Keeping Chickens

I’ve been keeping chickens for about 3 years now and today was moving day again. For the first couple of years I moved them through the grassy areas of my property, but then I lost 3/4’s of my flock aerial predators so I started keeping them under the cover of the brushy areas of my property. This is not ideal as there is not as much greenery for them to eat, but it does keep them from being killed by hawks and owls. This does make moving them a fair bit more effort as I first have to clear brush along the path I want the electro-net fencing to run and the fencing has to be pulled up and the whole section folded and moved. When I was on the grass I could just move the fencing a few feet at a time, but you cannot do that when there are trees and brush in the way. Therefore the chickens do not get moved as frequently as I would like. If you go with the portable electro-net fencing like I did by the 80′ lengths rather than the 160′, they are much easier to move and give you more options.

Some people feel they need to provide a coop that is well insulated and completely free of drafts for the winter and some even supply supplemental heat. I have not found this to be the case in S.E. Michigan. I do what is best described as a 3-sided coop and I have not lost any birds in the winter. However I do have the coop in a place that is naturally sheltered from the wind. In some magazines from the late 1800’s that talked about farming in the mid-west talked about having large windows on one side of the coop (preferably the side opposite the wind) and just having them covered in chicken wire, no glass. The claim was the biggest problems with chickens in a fully closed coop is the build up of humidity and ammonia and having good ventilation takes care of that. While I cannot comment on if it is better because I have all my experience is with these “well-ventilated” coops, I have not experienced any problems with not having a tightly sealed/heated coop. Breed may also make a difference, I’ve had White Leghorn, ISA Brown, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks & Australorps.

To date I’ve only lost two birds to something other than predators. One got her neck caught in the fork of a honeysuckle bush and basically hung herself, the other was an adult bird that died 2 days after we got her. Since this works for me I do not plan on changing. I’m not claiming what I do is what you should also do, however if it works for me you might want to consider it for your flock.

Author: Jerry Ward

Working on creating a 10 acre urban homestead in S.E. Michigan. To pay the bills I work as a product manager/business analyst in the IT field. Now the admin of Save Our Skills

  • Gloria Flora

    You’re right we need to do what works for us. Not having an insulated coop in inclement weather works in that your chickens can survive. But if you want eggs and weight maintenance or gain, you have to give them some protection. It’s simply about energy exchange. You capture energy in the meat and eggs that would otherwise be spent by the bird keeping warm.

    We have flocks of chickens, geese and turkeys, all are free-range but are penned or cooped at night. Chickens that have a dry, warm coop will automatically go there at dark. We have a mixed forest/open environment. The birds are all hip to aerial predators and our livestock guardian dogs are as well. The birds and/or dogs sound the alarm and the birds go under cover and dogs on the chase at first sign of hawks, ravens or owls.

    We keep a light on at night in the insulated chicken coop. They return like clockwork regardless of where they are ranging during the day. The geese go to their pen and converted dog houses. The mature turkeys roost in trees and the younger ones go in their pen. Teach them with food.

    You are right that a well insulated coop can build up moisture and ammonia. It’s irksome to us but just imagine what the poor girls who have to sit in it feel like! Here’s the solution – biochar. Go to http://www.biochar-us.org to learn more about biochar. Biochar is charcoal made from waste biomass with the intention of putting it back in the soil – it improves soil quality, crop production, microbial activity and sequesters carbon. One of its amazing qualities is its ability to attract and hold moisture, nutrients and odor. (Think activated charcoal only cheaper.) Mixing biochar in with your chicken litter (handfuls not bucketfuls) practically eliminates all odors and creates a great addition to your garden when you put the litter in your compost or right on your garden.

    We only use fence in raising our young motherless fowl and ALWAYS put a net or deer fencing over the top to keep out predators. If the babies are with their moms and raised naturally, we only put them in at night. The moms are hip to predators and teach the little ones to run for cover (under them).

    I put together an information sheet on natural raising of chicks without moms but that seems more appropriate to post in the spring. I also am the founder and Director of the U.S. Biochar Initiative. I urge all of you to check out biochar, a highly successful indigenous practice dating back thousands of years. why reinvent the wheel?

  • Biochar is something I have been watching for some time. My son is keen on it and when we plant perennials he throws some from our fire in the hole we dig. He read about Terra Petra and is determined to recreate it. I’ve taken to putting the ash and left over charcoal from cleaning out our wood stove in with the litter in the coop. It is one of my goals to build a retort style charcoal kiln, which of course will make biochar, but that is a future project.