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!
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?
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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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.
I go with Plymouth Rock Barred for your two "grey" hens.
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.
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.
Again, thanks for taking the time to respond, and I'll keep you posted on how they're doing!
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!
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.
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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