will have light in the evening when we need to go out into the coop. It gets dark here around 6pm EVERY NIGHT with a small variation of 30 minutes on either side because we are so close to the equator. So if we need to do any roost training, checking on the chickens (in case of driver ant attacks and such), and when we put our roosters to bed we now have a lighted coop.
Speaking of putting our roosters to bed, we now have a black-out box for our boys. Our chicken coop is very close to our house, specifically the bedrooms, unfortunately and because of this chicken noises can create a problem for us. This location also has some advantages for us – like we can hear when the chickens are being attacked by ants sometimes so it’s not all bad being close. The crowing is the biggest issue by far but there are other noise that can cause issues like an upset hen or a hen singing her egg song or if someone is getting picked on. Most of these noises happen during the day which can be a problem for naps but the early-morning crowing is the biggest issue we have to deal with. So to help deal with this we have constructed a black-out box that we place our roosters in at night. With them unable to see the light of day, there is less crowing and we can actually get some sleep. We have to nail a piece of plywood on top to completely seal it but for now, the two layers of cloth help them not to crow until about 6:00-6:30am. MUCH better than 4am – just sayin’.
We also added curtains to our nest boxes the same day that we worked on the black-out box for the roosters. Hens need a quiet, private and dark place to lay their eggs and sometimes a plain nest box is not very inviting simply because they get too much light. So to help with this problem you can add curtains to the nest boxes to block out some of the light and give your girls some more privacy. I have been EAGERLY awaiting our first egg from the ducks (they were due to start laying first and should start anytime . . . ) when low and behold I was surprised to get our first egg from one of our 4 month old hens!! She has been laying for almost a week now but still has yet to figure out where to deposit her egg. I’ve found them in the run under the tree, in the dust bathing box, under the water tower and under the water nipples. I think I may need to move the nest boxes outside for a while to help her learn to lay in them.
A small change that came about because of Christmas but has made a HUGE difference in our lives was the addition of our new motorized grain mill. It isn’t a true mill because in truth it doesn’t grind the grain – the motor spins a couple of metal paddles inside the chamber that then hit the grain breaking it while a screen holds in the pieces that are too large so they can be hit again.You can control the size of the particles that you want by changing out screens or in some cases, like our adult chicken feed, not having a screen at all. It has changed my life as far as mixing feed goes – it used to take literal hours to mix and then grind our feed each week. Now, doing a double batch, the entire process takes about 20 minutes with the grinding being the quickest piece of that. Compared to 10 minutes mixing and 2+ hours of grinding the grain by hand, it’s a God-send.
Another smaller addition/improvement to our run was changing our feeding vessel from a platter on the ground to a rain gutter. Now why is this an improvement? With the platter there was less room for everyone to crowd around it and eat, especially for those low on the pecking order who would get picked on. It also was far too easy for them to stand in their food which causes contamination and leads to cocci outbreaks. With the rain gutter there is more room for everyone to eat and they are less likely to stand in the food, thought they still do at this point. This weekend we will hopefully add some wire to the top of the gutter to hinder them even further from standing in their food.
There are a few other things we need to add and a few I would like to add to the coop in the future. The biggest thing we need to do is pour cement “baseboards” for the run. The boards we buried when we first built the run and coop have been eaten away by termites and although this provides the occasional termite snack for our flock, it is falling apart now. The other necessary repairs are around where the tree in the run broke through our chicken wire cover leaving some gaping holes and a less-secure pen. This happened during our furlough when I wasn’t here to keep up with the trimming of the tree. Some of the things I would like to add to our chicken set-up in the future are some roosts outside and a few more nails to hang things like cabbage from fore fun. There is a lot to do still on our set up along with the upkeep but for the moment this is where we are at with our chicken/duck set-up. I mean the coop has indoor plumbing and electricity so I’d say we’re doing pretty good, all things considered.