NFU Mutual Smallholding Insurance

Author Topic: New keeper questions...  (Read 492 times)

tommytink

  • Joined Aug 2018
New keeper questions...
« on: December 31, 2018, 02:30:49 pm »
Hello,

The smallholding I have moved to has fenced chicken run and two coops. I have cleaned them out with Virkon, painted them to try and make them more weatherproof, and (when the weather is dry!) apply some roof sealant.

So I think I am nearly ready to actually get some birds, which is a big deal for me as I've never had them before, and I want to make sure I get it right. Please excuse the questions, which probably have obvious answer, but I'd rather check with those that have some experience!

1) How many hens would you recommend to start? It is quite a large area and I was thinking an even four or six. There are two coops. One is large enough for me to climb into (croopying down) and has five nesting boxes, the other has three. Am I right in thinking at night you lock them in the hen-houses? And if so, would you recommend putting say two (or four) in the big one and two in the smaller one? Would it be classed as one nest box per bird, so the big coop is for five and the small one for three?

2) What do you cover the floor with? I read wood-shavings, not sawdust as it's not good for their respiratory system? Am sure I also read somewhere that you can use straw? Will they tend to toilet a lot in the coop or do they save up for outside? Do you do a weekly clean out and just cover any messes with more shavings till then?

3) Is there a recommended food? I've read you can feed a variety of different things but what is generally best? Also grit - I know they need this for digestion because they don't have teeth to chew their food. Would you disperse this in the run for them to peck over or supply it in a separate feeder?

Once again, sorry about the questions, just like to get opinions!

Voss Electric Fence

abc123

  • Joined Oct 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2018, 10:05:44 pm »
Hello Tommy

Firstly, what are the dimesions of the coop?  It sounds as though you could fit quite a few hens but on a free range basis. You dont need one nesting box per bird. One for every 3 or 4 is fine. But it mostly depends on the actual square meterage of the coop as to how many you can comfortably house.

To start of with I would say no less than three in any of the two pens or overall for welfare reasons. If one bird was to die for whatever reason you couldnt keep one on its own. You would have to start inteoducing new birds which poses other problems.

Yes lock them up at night, especially if they are free range not in a secure roofed run. I keep all mine in a concrete floor based run with two courses of concrete blocks and a frame of 3x2s with 10mm weld mesh. But then we have a lot of foxes around :rant: >:(

Yep definately right there with the sawdust. I use Bedmax which is a 25mm square flake. It is actually for horses but can be used for all livestock. :thumbsup:
Straw is also an option yes but tends to clump together with the poo.

Chickens will not save up and acually do more pooing during the night than during the day so the house will quickly get messy unless you do a daily poop scoop maybe when you first let them out or do their food and water.

If your chickens are free range layers pellets in a hopper are fine but if in a confined space most of the time use layers mash. Its the same stuff just takes them longer to digest it so minimises bullying etc.

Yes definately grit, supply this in a seperate container for sanity and accessibility.

Np hope this helps :)

doganjo

  • Joined Aug 2012
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Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2018, 10:10:07 pm »
I was thinking an even four or six.
Am I right in thinking at night you lock them in the hen-houses?

Would it be classed as one nest box per bird, so the big coop is for five and the small one for three?

2) What do you cover the floor with? ? Will they tend to toilet a lot in the coop or do they save up for outside? Do you do a weekly clean out and just cover any messes with more shavings till then?

3) Is there a recommended food? I've read you can feed a variety of different things but what is generally best? Also grit - I know they need this for digestion because they don't have teeth to chew their food. Would you disperse this in the run for them to peck over or supply it in a separate feeder?

Once again, sorry about the questions, just like to get opinions!
Yes, start with half a dozen. 

You'll become addicted and want more quite quckly.   :eyelashes:
Put them all in the same coop amd run, then when you get more put them in the other coop and run to make sure they aren't carrying anything - then you can let them all together after a couple of weeks
Yes, shut them in when it starts to get dark.
If you can put a light on in the coop they'll go in themselves, but probably will anyway.

They'll possibly all use the same nest box, but one or two will be fine for 6 hens

Shavings best, sawdust isn't good for anyone's lungs, they poop all the time so yes, once a week at least for cleaning them out, but you can get off with poo picking the worst areas and spreading fresh shavings.

Looks like I'm cross posting, but same advice,  Only bad question is the one not asked
Always have been, always will be, a WYSIWYG - black is black, white is white - no grey in my life! But I'm mellowing in my old age

Perris

  • Joined Mar 2017
  • Gower
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2018, 10:22:38 pm »
Hi Tommytink  :wave:  questions are good - that's how we all learn new skills  :)

So it sounds like your coops are weatherproof; they need ventilation too but not draughts. A protected opening near the top at each end is the usual solution.
Re: Q1. For numbers, you could compare your run and coop dimensions with the recommendations for minimal sq ft/bird on places like the British Poultry Society site. Yes you shut them in the hen house at night, to protect them from predators. A house with 5 boxes is probably big enough for at least 6 hens. The boxes are for laying in, not sleeping in, and they do not need or use one each. Usually they all prefer the same box or two and will even queue up waiting for another to finish in the preferred box rather than lay in the disfavoured box(es)  ::) I would not force a split between the coops; it can be handy to keep one in reserve for e.g. quarantine (when you want to introduce new birds to the flock but also want to check they're healthy before they mix with the rest) or hospital (an ill bird) or broody (mum and chicks) duties.
Q2. I use wood shavings. Huge bag designed for horses lasts for months if you pooh pick daily. The amount of pooh reflects the daylength; at this time of year they are in there for about 16 hours, so there's a fair amount per night; in high summer there's very little. A daily pooh pick for 9 birds using 2 coops takes me 10 mins per day. Then I change the shavings fortnightly or whenever there's a strong smell of ammonia (which is also bad for their respiratory system).
Q3. I'm a fan of fermented feed, as are my chickens; we converted to it over a year ago. You can ferment grain or pellets; we prefer grain. Yes they need grit; if you let them free range they will find their own. Otherwise scattering it will provide some enrichment activity for them. You also need oyster shell or other source of calcium offered in a separate container once they are laying if you don't give them complete food i.e. processed pellets.

You might also want to investigate the different breeds; there are pros and cons which you can try to tailor to your particular circumstances and desires. Have fun!  :excited:

abc123

  • Joined Oct 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2018, 10:29:04 pm »
Oh and a handful of mixed corn in the evening as a treat and to keep them warm overnight. This is one of the best bits of keeping chickens. When they peck out of your hand ;D :eyelashes:

Yes you will end up with more than you ever thought you would :)

Sorry perris just said abt the corn as well ;)

Eve

  • Joined Jul 2010
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2019, 03:39:09 pm »
Hi Tommy,

With regards to what number of hens would be best: how many eggs would you use per week? That decides how many hens you start off with. :hungry: If it’s just for 2 people you would have far too many eggs from 4 or more hens for most of the year, as even breeds that do not lay prolifically will lay several eggs a week. If you’re a family of 6, on the other hand, you’d use them up more easily :)

One thing to bear in mind is that hens lay most in their first year and then the numbers drop (many 5 year olds will lay little, some breeds none, by then) but the birds will still need feeding & perch space & care etc, and most breeds take a winter break after their first season. So if you need eggs for only a small family or a couple, 3 hens will be sufficient, then 2 years later when egg numbers start to drop you add two youngsters to your flock to increase egg numbers to useful levels again, same again another few years later. Buying too many young hens in the first year means higher feed and maintenance costs (which selling eggs does not cover) and a hen retirement home some years later, best to space it out all a bit.

Enjoy!  :chook:

tommytink

  • Joined Aug 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2019, 07:51:07 pm »
Thanks so much for all the info!

The big coop is about 5ft by 5ft with six nest boxes. The smaller one is about 3ft by 2ft with two nest boxes. The actual run, which is netted and chicken wired all over, is about 20ft by 50ft. I think I’ll pop them all in one coop to start as like you all say, handy to have a spare one for sick or new birds.

So food. I guess pellets would be best as the run is large, or I may let them free range the whole place (depends on how hard it is rounding them up!) I have a feeder, it’s a plastic round thing the old owner left behind. Do I put pellets in and leave it outside? Or does it go inside the coop as well? I’m just worried about getting everything right!


abc123

  • Joined Oct 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2019, 09:26:16 pm »
Sounds like the coop is plenty big enough for six if that's what you are planning to start with. Up to 8 if you wanted to.
Yes its always a good idea to have a spare coop or two. They will get into routine after a few days and go in themselves. Keep them inside house and run for the first few days and possibly restrict the available run space so they can find the coop. You can have either option about the feeder. However try not to leave it out over night or else it will attract rats and mice. They will find a way in somehow if they know there is food in there and its cold.
either bring it into the house or a secure outbuilding or a metal rodent proof container of some sort. Thats the only thing they cant gnaw through.

tommytink

  • Joined Aug 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #8 on: January 06, 2019, 04:24:42 pm »
Just out of interest, the previous owner had tacked similar to chicken wire around the bottom, between the floor of the coops and the actual ground. Do you know why this would be? Is it to stop rodents getting in that way somehow?

abc123

  • Joined Oct 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2019, 05:56:23 pm »
No, conventional chicken wire wont stop rodents. Not sure why he or she did this ???
Could be to stop the chickens from dustbathing or scratching ariund under the house. That is one of the favourite places (other than a newly dug flower bed)  ::)
If you cant see any immediate need for it and you need the space under the house, rip it off
It wont stop anything but poultry anyway

tommytink

  • Joined Aug 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2019, 07:58:22 pm »
So I’ve reserved 6 ex-commercial hens to pick up the 26th  :excited:

Another question about food. I’m going to get layers pellets as the birds will be out and about. But do I keep the feeder topped up? Or will they just keep eating regardless of whether they’re hungry or not? The previous owner had a feeder which it looks like they rigged up to suspend inside the chicken coop. They don’t need food at night though do they? Because they’ll be asleep, right?!! Just don’t know why the food would’ve been in the coop at all as surely it would make more mess?

And also- wood shavings for the base of the coop, but what about the nest boxes? We have some bales of straw and I always see pics of eggs laid in straw!! I’ve also seen special chicken bedding but it doesn’t look cost efficient if putting it all over the coop but maybe that’s just for the nest boxes too?

Apologies again for questions

abc123

  • Joined Oct 2018
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #11 on: January 09, 2019, 08:38:01 pm »
 :D I havent got any experience with exbats but i hear they need a bit more care than the average POL or hen we know?? Someone else can probably advise as to this.

Yes keep the feeder topped up and make sure if its outside it has a lid/rain hat. You can feed adlib or have set feeding times. If you are at work its best and easiest to feed adlib. If its your income and you are around all day, you have either option. Whatever you prefer really.

Perhaps because they didnt let them out early in the morning? Or they just kept the feed dry? It shouldnt make more mess, just compromises space.

Yep nestboxes with straw is fine just keep it dry and airy and dont let them sleep in there at night. Otherwise you will have pooey eggs. :-[

What is the special bedding??

Perris

  • Joined Mar 2017
  • Gower
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2019, 07:10:54 am »
I haven't had ex-batts, but as I understand it you may have to teach them how to use a roost etc.; it will depend somewhat on their previous experience as caged or so-called free range birds. But the place supplying them should be able to advise you on any special measures that might be needed, either before by email, or when you pick them up.

DavidandCollette

  • Joined Dec 2012
Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2019, 09:46:00 am »
I would consider getting a treadle feeder, plenty on tinterweb. I bought one with a metal, rather than plastic base. They are completely rodent proof and keep wastage to an absolute minimum

doganjo

  • Joined Aug 2012
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Re: New keeper questions...
« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2019, 05:00:13 pm »
IME ex batts catch on very quickly to just about anything, although I haven't had the need to use a treadle feeder.  (I've had rescues for over 30 years.) 

Feed inside, especially at night, is unnecessary, and encourages rats, mice and beasties. 

You might not get much help from the rescue people on the day- they don't have time - usually hundreds of birds and loads of rehomers.  But the BHWT website is quite good - https://www.bhwt.org.uk/rehome-some-hens/hen-keeping-starter-guide/

Good luck
Always have been, always will be, a WYSIWYG - black is black, white is white - no grey in my life! But I'm mellowing in my old age

 

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