I spent a fair amount of time securing the coop and run against predators. My friend Blake came up with an ingenious design for a raccoon proof latch on the nesting box that allows me to simply collect eggs. I bent the metal rod into shape; it works like a charm.
The idea is that the two spring loaded pins are farther apart than the armspan of a raccoon, so there's no way one could depress both latches at the same time. Conversely, it is an easy reach for a person, and designed to work well even while using gloves.
|Pinching the moveable pin down to the fixed stop disengages the latch.|
Here's a copy of the FAQ sheet I put out for the Coop Tour --
What Kind of Chickens Do I Have?
I have eight Rhode Island Reds, now 7 months old. They’re a popular choice for backyard flocks because of their egg-laying abilities and hardiness.
Is It Legal?
In Chicago, yes. The only relevant ordinances are prohibitions against noise and smell, as well as a ban on slaughtering. You can have as many as you like as long as they don't smell, make noise, and you don't slaughter them without the proper license. The smell is manageable with a supply of carbon material and the noise comes primarily from roosters, so they're out. If you want to eat your chickens, there are live poultry places in the city that will "process" your live chicken for you for a small fee.
Myself, I keep chickens for the eggs and the tiny ways they round out my life.
Where Did You Get Your Chickens?
This past February, I got them as two-day-old chicks from McMurray Hatchery in Iowa, costing about $3 each (including shipping). They came, via the US Post Office, in a 12" x 12" x 20" cardboard box that had one-inch air holes in it. Baby chicks can survive a couple days on the residual nutrients from their yolks, and thus can be shipped inexpensively. McMurray Hatchery has many different breeds to choose from--check them out online.
What Do They Eat?
The majority of their diet is a specially formulated organic Layer Ration containing soybean meal, corn, oats, wheat as well as several vitamins/trace elements, which costs about $ 0.60/pound from The Feed Store (located on Harlem Avenue just south of the Stevenson Expressway). Each of the chickens eats between 1/4 and 1/3 pound of feed per day. Combine that with the fact that, at this stage in their laying lives, they each average about 6 eggs per week. That breaks down to $ 0.18 - $0.24/egg, just for the feed.
I also give them all my kitchen scraps, especially greens from carrots, turnips, and beets, and with a few exceptions they eat it all. This lowers the feed cost as well as providing them with a richer diet and returning to me more compostable material. In addition, I give them all the weeds I pull from my yard.
How Many Eggs Do You Get?
They started laying smallish eggs, about 45 grams, at roughly age 5 months. Now they lay eggs in the low 50-gram range, considered "medium" by egg-grading standards. About once a week I get a double yolk, with the egg weighing over 75 grams, considered "jumbo." As they get older, their eggs will gradually get bigger, topping out at an average of 60 grams, or "extra large."
Each hen will lay roughly 1000 eggs in her lifetime, averaging nearly one daily from age 6 months to 18 months, eventually going down to one or two a week as she ages.
How Long Do They Live?
I've read as long as 12 years in rare instances. More common is 5 to 7 years.
Are Chickens Afraid of Humans?
On the contrary, many breeds are very social. I made an effort to acclimate them to human touch as they were growing up, encouraging visitors to pick them up and say hello. They still enjoy it now, as adults.
Don't You Need a Rooster to Get Eggs?
No. You need a rooster to fertilize an egg, from which a live chick hatches. My eggs, like almost all those you buy, are unfertilized. The hens don't know or care--they'll lay anyway. If I wanted to hatch new chicks, I'd need fertilized eggs.
Why Do the Hens Lay in the Same Nesting Box All the Time?
Left to her own devices, a hen will lay her eggs in the same dark, quiet spot every day until she gets a clutch of 5 or 6. When that happens, and if she is "broody," she’ll sit on them until they hatch (in about 20 days). Of course that couldn't happen here because none of the eggs are fertilized. Also, one of the characteristics of Rhode Island Reds is that they don't go broody, meaning they lay the egg and walk away (at which I point I collect the egg). Something important to consider if, like me, you're keeping chickens primarily for eggs.
What Happens to the Waste?
I use the Deep Litter Bedding method. This involves nothing more than adding to the chicken run handfuls of carbon, in my case coffee chaff (available free from any coffee house that roasts its own beans) and/or straw a couple times a week to absorb the accumulated waste. This keeps the smell almost non-existent, and the bedding ultimately becomes a large compost pile.
I do the same in the coop, but sweep the clumpy carbon/waste mixture out into the run once a month or so. I keep adding carbon until the bed is about 8 inches thick, which takes about a year, at which time I'll move it to my compost bin where it can finish “cooking.” Then it'll go onto my garden beds. In the meantime the chickens scratch and dig in the accumulated carbon/waste, effectively turning over and aerating their bed, causing it to compost even faster in place.
How Much Did the Coop and Run Cost?
I spent about $500 on materials and roughly 200 hours to build it. I came up with a design after looking online and reading several books that outlined what sort of design criteria should be addressed--i.e., number of square feet per bird required in coop and run, ventilation requirements, number and placement of nesting boxes, predator (raccoon) proofing, winterizing, water supply, electric needs (if any), ease of cleaning, and so on.
The coop is 48 square feet, the run is 120 square feet. Holding to the ratios suggested by experts, I could have up to 12 chickens in the space.
Do Chickens Make Noise?
Yes! Even though I don't have a rooster, the hens make several distinct noises, some of them quite loud. Most of the loud noise comes from hens wanting to go into a nesting box to lay and finding their preferred box occupied. They make a loud ba-gawk! ba-gawk! noise to announce their displeasure and the hen inside the nesting box (sometimes) screeches like a cat in heat, expressing her alarm. Eventually they double up, but there's a lot of drama along the way. I've taken to spraying the ba-gawkers with water from a squirt bottle. It seems to be having an effect.
I have read that you need just one nesting box for every four hens, so in theory this shouldn't be the issue. I've tried adding another box, but they won't use it.
What Is Your Daily Chicken Routine?
I refresh feed and water every 3 to 4 days. My waterer is an ordinary 5-gallon bucket with poultry nipples screwed into the bottom. The chickens drink by pecking at the nipple, releasing drops of water with each contact. This method keeps their water clean with minimum fuss. In winter I'll put a special heater with thermostat inside the bucket to keep ice from forming.
I collect eggs every day. Several of my neighbors welcome the eggs, as I can't eat them all. As a (hopefully) short-term project, I also spend an hour or so each day with my spray bottle trying to get the chickens not to ba-gawk so much. My immediate neighbors claim it doesn't bother them, but I don't want to abuse their good will.
A couple of times a week, or whenever I can smell excess ammonia, I add carbon in the form of coffee chaff.
What Happens to Chickens in the Winter?
They'll stay outdoors in their coop. It provides shelter from moisture and wind and they have down coats that they use to keep themselves warm. By puffing up their feathers, they loft up their down. Their egg production will drop as they spend more (food) energy staying warm rather than producing eggs.
Some people add a small light bulb to provide a little warmth on especially cold days. My understanding is that they don't need supplemental heat.
Can I See Your Chickens Online?
Yes, I write periodic updates on them at our rooftop vegetable blog, Green Roof Growers (google it).
Some great resources
Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts google group
I highly recommend this book:
Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow