Address: 1306 Newport Ave, San Jose CA 95125
We have hens in a coop built with the Garden Coop plans, a Flow Beehive, raised vegetable beds, and multiple young fruit trees. The hens we have are Easter Egger, Cream Legbar, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, and Red Star.
Built our coop using the plans from http://www.thegardencoop.com/ Flow beehive. Decorative vegetable garden.
We will be selling ice cream made from our eggs, homemade lemonade, and other snacks to raise money for Heifer International https://www.heifer.org/”
Jen’s Chicken Advice!
Jen has also created her own Chicken Advice on-line document with everything about coop building to chicken food.
We have grabbed a copy of the document and included it below. A more recent version may be available on her on-line document linked above.
Here’s a brain dump of everything I can think of about chickens!
Note: A lot of the stuff I linked to on Amazon is probably cheaper in your local feed store. We like Sam’s Feed Store in San Jose and Chicks n Bees in Los Gatos.
We built our coop using the plans from The Garden Coop and are happy with it. Well designed, well made coop.
A cordless angle grinder is your friend for cutting hardware cloth, as long as sparks don’t bother you. So much easier than tin snips. Cuts through the metal like buttah.
For attaching the hardware cloth, we used screws and washers. Seemed to work well.
Chickens get hot in the summer because of all the feathers. They can die if they get too hot. I put shade cloth in strategic places to keep them cool. Orchard Supply sells it by the foot. Costco also sells a shade cloth triangle that was handy for covering the run.
You definitely want to go with a nipple watering system or you’ll be changing out muddy water every day.
I have a Chicken Fountain inside the coop and a 5 gallon bucket with horizontal nipples in the run. If I had to do it again I’d probably skip the Chicken Fountain and use the bucket. The Chicken Fountain is nice if you are really limited in space, though.
You can make a bucket waterer using Horizontal waterer nipples, a five gallon bucket with tiny holes drilled near the top for air exchange, and a screw top lid to make it easier to add water. Set it on a couple of cinder blocks (or a stepstool) to get it about 12 inches off the ground for full grown birds. I end up having to refill this about once a month. The youngest chicks don’t have the strength to use the horizontal nipples. They need a vertical nipple waterer (below).
I did have the nipples freeze for a few of the coldest weeks last winter. I bought a pail de-icer but by the time it came the cold snap was over.
I add apple cider vinegar and chicken probiotics to the water. I have no idea whether this helps with anything – probably not – but I’m trying to avoid vet bills. When it’s super hot or they seem like they might be getting sick I’ll sometimes add powdered vitamins and electrolytes.
Feeders and food
I also have a couple of rabbit feeders like this (although mine have a solid bottom, not a screen) that I hang on the hardware cloth of the coop. One has grit and the other has oyster shell.
Food: Growing chicks and laying hens have specific dietary needs so you want to get the right food for their age. The youngest chicks eat Starter feed, which is a crumble. You can get medicated or non-medicated. Just a personal choice. Next is Grower feed, which they eat until they start laying. At that point you can just offer Oyster Shell on the side for the ones who need it and they can all continue to eat Grower. Once everyone is laying you can switch to Layer feed. Or you can just stick to the higher-protein Grower if you want as long as they always have oyster shell available. When they molt they need higher protein food or supplements to grow new feathers. I feed Scratch n Peck and have tried Modesto Mills which is also good, but there are lots of options.
Chickens don’t smell or attract flies as long as you keep things dry.
In the coop, I use straight Sweet PDZ. Important: You want this in GRANULAR form, not the classic powder form. It’s a mineral called zeolite that neutralizes ammonia and absorbs water. No smell, no flies. It looks and acts like clumping kitty litter. I even use a litter box scoop to scoop it. With six chickens I have to scoop out the coop once a week, just like a litter box.
I also keep a plastic joint knife near the coop for scraping off poop from the wood or whatever.
In the run, I use the deep litter method, also called deep bedding. The idea is that it is basically a giant hot compost pile. This works better if this is directly on dirt vs. over concrete since the soil microbes help. I never remove the poop from the run (in fact, when I scoop out the coop, I just throw it into the run.) When it needs it, I just rake the poop into the run so it’s covered. Otherwise I just throw some scratch in there and the chickens dig it around.
The easiest way to start deep litter is to put 6-12 inches of tree trimmings (the mix of woodchips and leaves that you can get an arborist to drop off for free.) Then over time you can add in lawn clippings, leaves, kitchen waste (not more wet stuff than the chickens can eat in a day or you’ll get flies), whatever organic material you have. I’ve cleaned it out once because I wanted the compost for my garden, but I think you can let it go a year or two. It works well. There are all kinds of resources online about how to do it.
The chickens will also need a dust bath. If they can scratch down to bare dirt somewhere in the deep litter that will work fine. That’s what mine do. Otherwise you can put a container of fine dirt, cold ashes, and/or Diatomaceous Earth somewhere they can sit in it.
The Day to Day
Chickens are more like cats than dogs as far as maintenance goes. In my experience here’s the work that needs to be done for chickens:
- Collecting eggs. If eggs are left there they will sometimes start eating them, and once a chicken becomes an egg eater, it’s hard to break the habit.
- (optional) Giving treats: scratch, vegetable trimmings and leftovers from the fridge that you can’t quite remember putting in there, so wouldn’t eat them yourself, but they don’t smell bad yet… mealworms, etc.
- (optional) Letting them out into the extended run, if you have one. We eventually automated this with an Ador automatic chicken coop door so we could go on an extended vacation without paying for a petsitter to come every day, and it’s been nice not to have to go out there to let them in and out. We paired it with this battery and this solar panel and it’s worked flawlessly since we installed it.
- Scooping the poop out of the coop and throwing it in the run, if using deep litter
- Check and/or refill food, water, oyster shell, and grit.
My chick brooder setup is a big Sterilite plastic box with a hardware cloth lid, an Ecoglow brooder and a chick feeder. I would also suggest starting even the tiniest chicks on nipple waterers, to cut down on the mess and also to get them used to drinking this way. The best way to do this in a brooder is to get a Vertical waterer nipple and mount it into a plastic bottle lid, like a gatorade bottle, and then hang it upside down on the side of the brooder. Like this.
I also created a separate space within our coop where a broody hen or new chicks can stay safely apart from the rest of the flock, but still outside in the same area.
What kind of chickens to get
Do you want…
- Lots of eggs? Then get a production breed. The commercial egg farms use Red Sexlinks (I think there are many names for a similar bird) for brown eggs, and Leghorns for white eggs. These chickens will lay almost an egg a day. Rocks (like Barred Rocks), and Reds (Like Rhode Island Reds) will lay fewer eggs but still a lot, and are prettier and don’t have some of the health problems of the commercial breeds. I’ve gotten Sexlinks from Little Red Hen Ranch and Rocks and Reds from Jhansi Bobba in Pleasanton, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pretty eggs? Then get a heritage breed that lays colored eggs. I got fertilized eggs at Alchemist Farms and they have a nice selection.
- Pretty chickens? Your choices are almost endless and often overlap with the above.
Chickens lay reliably for a couple years and then they start slowing down.
The balance that I’ve come to at this point is that half my flock consists of production breeds and half of heritage breeds, so I have some pretty eggs but also a lot of eggs for just eating. Every year I am culling and replacing half the flock, so I always have some young chickens who are in the peak of laying.
The exception to this is that I have two birds that are the kids’ pets. They are both Easter Eggers and I am lucky that they currently meet all three criteria. They each lay a blue-green egg almost every day and they are pretty. Also one of them is the one who goes broody. They’ll stick around as pets indefinitely.
I also have a Black Maran, Cream Legbar, Red Sexlink, Barred Rock, and Rhode Island Red.
Hatching season starts in February, so that is probably when you’ll have the greatest choice of chicks, if you want to wait that long. You can check with your local feed store to see when they will get chicks.
Where to find help
A good local chicken group is svchickens.
https://www.backyardchickens.com/ has a great forum with everything you’d ever need to know about chickens.