1. Dry and Clean Shelter- this is an absolute must. They don't like to get wet when roosting. The chicken coop needs to have a leak proof roof with solid walls. Don't make it air tight. It needs to have proper ventilation so that the methane gas and heat can escape. Make a window for good air flow during the day. The coop needs to be cleaned frequently. I clean out the roost area every 2-3 weeks. I lay discarded feed bags and tote lids under them to catch their droppings. I bring my cart over to the rear of the coop and I open the door. I then grab the feed bags and tote lids and scrap their droppings into my garden guerrilla cart. I then take the droppings and dump it right onto my compost pile. I place the bags and tote lid back in the coop. I use the bags about 3 times, then I replace them with some new feed bags. I clean the tote lid when I change the bags out. I cut one side and the bottom of the feed bag so that it will cover more area. This process makes it very easy to clean their roosting area. This keeps the ammonia smell under control. Breathing the ammonia is unhealthy for your flock.
2. Proper Diet - A proper diet makes all the difference in the health of your chickens. I use organic feed as much as possible. I buy my feed at tractor supply. I buy laying pellets with oyster shell. Oyster shell is calcium which is needed for egg production. I didn't know this when I first got my chickens. I was getting eggs with soft shells. A rookie mistake.. LOL I buy crickets from the local hardware store every week for a treat. I also gather green weeds that is growing in the field next to them. I used to keep their feed on the ground, but now I hang it from the ceiling. I learned that mice will lay droppings and eat their feed if its left on the ground. The chickens will also poop in their own food if you leave it down where they can walk through it or near it. Mice and chicken poop can make the chickens sick if their is enough of it. The mice can't get to the feed if you hang it high enough and keep it away from things they could use to jump off of. I built a 10'ftx10'ft pen attached to their coop. I throw raked leaves in there every week and I throw scratch feed in everyday. They like to scratch through the leaves to find the food and occasionally will find insects hidden in there. I will clean this area about every six months and throw it on my compost pile. Onions, long grass clippings and citrus fruits are not good for your chickens. The long grass can clog up their crop. They need grit to help them digest food. They don't have teeth to grind and mash their food. The grit gets into the crop and mashes up the food. Once the food is ground up it then passes on through the digestive track. Its not fun when one of your chickens gets a swollen crop. This can kill them if it goes uncorrected. Tip: Add a little apple cider vinegar to their water. It reduces the ph level in their crop and helps to prevent the bad bacteria. It also contains vitamins that are good for the chickens health.
3. Clean Water - Clean water is very important for the chickens health, egg production and with their digestion. When I first started I used a chicken waterer that sits on the ground. It would get very nasty from their poop and the chickens scratching near it. It would also form mold and mildew inside the water container. I had to clean it regularly. It was a pain. I now use the hydrator from Tractor Supply. (Click on Photo to purchase at Tractor Supply) Great purchase! Its a blue bucket with nipples on the bottom. They learned how to drink from it within a few minutes of me putting it in the pen. The water is sealed and I haven't had any algae to clean. The blue color of the bucket blocks the UV rays and helps to prevent the algae.
4. Protection from Predators- When your building your coop, you need to protect it from predaor air and ground attacks. Dogs, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, possoms, skunks, hawks, owls, eagles and buzzards are all dangerous to your chickens. They will find a way in if there is one. The doors should have some sort of pin in the door latches to prevent the predator unlatching the door. They are smart and will eventually figure the door latches out if given enough time and attempts. Hawks decimated my flock last year. I had them in a large fenced in area with no overhead protection. I clipped their wings so they wouldn't fly over the fence. We have large red tail hawks here in Georgia. I lost 12 out of 14. I gave the last two chickens away to save them. I now have chicken tunnels and a closed in pen. I bought 8 hens and one rooster. All Rhode Island Reds. So far I haven't had any attacks from the ground or air. I also used to let mine free range. I had game hens mixed in the flock at that time. They were great mother hens, but they were very stubborn on returning to the coop. They would rather sleep in a tree than return back to the coop. The other chickens followed them. I've had several get killed at night. I never knew what got them. My setup now is better than what I had before. When installing the wire on your coop bury 8-12 inches below the ground to prevent predators from digging under the fence.
5. Roost Area - make the roosting area higher than the nesting boxes. Some chickens like to roost in the nesting boxes if it is about the same height as the roosting area. Where ever they roost they poop. You don't want to have to keep cleaning the nesting boxes. Poop covered eggs are not fun to gather.
6. Local Laws and Restrictions - if you live in the city please check local codes, laws and restrictions before buying chickens to put in your backyard. Every city is different when it comes to owning animals like chickens. They could allow hens, but not allow roosters. Roosters are noisy and they tend to wake up close neighbors early in the morning. I live out in the country. There are no restrictions here. To be safe make sure you check the restrictions in the area where you live before purchasing your chickens.
7. What am I buying? Make sure you know what you are buying. If you go to a livestock auction, you don't know how old the chickens are and sometimes can't tell what the sex is. When they are young they all look like hens. I bought six roosters when I first started. I thought I bought 1 rooster and 5 hens. The one rooster I could tell was older, but the other roosters were young. The last chickens I got were bought from a hatchery. I knew the sex of each chicken, I knew how old they were to the day and I knew the breed before I bought them. If you buy chickens at an auction the hens could be old. They could be nearing the point of not laying eggs anymore. An older hen's legs tend to have a darker yellow color. Know what you are buying when you start.
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