Chickens get up early, poop a lot and waste a ton of food – all of which are problems for lazy chicken farmers, like ourselves. Over the two years we have owned our chickens, I have devised a few strategies that have allowed us to continue to be as lazy, or perhaps efficient, as possible.
First of all, I have to give a shout out to Mark King of King’s Berry Farm who made us our coop. It is a project I could have done myself, but the time it would have taken me versus the cost Mark charges to make these made it a no brainer.
Problem 1: Sunrise
As soon as the first shafts of light start to penetrate our chicken coop, our Buff Orpingtons (all named Dorothy, after Dina’s grandmother) are ready to take on the day. I however, need my 8 hours of sleep and when the sun rises I am often up in my roost and not ready to come out until many hours later. Our chicken coop comes with a sliding door which helps protect the birds from varmints (raccoons, possums, etc.) and keeps the hen house warmer and less drafty in the winter. The problem is that if that door is closed in the morning when the chickens wake up they are shut off from their food and water and are more prone to pluck out the each other’s feathers (hence the term “pecking order.” Ouch.)
Solution: Drapery Motor + Timer
I ordered this drapery motor from discounthomeautomation.com (which is designed to automatically open and close curtains) and plugged it into an ordinary electric timer from home depot.
Now I can’t claim at this is solely my invention. I got the idea from Jarrett Man at Stone Soup Farm, but here is how it works in our coop:
DiscountAutomation.com explicitly says not to use this particular model for chicken coops but mine has been working for two years without a problem. To account for the weight of the absent curtain, I added an old paint can and filled it with rocks and water.
In the summers I set my timer to trigger the door to shut at 9pm and open again at 5:30am. As the days get shorter, I readjust the timer accordingly.
And here is what it looks like in action:
Problem 2: Poop
I think chickens poop more than they don’t, which is actually a good thing for gardeners. Chicken manure when properly composted can add a great deal of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to your garden beds. So we love the stuff, we just want to scoop it up as little as possible. For a while, when I cleaned out the coop, I would just put the straw and poop straight into the composter. But the coop need cleaning weekly and the straw didn’t break down well in the compost.
Solution: Poop Gutter
Eventually, I noticed that every night when the Dorothy’s went in to roost, they would usually orient themselves in the exact same way. And every morning the bedding under their roost would get poopier and poopier. So I decided a catch system was in order.
Using an old gutter and a 2×4 ripped at 45 degrees I mounted this “Poop Gutter” right under the Dorothy’s butts to catch their nighttime production.
The gutter slides in and out easily and allows us to put the poop straight into the composter with no straw. It also keeps the bedding cleaner and instead of weekly cleanings, we are doing a cleaning once a month, at most. This in-turn, helps prevent fly problems.
Problem 3: Playing with your Food
Urban chicken proponents argue that having chickens in the city is no more of a nuisance than having a cat or a dog. We are big advocates of keeping keeping chickens in the city, but if you’re not contentious, there are many ways in which chickens can be more troublesome than traditional pets. If you don’t have a poop gutter or good management techniques, chickens can smell and attract flies. They can also attract mice who often make their way into nearby homes. We found this out last winter when a neighbor dug up a box of mice-chewed clothes they had in storage. This is not unusual when storing things in houses that are over 100 years old. But in this case our Dorothy’s were implicated by the stash of chicken food that the mice had also left laying around in bottom of the box.
Solution: Food Catch
Poultry feeders are ordinarily out of the reach of pests and are designed to minimize food getting wasted on the ground. But our Dorothy’s make a huge mess of it anyway. So to try and prevent the all-you-can-eat mouse buffet I put together another catch system to collect the food that was spilling out of the feeder.
I built a box about 1 and 1/2 inches deep and laid the plastic grid from a florescent light in the top.
The holes are big enough to allow stray food to pass through and collect in the bottom of the box but small enough to prevent mice from getting access to it.
The grid slips off easily and when the box gets full, I can just poor the spilled food back into the feeder, saving our neighbor’s clothes as well as a decent amount of money on chicken food.
Problem 4: Uncultured and Uninspired Chickens:
Egg laying can be monotonous and our chickens don’t get out much. We wish they were free range, but the limitations of the city prevent them from getting out and socializing.
We thought a soaring balk eagle, made by 99-year-old Louis Charpentier and a painting Dina picked up in Haiti would help our birds to aspire to all that they can be.
Yes, I realize that no real self-respecting farmer would have the time or energy for this, but that’s okay. We’re fine with being fake farmers for the time being.