Friday, May 24, 2013

Preparing for our Future Chicks ~Coop, Run, Deep Litter Method

The preparations for chicken keeping can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you live in an area where there are a high number of predators...including my own pets!  But we finally got the chicken run built and the coop installed inside it.  Then I had to cover the run and bury wire along the fence line.  I wanted my run to be like a 'Chicken Fort Knox' yet still be a calm, peaceful place for me to enjoy my time with them...and I think I accomplished that.

The run is approximately 20' x 16' with a 6' fence surrounding it.  The fence has 1/2" hardware cloth along the bottom 3 feet and regular rabbit fence on the upper 3 feet.  I covered the top with wildlife netting that is suppose to even keep out hawks...lets hope so because the day I was installing the net a huge hawk kept flying over our property.  

We live in the country in high desert Arizona so besides our own dogs and any nearby neighbors dogs, we also have three cats that would love to catch a little chick.  Then there is the wildlife...such as the hawk flying over, snakes (one of which I had to forcibly remove from our garage), coyotes, Javelina's, and I am sure there are other predators that I don't even know about yet.  But I think I have the run pretty well protected.  

The coop itself is 6'x6' with all windows covered in 1/2" hardware cloth and plexiglass over that to keep it warm at night, and during winter.  There are 5 nesting boxes.  I currently have to open the pop door each morning and close it up each night but I have ordered an automatic door from Ador that is due to be delivered very soon so I wont have to wake up at the crack of dawn to let the chicks out each day.

We bought the coop from a freind moving to a new home where he couldn't have chickens.  It is a very nice coop with two pop doors, and a human door.  It is painted a barn red with white trim which is nice, but I want to have a coop painted calming I will be painting it in the near future.  We brought it home in two parts on a flatbed trailer.  Then we used the tractor to lift the parts off and take them around to the back were the chicken run was being constructed.  Here is the coop waiting to be placed in the run.

Two parts of the coop waiting to be installed in the run.

Moving the Coop with the tractor.

And here it is once we installed it in the run and completed the final run walls. (excuse the ladder and other clutter in the run, I was lacing up the wildlife net above.)

The floor of the coop was only wood framing and hardware cloth because he thought that was easier to clean.  I have been reading up on different flooring types for coops and like the deep litter method best as it requires less work cleaning it out so frequently, does not smell, and when you do clean it out every 6 months you can use the litter in your garden or add it to your existing compost pile. 

So I asked my husband to put in a plywood floor and then top that will a piece of vinyl flooring.  That all went down very easy.  And a bonus was that the coop was now much warmer at night.  Something we were concerned about since we live in the high desert and it is at least 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix (where or friend lived) during the day and probably 40 degrees cooler at night.

Linoleum Scrap for flooring (purchased for about $10).

Next came the litter.  I chose wood pellets rather than wood shavings because they are less expensive for one, at only $3 per bag, and you only need 3 bags to make a 4" deep litter once they are broken down.  They are also much finer than wood shavings so they are easier to turn on a regular basis.   Mostly the chickens will do the turning for me if I simply toss some scratch on the floor in the evening when they are going to roost.  

Breaking down the pellets was super easy.  You just pour the bag into a tub or wheel barrel. I have tons of rubbermaid tubs that I use for all kinds of things, so I split the three bags of pellets between 2 tubs.  It only filled them about half full.  Then I turned on the garden hose and sprayed water on them.  I didn't know if I needed to stir them around to help break them up so I did a little experiment.

Comparison of which method needed to break up pellets with the least amount of effort.
In tub #1 (on the left) I just sprayed the pellets until they looked very wet on top and I could see wetness through the sides of the tub as well, then I just left them alone.  In tub #2 I sprayed them, waited at few minutes then stirred them around with my hand-shovel, then sprayed the dry ones deeper in the tub, then stirred it around some more.  I had to spray and stir about 4 or 5 times to get everything thoroughly wet and broken up.  Tub #1 that I left alone was soaking up all the water I put on it in the beginning (lots of water by the way) and by the time I finished all the spraying and stirring of tub #2, the first one had puffed up and began to break apart just sitting there.  So as I learned, all the work was totally unnecessary.  Just spray the pellets really well and walk away!  It was a warm day so they dried out quite nicely under the warm sun in a few hours.  When I scooped them out of the buckets and tossed it into the coop the pellets all fell apart exactly the same, regardless of which method I used.  So save yourself the hard work, just spray the pellets really well and walk away! Unless it makes you feel more productive to break a sweat and work your upper arm muscles.

Started filling the coop floor with the wood pellets (broken up and dried). Filled to about 4" deep.
So with that finally done it was time to get my chicks... Please come back soon to read about our new baby girls (at least we hope they are all girls)...

Keeper of 1 husband, 2 grandkids, 3 dogs,
3 cats, and 17 Chickens!
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Did this post stir something inside of you? If so, Please leave me a comment, I would love to know what you're thinking!!!