We might have a bit of a chicken problem.
When we started keeping chickens, we rescued a starter flock of 12 Rhode Island Reds that were destined for a brief life in a factory farm. This was an excellent and easy way to start raising chickens, as they were already grown and laying when they came to us.
At first, their eggs were not particularly nice. The white-to-yolk ratio was too heavy on the white and the yolk itself was very pale. As the birds’ diet was changed to an organic layer pellet mixed with organic cracked corn and oyster shell for calcium, things started to improve. The more they free-ranged throughout the day, the better the eggs became. Eventually, we had 12 birds giving us gorgeous, rich eggs with dark, beautiful yolks. There is no question about the power of a free-range, organic diet.
This spurred our excitement about chickens. We wanted to diversify the flock and would pick up birds here and there. Initially, we added some Black Copper Marans, Golden Laced Cochins, and Bantam Splash Cochins. These were great, but none of the newbies were particularly prolific layers. Having several chickens and a couple of roosters a year or so in, we purchased an incubator and decided to start hatching our own.
This is where the trouble started.
Our flock is now at 53 chickens. We’re going to be culling roosters fairly soon, which will get us down into the 40s, but that’s still a lot of chickens. Currently, 20 of them are still too small to be integrated into the main flock. We prefer to keep them separated until they are at least half the size of the full chickens, if not larger. This gives them a better chance of not being picked on.
This is the first time we’ve had so many chicks at once and our chicken “tractor” just wasn’t up to the task. Dave built this for our first two chicks and we’ve used it A LOT. It’s a perfect stop-gap for up to (maybe) 12 chicks to safely learn how to scratch and peck before being released into the general population. It is not, however, good for 20 growing chicks to spend their days. We needed a bigger space.
The other problem with having so many chicks at once is where they would all sleep at night. Again, our usual system was failing us as these little guys grew by leaps and bounds. As the chicks grew, this once roomy bin became increasingly overcrowded. We wanted them to be safe from predators at night, but there had to be a more friendly way to keep them out of harm’s way.
On a two-acre farm, there isn’t a lot of surplus space when you’re trying to do all the things we’re trying to do. But we did have one spot that wasn’t being used, and we thought it might just be perfect.
When we first got Cindy the Pregnant Goat, we fenced off a grassy area and built her a little shelter. This was meant to be a place she could hang out when she wasn’t in her primary enclosure. The shelter was nothing more than a spot to get out of the rain. While she did hang out here for a week or two, she pretty much abandoned it totally once the kids were born. Since goats are browsers more than grazers, this bit of grassy field just wasn’t floating her boat and the little shelter has been sitting unused for over a month.
We decided that with a little ingenuity and no small amount of MacGyver-style improvisation, we could convert this spot into a temporary coop for chicks not yet ready for the real coop. We added chicken wire, a pallet, roosting branches, and other stuff we had lying around and ended up with a spot about a million times better for the chicks than we’d been giving them.
It is, like most of our projects, incredibly hobo, but it does the trick. The chicks are no longer being moved manually twice a day, they have loads more space, and they will learn to roost here before having to vie for space among the bigger birds. Not only has it made less work for us, but it has also made us very happy.