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Everything Chickens: Coops & Care (eBook)                Written by Mollee D. Harper (2012)   

Table of Contents             

Chapter 1         Defining Poultry                                              

Chapter 2         Chickens: History, Religion & Origin          

      Chapter 3         Chickens: Primary Usage:                          Egg Production Breeds                                 Meat Breeds                                         Dual-purpose Breeds                                  Exhibition Breeds                                       

Chapter 4         Farming Chickens                                            

      Chapter 5         Chicken Coops & Poultry Housing          All-in-one Coop Construction Plan             (2) Walk-in Poultry House Blueprints                

Chapter 6         Getting Started                                        

      Chapter 7         Glossary of “Everything Chickens”

   

    

Foreword    

 

Everything Chickens: Coops & Care is a comprehensive book on poultry, including the definition, classification, history, and primary uses for the 50 billion chickens originating, and being raised on every continent across the globe, today.

As more individuals get back to the basics and search for ways to live more responsibly and sustain their health and quality of life with more independence, raising small flocks of chickens for personal consumption of eggs, meat, or both has more than its share of benefits.

This fact-filled book explores many of the hundreds of difference chicken breeds, within the egg, meat, dual-purpose and exhibition categories, and provides readers with informative and intelligible resources for proper care and housing personal flocks, including a wide variety of chicken coop blueprints, plans, and photos.

 

Chapter 1 - Defining Poultry

 

 Photo Credit: C for Chicken by Simon Howden (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Poultry, also commonly referred to as “fowl” are domesticated birds that are cultivated or bred, raised and housed for the production of their eggs and/or meat, for exhibition and show, and for some individuals, even as pets. There are two primary classifications of poultry or domesticated birds: fowls, and waterfowls. Fowls include: chickens, quails and turkeys, and waterfowls are comprised of ducks and geese. The poultry family also includes other game birds such as pheasants and doves.

In order for an animal species to meet the specific criteria for this domestication classification, they following six conditions must apply:

  • Flexible Diet
  • Fast Growth Rate
  • Breed in Captivity
  • Pleasant Disposition
  • Steady Temperament
  • Modifiable Social Hierarchy

 

1. Flexible Diet

Animals that can consume a variety of foods from different food sources, including food that is not commonly used by humans, like grass and raw wheat, and graze on their own are significantly less expensive to keep in captivity, and meet the flexible diet criterion.  

2. Fast Growth Rate

Animals that reach maturity in size, in a short amount of time, for effective utilization meet the growth rate criterion.

3. Breed in Captivity

Domesticated animals must be able to breed in captivity and produce healthy and useful offspring.

4. Pleasant Disposition

Animals within the domestication classification must have a pleasant disposition, presenting little to no danger to their human companions.

5. Steady Temperament

In order for an animal to be considered domesticated, it must have a low flight risk and remain steady and calm in captivity.

6. Modifiable Social Hierarchy

Most animals are social and live within an unspoken hierarchy, or “pecking order” within their own group. Animals meeting the modifiable social hierarchy criterion must be able to recognize a human as the leader of their pack, in order to be considered domesticated.

Fowls or poultry are some of the most adaptable animal species that easily meet all of the domestication criteria. Chickens are not only the most common and well-known poultry across the globe, but they are also the most plentiful of any other bird species, with roughly 50 billion chickens in existence today.

Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals, naturally digging for seeds and grazing on insects. Larger breeds and roosters have also been known to dine on small lizards, and even mice and moles. Chickens breed easily in captivity, and grow, produce (eggs), and live cohesively with humans. They mature in a fairly short amount of time, with a lifespan between five and ten years. The females or hens start producing eggs at 16 weeks, or 4 months of age.

Chickens are social and outgoing creatures, with extroverted personalities, responding to play and affection with one another and their human owners even. They approach egg incubation and raising their young, also know as chicks, through a communal approach; the hens sharing nesting boxes, taking turns brooding, sitting atop of their clutches of eggs to keep them warm during development, a period of 20 to 22 days. Male chickens, also known as roosters, cockerels, and cocks are polygamous, and can be quite aggressive when protecting their hen brides. Roosters begin crowing before 4 months of age, and spend most of their time perched high off the ground, watching over their flock, calling for the females when they find food.

Chickens have a natural “pecking order” and work well as a team to not only produce eggs, but also to cultivate and fertilize the ground. Chickens are natural predators of many pests, eliminating the need for human intervention. Their excrement is a nitrogen-rich fertilizer and can be used to make garden soil rich, improving the quality and quantity of vegetables and other food sources too. Chickens are efficient players within any eco-system, contributing on many levels, from egg production for dietary supplement to pest control, enriching the lives of their owners. 

Chapter 2 - Chickens: History, Religion, Origins

 

 

 Photo Credit: Gallus Gallus Domesticus by Tom Curtis (FreeDigitalPhotos.net) 

 

History of the Chicken

Chickens are believed to be ancestors of the Red Junglefowl, a pheasant bird originating in Asia, many thousands of years ago. While there is much speculation on the exact date and origin of the first chicken, many sources indicate the origination of these domesticated birds from India and Pakistan, dating as far back as 2500 BC, and not for the purpose of food, but for sport or game rather. Cock-fighting was a common practice in many regions including Asia, Africa and Europe, and over the years has been replaced in most countries by the non-violent sport of exhibition or show.

The earliest known chicken fossils were discovered within Africa, dating back to the first early years of AD. The first drawings of chickens were discovered in Europe, dating back to early BC, found on prestigious red and black-figure pottery recovered from the ancient civilization of Corinth, Greece. The ancient Greeks not only celebrated chickens as an esteemed food for the elite, but often featured the rooster as a symbol of strength and valor, for their powerful determination and ferocity in battle.  

Like the Greeks, the Romans considered chickens to be an exotic animal. Chickens were used as oracles - messengers of a higher message - by the Romans, like many other birds, depending on the direction of their flight and whether or not they consumed a particular food. Chickens that readily ate the special food provided to them were believed to foretell or predict good omens for the people. When chickens called out and flapped their wings, or flew away, a bad omen was predicted, as a result.  

Like many other animals, the consumption of chicken meat has been heavily disputed as right, or wrong, throughout the years. Documentation from early Rome indicates they too struggled with this human condition, increasing breeding for meat consumption, and then passing laws to forbid consumption based on religious beliefs.

Chickens in Religion

For cultures all over the world, the chicken holds significance in religious belief and ceremony.

In the oldest living and third largest religion of Hindu, non-violence and harmony with the earth and all living plants and animals is the cornerstone. As many Hindus follow the Upanishads as absolute law, abstaining from the consumption of any animal in order to demonstrate respect for the soul in all living things, animals including chickens often play a large role within the culture. Chickens are used during Hindu cremation ceremonies to keep evil spirits away from the deceased as they transition into their next life.

In Judaism, the chicken is considered a kosher animal, fit for consumption, as long as it is raised and slaughtered with reverence and cleanliness. During the Jewish ritual of kapparos, a chicken is swung above gold coins three times, symbolizing the transference of sins from man to the bird, reinforcing man’s humility and atonement with God. The chicken is then slaughtered and given to the poor as food. The Talmud also uses the chicken to demonstrate the importance of learning thoughtfulness between a husband and wife, as the rooster is the consummate gentleman always allowing his hens to eat first.

In Christianity, chickens are referenced in the Bible in multiple books, with specific focus to the nurturing nature of a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings to provide protection and solace. Many parables and stories are also told using “as the cock crows” as reference to the time of day.

Chickens are one of 12 animals featured in the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese Zodiacs, not only representing time, but human characteristics as well. The rooster is associated with the autumn season. Those born in the year, day, or hour of the rooster are believed to reflect a meticulous, neat and tidy nature, organized, conservative, practical and responsible. In Chinese wedding ceremonies, a chicken may be brought as a substitute for a sick relative who is not able to attend. 

 

 

 Photo Credit: Globe in Egg Shape by digitalart (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

Origin of Chicken Breeds

Since the earliest relative to the domestic chicken, the Red Junglefowl, was discovered in Asia thousands of years ago, chickens have been bred, traded and distributed throughout the world. Through this process, chicken evolved into many distinct breeds of birds. Each of these different breeds has a point of origin that encompasses the entire planet. 

The hundreds of chicken breeds around the world are distinguished today, by three primary factors:

  • Place of origin - where the breed originated in the world: continent, country, region
  • Physical traits – attributes of the bird
  • Utilization - primary use of the domesticated bird by their human counterparts

Places of Origin

The hundreds of different chickens breeds are native fowl that reside on all seven continents, originating in over 46 countries all over the world, including:

Afghanistan     Croatia                     India                Norway           South Africa

Albania            Cuba                        Indonesia         Pakistan          Spain

Armenia          Czech Republic         Iran                 Philippines      Sweden

Australia         Egypt                        Italy                 Poland             Switzerland

Belgium           Finland                     Japan              Portugal          Turkey

Bulgaria          France                       Korea              Romania          Ukraine

Canada           Germany                   Kosovo            Russia              United Kingdom

Chile                Greece                     Malaysia          Serbia              United States

China              Iceland                     Netherlands     Slovakia          Vietnam

 

In 2004, the Global Livestock Production and Health Atlas estimated the number of chickens at 16 billion around the world. China remains the number one cultivator of chickens at almost twice that of any other country, followed by the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil.

                           

Country

 Chickens

                           

China

3,860,000,000

                           

U.S.

1,970,000,000

                           

Indonesia

1,200,000,000

                           

Brazil

1,100,000,000

                           

Mexico

540,000,000

                           

India

495,000,000

                           

Russia

340,000,000

                           

Japan

286,000,000

                           

Iran

280,000,000

                           

Turkey

250,000,000

                           

Bangladesh

172,630,000

                           

Nigeria

143,500,000

 

By 2009 (only five years later), those numbers had increased to an estimated 50 billion chickens throughout the world, including farm factories. The number of chickens significantly increased over 300%, or at a rate of 60% per year, indicating more people everywhere are now cultivating more of their own sustainable food for economical and health reasons.   

 

Physical Traits

Selective breeding is the process by which two different breeds are mated together to create a new, more genetically desirable bird. Chickens originating from different countries, with different physical and physiological or behavioral traits have been interbred to create more genetically desirable breeds for thousands of years. This process has been repeated to produce birds with more edible meat, a higher frequency of egg production, and more ornamental plumage, to name a few. The results have led to a lot of diversity in the modern chicken species classification today, and literally hundreds of different species.

The physical distinguishing characteristics that help differentiate between these hundreds of different chicken breeds include:

  • Size
  • Amount of plumage, or feathering
  • Color, pattern and arrangement of plumage, or feathering
  • Comb Type
  • Skin color
  • Number of toes
  • Egg color

Size

Chickens vary in size from Bantams, or dwarf chickens, that stand at approximately ¼ of the size of a standard bird, to larger breeds that resemble their distant cousins, the pheasants, turkeys and other sizeable game birds. Most common chicken breeds range from an inch or two in their youth to a height within 2 feet, as adults. Roosters and large breed may mature to 3 feet in height.

Plumage

Feathers provide a protective covering for chickens, keeping them sheltered from rain, cold, wind and sunburn. The colors, patterns, and arrangement of feathers on different chicken breeds can also be very distinctive. Ideal plumage includes feathers that are relatively wide or broad in their shape, with firm feathers that are knitted tightly and close together.

Chicken feathers present in almost every color with white, golden, orange-yellow, brown, black, greenish-black, and blue being primary or common colors found in the majority of their plumage. Much like many other animal species, their plumage color helps distinguish between the male and female birds; the males exhibiting a brighter and more colorful plumage, and the females with lighter colors, drawing less attention from natural predators.

The length and arrangement of feathers also varies, as some breeds possess long, almost glamorous tail feathers, some grow beards or feathers under their chin, and some exhibit light, fluffy silk-like feathers. 

Some common plumage characteristics or traits include:

  • Barring – alternating feather colors that produce the appearance of stripes.
  • Frizzle – feathers that curl or are curvy in appearance.
  • Laced – feathers that appear to be framed by another color.
  • Mottled – white feathers with white tips.
  • Penciling – line-like markings on female feathers.
  • Peppered – feathers covered in small black dots.
  • Spangled – feathers with a v-shape or half moon crest in black and contrasting colors.
  • Splashed – feathers with irregular contrasting colored patterns.

Comb Type

The comb or cockscomb is the fleshy growth on the crest of the chicken’s head. Combs are generally larger on males than females. Rooster combs are most often bright red in color, but may appear light grey, blue, or pink in different breeds.

The recognizable types of combs are:

  • Buttercup – cup-shaped crown
  • Cushion – smooth, low cap
  • Pea – three low distinctive ridges, with the middle appearing taller
  • Rose – broad spike extending from the beak into a peak, extending up and back
  • Silkis – wide, round, lumpy cap
  • Single – thin, erect traditional mohawk with three distinct sections.
  • Strawberry – low comb, set forward, resembling a strawberry
  • V-shaped – two horn-like sections joined, giving a full upright appearance

Skin Color

The skin color of birds can vary in tone and pigment much like that in humans, with many variations seen within different breeds. 

Number of Toes

Most birds are born with four toes, although a few chicken breeds have five toes, and a few hybrids have only three. Typically only three of their toes actually touch the ground, with the additional one or two toes residing higher up on their leg, pointing upward. Chicken claws are sharp, relatively straight and short in length, making them ideal for scratching.

Egg Color

The exterior shell cover of eggs can range from white or cream to dark brown, blue or green even. While the color of the egg shell does not affect the flavor of the egg, many people within different regions have a preference. The United States tends to harvest white eggs, while the United Kingdom gravitates more toward brown eggs.

Utilization or Primary Use

While almost all breeds of poultry lay eggs and are edible, and due to intensive selective breeding over thousands of years, many breeds are quite unique and distinctive in their appearance and certainly show-worthy. However, all chicken breeds are typically assigned a distinction for utilization (also referred to as “primary use”) for egg production, meat production, dual-purpose, and exhibition or show that is widely recognized for breed distinction. 

 

Chapter 3 - Chickens: Primary Usage

Different breeds of domesticated fowl exhibit a wide range of diversity, not only in their appearance, but in their growth rate and longevity, ability to generate eggs in different sizes, colors and frequencies, and the quality and quantity of edible meat they yield for consumption. The four globally-accepted, standard categories of primary use help differentiate the many chicken breeds as follows:

  1. Eggs
  2. Meat
  3. Dual-purpose
  4. Exhibition

 
1. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein that people of all ages require to maintain a healthy body.  Chicken eggs are an inexpensive and high nutritional-value food source, yielding 6 to 7 grams of protein each. Production of chicken eggs is a global industry, as chicken eggs remains the most consumed egg by people all over the world today.   

Eggs are laid by female chickens, also known as laying hens, and depending on the breed may produce eggs that vary in exterior color, including:

  • White
  • Cream
  • Pink
  • Light Brown
  • Dark Brown
  • Blue
  • Green
  • Tinted or Spotted

Chicken eggs may range from jumbo (greater than 2.5 oz. or 71 g) to pewee (greater than 1.25 oz. or 35 g) in size.

Chicken eggs consist of an outer protective eggshell, the albumen or egg white, and the vitellus or egg yolk. Egg yolks in fresh raised chickens, typically served within minutes, hours, or days are a healthy orange color, unlike the yellow yolks found in commercial eggs bought from stores that may be weeks, even months old. Chicken eggs contain significant protein content and are considered a meat serving, as a result.

Frequency of egg production may range from a few to 300 per year. Egg production is based on three factors:

1. Breed of Chicken

2. Hen’s Age

3. Season

 

1. Breed of Chicken

Many chicken breeds produce hens that lay very few eggs, if any, especially within the broiler breeds. Laying hens of egg and dual-purpose breeds may lay eggs as often as once a day, for a continuous period of 3 to 5 weeks, or up to 300 eggs per year. All chicken breeds are ranked by egg production and may be classified as a layer with one of the following ratings:

  • Poor
  • Fair
  • Good
  • Very good
  • Excellent

Good producers commonly lay eggs for an average of 4 weeks, with an output of 150 plus eggs per year. Most egg production declines dramatically in colder weather within most chicken breeds; however, there are many breeds that are classified as “cold hardy”, meaning they continue to lay eggs even when temperatures are not ideal.  

2. Hen’s Age

Hen’s begin laying eggs as early as 16 to 20 weeks of age, and lay best during their first year, usually followed by a steady decline in production. Some breeds may stop producing after one year, and may become dual-purpose and used for their meat, as a result. Many of the good or better ranked breeds lay eggs regularly, up to 5 years of age.

3. Season

Chickens are warm-blooded animals, so naturally high laying season takes place during warm or hot summer months. Egg production is dramatically decreased or stops completely, as daylight hours decline and temperatures drop during winter months. Egg production hens ranked very good or excellent are often called “cold hardy” chickens because they continue to work hard, producing eggs in cold climates. 

The following are designated as egg-laying chicken breeds, with frequency rating, and egg shell color specification:


Chicken Breed

Primary Use

Egg Laying

      Egg Color

Ameraucana

Egg

Good

Blue

Ancona

Egg

Excellent

White

Andalusian

Egg

Good

White

Araucana

Egg

Good

Blue

Austurian Painted Hen

Egg

Good

Cream/Tinted

Barnevelder

Egg

Good

Brown

Campine

Egg

Good

White

Catalana

Egg

Very Good

Cream/Tinted

Easter Eggers

Egg

Very Good

Green/Blue

Egyptian Fayoumi

Egg

Good

Cream/Tinted

Kraienkoppe

Egg

Fair

Cream/Tinted

Lakenvelder

Egg

Good

Cream/Tinted

Leghorn (Non-White)

Egg

Good

White

Leghorn (White)

Egg

Very Good

White

Marans

Egg

Good

Dark Brown

Minorca

Egg

Very Good

White

Norwegian Jaerhone

Egg

Very Good

White

Orloff

Egg

Good

Light Brown

Penedesenca

Egg

Good

Dark Brown

Sicilian Buttercup

Egg

Fair

White

Welsummer

Egg

Good

Dark Brown

White Faced Black Spanish

Egg

Good

White


2. Meat

While pork remains the most widely eaten meat around the world and accounts for 38% of all meat production and consumption, poultry is a close second, accounting for 30% of the meat consumption worldwide. Chickens provide a high source of protein, with breasts yielding 28 grams of protein each. Chickens raised specifically for food consumption are called broilers, and in most countries, most if not all of the broiler is used in various local and customary cuisines.

Broiler breeds have been genetically bred to produce higher quantities of meat, in order to yield more food per each bird. Commercial broilers have a rapid growth rate, and take less than six weeks to reach slaughter-ready weight, while free range broilers are usually slaughtered at 14 weeks. 

 

 

Photo Credit: Chicken Pieces by Suat Eman (FreeDigitalPhotos.net) 

 

Broilers are sold whole or by pieces or sections, primarily falling into three cuts of meat:

  1. Chicken breasts or the “flight muscles” yield white meat and provides the largest quantity of edible food, with an estimated 28 grams of protein per piece.
  2. The broiler legs, thighs or drumsticks are the “walking muscles” and yield dark meat.
  3. The broiler wings, base and tips, provide smaller quantities of dark meat.        

In addition, many people make use of all sections and parts of the entire broiler, using the feet, head, neck, oyster, heart, liver, gizzard, and even chicken buttocks and testicles in regional delicacies. The broiler carcass is even used to create soup stock.

The most common commercial broiler is the Cornish-Rocks, a hybrid of the Cornish and Plymouth Rock chickens, originating from the United States and India, specifically bred in high quantities for large scale distribution all over the world. These broilers grow much faster than traditional egg laying hens, reaching an optimal harvest weight of 5-pounds, within 5-weeks. 

The following are designated as meat or food breeds, also known as broilers:

Chicken Breed

Primary Use

Bresse

Meat

Cornish-Plymouth

Meat

Indian Game or Cornish Hen

Meat

Ixworth

Meat

Jersey Giant

Meat

3. Dual-Purpose

Dual-purpose breeds can be seen in barn-yards and chicken coops all over the world, common to individuals, families and small farms. Many different chicken breeds are included in the dual-purpose category as they are not only used for egg production, but for edible meat sustenance as well. 

The following are designated as dual-purpose chicken breeds, used for their egg production as well as, their meat:

 

Chicken Breed

Primary Use

Egg Laying

Egg Color

Australorp

Meat/Eggs

Excellent

Brown

Brahma

Meat/Eggs

Good

Brown

Buckeye

Meat/Eggs

Very Good

Brown

California Gray

Meat/Eggs

Good

White

Chantecler

Meat/Eggs

Very Good

Brown

Cubalaya

Meat/Eggs

Very Good

Cream or Tinted

Derbyshire Redcap

Meat/Eggs

Good

White

Dominique

Meat/Eggs

Good

Brown

Dorking

Meat/Eggs

Good

Cream or Tinted

Faverolles

Meat/Eggs

Very Good

Cream or Tinted

Holland

Meat/Eggs

Good

White

Iowa Blue

Meat/Eggs

Good

Brown

Java

Meat/Eggs

Fair

Brown

Jersey Giant

Meat/Eggs

Good

Brown

Marsh Daisy

Meat/Eggs

Fair

Cream or Tinted

Naked Neck (Turken)

Meat/Eggs

Fair

Light Brown

New Hampshire Red

Meat/Eggs

Good

Brown

Orpington

Meat/Eggs

Good

Brown

Plymouth Rock

Meat/Eggs

Very Good

Brown

Red Shaver

Meat/Eggs

Excellent

Brown

Rhode Island (White & Red)

Meat/Eggs

Excellent

Brown

Scots Dumpy

Meat/Eggs

Good

Cream or Tinted

Scots Grey

Meat/Eggs

Good

White

Sussex

Meat/Eggs

Very Good

Light Brown

Wyandotte

Meat/Eggs

Very Good

Brown

 

4. Exhibition

Poultry Fancy is the hobby of raising and breeding domestic fowl for exhibition and competition at agricultural fairs, festivals, and livestock shows. Many of the exhibition breeds of chickens are also technically dual-purpose varieties and may be used for their egg production, as well as their meat. While many chicken breeds were originally bred for ornamental purposes, exhibition breeds have increase dramatically since the 19th Century, replacing cock-fighting games in most countries.

Exhibition poultry are divided into four primary categories for judging:

  • Chickens or large fowl
  • Bantams, miniature chickens typically ¼ of the size of a standard bird
  • Waterfowl
  • Turkeys

 

Chickens and their human counterparts can win a variety of titles and ribbons including:

  • Best in Show”
  • “Best Breed”
  • “Reserve Breed”
  • Champion - “Top Cock”
  • Champion - “Top Hen”
  • Champion - “Top Cockerel”
  • Champion - “Top Pullet”

 

Naturally, exhibition chicken breeds have strong physical traits and characteristics, and are judged on a variety of their physical attributes including:

  • Size
  • Frame
  • Muscle mass
  • Bone structure correctness
  • Proper pastern angles
  • Joint flexibility

 

Feathering also plays a big role in poultry competition, and includes distinctions by:

  • Condition
  • Colors
  • Pattern
  • Thickness
  • Length

In addition, judges look at the ease in which chickens move, if they stand upright and demonstrate balance when they walk, and present a smooth overall appearance.

Agriculture by definition is the cultivation of plants, animals, and other life forms for food and other products to sustain life. Poultry Fancy has proven an invaluable activity to train youth and novices with hands-on experience in proper agriculture, and stewardship toward the earth, and may even be partly responsible for the explosion of new chicken owners over the past decade.

The following are classified as exhibition or show breeds. Egg laying frequency rating and egg shell color included for dual-purpose or utility breeds that are also considered good egg laying breeds. Note: Exhibition-utility breeds featured below may be used for eggs, meat, or both. 

Chicken Breed

Primary Use

Egg Laying

Egg Color

American Game

Exhibition

 

 

Asil

Exhibition

 

 

Appenzeller

Exhibition/Utility

Good

White

Barbu de Watermael

Exhibition

 

 

Belgian Bearded d'Anvers

Exhibition

 

 

Bearded d'Uccle

Exhibition

 

 

Belgian d'Everberg

Exhibition

 

 

Blue Hen of Delaware

Exhibition/Utility

Very Good

Brown

Booted Bantam

Exhibition

 

 

Cochin

Exhibition

 

 

Crevecoeur

Exhibition/Utility

Fair

White

Croad Langshan

Exhibition/Utility

Very Good

Dark Brown

Dutch Bantam

Exhibition

 

 

Frizzle

Exhibition

 

 

Ga Noi

Exhibition

 

 

Hamburg

Exhibition/Utility

Good

White

Houdan

Exhibition/Utility

Good

White

La Fl'eche

Exhibition/Utility

Fair

White

Nankin

Exhibition/Utility

Good

Cream/Tinted

Old English Game

Exhibition

 

 

Pekin

Exhibition

 

 

Phoenix

Exhibition

 

 

Polish

Exhibition/Utility

Good

White

Rosecomb

Exhibition

 

 

Sebright

Exhibition

 

 

Serama

Exhibition

 

 

Shamo

Exhibition

 

 

Silkie

Exhibition/Utility

Good

Cream/Tinted

Sultan

Exhibition

 

 

Sumatra

Exhibition

 

 

Vorwerk

Exhibition/Utility

Good

Cream/Tinted

Yokohama

Exhibition/Utility

Poor

Cream/Tinted

   

 

Chapter 4 - Farming Chickens

The number of chickens in existence has increased by over 300% in the past decade, with more than 50 billion chickens being raised annually now, as a source of food for their eggs, meat or both, or for hobby. This number does not include all of the individuals now raising chickens in small numbers for their own personal consumption. More people are looking for ways to get back to the basics, overcome hunger, and supplement shrinking or low incomes with proactive solutions that put them back in the driver’s seat of their own health and quality of life.

In addition, today’s consumer is more self-aware and informed, now scrutinizing the quantity and quality of their food and food sources, more than ever before. Reports of food contamination, sickness, and death, resulting from bad or inefficient food supply practices sky-rocketed over the past decade, leading more people to embrace their own local food sources, and find ways to grow or cultivate food themselves.

These factors combined have created new surges in the already large market for raising chickens. The significant increase in home farming can be attributed to many factors, providing the primary reasons why raising chickens makes sense for so many:

  1. Return-on-Investment
  2. Nutrition
  3. Sustainable Green Living

 

1. Return-on-Investment

Raising chickens is actually equitable, and provides owners with a return-on-investment, unlike other pets. Chicks can be purchased for very little money, and require very little maintenance. They mature quickly and create an ongoing return on the initial investment within only a few months as regular egg production begins. The money spent on their feed is saved on the purchase of eggs at the local supermarket or grocery store each month.

2. Nutrition

A chicken egg provides good nutrition, 6 to 7 grams of protein with a low caloric intake of 60 calories. Chicken eggs are easily digested, have a low and desirable ratio of unsaturated fats of 2 to 1, and contain many nutrients, vitamins and minerals essential to grow and maintain a healthy body including: essential amino acids, vitamins A, B, D and E, calcium, choline, iron, phosphorus and potassium. All of the vitamins and fat found in chicken eggs are from the egg yolk.

Fresh eggs, only minutes, hours or days old are naturally more healthy than eggs purchased from the store that may be weeks, even months old. In addition, 100% organic eggs can easily be produced by feeding chickens organic feed, increasing the nutritional value of their output with very little effort. Organic feed contains kelp and high quantities of polyunsaturated fats. The organic eggs produced are also high in omega 3 fatty acids.

3. Sustainable Green Living

Farming a small flock of chickens provides nutritious food at little or no expense, and dramatically improves the natural eco-system of your home, yard and garden. Roaming or free ranging chickens reduce garden and yard pests naturally, feeding on earwigs, grubs, worms and beetles, and cutting down on lawn maintenance by grazing on grass and weeds for you. Chicken excrement is a hearty nitrogen-rich fertilizer that eliminates the need and expense of toxic chemicals to fertilize and maintain healthy lawns, and yields robust black soil, improving the quality of the grass, plants and vegetables growing in your yard, and the quality of water in your community.

Raising chickens requires very little work or maintenance and provides substantial benefits on many levels. Many small farmers opt to keep a small flock of hens for egg production or meat, and often do not integrate roosters into their flock in order to keep all of the eggs unfertilized and suitable for human consumption. For those individuals and farmers that replenish their flocks naturally by allowing a rooster to fertilize hens to create new chicks, the process requires very little intervention.   

 

Eggs to chicks…

The natural process to hatch new chicks involves the following four stages:

  1. Fertilization
  2. Egg Production
  3. Incubation
  4. Hatching & Growth


1. Fertilization

Fertilization of chicken eggs takes place inside the body of the hen through insemination by a rooster. Hens reach sexual maturity at 17 to 18 weeks of age, at which time the rooster or male chicken mounts the hen from behind, standing on her back as he transfers semen into her reproductive system. There the semen is released over a period of several days fertilizing more than one egg at a time. Hens remain fertile for 10 days before another mating is required to fertilize new eggs. One rooster can service between six and 15 hens.

2. Egg Production

Good domestic egg-laying hens lay one egg every 24 hours, during a continuous cycle that runs four months in length, yielding up to 80 eggs per cycle. The egg laying process is the same for eggs whether they are fertilized or unfertilized.    

3. Incubation

Incubation is the period of development between the point in time when an egg is physically laid and hatched, during which time the embryo develops inside the egg into a chick. Incubation occurs within 20 to 22 days, during which time multiple hens will take turns brooding, or sitting on the egg in its clutch to keep it warm as it develops.

There is virtually no embryonic growth or development of the fertilized egg while it is still inside the hen. All of the development takes place during the incubation period while the egg is in its nest. Brooding hens provide the natural warmth needed to allow for chick development. During the incubation period the chick develops within the protective egg rapidly.

The chick development occurring over these 21 days is as follows:

Day 1- During the first 24-hours, the vertebra, head and eyes appear and begin to form.

Day 2 - The heart starts to beat.

Day 3 - The wings and legs form.

Day 5 - Reproductive organs are formed and the sex of the bird is determined.

Day 6 - Formation of the beak begins, and voluntary movement starts.

Day 8 - The plumage of feathers begins to form.

Day 9 - The embryo has the appearance of a small bird.

Day 11 - The beak starts to harden, and the toes completely separate.

Day 12 - The toes are fully formed, and the first feathers start to appear.

Day 13 - The claws appear, and the majority of the body is now covered in feathers.

Day 16 - The embryo is fully covered in feathers.

Day 18 - The embryo is almost fully developed.

Day 20 - The embryo becomes a chick, and uses a beak tooth to break through the egg shell and begins breathing air.

Day 21 - The chick hatches leaving the shell completely.

 

Photo Credit: Chick by Salvatore Vuono (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

4. Hatching & Growth

Hatching is a natural process and requires no intervention by farmers. Chicks use a “beak tooth” to break through the shell on their own, taking up to a few days to completely leave their old shells behind. Once they leave their egg, empty shells can be used in composite piles as a natural fertilizer.

Chickens are called chicks at time of hatching, and grow as rapidly once they are out of their shells as they do during incubation. Female youth are called pullets up to one year of age, and males are referred to as cockerels up to one year of age.

Chicks may begin drinking water and eating food as early as day one of their arrival. Hens are communal and work together to raise their young. Chicks benefit from having a group of mother hens that work in tandem to teach their youth how to scratch and search for natural food sources.   

While little interaction is required by humans during the early growth process, the following conditions create an ideal environment to ensure new chicks adapt well to their new world.

Heat

Keeping new chicks warm and comfortable during their first few weeks of life is one of the most important aspects in raising babes to maturity. Chicks require more heat during the first week of their life. As their plumage grows and they develop they require less heat. By the 4th or 5th week of their life their internal temperatures match that of their mother hens. Some farmers will add a small heat lamp to the chicken coop over nesting boxes to increase the temperature, especially in colder climates.

Water

Dehydration is the leading cause of health problems in many animals, much like humans. All chickens require a regular and fresh source of water, and their chicks are no exception. Keeping new chicks hydrated is critical to ensure their survival, and will dramatically reduce early mortality rates in new babies. As a rule of thumb, a gallon of fresh water should be supplied daily for every 20 new chicks. Many proactive farmers will take chicks one by one to the watering device, placing their beaks gently in the water to supplement the hens in their educational process. Typically once a chick has been led to water, they will return on their own instinctively from that point forward. 

Light

Chicks, like other animal babies develop their eye sight during their first few weeks of life. Adding a source of light to the coop for new chicks helps prevent them from piling on one another, and potential suffocation for some of the new babies. Baby chicks only require 1/8 of the space as full grown hens. Supplying additional light and a growing box of adequate size for new arrival can create additional security for safe and healthy development during the first few weeks of their life.

Coop Flooring

Natural wood shavings and straw used to line the floor coop for hens works well for their chicks too.  However, as a precaution many farmers will place a layer of newspaper over the coop ground cover for the first day to make sure the chicks don’t mistakenly eat the natural litter. Newspapers should be removed on the second day to prevent growth problems.

Food

Chicks begin eating during their first three days of life. Hens begin teaching their young how to scratch and search for natural food sources as soon as they are hatched. Commercial chick starter feed has more nutrients and protein than standard feed, and is easier to chew and digest for baby chicks. Many farmers will provide new chicks with starter feed for their first 8 weeks to promote healthy and rapid growth.

 

From the coop to the table…

Fresh eggs can be gathered from the chicken coop daily, and brought to the table for food within a few minutes time, with almost no effort or work. Eggs cook extremely fast and should always be thoroughly cooked before serving to kill any bacteria. Salmonella is the most common bacteria associated with chickens and is typically present on the egg shell itself. These deadly bacteria are a direct result of the egg passing through the hen’s body, through the same canal the hen uses to release excrement or feces. This is also why it’s critical that any cracked eggs be discarded, as salmonella can contaminate the edible portion of eggs themselves if the shell has been breached in any way. Salmonella can not be detected in the hens, as they are not susceptible to this microorganism the way humans are. Once eggs have been retrieved from the coop, they should be stored in a refrigerator to prevent temperature fluctuations that can cause bacteria to grow. By using refrigeration, thoroughly cooking eggs, and properly discarding empty shells, fresh eggs can be a regular nutritional and healthy food enjoyed daily. 

 

Chapter 5 - Chicken Coops and Poultry Housing

 

 Photo Credit: Chicken Coop by Simon Howden (FreeDigitalPhotos.net) 

Chicken coops, or hen houses are buildings or caged structures that house female chickens; they are usually sparse, containing only a few nesting boxes for egg laying and perches for sleeping. Coops are predominantly for chickens that are used for egg production, dual-purpose, or exhibition and can range from small, rustic wire cages to climate-controlled walk-in buildings. 

There has been much dispute over whether or not chickens actually require shelter in the form a chicken coop or poultry house. They are after all tough and resilient creatures by nature, and fresh air is an important element to their well-being. Improper enclosures result in poor air quality, and can dramatically affect the health, happiness, egg production, and longevity of these domesticated animals. On the other hand, a proper, well-ventilated structure can have as many positive affects on chickens as the alternative by protecting them from sickness or death as a result of extreme weather and predators.

Over the years, and through a lot of trial and error, bird enthusiasts and farmers seem to have settled on a combination of both an open-type shelter, and outdoor access within their natural habitat, combing an indoor coop with an outdoor run.  

Individuals who own chickens and livestock for personal use, and farmers are self-reliant by nature, often building their own housing quarters for their livestock and flocks. Chicken coops are typically easier to construct, and less expensive than other barnyard shelters. Chicken housing requirements are minimal for several reasons. Much of the chicken house itself is deliberately open to allow for good and necessary air circulation. Wire mesh is more often than not used for building the actual walls to many of the smaller to medium sized coops. Chickens are also small in size, and highly adaptable animals that spend most of their time outdoors grazing, fertilizing and working the soil. At night they sleep together in small compact spaces, many of which simply perch on poles in high places, reducing the need for large sleeping quarters. Hens also share nesting boxes and take turns brooding over their clutches of eggs.

There are six basic fundamentals to follow in determining which indoor-outdoor habitat is the best fit for you and your flock:

  1. Space
  2. Safety
  3. Season
  4. Sun
  5. Sickness
  6. Sanitation

 

1. Space

While chickens are low maintenance and don’t require much space, adequate living space is still a critical component in building a sound coop, in order to maintain optimal health in your flock and provide them with proper facilities for egg production. As a rule of thumb, each chicken should have no less than 4 square feet of space in the indoor living area.

 

No. of Chickens

Sq Ft Needed

1

4

2

8

3

12

4

16

5

20

6

24

7

28

8

32

9

36

10

40

11

44

12

48

13

52

14

56

15

60

16

64

17

68

18

72

19

76

20

80

 

The physical space or location of the chicken coop within a yard can also have a big impact on its effectiveness. When selecting a space for a coop, choose a high spot so that rain will not accumulate around the space, and will easily and automatically drain away excess water. The coop and outdoor runs should always be placed so they are facing south. If the coop has solid windows, consider a southward facing window to allow for more cool air in the summer and warmth in the winter.

 

2. Safety

Chickens are vulnerable to many natural predators, including: raccoon, fox, wolf, cat, hawk and other birds of prey. They are also susceptible to injury or death by other pets, such as dogs that may kill them, but don’t necessarily eat them for food. In addition, rats and other burrowing rodents may be attracted to the feed and droppings in and around their living quarters. Safety is an important fundamental to protect your investment, and keep harmony within your flock. A safe and secure environment can be attained easily by providing outdoor runs that are enclosed with fencing or wire. Burying mesh or fencing runs at least one foot deep into the ground, around the perimeter of the chicken coop, creates a natural safety barrier between the chickens and their predators. Adding a rooster to a flock of hens can also serve as an effective deterrent for predators.

 

3. Season

A chicken coop should be chosen and/or designed with the elements of the region in mind, taking into account, and properly planning for each season and its weather conditions. Chickens are resilient and adaptable, but keeping them healthy means creating sound housing for them that protects them from extremes. Summer heat, winter ice and snow, and rain and wind are all weather conditions that can make chickens uncomfortable, and even sick. Chicken housing should provide shelter from storms and extreme weather conditions, and keep the flock dry, warm and comfortable throughout the year. Insulating a chicken coop can provide protection from cold and help keep chickens cool during extreme hot weather. Warm dry chickens lay more eggs.

 

4. Sun

Chicken coop placement is an important fundamental to factor in for the health and happiness of your flock. Chickens thrive in warm, dry, bright environments. Chicken coops should always be placed facing the sun where optimal sunlight, warmth and dryness are provided naturally. 

 

5. Sickness

Chickens are susceptible to sickness and disease like any other animal most often caused by lice, mites, fleas and ticks, parasites and worms. They are also at risk to develop respiratory illness from damp, toxic, cold conditions that commonly occur within their housing, as a result of the high quantities of moisture in their excrement. Sickness in one chicken can result in the devastation of an entire flock.

The following chart contains a list of each sickness or disease, and the known cause that can afflict chickens:

 

Sickness or Disease

Caused by

Aspergillosis

fungi

Bird Flu or Avian Influenza

virus

Blackhead Disease or Histomoniasis

protozoal parasite

Botulism

toxin

Bumblefoot or Ulcerative Pododermatitis

bacteria

Cage Layer Fatigue

mineral deficiencies, lack of exercise

Cancer or Squamous Cell Carcinoma

unknown

Coccidiosis

parasites

Colds

virus

Crop Bound

improper feeding

Egg Bound

oversized egg

Erysipelas

bacteria

Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome

high-energy food

Fowl Cholera

bacteria

Fowl Pox

virus

Fowl Typhoid

bacteria

Gallid herpesvirus 1or Infectious Laryngotracheitis

virus

Gapeworm or Syngamus Trachea

worms

Infectious Bronchitis

virus

Infectious Bursal Disease or Gumboro

virus

Infectious Coryza

bacteria

Lymphoid Leukosis

Avian leukosis virus

Marek's disease

virus

Monilasis, Yeast Infection or Thrush

fungi

Mycoplasmas

bacteria-like organisms

Newcastle disease

virus

Necrotic Enteritis

bacteria

Omphalitis or Mushy Chick Disease

umbilical cord stump

Peritonitis

Infection in abdomen from egg yolk

Prolapse

unknown

Psittacosis

bacteria

Pullorum or Salmonella

bacteria

Red Mite or Dermanyssys Gallinae

parasite

Scaly leg

parasites

Toxoplasmosis

protozoal parasite

Ulcerative Enteritis

bacteria

 

The easiest way to prevent sickness from occurring in your flock is to build the following principles into your chicken coop building and maintenance plans upfront:

  1. Absorption and Removal
  2. Good Ventilation
  3. Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

 

1. Absorption and Removal

Chickens naturally produce a lot of moisture and ammonia through their excrement, filling the air in their housing quarters with humidity and toxic fumes. These potent ammonia-filled gases are not only harmful for chickens to breath, but can also create illness in their human counterparts. Toxic vapors attack lung tissue and respiratory systems causing damage fast and often create a domino affect for many other health problems to follow. Wood chips, shavings and straw are commonly used to line poultry house floors, and not only because these materials are cheap or plentiful, but because these materials are porous, inherently trapping moisture from droppings on the ground and absorbing vapors and humidity from the air. Natural porous floor covering should be laid down at approximately 3-inches in depth, and replaced completely once every three months.

 

2. Good Ventilation

While the porous coop floor covering is an easy preventative for sickness, good ventilation can not be substituted for straw. Proper ventilation is one of the most critical conditions necessary to raise chickens in good health. Poultry houses, regardless of structure type, must be well-ventilated. The circulation of fresh outside air through the coop absorbs a lot of the humidity and toxic fumes from within the coop, replacing it with fresh air. As a rule of thumb, if a human can’t handle the strong potent smell, then neither should the chickens.


Good ventilation is also critical during hot summer months to eliminate hot stale air from being trapped within the coop. Chickens excel in warm, even hot weather up to a point. Extreme heats can have strong adverse effect on chickens just like any other animal. Chickens can suffer from heat stress or stroke, and even die when temperatures climb too high. Proper ventilation in the poultry house gives chickens shelter from direct sunlight during extreme temperatures. A well-ventilated refuge out of direct sunlight can provide flocks with an environment approximately 10-degrees cooler in temperature than outdoor conditions. These few degrees can make a huge difference to chickens and their overall health and happiness.

Types of Ventilation:

  1. Passive
  2. Wind Turbine
  3. Active

 

Passive

Passive ventilation is achieved by natural air movement or wind, and with no human intervention or electricity. This is often achieved in the coop structure itself, as so many poultry houses are fashioned in an open-style, with windows or enclosures made entirely of wire mesh or fencing. It can also be achieved in wooden walk-in coops by leaving wooden doors and windows in an open position, allowing fresh air to flow naturally through the entire coop, replacing old air with new.  Passive ventilation is the cheapest, easiest and safest way to create good ventilation for your flock when they are inside their coop.

 

Wind Turbine

A turbine is a circular bladed wheel placed on the exterior, most commonly found on the structure roof that creates energy from wind. As wind occurs, it spins the blades creating a breeze of cool air that circulates throughout the coop structure below it. Wind turbine ventilation can be achieved by placing a turbine wheel on the poultry house roof over a small opening. The turbine only works when air is in movement, but it is one of many new power sources people all over the world are exploring for natural energy in all types of buildings and structures. A small wind turbine can create effective ventilation inside a poultry house to keep fresh air circulating through it on a fairly regular basis.

 

Active

Active ventilation requires the use of a mechanical fan along with some form of electricity or power to propel the device. Fans may be small indoor types although they typically last as long in the hot and humid elements, and require more frequent replacement. Heavy-duty commercial dust fans and blowers work well in chicken coops and by design can stand up to outdoor conditions better, but typically cost more. The benefits to active ventilation are stronger and steadier air circulation, and fewer holes or openings in the coop walls and roof. However, with the use of an active ventilation system comes an additional recurring expense every month to keep the system running. In addition, any and all mechanical electrical systems present a fire hazard that is normally not a concern with poultry housing. In addition to extra expense and the possibility of hazard, active ventilation systems fail completely in the event the power source stops.         

 

3. Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

Chicken coops require minimal cleaning and maintenance, but this aspect to raising healthy and happy chickens cannot be overlooked. Chicken coops designed with materials to aid in the absorption and removal of toxic waste and excess moisture, along with good ventilation, can be fairly easy to maintain on an ongoing basis to keep them free of bugs, bacteria and rodents that can cause all types of illness in your flock. Chicken coops need to be designed or built with some form of access to the interior regardless of size for regular cleaning. As a rule of thumb, chicken coops should be cleaned once a month, and the wood chips or straw should be completely replaced at least once every three months.

 

5. Sanitation

The difference between a good chicken coop and an outstanding one can be attributed to the sanitation element. Chicken excrement can be highly toxic to breath, making proper ventilation a must for the chickens and their human counterparts. A chicken droppings removable tray allows for easy coop cleaning, and provides owners with a portable tool to transport the excrement easily to other areas of the yard or garden for exceptional and natural fertilization. Coops with slightly angled floors make coop cleaning even easier, allowing disinfectant and water to easily drain outside during coop maintenance. Chicken coops, regardless of structure type, or flock size should be cleaned thoroughly once a month.

Most chicken coop construction or assembly presents few challenges for a skilled carpenter, or even a novice, and are manufactured easily using only a few basic tools and building supplies.

Chicken Coop Construction

A simple chicken coop consists of the following components:

 

  • Frame
  • Roof
  • Walls
  • Windows
  • Floor
  • Nesting Boxes
  • Perches
  • Feeder and Water Bottle
 
 
 
Walls and Roof

Coop floors, walls and rooftops are easily created from sheet lumber, plywood or paneling. Roofing shingles or corrugated sheathing is important to create a long-lasting structure that remains waterproof and solvent. Strong wire mesh is used to create walls and windows, allowing for ventilation, and creating a safe barrier between the flock and outside predators. Since most modern chickens no longer fly, this same heavy-duty mesh or even metal fencing can be used to create an adjoining outdoor living area or outdoor run similar to an enclosed play-pen, so chickens can roam freely and graze safely, preventing flock losses.

 

Floor

Small and portable coops are built without flooring, allowing chickens to free range graze on the natural earth from directly within their enclosure, and are moved to new locations to provide new vegetation and food sources. For those coops built with flooring, concrete is ideal for cleaning and can easily be sprayed down with water and disinfectant, although most chicken coop floors are constructed using plywood panels. Whether concrete or wood flooring is used, a thick layer of natural materials such as wood shavings, chips or straw are used to cover the floor,  3-inches in depth, in order to trap moisture and droppings from within the coop.  Wood shavings and straw are naturally porous materials, exceptionally useful for trapping chicken droppings, in order to keep the poultry house sanitary and minimize air humidity.

 

Nesting Boxes

A nesting box is fashioned much like drawer, typically in the shape of a square or rectangle, and filled with straw to create a warm cozy bed for brooding hens to lay and sit on their clutches. Coops should include one nesting box for every four hens. Nesting boxes should always be kept in dark warm places ideal for egg laying, preventing egg loss.

 

Perches

Nesting posts or perches can be created easily using upright 4” x 4”s, and are strongly recommended to create ideal sleeping conditions for both male and female birds at night. It is recommended that perches sit at least 3 to 4-feet off the ground. Roosters and other large fowl will often roost on the highest perches.

 

Feeders and Watering Systems

Chickens are natural grazers who eat continuously, and require constant access to food and water. Outdoor runs are critical to allow chickens to scratch and scavenge for their natural sources of food, including: proteins, minerals, and vitamins found in:

  • Insects
  • Worms
  • Larva
  • Beetles
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Small shells and rocks
  • Leafy green plants
  • Grass
  • Weeds
  • Small lizards
  • Mice
  • Moles
  • Compost, or discarded human food leftovers

Backyard chickens should be provided with supplements of feed containing maize, sorghum, millet, and kelp, and other energy supplements that increase productivity and health. It is also critical that chickens be provided uninterrupted access to a fresh water supply to prevent dehydration. Chickens that are well hydrated stay healthy and live longer.

Feeders and watering systems should be spread out within the chicken coop or outdoor run to provide easy access for each of the birds. They should also be kept a few feet off the ground to eliminate contamination from dust and dirt, and more importantly chicken excrement.  

Feeders can be made from many different materials; wood is most commonly used. They can be designed much like traditional bird feeders, or even in a trough-like structure. Ideal feeders allow for height adjustment and provide feeding access from all sides so more birds can access their food at one time. The feeder needs to be durable and stable to prevent wind, or birds from knocking it over.

Like human food, old feed can grow mold or mildew and cause sickness in the birds. Feed should be measured out by number of birds in the flock and provided each morning after sunrise, with remaining feed retrieved by sundown when grazing ends. 

Creep feeders may be used for new baby chicks, to limit access to the smaller beaks of the chicks, preventing full-sized hens and roosters from eating their special food source during early development.

Like feeders, a watery is often home-made using tin cans and a plate. A hole is placed in the bottom of the can and set on top of the plate to create an automatic, slow drip to ensure water remains accessible to the birds throughout the day. Tin cans tend to rust, and must replaced at the first sign of deterioration, in order to maintain good health in the flock. Clay watering systems are ideal as they keep water at a cooler temperature. A clay flower pot and plate works great as a watering system for small flocks, allowing chickens to access water around the circumference, at the same time.

 

 Photo Credit: Homemade Watery provided courtesy of Heather Justensen

There are five standard chicken coop structure types for small farmers, customizable to the size of flock and their uses, as follows:

  1. A-Frame
  2. Hoop Coop
  3. Portable or Mobile
  4. All-in-one
  5. Walk-in

 

1. A-Frame

The A-frame chicken coop, also commonly referred to as the ark is a simple housing structure that is ideal for beginners, especially those with small flocks of three or four hens. The A-frame only requires a small amount of materials, time and money to build and takes up a nominal amount of space. Because it is mostly frame, the ark is lightweight and can easily be dragged around the yard, functioning much like a mobile or tractor coop.

The basic A-frame construction includes a compact open-type shelter fashioned to a triangular roof. The enclosure itself is created with chicken wire or mesh so the chickens have unlimited access to fresh air, sunlight, and can function as free ranging chickens within a containment system, and still have the benefit of shelter from prey. As a rule of thumb, ¼ of the A-frame coop is set up as a dark cozy enclosure providing the small flock of hens enough space for nesting and egg production.

With wooden paneled A-frame models, at least one of the two roof panels is built with hinges and a latch to allow humans to stand above the coop and easily provide fresh water and feed to their hens, and collect new eggs. Larger A-frames may function more like walk-in models, allowing enough room for humans to enter the interior for egg retrieval and maintenance. A-Frame chicken coops may also be built with two wheels to create better mobility, allowing owners to more easily move the coop to new locations.

 

2. Hoop Coop

The hoop coop structure is a variation of the A-frame, and closely resembles the greenhouse “hoop house” in appearance. The appearance of the hoop coop parallels the A-frame with exception to the roof, which is arched or rounded rather than pointed. Hoop coops don’t require near as much wood for their construction, and are often manufactured using plastic PVC piping, and chicken wire or mesh. Hoop coops are fashioned as portable houses, with or without wheels, or larger walk-ins that may include a shallow floor for wood shavings.

Like the A-frame, most hoop coops are designed as a lightweight, low maintenance, open poultry shelter, allowing flocks to free range with some basic protection from prey. The downside to this lightweight design is over-turn in high winds, if at least two of the opposite corners are not secured to the ground, as the hoop coop is moved to new locations.   

 

3. Portable or Mobile

Portable chicken coops, most commonly referred to as tractor coops are popular because they are multi-purposed in nature, and extremely low maintenance by design. These portable or mobile coops can be fashioned as an A-Frame or Hoop Coop structure, and are ideal for housing small flocks of working chickens to cultivate and fertilize the soil and grass in various locations in the yard, through a form of free ranging.

While there are a wide variety of shapes and sizes for portable coops, all of these houses share some type of mobility or form of propulsion in common. Unlike smaller A-frame coops that can easily be dragged, most mobile coops include two wheels and may be moved by pulling a handle on the opposite end of the wheels to stand the coop tilted upright at an angle, similar in nature to a wheelbarrow, tipping the chickens into the enclosure at the other end. Some larger tractor coops are built with engines allowing farmers a far-reaching and wider movement for soil fertilization.

Mobile coops are some of the lowest maintenance coops used to raise and house chickens. These mobile housing units are intentionally created without flooring, eliminating the required coop cleaning and maintenance to remove piles of toxic excrement that accumulates on traditional poultry housing floors. The mobility allows chickens to graze and fertilize soil in different locations as the coop is moved around while keeping them contained. Tractor coop flocks spend all of their time on natural ground cover, eliminating the need for wood chips or straw floors, and reducing the amount of feed supplements required to meet their natural dietary requirements. One of the only drawbacks to this housing system only occurs when a tractor coop is left in one space for too long, as chickens can completely strip a small section of ground cover of all of its vegetation.

Mobile coops are creative structures that celebrate the benefits of the natural animal-plant cycle and relationship. Flocks remain contained, happy and content as they move from location to location, grazing on a fresh and more varied diet forage of grass, insects and weeds, with unlimited access to sunlight and fresh air, requiring less feed and almost no maintenance, while fertilizing the earth with their manure before being moved to a new location. Chickens housed in mobile coops are working birds, removing unwanted pests and overgrowth from all over the yard, and cultivating exceptional soil for other agriculture uses. There is no better poultry house that better demonstrates a chicken’s contributions to a productive farm.    

 

4. All-in-one 

The all-in-one chicken coop expands the smaller A-frame, hoop, and mobile coops from compact low-to-the-ground cage-like enclosures to a small, almost playhouse-like building.

The all-in-one coop gets its name because this poultry residence is a combination of part house-part yard, an all-in-one facility with indoor and outdoor runs.

The sheltered portion or nesting area of the all-in-one coop is typically made from wood versus wire mesh, providing the hens with a more sound and secure structure for nesting and brooding. The enclosed yard provides hens with access to graze in a more open space than with the low ceilings of the smaller units like the ark and tractor. Most all-in-one coops are designed to provide humans with comfortable access to enter the poultry house, for easier maintenance and egg retrieval.

The inclusive all-in-one chicken coop, while quite a bit larger in length, width, and height than the other three models, is still able to be moved to different locations to allow chickens to graze on new forage. The construction of the all-in-one coop is a lot more involved, similar to building a small house, and does require more time and investment than its predecessors. Often farmers graduate to the all-in-one as their flocks grow from small to medium in size.   

 

5. Walk-in

Walk-in chicken coops are designed to provide better access and more convenience for flock owners. These coops are life-size, not just providing chickens with more spacious and comfortable quarters, but their human counterparts with significantly better access for cleaning and egg retrieval, not afforded by the walk-ins shorter and smaller coop cousins. Walk-ins may be fashioned in a wide array of styles, shapes and sizes, and constructed by numerous methods using a variety of different wood. Some rustic models are refurbished tool-sheds or small stand-alone storage compartments that have been converted into the wooden hen houses.

As chicken flocks grow in size, more ventilation and space is important for the humans and chickens alike making walk-ins a must for larger flocks. Walk-in coops allow humans and chickens to more easily come and go from the coop, and are often constructed so chickens have their own entry and exit to come and go from the coop to larger outdoor runs with ease. Along with more space, comes more responsibility, as well. Walk-in poultry houses require more care to manage sanitation, with special attention to the absorption of moisture and removal of chicken excrement in order to keep the quarters habitable.

Depending on size and space, walk-in coops are often multi-purpose in use and serve as storage for tools, equipment, and feed as well.

Chicken coop enclosures and poultry housing, whether A-frame, hoop, portable, all-in-one or walk-in must all be accompanied by outdoor grazing space for flocks. In residential or small areas, a mesh enclosed pen works well, along with the coop providing adequate indoor shelter and outdoor natural habitat for the chickens to thrive. Roosting poles, nesting boxes, feeders and watering devices round out the basic provisions necessary to make the hen house a home.

 

The following blueprints create an 8 x 8 and 10 x 12 walk-in poultry house: 

Blueprints provided courtesy of Jeanette S. Ferguson

 

 

 

Chapter 6 - Getting Started

 

Photo Credit: Eggs In A Nest by SOMMAI (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

 

Before starting your chicken farm, take time to consider the following criteria:  

1. Which chicken breed best meets my primary use needs and requirements?

A. Egg Production

B. Meat

C. Egg and Meat

D. Exhibition

 

  A. Selecting chickens for egg production:

  • How many eggs do I need each day, week, month, year?
  • Do I have a preference in egg size?
  • How many chickens do I need to meet my egg consumption requirements?
  • Do I have the ability to sell extra eggs in my area to generate income?
  • Will I replenish my flock through chick production? 

 

2. Which type of housing will I need based on my specific criteria?

  • Number of chickens in my flock
  • Primary use for my chickens
  • Weather conditions in my region
  • Space requirements on my property for indoor and outdoor runs
  • Will my chickens free range or need to remain within an enclosure?
  • What are my grass and garden fertilization needs?
  • Do I need a coop I can move around my yard easily?
  • What are the natural predators in my area that can harm my chickens?

 

3. Which chicken coop or poultry house structure meets my needs and the needs of my flock?

  1. A-Frame
  2. Hoop
  3. Mobile
  4. All-in-one
  5. Walk-in

 

4. Does my chicken coop meet the following criteria for proper housing?

  1. Adequate space for the number of chickens in my flock, indoors and outdoors
  2. Good ventilation
  3. Access for egg retrieval and cleaning
  4. Shelter from extreme weather
  5. Protection from predators
  6. Sufficient sunlight to keep chickens warm and dry

 

5. What flooring will work best with my maintenance plan?

  1. Natural grass – no floor cleaning, requires moving the coop to new locations
  2. Wood shavings, chips or straw – monthly cleaning and replacement every 3 months

 

6. Do I have all of the accessories I need to provide proper provisions and care for my flock of adult hens and/or rooster?

  1. Feeder
  2. Feed
  3. Watery
  4. Nesting boxes
  5. Perches and roosts
  6. Wood shavings
  7. Straw

 

7. Do I have all of the accessories I need to provide proper provisions and care for baby chicks?

  1. Creep Feeder
  2. Chick Feed
  3. Chick Watery
  4. Nesting boxes
  5. Straw
  6. Light
  7. Heat Lamp

 

Glossary of "Everything Chickens"

Albumen:      The white of an egg.  

Avian egg:     The material that makes up the chicken egg: - the shell, shell membranes, albumen, and yolk, designed by nature to nourish and protect a fertilized egg during development.

Bantam:        A miniature chicken, usually ¼ the size of a regular chicken.

Beak:              The hard bill of a bird.

Beard:          Feathering under the neck.       

Blastoderm:   A fertilized true egg.

Blastodisc:    A true egg that was not fertilized.

Breed:          A group of chickens within a class that have the same general features.

Bird:            A vertebrate (having a back-bone or spine), warm-blooded, feathered, winged, biped (moves with two legs), egg-laying animal.

Broiler:         Chickens captivity-raised specifically for the purpose of food, meat.

Brooding:      The act of sitting on eggs to hatch them, part of the incubation process.

Capon:         Castrated rooster

Chick:          Baby chicken

Chicken:       Domesticated fowl, gallus gallus domesticus; descendent from the Red JungleFowl, gallus bankia.

Chick tooth:  A small, sharp, horny projection on the end of the chick's beak used to peck holes in the shell during hatching.  

Cloaca:        The channel in a bird used for intestinal, urinary, and reproductive functions.

Clutch:         A nest of eggs produced at the same time

Cock:           Another term for rooster, or male chicken

Cockerel:      Male chicken of less than a year in age

Cockscomb:   Another term for chicken comb

Comb:          Fleshy growth on the top of the head

Crossbreed:  The offspring of two different varieties or breeds.

Crowing:       Cock-a-doodle-do sound made by roosters at the break of dawn

Dust Baths:   Chickens bath naturally with fine dirt or soil to help protect their skin from parasites, fleas, mites and ticks.

Earlobes:        Fleshy patch of skin below the ears, varying in color (red, white, blue or purple) according to breed, used to predict egg shell color.

Egg:             The female germ cell or true egg.

Embryo:        Developing chicken inside a fertilized egg

Fertile:          A fertilized egg capable of developing into a chick.

Fertilization:   The outcome of mating, combining a male cell with a female cell to produce a fertilized egg.

Flock:            A herd or social grouping of the same species

Fowl:             Another word for birds, belonging to two orders: landfowl and waterfowl

Hackle:          Neck feathers

Hen:              Female chicken over one year of age

Hock:             Ankle region of the chicken

Incubation:      Period of 20-22 days after an egg is laid until it is hatched, during which time the embryo develops into a chick.

Infertile:          An infertile egg that will not develop or hatch.

Layer:             Mature hen used for egg production

Muff:               Another term for beard

Omnivore:        Animals that eats both plants and animals as their primary food source

Ornithology:     The study of birds

Oviduct:          The organ of the female birds that puts the albumen, shell membranes, and the shell of the avian egg around the yolk.

Oviparous:       Animals that lay eggs, with little or no embryonic development within the mother.

Pecking

Order:            A hierarchical system of social organization in chickens.

Plumage:         Refers to both the layer of feathers that cover a bird, and the pattern, color, and arrangement of those feathers.

Polygamous:     A marriage or union that includes more than one female partner

Poultry:           Any kind of domesticated bird captivity-raised for eggs, meat, and/or feathers.

Pullet:             Female chicken of less than a year in age

Purebred:        The offspring of purebred parents of the same class, breed, and variety.

Rooster:          Male chicken over one year of age

Roosting:         Act of perching to sleep at night by both chickens and roosters.

Saddle:           Tail feathers

Sexed:            Day old chicks with females and males separated by sex

Shell:              The hard outer surface of an egg.

Stewing

Chicken:         A mature hen that has stopped egg production and is converted into food, requiring extended cooking prior to consumption. 

Straight-run:   Day old chicks that have not been separated by sex

Wattle:           Fleshy growths that hangs from the neck

 

Yolk:              The round yellow mass at the center of the egg that provides the most vitamins and nutrients for embryo during development or for humans during consumption.  

References

The references and links listed in this section were not only used in the creation of this book, but have been included to provide readers with access to a large quantity of additional resources on “Everything Chickens” including: a breed selection tool, online books, enthusiast sites for networking and Q&A, the ability to download over 20 more free blueprints, view photos for ideas on do-it-yourself coops, and order supplies online.

 

Agriculture and Consumer Protection: Small-scale Poultry Production

A Texas Henhouse: Modern Backyard Chicken Coops

Backyard Chickens.com: Chicken Tractors & Mobile Coop Designs

Better Homes & Garden: A-Frame Chicken Coop – Simple directions to build an A-Frame

Better Than Chicken Tractors: Hoop House Chicken Coops for Pastured Poultry

Building Chicken Coops for Dummies, by Todd Brock, David Zook, Rob Ludlow

Egg Safety Center

FreeDigitalPhotos.Net: Photos by various artists provided, courtesy of

Guinea Fowl by Jeanette S. Ferguson: Poultry housing photos and blueprints

Heather Justensen: How to Make an 8 x 8 A-Frame Chicken Coop for $200 or less

Incubation & Embryology, University of Illinois Extension: What is a Chicken?

LSU, Biological & Agricultural Engineering: 10 x 12 Poultry House Construction Plans

My Pet Chicken: Why Chickens?

Purina Mills: The Chicken Coop (Free downloadable and printable blueprints in .PDF file format)

United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety & Inspection Service

 

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poultry

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chicken_breeds

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_egg_sizes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicken_coop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poultry_farming

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Junglefowl

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_(food)

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