"I wonder if you can tell me:
1. What breed of hens you have had best luck with for laying. Is there a type of hen you recommend? I liked the idea of small chickens...
I hear that Auracanas and Hylines are popular and lay a lot of eggs. I think these breeds sound fine! Since your chicks have been together since hatching, they are likely to get along with each other pretty well.
Other good breeds I've had are Black Copper Marans and Jersey Giants. I think that larger chickens such as these are practical because they are less likely to be attacked by suburban predators such as cats. I like this chart on Backyardchickens.com for breed information.
2. What size run did you make?
Our coop is probably too small -- only 10 square feet for the enclosed henhouse and 25 square feet for the lower part of the coop. This coop is made of wood and hardware cloth (not chicken wire) to keep out predators at night. (Here's a photo). Once our original 4 chickens were full grown, we started letting them free range in the yard during the day. However, they made such a mess of the yard that we now confine them to a 120 square foot area during the day. (pictured here). This has worked out great especially now that we have netting over the top so we never have to worry about predators. Sometimes I use this chicken tractor as well. You mentioned you'd be using a chicken tractor -- this will probably work our really well since you have a large yard. Could you tell me more about it?
3. What you do to winterize your coop...red light?
Our winters aren't too cold on the west coast so the only thing we heat is the water. We have a red light that we've never used. The top part of the henhouse is pretty snug, with ventilation on a sheltered side of the coop.
4. How often you are cleaning coop...daily or every second day?
We use the "deep litter method" to cut down on maintenance. The enclosed part of the coop has several inches of bedding which I rake every couple days to get the droppings started composting. I change this bedding monthly. The run also has several inches of bedding and the chickens scratch around and break everything down. Every couple months I rake this bedding into the compost and put out fresh bedding.
5. Have you had any problems with rats? or any other predators?
I come across signs of rats occasionally, but no more than when we had just a regular bird-feeder in the yard! To discourage them, the chicken feeder is kept inside the coop which is locked at night.
This year we did have a raccoon try to get into the chicken tractor during broad daylight, but a neighbor shooed it away.
6. After two years what do you do with your layers?
We are dealing with each chicken on an individual basis. Last year we sold a 1.5 year old hen because she wasn't getting along with the others. We have three other hens coming up on two years and their egg production has slowed down -- one is pretty mean and will probably go into the stewpot. The other two we'll probably keep around since we really like them.
7. Feed: do you do the store bought or combo of table scraps and greens...I was concerned it could attract rats.
We use store bought "Layer pellets" in a feeder so they always have food available. This is locked inside the coop at night. We put out table scraps and store bought chicken scratch, but only what they'll eat during that day.
Our compost / vegetable scrap / grass clipping area is in the chicken run and they like to dig around in there as well. This doesn't seem to attract rats. We don't use any weed killer in our yard so all yard trimmings go into the chicken's compost area. The chickens do the job of turning up the compost and breaking everything down.
8. Flu...did you have any problems with sickness in your flock ever?
We haven't had any sickness. Since you hatched your chicks from eggs like we did, I think likelihood of sickness is low. I use diatomaceous earth as a natural insecticide.
9. Bedding: what do you use...I was told sawdust which can be put into our yard waste bin!
For bedding, we use whatever is available. This fall we got 6 free bales of straw off craigslist, so we've been using that lately. I also use fall leaves. Wood shavings are nicest, and I use this for the top part of the coop where they sleep.
All of the old bedding goes onto the compost pile. After a year it becomes garden soil!
Monday, January 2, 2012
Questions from a friend who is thinking of keeping backyard chickens
My friend emailed me some questions about chickens so I thought I'd post them here. She hatched Auracana and Hyline chicks with her kids as a project and would like to keep the hens. Some background: they live in Kelowna, BC and their backyard is about a quarter acre.