‘Life hacks’ are those simple, but clever ideas for accomplishing a task more easily and efficiently. I’ve posted a few DIY projects in the past and thought I’d put together a few chicken keeping hacks to reduce some of the potential stresses that come with having chickens. These tips should simplify your life, reduce frustrations, and hopefully saving some money in the process.
One of the questions that gets asked a lot in online chicken groups is how do you feed multi-age flocks given that their nutritional requirements are quite different. If I have a hen with chicks that are in a self-contained pen they all get Starter feed until the chicks are 8 weeks old. After that they are graduated to what my whole flock eats: Grower (All Flock). My adult birds all used to be on Layer, but that changed after I had a 13-month old hen die unexpectedly. When the necropsy result diagnosed Gout I did some reading to find out what might have caused it. Non-layers (i.e. males, young pullets, molting and older hens) don’t need and, more importantly, can’t utilize the additional calcium in Layer feed – which can lead to kidney disease, gout and premature death. After that I switched over to Grower and offer oyster shell and crushed egg shells on the side. It seems that just the birds that need them eat them.
So, now what do you feed a flock that has chicks under the age of 8 weeks as well as a rooster and laying hens? Some folks are confused, wondering how to make sure the chicks get the nutrition they require but keep the others from eating it, and conversely making sure the layers, and not the chicks, get the additional calcium required for egg production.
I converted a plastic vegetable tote into a chick feeder by cutting away a section for a door large enough for the littles, but able to keep out the adults. The box is inverted and a dish of chick Starter is placed in a ceramic dish at the very back. I place a couple of bricks on top to prevent the hens from pushing the box off the feed dish. For more on understanding manufactured feed click here.
It’s common for young pullets to lay their eggs outside of the nest boxes. Sometimes it’s some place obvious and accessible like the coop floor, but other times they find hard to reach locations that challenge your abilities to get them. I’ve had to hunch down under roost bars or worse, crawl on hands and knees to pick up their daily offerings. Either of these tools would make your egg collecting chores easier. One is a Chuck It dog ball launcher and the other is a Grabber for folks with mobility issues, both of which are easy to find.
The size and placement of nest boxes are more important than what they look like or what they are made from. They should be 12”-14” with enough height space for a hen to stand up and turn around. A lip placed along the front edge will keep eggs and shavings from being kicked out.
Regardless of how many boxes you install your hens will probably only use a few of them, usually on a rotating basis. It’s an evolutionary adaptation that hens lay in communal nests in the hope that one of their flock mates will incubate their eggs and raise the chicks if they, themselves, are not broody. One box for four hens is plenty. They can be mounted on the floor, but unless you’ve got a large coop it’s a bit of a waste of space. Ideally the bottom of the box would be 12”-18” above ground level and lower than the roost bars. If they are higher you’ll find your flock roosting in them at night.
I placed an online ad looking for building materials when I was building my coop. Someone responded offering any materials I wanted to salvage from a disused coop on their property. I took a gate and a bank of three attached wooden nest boxes, which I painted and then glued some linoleum on the hinged lid. My other boxes were made from plastic bins and milk crates, which I also picked up for free.
You can make them out of old fruit crates, kitty litter boxes, buckets or whatever you have on hand.
Of course, you can always buy manufactured supplies or pay someone to build them, but I am an avid freecycler and try to salvage perfectly useable materials as a way of both saving money and keeping them out of the landfill.
If you’ve got a hack you’d like to share drop me a line using the contact button on my homepage.
Featured photo: Soni Ring