Using Deep Bedding for Chicken Coop Sanitation

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Chicken coop sanitation is one of the biggest frustrations readers seem to face. In fact, it’s the second most common concern we hear about– right after protecting the flock from predators.

Ameraucana Chickens

My preferred method is to keep chickens on pasture– and constantly move them to fresh ground. But that method requires a lot of land (about one acre for every 50 chickens) and doesn’t work in the cold winter months we have in Idaho. For those of you who need to keep your chickens penned up year round or just during the winter months I highly recommend using something called the “deep bedding method.”

This approach involves providing a thick layer of bedding which provides material for the chickens to constantly dig through. In the process the chicken’s droppings are incorporated and ultimately composted.

Author and organic farmer Joel Salatin provided a guest post on the Murray McMurray website with detailed information on how to use this method to keep your own coop and run clean. I have had the opportunity to meet Salatin and read several of his books. I am always impressed with his ability to find the most simple and sensible solutions to farming challenges. You can read his article by clicking here: Deep Bedding Alternative for Cramped Spaces.

What tricks have you found to keep your coop clean? Do you have any other chicken raising tips to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send us an e-mail.
And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

Keeping a Fox Out of the Chicken Coop

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I will never forget stepping into my chicken coop to find a horrific scene filled with feathers, blood, and only two young Rhode Island Red pullets nervously huddled together in the rafters of the shed. Their eight coop mates were all wiped out in a single visit from a fox– an attack made possible by a small coop door accidentally left open after dark.

The next evening we were even more shocked when we discovered that a fox had managed to get a day-old goat separated from the herd in the pasture next to our yard. The predator’s jaw was firmly clamped over the young goats’ head and it only abandoned its potential dinner when I charged out of the house shouting. I’ll admit my bravado was failing when the fox didn’t run away until I was a few feet away.

Soon I heard reports of fox in our neighborhood stealing chickens in broad daylight. What ensued was a slightly unhealthy obsession with outwitting an animal known for being sly. In the end our solution came in the form of electric fencing. Welsummer Chickens

I soon discovered that electric netting or hot wires placed strategically can help train fox to avoid your specific area. If fox, or other predators such as racoon, pose a risk in your area I recommend setting up electric fence in good weather. Heavy snowfall and ice storms in Idaho can temporarily take electric fence out of commission– especially if you are using portable netting.

During the hot dry summers I also found that I had to trim the weeds around the fence regularly and even used a soaker hose to keep the perimeter of the fence line damp enough to make sure the fence continued to conduct electricity effectively.

Overall, my experience the use of electrical netting in good weather seemed to convince predators that they should explore other hunting grounds on a permanent basis.

Even with the help of electric fencing I still recommend securing your chickens inside a sturdy coop at night.

Have you experienced your own struggles protecting your chickens from predators? Or do you have a chicken raising tip to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send us an e-mail.
And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

High Summer Hen Hideouts

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These blazing hot July days may just have your chickens looking for cover for a couple of reasons. And if your hens range far from the coop it’s a good idea to provide some temporary shelter.
This is especially important if you have large open spaces without bushes, vehicles, or anything else your chickens can quickly duck under. You’ve probably considered the obvious need for shelter from the hot summer sun. But in some areas this may be even more important because the overhead predator threat may increase this time of year.

This is especially true in our high-desert climate in western Idaho where it’s common to see birds of prey circling in the distance. Early in the year the land offers an abundance of gophers, but after several days of triple digit heat those little guys have the good sense to burrow into the ground and hibernate. Once they’re gone I want to make sure my hens have plenty of opportunities to duck for cover at the first sign of a hawk. This is especially important when I have white chickens or other colors that don’t camouflage well in the landscape.
One simple and inexpensive solution is to grab a few five-gallon buckets and a piece of plywood. Space the buckets about three-foot apart to form a frame for the plywood and place it on top.

Here’s hoping you and your chickens stay cool!


Are you planning some improvements to your chicken raising set-up this year? Or do you have a chicken raising tip to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send us an e-mail!
And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.




Help Me Make a Shopping List

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This year I have an opportunity to spend some serious time in Taiwan— and I’m planning an all-out search for better chicken water system components. I also want to find other innovative products for small farms and urban homesteads and I want your input.

One of the things I love about Asia is the variety of international products available. Businesses in Taiwan tend to source some of the best products from all over the world— especially Japan and Europe. (Reading Eliot Coleman books has convinced me that the number of small farms that have survived in Europe over the past century makes it a place to watch when it comes to equipment innovation for small-scale agriculture.)

There’s also a strong entrepreneurial spirit and plenty of manufacturing in Taiwan— so I’m hoping I will find some amazing products geared toward small-scale farming.

chicken water system
High on my list are better quality, more durable chicken water system components.
I would also love to hear about any chicken related— or gardening or small farm— related products you’d like to find. Is there something you’ve tried to find on your agriculture supply store shelf that simply isn’t there? Send me an e-mail and I’ll see if I can discover solutions from around the world.

Are you planning some improvements to your chicken raising set-up this year? Or do you have a chicken raising tip to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send us an e-mail!
And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

Your Chickens Need a Notebook

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Ok… so your chickens would probably just peck on a notebook, but I’m serious about the need for some solid coop related bookkeeping. At times I like to use a notebook using the bullet journal method to keep track of coop happenings. When I have more complex or business related farm activities to track I use an Excel file for my chicken coop records related. What’s important is to have a method to constantly take note of the good, bad, and ugly happenings in each season.
Some of the things I find helpful to track include the hatch date of my chicks, types and amount of feed consumed, egg production, and any flock sickness or deaths. I also like to track infrastructure problems for each season.

Feeding Chickens
This is especially important when starting out on a new place like we did last year. Each season produced its own surprises. In the spring sudden changes from cold and windy to hot and sunny called for more insulation and a better brooder for young chicks.
In the summer we found our watering system was inadequate. When it’s around 100 degrees fahrenheit 50 pastured chickens will drain a five gallon bucket in no time flat. (And hauling another bucket to the pasture will feel something like crossing the Sahara… )
In the Fall our heritage breed roosters suddenly reached an age where they needed a lot more space to coexist.
And, well, this winter was a doozy. With record snowfall and following a series of ice storms I found myself struggling to walk on— then breaking through— an ice crust several inches thick with more than two feet of snow beneath that. A trip to the feed storage shed that seemed handy for the past ten months was now an epic journey.

Are you planning some improvements to your chicken raising set-up this year? Or do you have a chicken raising tip to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send me an e-mail.

And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

Keep Your Chicks Warm and Safe… Without Burning Down the House

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The smell of warm dry wood chips and the sound of calmly chirping chicks in their brooding area is one of my favorite parts of spring, but I’ll never forget the day I noticed smoke rolling into our laundry room curling from around the door to the garage and the sound of frantic chicks coming from our makeshift chick brooder. I rushed in to find the heat lamp had slipped from the board it was clipped to and the impact of the fall had caused the wire guard to also slip off. The light bulb was lying in smoldering wood chips. Thankfully, I arrived in time to douse the wood chips before they burst into flames. I also managed to ventilate the area before the chicks got sick.

chick brooder
That incident prompted me to seriously consider how to keep my chicks warm and safe without accidentally burning down the house. And a quick Google search reveals that homes and barns destroyed by heat lamp triggered fires are all too common.
Through a bit of research on the topic I found several safer brooding options:

1. Brinsea sells a line of “Ecoglow chick brooders” which provide radiant heat which the company says are safer and more efficient than conventional heat lamps since they use a 12 volt transformer. The company sells a 20 chick brooder for $94.99 and a model for up to 50 chicks for $189.99.

2. You can build an Ohio Chick Brooder. Though the concept was originally developed decades ago you can still get the directions published by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in 1942. This roomy brooder will accommodate a good-sized flock, but I would definitely recommend adding a plexiglass viewing area in the top of the brooder so you can get a peek at your chicks without putting your head on the floor.

3. Set up a brooder in an insulated shed detached from your home. This proved to be a quick and easy option when I needed an immediate solution. I simply positioned my cardboard chick brooder border under a rafter. Then I used sturdy string to hang my head lamps from the rafter. This allowed me to tie the light up a little higher to keep the chicks from overheating  during warm weather. On cool spring days I could lower it to make the brooding area warmer.

With all of the above options it’s critical to provide a round border around the chick brooder area and monitor the chicks regularly. Many experienced chicken-keepers have learned the hard way that a variety of factors can cause temperature fluctuations in the brooder area. And if chicks begin to feel cool they will inevitably pile up in a corner to take advantage of the warmth of their fellow chicks’ body heat. Unfortunately those on the bottom of that heap can quickly suffocate.

Your chicks’ behavior will also tell you a lot about their comfort level. If they crowd together near the heat lamp or warmest point of another heat source it means they are a bit cold. Often a few will also be loudly chirping their displeasure with the accommodations. If they are pressing their bodies against the outer edge of the brooder area and are lying down, look a bit lethargic or are even panting they are dangerously warm and need the temperature reduced. A group of cozy happy chicks will usually be scattered throughout the chick brooder area with some eating and drinking, some running around chirping softly, and others content to doze off.

Do you have a chicken raising tip to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send us an e-mail.

And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

A Beginner’s Guide to Feeding Your Backyard Chickens

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Feeding ChickensBackyard chickens make great pets. They are surprisingly intelligent and sociable. They are easy to care for. They eat pesky insects and table scraps, and they are a great source of food themselves, whether you raise them for eggs or meat. However, these birds need more than just table scraps and insects to be healthy and productive. Learn what to feed backyard chickens at each age and stage.


Chick feed comes in two types: mash and crumbles. They are equally beneficial. Vaccinated chicks should be given non-medicated feed. For birds that have not been vaccinated, medicated feed can guard against illness.

If your chicks will be meat birds, they’ll need a high concentration of protein in their diet. Choose a feed that is 22-24 percent protein, called “meat bird starter” or “broiler starter.” Chicks destined for laying should be given a lower protein feed, no higher than 20 percent.

Laying Hens

Chicks can be given starter feed until they lay their first egg. After that, they need extra calcium to create eggs with strong, healthy shells. Switch to calcium-enriched layer feed or supplement all-flock feed with ground oyster shell, limestone or eggshells. Non-layers, including meat birds and broody hens, should not be given layer feed or added calcium, as it can cause gout, kidney damage and other health problems.


Broilers, also known as meat birds, need extra protein right from the start to grow to a satisfying size for eating. Chicks should be given unlimited starter feed for three to four weeks, then switched to adult meat-bird pellets. Once they’ve graduated to adult food, allow them free access to unlimited feed for 12 hours a day, and then remove the feed for 12 hours. Meat birds need to consume a lot and will eat more feed each week as they grow.

Grit, Grains and Garbage

Chickens are omnivores and enjoy a wide variety of foods, including grains, fruits, vegetables, insects, and even snakes and lizards. They have a natural instinct for scratching, and grains can be scattered in the yard for a fun activity that yields a special treat. They also enjoy table scraps, chicken scratch and mealworms, though these snacks should make up no more than 10 percent of their daily calories.

While it’s ok to share your food with your chicks, some foods are toxic to them, including

  • Avocados
  • White potatoes
  • Tomato leaves
  • Apple seeds
  • Rhubarb
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Fried foods

Fortunately, most kitchen scraps are perfectly safe for chickens. Stale, wilted and overripe foods are all acceptable; moldy food is not. Citrus fruits, garlic and asparagus won’t hurt your chickens, but they may taint the flavor of the eggs and should be limited.

Chickens also need grit to help them digest their food. If they are allowed to roam and scratch in an area with dirt, gravel or sand, this can satisfy that need. Otherwise, you may need to add grit to their feed or sprinkle some with their scratch.

Backyard chickens are easy to feed and easy to care for. If you’re ready to start a flock of your own, we can help you get started. Download our free guide to building your first chicken coop, then select a plan that suits your needs. You’ll be amazed at just how rewarding backyard chickens can be!

Chicken Pecking Solutions: Winter Boredom Busters for Your Chickens

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Chicken Pecking Solutions: Boredom Busters for WinterWinter can be a rough time of year for everyone, including your chickens. Chicken pecking (where your formerly docile hens start taking a bite out of their neighbors) is one problem likely to arise when environmental stimulation is at a low point. You can prevent excessive boredom in chickens by making a few strategic changes to their habitat. Because boredom can lead to depression, irritability, egg eating, and a range of other behavioral problems, planning ahead to prevent this problem can make winter a much easier season for everyone.

Exercise Stimulation to Reduce Chicken Pecking

Physical activity is one of the best boredom busters for chickens and people alike. In the cooler months, chickens are less likely to stick with their normal busy schedule of scratching and walking about. Give them a little motivation to stay active by covering up the cold ground with some fresh straw. Ground cover protects their feet from getting too chilly and will encourage more daytime activity. Simply strew straw over the rocks and dirt that are within their usual area of activity. Leaves and pine needles are other great ground cover ideas. Chickens will readily walk on this insulating layer and will likely find a few hidden snacks, too.

A new variety of perches is another great way to encourage activity during cold weather. Arrange perches at different heights or try switching up the material that the perches are made of. These can be placed anywhere your chickens are likely to spend time.

Cabbages are excellent food sources for chickens, providing lots of vitamins and other nutrients. To make a cabbage tetherball, simply tie a string securely around a cabbage and suspend it a short distance above beak height. This way the chickens will have to work just a little bit to get those tasty greens.

Adding Variety to the Coop

Part of what fuels chicken pecking is spending more time inside their coop during the winter, so changing up this environment will help prevent boredom and provide valuable motivation to stay active. Try these options:

  • Create quiet spaces for chickens that prefer alone time by propping tilted boards or pallets against vertical surfaces.
  • Angle tarps or pieces of canvas to create small tents or lean-tos
  • Create interest to bedding and scratching area by spreading leaves or pine needles collected earlier in the season
  • Toss a handful of corn or other treats for the chickens to hunt for once each day

Corn and other chicken treats add some exciting variety, and provide a distraction from chicken pecking, but these snacks should be provided in moderation. Chickens can easily gain too much weight in winter as a result of decreased activity. A sprinkling of dried corn is all that is needed to cause quite a bit of activity each day.

Space and Variety

Like all birds, chickens like to have space to spend quiet time alone. Coops and runs can get a little claustrophobic in cold weather, so adding some variety to that environment will help create new spaces for quiet rest. New perches and other interesting features will help encourage healthy activity and deter boredom and chicken pecking. Plan ahead to keep your chickens happy and stimulated this winter.

Protecting Chickens From Frostbite and Other Cold Weather Problems

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Frostbite ChickensChickens are hardy creatures. They can survive in extreme heat as well as extreme cold. However, cold weather can stress a chicken’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to infection and illness. In addition, weather and wind chill can create temperatures below freezing, leading to frostbite in chickens and humans alike.

Identifying Frostbite

How can you tell if a chicken has frostbite? When tissue freezes, it can’t transport blood, so cells are deprived of oxygen and will eventually die. Dead cells change color, turning grayish-yellow, grayish-blue or even black. The tissue will dry up and may fall off, leaving your bird permanently scarred. Combs, wattles and toes are especially prone to frostbite, particularly in roosters and hens with large combs.

Treating Frostbite

First-time chicken owners make a lot of mistakes when treating frostbite. Improper care can further endanger your chicken’s comfort and health. When dealing with frostbite

  • Do not warm affected areas too quickly. Rapid changes in temperature can create further damage.
  • Do not use a heat lamp, hair dryer or other source of direct heat.
  • Do not rub the area or trim it, unless it shows signs of infection.
  • Do not break blisters. The liquid inside can help with the healing process.

So what should you do with a frostbitten chicken?

  • Move the chicken to a warmer place, and keep it there until it is fully recovered.
  • Gradually warm the affected area. Submerge frostbitten feet in lukewarm water. Gently place a lukewarm, wet washcloth on frozen combs and wattles.
  • Keep the injured area clean.
  • Watch for signs of infection, including swelling, oozing, inflammation, redness or foul-smelling discharge.
  • Give your chicken plenty of water.
  • Obtain veterinary care. Your vet can treat damaged tissue as well as prescribe medication for pain, inflammation and infection.

Preventing Frostbite

Frostbite is painful and dangerous. The best way to prevent it is to keep your chickens warm and dry. Make sure their coop provides adequate protection from both cold and dampness.

  • Check for condensation. In the morning, check for droplets on the walls and windows of the coop. Condensation is a sign of improper ventilation. Moisture in the air leads to damp bedding and skin, and an increased risk of developing frostbite. If you do discover condensation, keep windows slightly open or add ventilation holes near the top of the coop to improve airflow.
  • Limit sources of moisture inside the coop. Add dropping boards for easy cleaning. If possible, keep waterers outside, where they can’t be spilled into bedding, or use a poultry nipple waterer.
  • Keep bedding fresh and dry. Sand is a great choice during cold months because it absorbs moisture and insulates better than straw or wood shavings. Layer more deeply than you would during summer months.
  • Watch the temperature. If the forecast calls for subzero temperatures, use a flat panel, radiant heater to warm the coop just a little. The coop should not feel warm; you just want to avoid temperatures below freezing. Do not use a heat lamp, which can spark a fire.
  • Protect vulnerable tissue. Spread petroleum jelly or a thick moisturizer on wattles and combs during cold snaps.

A warm, dry coop is key to preventing frostbite in chickens. Our coop plans show you how to build your birds a home that will shelter and protect them regardless of the weather.

7 Cold Hardy Chicken Breeds

Delaware Chickens
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If you want eggs all year long but live in an area with harsh winters, you will need cold hardy chickens. A chicken is considered cold hardy if it can weather frigid temperatures, and it may even produce eggs, but do so at a lower rate. There are a few different characteristics that help make a chicken cold hardy, such as a small comb or large size. Here are seven cold hardy breeds for you to consider as additions to your coop.


This breed was created specifically to endure Canadian winters, so it is tremendously cold hardy. This chicken has an extremely small comb and is a bit on the chunky side. They weather the cold so well that they can continue to lay eggs in the deep mid-winter.


Developed by a woman in Ohio, these dark brown hens can lay all year long. They are good foragers as well, meaning you will not have to increase their feed as dramatically during lean months. They are also quite docile and do well with children.


Delawares are another good foraging breed, and they are known to lay between 200 and 280 eggs every year. Their single, small comb is more frostbite-resistant that larger-combed hens. They mature quickly and are good for both eggs and meat.


One feature that makes Ameraucana hens different from other cold hardy chickens is that they lay blue eggs. For that reason, be careful about hatcheries that sell Easter Egg hens in place of this breed since they are less cold hardy but still produce blue and blue-green eggs. These beautiful eggs make them a breed that is always in high demand, so you may need to get on a waiting list if this is the breed you want.


This active and friendly cold hardy hen can produce about 180 eggs or more each year. Their comb has extended tips, which means that while they can weather most winters, they are not ideal for the most extreme places.


When you have especially harsh winters and mild summers, Dominique is a good choice. They are not very heat hardy but produce well in the winter months. This is another breed with a look-alike, the Barred Rock. To tell the two apart, notice that Dominique has a rose comb while Barred Rocks have a single comb.


This breed has a very dependable layer and an easygoing nature and is quite cold hardy. They are usually heavy bodied and come in a few different sub-breeds. One particularly beautiful one is the Silver Laced Wyandotte, an American-made version of this old breed.

Getting eggs all year long is easy to achieve when you have chickens made for the unforgiving cold of winter. These seven breeds are all quite popular for areas that experience cold winters. Look for hens with small combs and heavy bodies to know if they can handle the cold. On the flip side, there are also heat hardy breeds you can look into if you have harsh summers.