When you get ready to furnish your chicken coop, there are a few things that you won’t be able to do without. Hens need nesting boxes for laying their eggs, although they’re willing to share them. At night, they like to roost on a raised perch. A good chicken feed delivery system will keep your chickens fed without waste or mess, and watering them well is a vital part of raising chickens. If you’re going to raise chicks, you’ll also need a warm brooder box to keep them in. Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand to get started raising chickens, along with some extras that will make raising your flock easier.
Your Hens Will Lay Eggs in Nesting Boxes
Your chickens will need nesting boxes in order to have a secure place to lay their eggs. Without them, the eggs would wind up in corners of the coop or chicken yard. This makes them hard to find and in danger of being trampled by other chickens. The nesting boxes can be as simple or fancy as you like and can afford. There are also plenty of do-it-yourself ideas for making your own.
Nesting boxes should be padded with shredded paper, straw or wood shavings to cushion the egg when it drops. The box should be roomy enough for the chicken to lie down comfortably but not big enough for them to stand and scratch all the bedding out. You don’t need a nesting box for each bird, but having one for every three birds will ensure that all the chickens have access to them.
You can make a simple nesting box out of exterior-grade plywood, but make sure that the top is sloped to keep chickens from sleeping there and making a mess of the surface with droppings. To keep a clean coop, replace the bedding in your chickens’ nesting boxes when it becomes soiled with bird droppings or an occasionally broken egg. Some chicken owners prefer plastic or metal nesting boxes because they’re easier to clean.
Roosting Bars Keep Chickens Safe at Night
Chickens roost at night, which means they perch on a rail or bar to sleep. Provide your chickens with a long rail or a couple of shorter ones, and be sure to smooth any rough edges for their comfort. No one is sure why chickens like to be up off the ground when they sleep at night, but protection from predators is one logical reason. Birds that roost are also less likely to come in contact with creepy-crawly things that live on the ground like mites and other parasites.
Roosting bars should be placed at least two feet above the floor but not too high. Most domestic chickens can’t fly up into tree branches like their wild cousins. Don’t put the perches over the nesting boxes, or the flock will soil them with chicken droppings. Make the bar two inches wide and long enough for each chicken to have about ten inches of space.
It’s a good idea to have more than one perch at two different heights in your coop. Make sure that they’re about eighteen inches apart because this allows the chickens to hop from the lower bar to the higher one. The hens that are higher in the pecking order will claim the top bar. During the day, the lower ranked chickens will also have a place to escape from being pecked by the dominant ones.
There are Several Types of Waterers
This is one of the most important accessories you’ll purchase since chickens need clean, fresh water to be healthy and produce eggs. A chicken will drink a half-liter to a liter of water each day, depending on how hot it is outside. It’s best to have more waterers than you think you’ll need, in case one of them stops working. It’s also important to make sure that the water your hens drink is clean. Scrub your waterers regularly and use bleach to disinfect them.
Keep your waterers in shady locations so that the chickens don’t have to stand in the sun to drink. This also helps the water stay cool for them. Water containers can be made of plastic or galvanized steel. Plastic containers are convenient because you can see how much water is left in them, but they crack or lose pieces after a couple of years. Galvanized containers will last indefinitely and they withstand frost much better than plastic ones.
The typical chicken waterer is a canister that has a trough around the perimeter to hold water. The water delivery system should be raised above ground level to keep it clean. The water nipple system is also a good choice. You can buy a framework or bucket with nipples that only dispense water when the chickens press on them. An easy do-it-yourself nipple-waterer project involves attaching bird nipples to the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and filling it with clean water.
Feeders are Designed to Minimize Waste
Like waterers, feeders should be kept above floor level to keep dirt, debris and chicken poop out of them. You also want to have feeders that will prevent spillage and waste. Hanging feeders that have a lip around them to hold the feed are useful, and they’re also hard for rodents to reach. Since each one is a moving object, the birds are less likely to try and roost on the edges. Some of them come with an umbrella-like cover to keep the feed dry when it rains.
Food troughs allow several chickens to feed at one time, and they’re easy to refill because they’re wide open. This means that they work best when affixed to the inside of the chicken coop where they’re not exposed to the elements or other birds. Free-standing open container bins are okay to use as long as they’re heavy enough to not be knocked over and high enough to keep the chickens from easily scratching dirt into them.
One innovative way of keeping the food in the feeder and not flung on the ground where the chickens will ignore it is to use PVC tubing. This do-it-yourself feeder only requires a few lengths of PVC pipe and three end caps, and one piece of 10-foot pipe will make three feeders. If you’re planning on moving the feeders around, a can of PVC cement for the stationary parts will make sure they don’t come apart.
Heating Supplies Keep Chicks Warm and Prevent Freezing Water
There are two ways to keep water from freezing in your chicken coop, a heater, and a continuous flow system. You can buy an electrically heated base and keep the water tank on top to keep it from freezing. If you have a galvanized water tank, you can purchase a tank heater with a heating element and thermometer to keep the water at a set temperature. A passive flow fountain with fresh water input won’t freeze either because of the continually moving water.
You’ll need a heated brooder box for chicks if you’re planning on raising them. They can’t maintain their own body temperature and will need a warm place to stay at night. This also protects them from predators. Most chick brooders use heat lamps for warmth, and fancier ones have heating pads for the chicks. It’s important to have a thermometer and check it frequently to make sure that the box is at the optimal temperature.
Chicken Feed, Buckets, and Scoops
There are different varieties of chicken feed depending on the growth stage of the birds. For grown chickens, you’ll need one fifty-pound bag of chicken feed to start with and some sturdy sealed containers to keep it in. Since you won’t want to drag a huge container around, you should have buckets for feed. Buckets are helpful for cleanup chores, too. There are scoops made specifically for chicken feed that holds up well and is easy to handle.
In addition to the grain, your chickens will benefit from supplements like grit, calcium, and vitamins. Chickens actually eat little pieces of rock and dirt along with the insects they peck at. You usually don’t have to purchase grit if your chickens have access to a yard. Calcium is important for chickens, and you can buy an oyster shell for them to peck or add finely ground egg shells to their feed. Chicken vitamins get mixed into their water.
Lighting for the Chicken Coop
Chickens need to have regular cycles of light and dark in order to stay healthy and lay eggs. That’s why a coop should have one light fixture with a red bulb for when you need to be in the coop after dark. An overhead light is also needed for inspecting and cleaning the coop. Some hen farmers artificially extend the amount of light in each day to promote egg laying, but there are pros and cons of this practice.
Solar-powered chicken coop lights will save on electricity and they can be set to go on and off with a timer. The solar panels provide energy efficient LED lighting and, for a small coop, only one panel is usually needed. The panels can be mounted on the roof or side of the coop, depending on which area gets the most sun. Solar panels are an especially good option if your coop isn’t wired for electricity.
Accessories to Make Your Chicken Farming Easier
Have you ever thought about having a chicken coop on wheels? This is one design element that makes it easy to reposition your coop to get the best light or take up space on the part of your yard that you prefer. This type of coop is sometimes called a chicken tractor, and you can build one with a good-sized chicken run. By positioning the hen house compactly over the run, you save space. Retractable wheels make it easy to push the coop to an area with new grass for your hens.
A video camera for your chicken coop may seem like a luxury, but prices have gone down on them as the technology has gotten better. You’ll rest easier if you can keep an eye on your hens to make sure they’re not being invaded by a predator or pecking at each other. It’s easier to keep an eye on a problem as it arises than to deal with it after it’s full-blown. You’ll need to have electricity and internet capability to hook up a webcam for your coop.
Fencing for your chicken yard is an important item to consider. Some people give their chickens a large chicken run for exercise, but it’s beneficial for them to have access to a large yard as well. They supplement their diet by pecking for bugs and grubs and they’ll do better with more exercise. Despite its name, chicken wire isn’t sufficient to protect your chickens because other animals can get past it. You’ll do better to choose half-inch galvanized steel hardware cloth that keeps out rats, snakes and larger predators.
Ready to Get Started With Your Own Flock?
Once you have your chicken coop built and yard fenced, you’re ready to install these accessories to get your flock off to a good start. Your chickens will have comfortable places to sleep and lay eggs, along with access to plenty of food and fresh water. They’ll also have enough shade or heat, depending on the season. You’re on your way once you add these basic chicken-raising necessities and helpful extras to your coop.
Dave Malcolm is a retired constructor from Houston, Texas. Dave is happily married with two children and dedicates his spare time to designing quality DIY plans that the average homeowner can understand and build. He is responsible for developing a Howtoplans.org website that offers a wide range of answers to common problems and questions for constructing sheds and chicken coops as well as backyard tips and tricks.