Sunday, September 4, 2011

Article: Backyard Chickens Chapter 4

Our backyard chicken run, with the multicolored coop visible through the door
Wow. So much has changed since my last update in Backyard Chickens Chapter 3. Back then we had just put the chickens outside after their indoor growth period in early spring. We had a smaller coop, and a smaller chicken yard.

Here's how it all breaks down nowadays:

Egg production

One of our first eggs
We get 3-4 eggs a day at the moment, but that's only because only 3 or 4 hens have started laying. We expect we'll get 6-8 eggs per day in the summer, and a bit less during the winter.

The eggs started small, but got bigger after a week or so. They're really tasty! The chickens somehow know to go into the nesting boxes to lay them.

Will Cash predicted it. About 10 days ago, in the morning before I left for work, he assured me that we'd have an egg that day. He was right! That boy is in tune with the universe for sure.

The passive solar chicken coop

Passive solar chicken coop to catch winter sun
Our chicken coop is a modified play house that our babysitter and her fiancee brought us from south Denver.

The floorspace of the play house is roughly 4 feet by 3 feet, and it is about 3 feet tall. It is WAY overbuilt, and practically airtight with caulking, paint and such. This is good, as I've read that chickens hate drafts in the winter.

To make sure we have enough room for 6 hens, I put on an addition that's 4 feet wide, about 30 inches deep, and about 5 feet tall.

The added-onto chicken coop has a passive solar design: the taller addition has a 12-inch overhang to shield the coop from summer sun, but will easily let in the lower-angle winter sun.

Our plan is to not heat the coop in the winter, but to insulate it and hopefully let the passive solar chicken coop do its thing.

Chicken bedding

For bedding inside the coop, we began with pine shavings like we used in the early days, but quickly shifted to straw.

Straw composts much more quickly, and the chickens seem to prefer it now that they are older. Wood products also take nitrogen from the soil if they have not fully composted, so even partially composted straw bedding can be used on the garden for mulch or compost sooner than pine shavings.

Willa and Eliza dusting themselves clean
We compost all our chicken bedding (from inside the coop), and also rake the predator-proof chicken yard from time to time for more straw/manure.

We put it all in a composting bin for several months to temper the high nitrogen content of the chicken manure. We then spread it on our garden beds as mulch, and let the worms do their work of pulling it deeper into the soil.

Chicken feed
We use organic chicken feed. We can get it at a local feed store, Lafayette Feed & Grain, and they also have lots of great advice about bedding, care, and other chicken-raising odds and ends.

We had a hawk come by for a visit a few days ago while the chickens were out in the garden. Will saved three of them, and the other three had enough sense to get under cover. The hawk was literally perched on top of the post of the chicken yard. Guess we'll have to be careful about letting the chickens out into the garden!

More updates coming soon. If you've got a question, please leave a comment!


  1. That's a beautiful coop. Do you ever feed your chickens those fat white grubs from the compost bin? I have a little friend whose chickens go completely mental for them.

  2. Hey Kirby,

    Thanks for the kind words! The chickens certainly seem pleased with their multi-colored coop. ; - )

    I don't seem to have fat white grubs in my compost... although I use above-ground rotating-barrel-type composters... so maybe that's why. The chickens do love their grasshoppers, though!



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