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egrogan 01-20-2013 12:24 PM

Help! 4 lovely ladies just moved in, coop and all
 
Our neighbor is moving and needed to rehome 4 chickens- granted, the middle of January in New Hampshire, with 6 inches of snow on the ground, is not ideal for this sort of relocating, but the timing is what it is. The ladies moved in last night, complete with their coop, some food, and a heated water pan, but that's about it.

These are our first chickens, so we are feeling a little clueless about how to keep them looking fat and healthy as they appear to be now. The coop is essentially a fairly roomy plywood structure with a front door, 4 windows, a roosting bar, and 3 nesting boxes, and hanging feeder, and heated water pan. Here are my questions:

1. The coop's just set on the ground right now- it's about 30F today, but the temps are supposed to go to 0-15 degrees F this week. Would pine shavings help keep their feet warm? Is there a better floor material in terms of cleanup and sanitation? How often do we change the bedding?
2. They came with about 1 weeks' worth of pelleted food. Is this all they need to keep going? I know friends have fed free range chickens vegetable and fruit scraps- is this ok for them? Is there something better?
3. There is nothing in the nesting boxes- if I bring some loose hay I sweep up at the barn and add it to their boxes, is that appropriate? Is it a problem if I use the dusty sacrifice hay that the horses aren't eating?
4. 3 of the 4 windows are currently covered in plexiglass, but the 4th is just chicken wire, which is not secure. I didn't see the coop last night when it was dropped off, so I'm not sure if it was already broken when the coop arrived, or if something tried to get to them last night. Is this window left with just wire (and not plexiglass) for ventilation? If I rescreen with a heavier wire, is that enough to keep them safe?
5. We don't have a pen or any yard fenced in for them right now- it's pretty much impossible with the snow on the ground. Can I let them out without a pen, but supervised? Can they be unsupervised during the day? Will they know to come back into the coop or will I have to physically put them back in?

I know that's a million questions, and I will be reading up today, but anything people want to add based on experience would be super helpful!

egrogan 01-20-2013 12:41 PM

3 Attachment(s)
A couple of quick pictures of the set-up. It's not the most beautiful house there ever was, but for now, it works.

Also, I know nothing of breeds, I believe the two in the corner are Rhode Island reds, but what are the other two?

Phly 01-20-2013 01:05 PM

We feed cracked corn but they are scratch chickens so they graze all day. Loose hay is fine for the nesting boxes.
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Chevaux 01-20-2013 01:27 PM

I've had chickens for years - love have them around the barnyard and fresh eggs are an added bonus. Here's some answers to your questions based on my experience.

Quote:

Originally Posted by egrogan (Post 1852514)
Our neighbor is moving and needed to rehome 4 chickens- granted, the middle of January in New Hampshire, with 6 inches of snow on the ground, is not ideal for this sort of relocating, but the timing is what it is. The ladies moved in last night, complete with their coop, some food, and a heated water pan, but that's about it.



These are our first chickens, so we are feeling a little clueless about how to keep them looking fat and healthy as they appear to be now. The coop is essentially a fairly roomy plywood structure with a front door, 4 windows, a roosting bar, and 3 nesting boxes, and hanging feeder, and heated water pan. Here are my questions:

1. The coop's just set on the ground right now- it's about 30F today, but the temps are supposed to go to 0-15 degrees F this week. Would pine shavings help keep their feet warm? Personally, I prefer straw but the shavings would be more than adequate. Is there a better floor material in terms of cleanup and sanitation? I'm going to try shavings one of these years - I can't help but think it might easier than straw to clean up. I know of no other material (at least in my area). How often do we change the bedding? It depends on how much of a build up there is and the weather -- to be honest if it's cold, I leave it alone as the cleaning process let's out the warm air; otherwise you could probably do yours every couple of weeks as you don't have that many birds.
2. They came with about 1 weeks' worth of pelleted food. Is this all they need to keep going? I feed a mixture of wheat, complete laying hen ration (pelleted 17% protein) and oyster shells. The pelleted ration I use (which I assume is similar to yours) is all they really need. I know friends have fed free range chickens vegetable and fruit scraps- is this ok for them? I also feed "leftovers" such as veggies and fruits; they also like cooked plain rice, stale buns and bread. Is there something better?
3. There is nothing in the nesting boxes- if I bring some loose hay I sweep up at the barn and add it to their boxes, is that appropriate? My nesting material is straw but hay would work as well. Is it a problem if I use the dusty sacrifice hay that the horses aren't eating? I would be a little concerned about the dusty hay in the confines of the next box -- you shouldn't need much for the boxes so you wouldn't use up much non dusty hay.
4. 3 of the 4 windows are currently covered in plexiglass, but the 4th is just chicken wire, which is not secure. I didn't see the coop last night when it was dropped off, so I'm not sure if it was already broken when the coop arrived, or if something tried to get to them last night. Is this window left with just wire (and not plexiglass) for ventilation? For winter, you need to set up a situation that reduces drafts - I think leaving it open would make the coop too cold (at least where I am that would happen - I'm not too familiar with your climate). If I rescreen with a heavier wire, is that enough to keep them safe? In a pinch, I think you could put up a piece of cardboard on top of the wire to keep the draft out.
5. We don't have a pen or any yard fenced in for them right now- it's pretty much impossible with the snow on the ground. Can I let them out without a pen, but supervised? I let my flock out on nice sunny, mild days all the time in the winter. They like to "take the air" and "stretch their legs" every now and then as they're used to being out in the other seasons. Can they be unsupervised during the day? Since I have a run, I leave mine out in it unsupervised all the time, weather permitting. In your situation, predators will probably be the biggest problem - neighbourhood dogs, skunks, racoons, etc. until you can get them a safe place to stay. Will they know to come back into the coop or will I have to physically put them back in? You will find that they are very responsible about heading home. In the good weather, mine stay out all the time and are usually loose when we are home; once it starts to get dark out you'll see them all making their way back to the coop. If one does get stuck outside for whatever reason, they will likely try to find something to roost in so check your trees and machinery if that happens.

If you haven't already, you might want to invest in a heat lamp (red bulb preferred) for use when it gets really cold.

Enjoy them - they can be tons of fun.

I know that's a million questions, and I will be reading up today, but anything people want to add based on experience would be super helpful!


Chevaux 01-20-2013 01:30 PM

I go with Plymouth Rock Barred for your two "grey" hens.

Left Hand Percherons 01-20-2013 01:46 PM

You are going to love having chickens around. You will see a huge reduction in bugs in the summer that make putting up with them in the winter worth it.

The white and black ones are barred Plymouth Rocks. They have the red lobes (think where the ears would be) and will lay brown eggs. The one has suffered from frostbite on her comb.

Chevaux has done a good job answering your questions so I won't repeat what's already been said. Give them a week before you let them out so they know where home is. If you can't fence off an area for them, I would supervise them when they are out of the coop. All my chickens love squash. Winter or summer squash it doesn't matter. Stale crackers and bread are like candy. I'll use them to bait the hens back into the coop if I'm trying to round them up before it's time to go to bed. Alfalfa leaves are a good treat as well. It's a good Ca source. Raw potatoes and coffee grounds are a no no. You can also rinse egg shells, crumble them up and feed them instead of oyster shells.

egrogan 01-20-2013 05:47 PM

Went out this afternoon to find my first egg!!!

Chevaux and Left Hand, thanks so much for taking the time to share your knowledge- I really appreciate it! You are right, we're really excited to have them. We had planned on getting some hens in the spring, but we're just going with the flow and hoping we can get them through the winter so we can work on a better setup in the spring!

This afternoon, I gave them a thick layer of pine shavings on the floor, then topped it and the nesting boxes with straw, which they quickly went to scratching in happily. I gave them some banana and orange after lunch, and when I went back out in the afternoon, it was gone, so I guess they liked it. So fun to hear what yours like to eat- we cook a lot of squash, so can't wait to offer that to them soon! And we're always looking for something to do with stale bread since we're not composting much over the winter.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Left Hand Percherons (Post 1852610)
The one has suffered from frostbite on her comb.

Now that you say this, I can see the discoloration on the end. Is this something that she will always have now that she's been affected, or do you think it's something recent that will fade with time? Anything else I need to be concerned about?

Again, thanks for taking the time to respond, and I'll keep you posted on how they're doing!

maura 01-20-2013 06:20 PM

We love our hens, they are funny, personable little creatures and very gratifying to keep.

4 is a wonderful number for house flock if they're laying well they should keep you well supplied with eggs. The problem will be that you will never want to eat a grocery store egg again, and you may want to add more hens in the spring.


We use the loose horse hay for the nest boxes. We tried shavings, but the girls were so enthusiastic about scratching and rooting in them that they kicked most of the bedding out of the boxes. Hay and straw work fine. The better/cleaner you keep the nest boxes, the less egg washing - that's a win/win.

Ours eat layer pellets, cracked corn as a treat, and any leftovers that aren't meat - those go to the dog. They LOVE mashed potatoes and any starch - we have several friends who bring us their stale bread for the girls. Very little food goes into it trash anymore. In the summer, they get all the less than perfect veggies from the garden, which they love.

We bed the coop and run with tree bark mulch, we get loads delivered from a local tree guy. Periodically we strip the run and put down fresh mulch, the old bedding makes the best fertilizer ever. Fresh mulch bedding is like Christmas for hens, they have a little party scratching it and moving it around. Put in a big pile in the middle, the hens will have it level in no time.

The only challenge is keeping them safe from predators. I would not let them out of their enclosure unless supervised, if you have a problem with neighboring dogs, foxes or coyotes, even raccoon, you might want to give them a secured run area.

Enjoy your girls!

maura 01-20-2013 06:23 PM

PS - my guess is that the red girls are Rhode Island Reds. Rhodies and Barred Rocks are both great choices for barnyard and backyard chickens.

Chevaux 01-20-2013 09:12 PM

With regard to her frostbite, the damage is done and she'll always have it. However, her's is not severe - the black stuff should eventually flake off but the little points won't grow back. I've found that the single comb birds (like she is) are more prone to frost bite, especially the roosters as they are bigger and more pronounced. She likely got frost bite when the coop was too cold which is why a heat lamp is a good thing to have.

I forgot to mention earlier that the hens will need clean water all the time to help with egg production. If you have trouble with water freezing, you can purchase specially designed electric water fonts (there's one at our feed store for $50 to give you an idea of price) however we've used successfully for years now one of those heated pet watering bowls (about $22) that are available pretty much anywhere pet supplies are sold.


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