Monday, August 19, 2013

Rethinking the chicken breeds I want

I've been rethinking the chicken breeds I want.  Egg production wasn't important to me originally, but I've decided I would have trouble having chickens and still having to buy the majority of my eggs.  That means I have to decide between the silkie and the buff orpington.

The problem with the silkie is that they really don't lay at all.  It would be strictly a pet, but it is a bantam, so it wouldn't eat as much as the other chickens.  It also might have problems in the winter (either getting muddy or wet).  It also wouldn't be as destructive when free ranging.

The problem with the buff orpington is that they lay, but they are known for going broody.  They are also quite large (8 pounds).  This means I would have a large bird that eats a lot that isn't laying all that much (3 eggs a week according to Henderson's guide).  Based on looks, it is my favorite chicken.

Here are the current breeds I'm considering:
1. Silkie

2. Australorp - the Australian version of the orpington.  It is usually black and in my opinion not as pretty.  But it lays 4 eggs a week and doesn't go broody.  6.5 pounds

3. Easter Egger - four eggs a week.   5.5 pounds.  I really don't like how they look though.

4. Red Sex Linked (golden buff) - five eggs a week, but bred for production, so after two years they start having problems. 4 pounds

5. Buff Orpington - three eggs a week and goes broody. 8 lbs

I'm currently leaning towards the buff orpington, australorp and the golden buff.

Best case senario, I would be getting 9 eggs a week, enough for each of us to have one egg, plus three for baking.  I might still have to supplement, seems like we go through about a dozen eggs a week, but the majority of eggs would be coming from our flock.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jack Horner: Building a dinosaur from a chicken

My kids think chickens are cool based on this talk.

Considering bantam breeds

Its been two weeks since I thought I might want chickens.  I originally wanted two full seized chickens and a silkie, but now I'm rethinking that.  I mostly want chickens as pets.  The eggs are nice, but I'm more interested in them eating bugs and weeds and possibly getting some free fertilizer.  I've read some things about how many greens chickens can eat, which translates as lawn and garden damage.  However, the bantams, because they are smaller, don't do as much damage and poop less.  I would also be able to get away with a smaller coop and a smaller run, a great thing since my husband isn't sold on chickens.

I'm limited to breeds either available locally or from mypetchicken, since I only need three and I can only have hens.  

Here are my choices:

Bantam easter egger

Bantam barred Plymouth rock

The last two are cold hardy, so hopefully they will keep the silkie warm.

Backyard Chicken Coop

I need to figure out what kind of chicken coop to build.  Because I live in place with hot summers and cold, snowy winters, I am trying to think things through.

Space per chicken

The conventional answer for how much space is 4 feet per bird inside and 10 feet per bird outside.  For my three hens, it would be 12 square feet, so 3 ft x 4 ft.  I'll probably expand that to 4 ' x 4' because lumber seems to come in 8' lengths.  Also, since it snows here in the winter, the birds will have to spend some days indoors and I don't want them to be too cramped.  The run will need to be at least 30 square feet, but if I build an elevated coop like I hope to, I only need an additional 14 square feet of run that isn't under the coop.


I am planning on the door to the coop facing east.  It is very windy where I live.  The wind is generally from the north (cold storms) or from the south (warm storms).  I would put ventilation holes on the west and east.  We occasionally get western storms, but they are less common. I wonder if I could put an awning or something over the ventilation holes to prevent the wind from blowing straight in, or maybe under the eaves of the roof.  I also want a nice south facing window to let in the heat in the winter.


Winter here can be cold.  Although I want to use the deep litter method, It would be on a wood floor, so it wouldn't compost.  It will only offer insulation, not additional heat.  I think if the coop is insulated I will be able to get by just fine.  I am considering getting some solar panels to use to run a light or maybe a heated water dish.  Probably won't worry about that until I see how the first winter goes.  I may also need to put up some plastic or wood along the run to block the wind and snow.  Don't know if I'll need to cover it or not.


Chickens produce lots of water vapor and ammonia, so they need ventilation all year round.  I need at least 1 sq ft of ventilation per chicken.  I'll also need extra vents for the summer that can be covered over in winter.


Below the few inches of dirt we trucked in for the lawn is heavy clay. I need to make sure the chicken run doesn't become too muddy.

Coop design

I'm still looking for coop designs.  Ideally I would get a kit, but I may need to build my own.  I liked this plan pretty well.

Here's another one from purina that seems straight forward.

Run design

The run will go under the coop then extend out from it.  I am thinking several inches of road base to let it stay dry.  It will need to be covered on top as well to stop hawks (love watching them, but don't want to see one that close up).  My yard is sloped and the chicken coop will be down towards the bottom of the slope.  I might also have to dig a trench around it and make a french drain, but I'm hoping to avoid that.

Yard Changes
The yard is going to have to change to allow a place that is 4'x 8' for the chickens.  I want the run and coop to be in the sun for the winter so that the snow will melt out of the run.  This excludes the edges of the yard.  The back of my yard tends to get soggy.  So I need to find somewhere close to the edge of the yard, but not too close.  I also have to accept there will be no grass there :)  I also need to talk my husband into adjusting the sprinklers so the run doesn't get wet and start to stink.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Prices of items needed for chickens

I went to IFA this weekend to price out chicken supplies (Utah, fall of 2013).  Here's what I found:

Chicks ($4 from plus shipping $36)
reflector $14
bulb $4
chick feeder $2.49
chick waterer $1.75
chick food 5 lbs for $6 or 50 lbs for around $20

Chicks eat about 10 lbs of food per chick for the first 10 weeks.  For my 3 birds, I'd need about 30 lbs of starter feed.  So costs for the chicks is $43 not counting the chicks themselves plus the bedding plus the electricity to run the bulb (I might use news paper and boxes which would be free to me).

feeder 7.49
oyster shells 3.09
waterer 27.00
chicken food $19.49 for 40 lbs
pine shavings $11 for 12.5 cu. ft.
metal trash can (to store food and bedding)
Coop $250 ?
Run ?
Sweet PDZ

So initial costs of  chickens is $44.  Chickens eat about 1.5 lbs of feed per bird per week, so I would need 4.5 lbs of feed a week.  So food would run about $9 a month.  Shavings would be about $3 (assuming 16 sq ft coop, and having to add 4" a month).

Chicken poop - deep litter method and poop boards

What to do with poop? Ah, the age old question.  The three birds I plan on having should generate about 2-5 pounds of poop a week. . That's about 260 lbs of poop a year.  For comparison, a 60 lb  Labrador retriever will poop about 410 lbs or a 20 lb pug will poop 136 lbs per year.  So the amount for a small number of hens the poop should be no worse than a dog and should be manageable.  This doesn't take into account soiled bedding though.

From research, the easiest method seems to be a combination of poop boards and the deep litter method.  Poop boards are boards that are put under the chicken's roosts, that's where they're most likely to poop, so the poop can be cleaned off to be disposed of or composted.  This way the bedding stays cleaner.  Some people have litter box type arrangements with boxes full of sweet PDZ (a horse stall refresher) which is supposed to make it not stink much.

The deep litter method is a method where only have to clean out your hen house a few times a year and it doesn't smell.  (Not offending my nose or my neighbor's is one of my goals.)  You start with a clean coop.  You put 6" of pine shavings in the coop.  This is where methods diverge.  Some recommend food / livestock grade Diatomaceous Earth.  If your coop has a dirt floor, then the shavings start to compost.  You turn the chips or let the chickens do it.  When it starts to smell or get too dirty, you throw more shavings on top.  When you clean out your coop, you have compost at the bottom.  

The second method is what I'll end up using.  I'll probably need to build a raised coop because I'm on top of clay and I'm concerned about predators.   It will also let me use the areas under the coop as run space.  Since the shavings aren't on top of dirt, they won't actually compost.  It's pretty much the same as the first method, you just don't end up with compost.  You put new layers of shavings on top of old.  You also sprinkle with sweet pdz.  Since this isn't actually composting, you do not get the heat benefit you would from the first method.  The shavings will insulate the floor, just not add heat.

One thing that seems to be true about deep litter is that you need plenty of room for your hens in your hen house.  The less square footage per bird, the less well it works. Four square feet per bird, and it works, two square feet and it doesn't work so well.

I haven't decided if I want to compost the chicken poop or not.  I might in the fall, just throw it on the garden and let it compost over the winter.

Here's some other links about the deep litter method:

Friday, August 2, 2013

Which Chicken Breeds for a small backyard flock?

I'm hoping to have a flock of 3 chickens.  I have young children, so I want the chickens to be friendly pets.  I would like eggs, but they aren't the primary consideration.  I want the hens to be gentle, quiet, and decent egg layers.  They also need to handle cold weather since winters in Utah can be cold.  I also have size considerations since I'm not sure how much of the yard I want to dedicate to the chickens, my kids and garden need some space as well :)

I found the Henderson breed guide to be very useful.

1. My first choice is Buff Orpingtons.  They are beautiful birds, said to be very calm and gentle.  They are big girls though.  I won't have room to have more than one.

2. Next I want a Silkie Bantam.  I think they are cute and they are also said to be good with children and gentle.  I thought a bantam would be a good choice because between the bantam needing less space / food and the orpington needing more, I would average out to two average sized birds.

Now comes the hard part, the third hen.  Orpingtons and silkies are laid back, so I don't want a bossy breed.  But they are both broody, so I'd like an egg hen that is less so.  I also want an average sized breed. I have also read it is better to not have a bird that "stands out", so I didn't want to get another silkie or orpington and have them gang up on the other breed. I've narrowed it down to a few breeds.  

3a.  The Rhode Island Red.  Not a fancy looking chicken, but a good egg layer and should be easy to keep.  I've read they're noisy though.  I've also read that they can be aggressive.

3b. Ameraucana or Easter Egger (Yes I know they aren't quite the same thing).  They are supposed to be calm and the colored eggs would be fun for the kids to gather.  They're also supposed to be quiet.  They are also broody.

3c.  Barred Plymouth Rock - good basic bird.  The banded ones are pretty looking.  They are also friendly and quiet.  This is also a bigger chicken.  Less broody.

I'm currently leaning towards the ameruacana.

Lehi Chicken Rules / Ordinances

I spent some time tracking down the chicken ordinances for Lehi.  Here's what I found:

  • Chickens are a class 4 animal, in the same class as dogs, cats, ducks, hawks, pigeons, and rabbits 
  • To find your zoning look at the maps here:
  • I am zone RA-1.  RA-1 is allowed 8 class four animals (Lehi development code 12.120.4, page 12-10), so I can have up to 8 chickens.  If you have a dog and a cat, you can have six chickens.  Other Zonings have other rules.
  • no roosters.  Some lots are allowed roosters, check your zoning.
  • Coops must be 30 feet from neighboring dwellings and 25 feet from roads. (page 12-11 of Development Code).  I am not sure if the coop must be 30 from your own dwelling.  I'll probably put it there just to be safe.  
  • Coops must be sanitary (Lehi City Municple code 6.20)
  • Chickens must remain on your own property

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My new chicken obessions, or why I think chickens might work as pets

So, I decided I want a few chickens as pets, pets with perks.  I have never owned chickens, so this should be interesting.  First step, convincing my sweet hubby that chickens are a great idea.  

What I want in a pet
  • quiet, especially at night
  • can be touched/petted
  • tolerent of kids
  • kids can feed it
  • has some redeeming features


  • goes to sleep at night (hens)
  • would be outside, so no inside concerns (e.g. noise at night)
  • some breeds can be quite tame and can be petted
  • not complicated to take care of
  • eats bugs in the yard
  • lays eggs
  • mildly trainable

  • possible to annoy neighbors (smell / noise)
  • have to take care of them, especially in winter
  • have to figure out what to do with poop
  • where to put them - zoning specifies 30 feet from human dwellings
  • need to preditor proof since our house backs a field and I know there are skunks around
From what I have read, chickens can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make them.