Heating a Chicken Coop in Winter

Heating Your Chicken Coop
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As a chicken owner, one pressing matter that may be on your mind as the temperatures start to drop is chicken coop heating. Although chickens are very resilient creatures and able to survive some pretty harsh conditions, you need to understand that it’s in your best interest to keep them comfortable throughout the season. The happier and more comfortable your chickens are, the more eggs they’ll lay. Here are some suggestions for you to use to increase the warmth inside of your chicken coop.

Your Comfort Level Is Not the Same as a Chicken’s

First, you need to remember that chickens don’t require the same level of comfort that you do. What is cold to you may not be cold to them and vice versa. As long as you keep this in mind while you are arranging your chicken coop for the winter, your chickens will be fine.

Use Something Other Than Heat Lamps

Avoid the use of heat lamps inside of the coop. They pose a fire risk because there is no way for you to use them safely. The conditions and materials inside of the coop in addition to your chickens’ movements are all factors that can increase the risk of fire occurring from heat lamp use.

Instead, consider solar and natural lights. Depending on the setup of your chicken coop, you may be able to strategically incorporate them into its design. Keep in mind that any electrical light source you do decide to use needs to be connected to a generator. That way if an outage happens, you won’t have to worry about your chickens freezing to death from the extreme cold.

Hay and Bale Equal Toxic Insulation

Try to limit or not use bale and hay inside of the coop for insulation. Although this may seem like it is a practical idea, these materials can harbor mold and bacteria and create a very toxic and unsafe environment for your chickens.

Fresh Air Should Circulate Freely

In your effort to minimize drafts, you need to understand that sealing the coop up so that it is air-tight can be catastrophic for your chickens. Your chickens need lots of fresh air to circulate and prevent moisture buildup and mold growth. There are ways to seal the coop so you can maintain circulation without having to deal with the drafts.

Another issue that you’ll need to consider in regards to maintaining your coop during the winter is the water supply. It’s not always possible for you to prevent water from freezing in the winter time, and your chickens need around-the-clock access to it. A heated bucket that warms up just enough to keep your chickens water from freezing overnight may be something you’ll want to consider so you don’t have to get up several times a night to replace it.

There are plenty of ways for you to see to your chickens’ comfort during the winter. Consider their needs and goals and invest in the right processes and materials that allow you to meet both in the middle.

7 Tips for Keeping Chickens in Winter

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Right between the end of summer and the beginning of fall is the perfect time to learn how to take proper care of your chickens this upcoming winter season. We’re here to offer 7 expert tips on what you can do to take the best care of chickens in winter.

 Know Your Breed

One of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to keeping chickens during the colder months of the year is that some breeds do better than others. Chickens of a medium to large weight, meaning those that are at least six pounds, have the small combs necessary to offer them sufficient protection from the bitter cold. Specific breeds with this advantageous feature include:

Pay Special Attention to Chicks

Chicks growing during the winter require especially close attention if they’re to survive. Loud peeping and huddling means they’re in need of warmth. If your coop has a red heat light, lower it to warm your chicks up; just make sure they don’t get too warm. Additionally, baby birds should have plenty of insulation to walk on and live in an area that isn’t exposed to drafts.

Use a Lightbulb to Keep Egg Production Going

While egg production will undoubtedly slow during the winter, it doesn’t have to grind to a halt. Let your chickens molt as they normally do, then use a lightbulb to extend daylight hours; just make sure your chickens aren’t overstimulated with an abundance of light.

 Don’t Keep the Coop Too Warm

One common mistake when raising chickens in the winter is keeping them too warm. While they might not seem like it, chicken winter breeds are more comfortable at low temperatures than you might think. Keeping a heater or light constantly going runs the risk of a fire, and you don’t want your chickens to be too used to the warmth in case they suddenly lose it due to a power outage.

Go Easy on the Insulation

On a related note, be sure your chicken coop isn’t too well insulated. If it is, the trapped humidity could cause frostbite. There’s also the danger of too much trapped ammonia gas from their droppings.

Use Caution With Additional Heating

For those times when you absolutely have to resort to extra heat, either a ceramic bulb or a 60- to 100-watt lightbulb will serve you better than a standard heat lamp. Not only that, the bulbs are less of a fire risk than an actual heat lamp.

Pay Attention to Your Chicken’s Water Supply

As you’re checking to ensure your chickens are warm, make sure their water supply hasn’t frozen over. Break up ice that forms over the water, and be sure you change the water supply often. You might also like the idea of investing in a heated bucket.

Raising healthy chickens in winter is made easier when you’re pointed in the right direction. Keep these tips in mind as the mercury starts to plummet to keep your birds happy, warm and healthy.

9 *Must Have* Coop Accessories

Must-Have Chicken Coop Accessories
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The best way to create a healthy, happy and productive environment for your chickens is to use the right chicken coop accessories. Usually it takes a bit of guess work and experimentation before you can find the right products to keep your chickens happy. However, you can’t go wrong with these nine must-have accessories for your chicken coop.

Security and Access Door

An automatic chicken door is the perfect accessory for the person who often forgets to close and lock their chickens in for the evening. Get one with GPS technology to make it easier for you to keep up with different time zones. Once configured, you don’t need to do anything else to manage it. It provides safe and easy access for your hens.

Natural Light

A solar operated chicken coop light makes it easier for you to keep your chickens warm and provide them with the right amount of sunlight so their egg laying schedule is not interrupted. You also won’t have to worry about increasing energy expenses from its use. Installation is easy, and you don’t need a professional to do it.

Fencing or Netting

One thing your chicken coop should not be without is fencing or aviary netting. You need to keep your chickens protected from outside predators like hawks and wild flocks. An aviary net and adequate fencing enables you to do so efficiently without putting your hens at risk.


A true-to-size feeder. As tempting as it may be for you to fill your hen’s feeder with enough food for them to eat for a week, doing so can attract other animals and encourage mold and bacteria growth. Also, there is no point in wasting valuable chicken feed. You can just as easily cater to your chickens’ dietary needs by using a feeder that is small, portable and easy to keep clean.

Security Motion Sensor Lights

You’ll need more than the right fencing and nets to keep your prized chickens safe and secure. You should also consider placing motion security lights around your coop to use at night to help deter unwanted intrusions from other animals and alert you to the fact that there are predators in the yard.


Since the nesting area is where all of the egg laying magic happens, you want to use the right nesting materials. There are several different ways you can set up their nesting areas. In my book “DIY Chicken Coops” you’ll find more info on how to select the right materials and setup.


It’s a well-known fact that too many hens in the coop is trouble. Invest in some toys to distract them and to keep them from messing with others. Consider items that are shiny and small enough for them to peck at.

Roosting Bars

No chicken coop should be without a few roosting bars. Think of them as tree branches that your chickens can hop onto and roost on whenever they’re in the mood. There is no need to have one for each chicken; you just need enough to accommodate the size of your coop.


You don’t have to get all high-tech for your chicken coop waterer. You just need one that is large enough to accommodate all of your chickens and simple enough to maintain, clean and sanitize as needed.

Chicken Coop Cleaning: 5 Tips for a Healthier Coop

chicken coop cleaning
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While you might love raising chickens, you may not have as much affection for cleaning the chicken coop. The good news is that ChickenCoopGuides.com has a few tips for chicken coop cleaning without cutting corners or putting the health of your birds at risk. So be sure you check out this guide before you next go to scoop out the coop.

Use Hay

Rather than using only dirt to cover the bottom of the chicken coop, add barn lime and hay to the dirt to keep bacteria at bay and reduce health complications in your chickens. The great thing about hay is that it doesn’t lead to a buildup of dust, and another great thing is that it’s inexpensive. As for the barn lime, it helps chickens create shells for their eggs.

Be As Thorough As Possible

When it’s time to take care of shavings, manure, feathers and anything else inside of your chicken coop, it’s vital that you’re thorough. White vinegar and hot water make for a great combination, and you can also hose down the coop to spray out dust and make it easier to scrape away stubborn spots. Just be sure you let the coop fully air out once you’re done cleaning.

Use Dropping Boards

You know you’ll find plenty of droppings in the coop, so you might as well do what you can to make this cleanup step easier. Dropping boards are easily installed under the coop and are great for catching droppings and keeping bedding cleaner for longer. Know that you’ll still need to give the dropping boards a good scrubbing and cleaning every now and then. Once you start using dropping boards, you’re sure to notice how much money you save on bedding, not to mention the time it takes to install bedding.

Keep a Duster Handy

While hay can go a long way in keeping coop dust at a minimum, there’s bound to be at least a little bit, especially if you have young chicks. It’s a good idea to buy a high-quality duster specifically for the coop. Wipe down the window dressings and nest box curtains, and give the walls a dust down whenever they need it. Each time you do this, you’re making it easier on yourself when the time comes to perform your deep cleaning of the coop.

Use the Deep Litter Method

Are you raising chickens in a cold climate? The deep litter method is exactly what you and your birds need to remain comfortable. What’s so unique about this method is that it makes it easy for your litter to compost over time, and as an added bonus, the buildup keeps the chickens warm during the colder months of the year.

The deep litter method requires you to spread barn lime, which also helps discourage flies from buzzing around. Next, add anywhere from four to six inches of hay. Make it a weekly habit to mix up the litter and add more lime and hay as needed.

While these tips may not make it a joy to clean the chicken coop, they can most certainly make it easier.

DIY Watering Systems for Your Chicken Coop

Chicken Watering Systems
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In your quest to get your chicken coop up and running for the season, you find yourself wondering about chicken coop watering systems. Sure, there are plenty of options available that may require you to shell out a pretty penny. However, there are plenty of DIY options for people like you who are interested in doing things their own way. Regardless of how you approach the task, here are some things you’ll want to consider.

Make a Plan or Find One

First, you’ll need a plan. You won’t get far with your project if you don’t have a good idea of where to start and finish. If you have experience creating and designing plans for different types of structures, then you may not need to do as much research as someone who has considerably less experience. Look online for watering system designs and plans and check out a few books like our very own “DIY Chicken Coops.” You want to surround yourself with ideas so you can get your creative juices flowing.

Consider All Aspects of That Plan and Design

You’ve identified the primary function and need, but you should also consider the setbacks. One problem that many regular chicken waterers have is they allow fresh water to go stale and stagnant. They also provide an optimal breeding ground for bacteria and mold. Sure, you want your chickens to be able to drink water whenever they want, but you don’t want them to get sick from doing so. Also, some consideration needs to be given to the time of year. During the colder months, there is the risk of your chickens’ water freezing. Depending on your skills and design plans, you may be able to circumvent those problems.

There really is no right or wrong way to approach the task at hand. Some strategies can lead to a faster completion time and yield passable results. However, you want to do everything possible to get the right watering solution for your chickens on the first, second or third try. Remember, your coop’s design plays a major factor. If you have yet to let the chickens in to roost, inspect it with a critical eye before doing so. You need to decide where to set up the watering system.

The Nipple System Is a Great Option

One of the best DIY watering solutions for chickens involves the use of nipples. This gives them around-the-clock access to fresh water and prevents waste water and mold and bacteria growth. The way the nipple system works is once a chicken lightly presses the nipple pin, water dribbles out. When pressure is no longer being applied or the pin is no longer being moved, the watering system is sealed back up until the next chicken decides to drink from it. You don’t need many supplies for this project. Just grab a few PVC pipes, some pipe elbows, the right tools and a three-to-five-gallon bucket depending on the number of chickens you have, and you’re good to go.

When it comes to DIY watering systems for your chicken coop, don’t hesitate to experiment with different setups periodically and to revamp old designs as often as needed. Doing so will improve the appearance, function and safety of your chicken coop.

How to Train Your Dog to Protect Your Chickens

dog protecting chicken
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Chickens kept in rural areas can be in danger from local predators. Because you don’t want to patrol 24/7, having a dog to help protect your flock can be beneficial. While certain breeds are known to be good at guarding chickens, the best dog to protect chickens is one that is well trained to the task. Here are a few useful tips for training in general, as well as some for specifically training a chicken protector.

Teaching Basic Commands

If you are training the dog yourself, start with basic commands before going into the more specific task of chicken guarding. Commands like sit, stay and come are common to dog training, but one that is especially important for poultry is leave it. It’s important to remember that training a dog requires the right balance of positive and negative reinforcement, so starting with the basics can build a good bond between you and your dog for when you deal with more complex tasks. Make sure you have all the proper equipment for training, reduce distractions and understand the basics of canine psychology before you begin.

Desensitize Your Dog to Chickens

New sights and smells can excite dogs and make them less responsive to commands. When you start the process of desensitization, do so with as few distractions as possible. One way is to use a fenced in area where your dog and your most docile chicken can interact with each other. If the first few tries don’t go well, work on just the smell. Rub down a chicken with a damp cloth and leave this in your dog’s bed or pen. A desensitized dog can learn to be the best dog to protect chickens.

Teach Your Dog Who the Chicken Predators Are

When you make your rounds to fend off chicken predators, take your dog with you. They can quickly understand which animals you don’t want around when you use this method. When you reward them for noticing predators, such as foxes, chicken hawks and crows, they will learn this to be one of their jobs and handle it with typical canine dedication. The best dog to protect chickens knows how to interact with these birds but also how to keep away animals that pose a danger to eggs and chicks.

Other Chicken-Specific Tasks

To round out your dog’s training, there are some other chicken-specific tasks your dog can learn. One is to break-up rooster fights. Fights among birds can reduce your egg haul from injury and stress, so when your dog can help handle these fights, you can have a healthier and more productive flock. A safe way for a dog to break up fights is to run at but not chase, the offenders or to howl repeatedly.

If you get frustrated, keep in mind that certain breeds are better at this than others. Dogs that are bred to hunt birds, such as spaniels, pointers and retrievers, are not the best dogs to protect chickens. Sheepdogs are very well suited to this task, but other breeds can also learn the proper commands and actions.

Put these tips to good use when training a dog to watch over your chickens. Proper rearing and adequate attention are sure to pay off for your chickens and your egg production.

Chicken Coop Stories From Around the World

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Hey everyone! If you’ve ever emailed us with questions about building your chicken coop from the plans you purchased from us or general poultry raising questions you know we’re always happy to help.

We are so blessed to get the nicest people contacting us and we wanted to share some of the interesting notes we’ve recently received from our community. Our community ranges far and wide…

…like Emmie, who wrote to us from Australia, where she has a flock of Australorps:

“In addition to the wonderful eggs and entertainment benefit, I consider my chickens (“chooks” in Oz) an important part of home security.  I live on the edge of swampland and deal  with snakes every summer.  I discovered years ago that movement in and around the yard, animal or human, discourages them from coming too close.”

ByTeneche(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), via Wikimedia Commons
ByTeneche(http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), via Wikimedia Commonsdiscourages them from coming too close.”

I think that’s an interesting observation she’s made.

Emmie goes on to say:

“Early in 2000 my chickens had a 4 ft tiger snake bailed up at the back door.  They were all pecking at it (must have thought they hit the worm jackpot!) and my husband dispatched it quickly.  It would have died from infection of the peck wounds, anyway. Go chooks!”

I can certainly imagine this (although I may have some nightmares from it).

More Readers From Afar

Continuing on with our customers from outside the U.S., Jill wrote us from Bermuda, excited to get her book of chicken coop plans:

“Yippee!!! So geeked right now, my family ran a dairy farm and when I was younger we used to supply the island with eggs. Government took back the land and there’s only one on island chicken farmer now… but it’s a new start!” We’re really hoping she’ll share more with us on how that goes.

Courtesy of Dawn Nurse
Courtesy of Dawn Nurse

Closer to home, and dealing with another pest issue (smaller than Emmie’s snakes), Dawn wrote and asked “I want to know if my hens can eat these caterpillars which are all over my cauliflower plants, I don’t want to give them as food if they may harm them but if I can would be a great source of food, hope you can help”. Our reply: Those are the caterpillars of the cabbage butterfly and they can be very destructive. Let the chickens eat as many as possible and good luck!

Courtesy of cskk via Flickr
Courtesy of cskk via Flickr

We also get a lot of questions about breeds. ModicaFarm asked us if Silkies and Rhode Island Reds were a good mix. Our response: “They should be. Both breeds have pretty docile personalities. There will be a good size difference between the two though which may cause some pecking order issues but if they’re all raised together from the start (and you don’t have roosters) you should have a pretty peaceful group.”

RI Reds seem to be pretty popular with our readers. Brian and his wife are raising chickens in the Detroit area:

“Read your article on RI Reds, very interesting and I’m glad we made the choice we did. I started reading through your site and I really enjoyed it. My wife and I have been looking for a home on some acreage to start a small ‘organic farm’. It’s been a little tough finding something but that’s our ultimate goal. Your site is right up our alley! “

Courtesy of Oregon Department of Agriculture via Flickr
Courtesy of Oregon Department of Agriculture via Flickr

Questions About Chicken Breeds

Toni is a frequent writer. She and her husband have some land in Virginia. They’ve raised cattle, Boer goats and hay. They’ve now got a good size flock of chickens, a horse Toni trained herself and rides, an orchard of fruit and nut trees and they sell their excess eggs. Although Toni claims to be “slowing down” due to her age (she’s 70; her husband is 79), we find it hard to believe! She wanted to know about frizzled cochins. We told her:

“It’s pretty interesting – on the Frizzles, their feathers curl forward instead of laying flat so they look curled! But their feathers don’t keep them as warm as other breeds. People say they’re a good choice if you are concerned about your birds flying over fences, since their feathers make flying difficult. Because they can’t fly though, it may be hard for them to roost. They have feathered legs and don’t lay a lot of eggs (only about 3 per week) but they make good mothers. Being banties, they’re going to stay small (males will weigh 30 oz and the females 26 ounces). According to the My Pet Chicken website, “Like Silkies, Frizzles are favorites of children and all others who are young at heart.”. 

You’re Never Too Old

Toni’s not our only reader who inspires us: Billie, age 83, had some questions about her flock: “I was thinking about increasing my flock of 5 to maybe 10 but I think I will remain happy with 5. My chicks were purchased in April and were old enough to already be getting little feathers. One out of 5 is now laying perfect but small brown eggs. The weather has been 100 + . They get the best food and I feed them twice a day and keep a good supply of fresh water. Any suggestions? If I turn them loose in my gardens, won’t they eat the plants?   I am also afraid they will fly over the 4 ft. fence and at 83, I can not chase chickens in the neighbor’s yard.”

We replied, “If the weather’s been over 100 degrees that would affect their laying. When it gets that hot, they’re gonna slow down. You could try giving them some cold pieces of melon (or even overgrown squashes) to peck at and see if that helps a bit. Do anything you can to cool down the coop. The breed you have will determine the size of the egg. As far as flying over the fence, that also depends on the breed. Plenty of mine wouldn’t even think of it (for a 3 foot garden fence) but my Dominiques and Rhode Island Reds sure would, if there was enough to tempt them”.

Some Sad News…

We get questions about other types of poultry as well. Sadly, Nanci wrote, asking about an issue with her Rouen duck, Squeeky. “About 6 days ago Squeeky started going off by himself. We were told he was depressed because mating season was over. Two days ago he started having problems walking. We were told to give him electrolytes which we give him thru a syringe. He is about 1 1/2 years old and when the girls come back to see him, he’s very alert. My ducks are free range.”

Courtesy of mikenan1 via Flickr
Courtesy of mikenan1 via Flickr

The most heartbreaking thing was not being able to help her or Squeeky, who died a few days later. If there’s anyone out there with experience with ducks who’s gone through something similar and can offer advice, please let us know. Meanwhile, we empathized with their family and their loss.

…And Some Good News

Steve wrote and told us, “My house is sort of like the old TV show Green Acres. My wife went to the feed store for pig food (we have a mini pot belly pig as a pet) and came home with the feed, and the chicks.  We have 5.  I am not sure if they are hens or roosters, but we will figure it out when they don’t lay eggs! I will send pictures when we are done with the coop!”

One Heart Wild is a nonprofit sanctuary in Washington that rescues hens and horses. They used our coop plans (The Mul-T Coop) to build a coop to house up to 20 hens and allow their clients (at risk kids) to visit with them, bringing healing and teaching empathy. According to Drea Bowen, the director, “the chickens are a huge hit with everyone”.

And Melissa made our day with her note: “I recently decided to start raising chickens in my yard so that my family always has access to fresh eggs (as a baker I go through a ton). My kids are super excited and have been helping me with research on raising chickens. We thought your page, https://www.chickencoopguides.com/category/poultry-resources/ had some really great info and we wanted to pass along a thank you. A big thanks from future chicken owners. Have a wonderful day!”

And we hope you all do too! Email us with your news, updates and questions – as you can tell, we enjoy hearing from everyone!

Helpful Resources

If you’re not familiar with what we have available for resources, please take a look here:

To find examples of customers’ coops built, using our plans: Success Stories

And, as always, never hesitate to contact us at support@chickencoopguides.com

Freedom Rangers: A Meat Bird Alternative

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A few months back, a customer emailed us wondering about “Freedom Ranger” chickens. A friend of his was raising them and he was curious. I had never heard of them and got curious, too. So I started doing some research.

The name gets your attention, doesn’t it? Makes you think of America, and self sufficiency, and independence! All the good stuff, right?

OK – stop right there because the good ol’ Internet has an awful lot of misinformation floating around there about these guys!

Courtesy of Wendy Smoak FlickrTHE NAME GAME

First, there’s a good reason for that catchy name, kids: marketing. Yep, the Freedom Ranger is a brand name for a hybrid chicken. There’s also Red Rangers and Black Rangers. That means you can’t breed ‘em at home. They come from a cross of 4 different breeds so if you hatch out the eggs, they won’t be the same as the parents.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of the chickens sold specifically as meat birds are hybrid birds, created from a cross between a few different breeds, designed to grow fast and plump and be little eating machines. And the most popular of these are the Cornish and White Rock cross breeds.


But you’ll find sites out there calling these a “heritage breed” and forums where people talk about how wonderful they are so they can raise their own meat birds from the eggs of these chickens who will sit on them and be broody hens. Not true. There are sites that say the Cornish Cross breeds are “genetically modified”: also not true except that they’re bred for certain characteristics, just like that early producing tomato I grow every year to guarantee some tomatoes by July.

There are sites that seem to claim they can get most of their food supply by free ranging. Not true either. Without a high protein, but balanced food source, you’re gonna end up with birds that have health problems (one may be incurable: death) and birds that will take a looong time to reach an eating weight.

We’re not going to get into any of the big thorny issues that people raise about monopolies on breeding stock and who controls what and “Big Agriculture” business; that’s a whole other story for another day so don’t ask!

Take a deep breath. Don’t get sucked into the nonsense.

THE MATH (FOR US REGULAR FOLK)By Jessica Reeder (P1080817) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When you’re raising a bunch of birds strictly for meat, it makes a lot of sense to do them all in a big batch: you get all the chicks at the same time, raise them all together for a few weeks, and then butcher and process them all at once. You’re then set with your year’s supply of chicken for the family or to sell. These are the breeds the “big guys” like Perdue use and the organic, pastured poultry guys like Joel Salatin use.

And it makes a lot of sense to raise these birds as fast as possible, as cheaply as possible, in the most healthy way as possible. You want to lose as few chickens (ideally none!), have no health issues, and make your profit margin as large as possible:

cost of feed + care + cost of chickens / by pounds of meat after butchering = cost per pound of meat


Now I don’t care if you’re raising these for a business or for your family but I know you do not want to end up paying some ridiculous price for your efforts (if you do, please call me and let’s discuss a business venture!)

Your cost difference comes down to the amount of feed you have to give the birds. That can be kept lower by reducing the number of weeks until they’ve reached a butchering weight; it can be kept low by free ranging to reduce the amount of feed you have to buy. So far I haven’t found anyone who has done a test that compares exactly the same type of feed and the same type of free ranging between the two breeds and offered any kind of definitive answer.


The advantages of the Cornish Cross hybrids is that they convert their feed well and efficiently. They’re economical. The Freedom Rangers do, too, but at a little slower of a pace which helps them mostly avoid the health problems that faster growing meat birds can be prone to like leg problems and heart attacks (due to overeating). With the reduction of leg problems you’re trading off for less breast meat (so less white meat) and either a lower weight bird or a few additional weeks to slaughter, compared to the other meat breeds. You’re still not escaping these problems entirely and have to watch. But keeping a feeder full of food of them at all times isn’t recommended for either breed. We’re talking chickens with some eating issues here…

Courtesy of Cowgirl Jules FlickrHOW MUCH LONGER DO I HAVE TO FEED THEM?

So to give you an idea of what to expect, the Freedom Rangers are supposed to reach their butchering weight of 5-6 pounds in about 12 weeks.

Cornish Cross breeds generally – and the same variances apply here – you’re talking 5-6 pounds in about 7 weeks.

By the way, you will find this differs depending on your source because it’s gonna depend on the feed and the protein levels and the specific genetics of the breeding strain you’ve bought. Don’t take any one source’s word for the gospel truth.

Also keep in mind a few things: Males get plump faster than females; and either way, there’s definitely a learning curve involved with raising these breeds. But don’t let that scare you off. Trust me – it’s possible (and not as hard as you’d think!). But you will be relieved come butchering day because regardless of breed, compared to any laying hens you’ve raised, these puppies can eat!


Now, to get a little technical, Mother Earth News had an article in 2010 by Harvey Ussery – who’s written extensively on chickens and homesteading for many years – where he wrote about the details of raising Freedom Rangers compared to Cornish Cross. He started the birds out on relatively high protein feed (24%) but started to see extremely fast growth and leg problems so he dropped down to 20% feed and then, a few weeks later, to 15% and supplemented it with whole oats.

In another article, the producer raised them using only 17% protein feed but did lose some birds and they were slower to reach a good butcher weight. I find this very interesting since I’ve always started my Cornish Cross out on the highest protein feed I could get (actually it was a game bird feed, at 28% protein). I like the idea that using a lower protein, and less costly, feed can have the same results. However, it’s still cautioned that you should not always have feed available as they can tend to overeat, just like the Cornish.

FREE BIRD?Courtesy of Green Mountain Girls Farm httpeatstayfarm.com

The advantages of the rangers seems to be more of an ability to forage for their food. They’re better adapted for free ranging and have more energy than the Cornish do for it. The Cornish will forage and free range but not quite as aggressively as you’ll see with the “old timey” breeds who will knock you down to get to that flying insect. Some of mine are more eager to plop down on the grass and relax. Of course, they’ll still eat the grass around them, just from a non-moving position!

Another big difference is when it comes time to butcher. The Freedom Rangers have dark pinfeathers. If you’re raising these to sell, consumers aren’t used to seeing that on the skin; you’re family isn’t either if you’ve been used to grocery store chicken. It’s not considered as attractive and is definitely something to consider if you’re trying to make a go of a business or even if you want the kids to eat the dinner you made for tonight without dealing with the “Eww…it looks weird” thing.

PARLEZ-VOUSE FRANCAIS? Photo ID 556170 UN PhotoRick Bajornas

Back at the start of this post, we mentioned the name was for marketing. However, the genetics for these Freedom Ranger birds come from France – specifically from a company that developed chickens for a strictly government regulated quality labeling system called Label Rouge. These are chickens that are required spend a certain amount of time outdoors with a specified amount of space for each. The label is considered top of the line there. Maybe this is more patriotic than you think considering the French gave us the Statue of Liberty and they do have Bastille Day on July 14th, kind of their own version of our “Independence Day”?

Some good reputable links for more information:



And, I’m not sure how definitive this is, since it’s just one farm, on one season but it is interesting:


Photos courtesy of: 1. Wendy Smoak Flickr 2. Jessica Reeder (P1080817) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licensesby-sa2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 3. Cowgirl Jules Flickr 4. Green Mountain Girls Farm http://eatstayfarm.com/ 5. Photo ID 556170 UN Photo: Rick Bajornas


Save Money on Feeding Your Chickens

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httpswww.flickr.comphotoscskk6895555615We all want to save money. Part of the reason some of us raise chickens is to have healthy eggs or meat for cheaper than we can buy at the store. But buying feed can cost a lot more than you expected. And honestly, some of the feed you get is just like buying junk food for your birds: it’s full of cheap stuff to fill them up, doesn’t provide a lot of vitamins and still costs a lot. Kind of like getting your kid that $4.00 box of breakfast cereal (hello, Cocoa Pebbles – I’m talking to you!).

First, let’s remember chickens are omnivores so they eat meat and vegetables. When you let them free range they’re eating bugs and grasses (and sometimes your strawberry patch but that’s another story…).

Just like with your kids you need to make sure treats come after a balanced meal and don’t fill their little bellies up enough to replace the protein and calcium they need in their diets to make eggs or meat and maintain their overall health. Ideally (and this is according to the “experts”) leftovers should never be more than 20% of their whole diet and should be portioned out so it’s only what they can finish within 20 minutes.

Now…let’s go back to us real life poor folks. I will pay for a decent feed for my egg layers – I don’t want junk in there so I look for something that doesn’t have by-products or anything I can’t identify near the top of the ingredient list. However, I can’t afford to pay for organic feed either. So, I’m looking for a reasonable compromise.

httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0Kids Won’t Eat It? Try the Chickens

To start with, you can obviously feed them your family’s leftovers. Pretty much anything goes here as long as it’s not spoiled food. You shouldn’t give them things high in fat, sugar or salt because (again, just like your kids) it’s gonna fill them up without providing nutrition. And their bodies are a lot smaller than ours so a little can have a big impact. That said, I’m guilty of giving my birds leftover birthday cake (it was going to get thrown away!). So we don’t have to be the food police but do use common sense: obviously, I’m not giving them cake every day.

Any scraps you don’t eat, are perfectly fine to give them, including chicken. You should also include any of the scraps you create from preparing fruits and vegetable. They can have the peels and the bad spots (as long as there’s no mold). Keep a bowl, small bucket, disposable foil pan – whatever works for you – in your kitchen and make a habit of throwing all your scraps and plate scrapings into it. Stick it in the refrigerator and feed them some every day.

If you have more eggs than you can use, cook them up and feed them back, shell and all. Just crush them up so they don’t recognize them and end up becoming egg eaters. If you can get yogurt or any other fermented dairy product cheap, I’m a big believer in the benefits this brings to chickens. I’m not talking about the Yoplait stuff with the sugar and flavors added but the plain yogurt that contains live active cultures. I start my chicks on it and swear by the benefits. 

chickens-874507_640What They Can (and Can’t) Eat  

The only things you have to completely avoid are banana peels, avocado peels, coffee grinds (use those in the garden instead), green tomatoes, uncooked beans and chocolate. Yes, it is okay to feed them cooked poultry although some people find it a bit creepy. In fact, any cooked meat, even on the bone is fine; just throw away the bones when they’re done so you don’t risk attracting rodents.

If you’re a hunter, you can feed your birds anything your family doesn’t eat. I’d say the same if you fish but just watch because “they say” that eggs and meat can take on the taste of what they’ve eaten. I’ve always fed my birds a LOT of garlic and no one’s ever said, “These eggs/meat taste garlicky”. But maybe it hasn’t been enough to affect that. I don’t know how much is “too much” but if you have extra fish (or fish scraps) go ahead and feed them as a good source of protein and minerals, especially omega 3.

If you have a good sized flock, you may want to look into getting scraps from a local restaurant, deli, grocery, co-op or farmer’s market. One great idea I’ve heard is asking for the leftover pulp from juice bars (think of the nutrition there!). The trick though, is to be able to use these up before they go bad. Some businesses can be too overeager and end up giving you what should have gone in the garbage – spoiled, rotten, moldy food which, same as if you ate it, will make your chickens sick. So the responsibility falls on you to go through those scraps and make sure they’re safe. If you do make a partnership with a business, you have to keep up your end of the agreement to pick up the food on the set day and time. This can be beneficial but can also end up making more work for you as well. Weigh it out carefully or maybe see if a friend will split it with you if there’s too much for you to use.

DSC03397Add in Vitamins – Cheaply

Another trick is stretching your feed by adding other vitamin-rich things to it, like sunflower seeds, whole or rolled oats, whole wheat, or millet. Check with your local feed store or co-op and then figure if it saves you money to supplement with these. You can also feed them as “scratch” – toss them on the floor of the coop or run or outside and they’ll have a good old time pecking for them. And by the way, make sure your feed is pellets rather than crumbles; they’ll waste a lot less.

Plant a little extra in your garden (or start a garden if you don’t have one) of the high producing things like squash and give the leftovers or the ones that are too big to the chickens. If you have anything with a hard outer rind, make sure you cut it in half for them to get at the inside. Hit up your friends who garden as well – everyone is sick of zucchini after a while and they might be happy to find someone to unload a few to! Greens and turnips are also good choices to plant. Kale will winter over plus you can cut it and it will grow back as will a lot of other greens. You can’t go wrong though with greens, melons and squashes. As an added benefit, during the hot weather, the melons will help cool them down and the greens provide them with entertainment, year-round. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are good cheap fillers, too.

9303178020_531542966e_nTake Them Out to Eat

Let your birds free range, if they can do it safely, even if it’s just for a short time every day while you supervise (and laugh at them. I promise, you’ll enjoy it!). If not, toss them your weeds and grass clippings (as long as they’re not sprayed with pesticides, of course) or consider a movable coop.

And think of your chicken run as a way to help, too. A lot of the “chicken experts” point out a dirt chicken run is bad: it ends up completely covered with droppings and becomes a breeding area for disease. Instead, cover it in a thick mulch (leaves, hay, straw, grass clippings, wood chips) and the area stays cleaner, the droppings turn into compost which then give you worms and other insects for your chickens to eat. Plus they’ll be much happier with an area to scratch in.

A lot of people I know feed their flocks cat or dog food because it’s high in protein and you can get it cheaper than chicken feed. Chances are you’re trading off more junk for the lower price. Something very important to consider is that pet food is not made for animals we’re going to eat – it’s got meat in it, usually in the form of “animal by-products” (could be bones, feathers – who knows?). And this could carry disease. If anyone remembers “mad cow disease” that’s how it began. Better safe than sorry.

And don’t forget to always feed oyster shell separately for the calcium laying hens’ need. Otherwise, they’ll tend to overeat their feed to make up for the calcium loss and cost you more in the long run.

And For Those Who Want to Experiment… silkworm-931555_640

I’ve read a lot of stuff about how you can completely do away with store bought feed. So for those of you with more ambition, here are some interesting resources you may want to check out:

Harvey Ussery has been around for years advocating the “grow your own feed” idea. He’s pretty scientific in his research: http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Feeding.html

Justin Rhoades is more of a newcomer to the chicken movement but he’s got plenty of ideas you may not have thought of (like growing your own maggots): http://theprepperproject.com/feeding-chickens-without-buying-feed/

Good information from a farmer who’s been doing it for years: http://www.sustainablechicken.com/2009/04/30/an-interview-with-bob-cannard/

Fermenting your chicken feed: http://countrysidenetwork.com/daily/poultry/feed-health/how-fermenting-chicken-feed-can-benefit-your-flock/

Using Sea Buckthorn: http://countrysidenetwork.com/daily/poultry/eggs-meat/what-to-feed-chickens-more-healthier-eggs-seabuck/

Using Comfrey for chickens: http://www.coescomfrey.com/use.html

Sprouting grains for chickens: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2014/02/sprouting-grains-for-chickens-fodder.html

Growing fodder for your chickens: http://www.fresheggsdaily.com/2014/02/growing-sprouted-fodder-for-your.html

And some of our older posts on feeding:


There’s a lot of ways you can use to save some money when feeding your flock. Let us know what’s worked for your flock.



Pastured Chicken: Huge Potential for Your Meat Birds

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So this was “big news” – all over the Internet a few months ago. The story was picked up by news outlets worldwide. And it was a good story:  A 12 year old  4-H kid,  in Texas who raised this huge, 23 pound chicken. It made me curious – the stories claimed it might be the world’s largest chicken.

I wondered who held the record? What breed of chickens were these? What’s the story behind this? And when I began to dig into it a little more, it got even more interesting…at least for us chicken people.

It turns out, Dakota’s 23.47 pound chicken (named “Big Mac”) did not break the record. The record was considered to be held by “Big Boy”, weighing in at 24.18 pounds, raised by Sue and Don Ritter. It was mentioned they raised him as pastured poultry, on grass.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with it, pastured poultry is where your chickens are in movable cages and every day (or every few days) you move them to a fresh area of grass. This way, they’re raised eating the grass, weeds, bugs as well as their feed, which is generally organic. You can do this with chickens raised for meat or for eggs. There’s a lot of benefits to doing it this way:

  • Healthier birds
  • Healthier meat
  • It can be more cost effective
  • Cleaner
  • More environmentally sustainable and more natural for the birds
  • If you’re raising a hybrid meat bird, bred to gain weight quickly, they generally don’t do well free ranging. This is a great way to keep them safe and get them the fresh “pasture” to eat.

Now all of this stuff I find really interesting but it’ll take too long to go into it all here so we’ll have to save that for another blog post! This is something being used by farmers and backyard people because it makes a lot of sense.

But let’s move on to the record holding chicken, shall we? Sue and Don raise chickens for meat and eggs and have a thriving business. One unique aspect is they raise chickens for Thanksgiving instead of turkeys. They decided they liked the taste better (I’m in agreement here) so every year they raise some birds to a dressed weight (meaning what they weigh when you buy them) of 10 to 18 pounds, enough for the holiday dinner. Customers claim this is the sweetest, best tasting chicken they’re ever had.

Now this is not something your Perdues and Tysons can do. They’ve got a strict schedule in the factory: the birds reach a certain age, they should be within a weight range. They’re butchered. Done! Next batch, coming in! It’s an assembly line process because that’s the only way they can keep their profit margin high. And we’re talking thousands and thousands of birds at a time.

The Ritters weren’t trying to break any record. They noticed Big Boy was 18 or 19 pounds and they decided to see how large he’d get. The thing is with broiler type chickens, they generally are known for a lot of health issues. They gain so much weight, so fast they tend to have leg problems; they love to eat and can even die from overeating. People usually butcher them at 6-8 weeks of age when they’ll weigh out at about 5-7 pounds. These breeds aren’t meant to live long.

But obviously the Ritters are doing something right – and different. Their pasture has been free of pesticides and fertilizers for over 35 years. Their feed is certified organic with no animal by-products and the chickens have constant access to the earth, bugs and sunshine. No antibiotics are needed. Don is adamant that grass is the building block for food. Because of all of these factors, Big Boy lived until 18 months old and died when it got a bit too cold in Pennsylvania and the grass stopped growing.

12036394425_7145a69443_zDespite documenting Big Boy with photos and videos, he was sadly not accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records. They no longer keep records for livestock weight. But the Ritters have started their 2016 season.  And what about 12 year old Dakota and his chicken? Dakota’s Dad said he was probably giving up chickens, due to the early morning feeding. And they planned to use “Big Mac” in gumbo.



For more information on things mentioned in this post go to:
Sue & Don Ritter’s website: http://www.absolutepasturedpoultry.com/
Dakota’s “Big Mac”: http://www.khou.com/story/news/local/2015/12/30/friendswood-boy-raises-23-pound-chicken/78104488/
Pastured Poultry information: http://www.apppa.org/getting-started-in-pastured-poultry
Chicken photo courtesy of:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/kairon_gnothi/2798240776/
Gumbo photo courtesy of: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffreyww/12036394425