Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ask Bee - What Size Coop Do I Need?

Dear Bee,
How much room do chickens actually need in the coop?  How high should a coop be?
When I see my birds roosting - what will "comfortable" birds look like?  Spread out? Close together? On different roosts?

(Coop by All Cooped Up, NC - Photo is link.)

Bee’s Answer:

When I decided to get into my own flocks of chickens, I had already seen the general ratio of chicken to space for most of my life from viewing grandma's or mother's coops, so this was a little less difficult for me than for someone who never had.

I can only put it like this... how do you know a dog house is big enough for your dog?  It all depends on the size of the dog... if he has difficulty climbing into it comfortably and then seems cramped when he tries to lie down, you have obviously gotten the wrong size house.

If you have an existing coop, imagine how you want your birds to move around in its space if they have to be confined to it for any length of time.  This will happen sometime or other in their lives, so you really cannot count run or yard space as chicken space.  Do they have different levels of existence in the coop (roosts, nest boxes, feed cans, etc.) or is it all mostly floor space? Place all the mentioned items in the coop if that is where they will be, add feeders and waterers and THEN re-evaluate your floor space. 

 (The "Poop Coop" by All Cooped Up)

Can you picture X amount of your adult-sized birds/breed being able to walk past each other freely, scratch in the litter without bumping off another chicken, line up to the feeder without too many having to wait their turn, or roosting and still being able to change positions freely on the roosts or jump up to the roost without bumping another bird off?  If you can, then the space is probably adequate...  then err on the side of caution.

I can tell you this... you can never have TOO much space, only too little.  Don't get greedy and get a bunch of birds and just HOPE they fit into your coop... add a fair number and see how they exist.  If you see obvious problems as the result of overcrowding (feather picking, squabbles, signs of stress) reduce your numbers and continue to monitor them.

Everyone's style is different.... I like my birds to have plenty of room but don't feel they need a football field. Comfortable chickens will not fight and fuss all day and will not pick each other's feathers for sport nor pick on any one flock member.  If you cannot reasonably walk into your run or coop without tripping over the birds, you probably have too many.  If you walk in and they can easily avoid you when you DO walk, then you probably have enough space. 

(Poop Coop interior - All Cooped Up)

In my experience, a coop should be high enough to walk into... I'd never have a coop so small that I couldn't inspect every corner or retrieve a bird in that corner with some level of ease.  Coops should be easy to clean, big enough to be able to repair inside features and visualize any bird at any given time.  If you simply must have the type of coop that is just designed for bird living only, I'd design a feature where a portion of that lifts away, levers up, slides apart to where it could be easily maintained.  Chickens don't really care about height… although they do prefer to roost high. 

Birds on a roost look comfortable to me if they have empty spaces to move into... if they have to drop down to reposition and then try to hit a very small roosting spot when they try to get back up, it creates a lot of tension and movement in the roosting flock that I don't like to see or hear.  Jostling for position should only be due to pecking order and not necessarily because there is so little room that, if you don't grab some rail, you may sleep on the floor. 

Bee -

Leigh says:
Like the coops on this post? If so, please go “Like” All Cooped Up on FaceBook and tell them Leigh of Natural Chicken Keeping sent you!


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chicken Keeping Food For Thought... And a Winner!

By Leigh:

Every now and then, I’m going to infuse this blog with little bits and pieces from the perspective of a Chicken Newbie… (that would be me). I feel very lucky to have such a wonderful mentor in Bee – and some other “Old Timers” that we’ll be hearing from later on down the road.

You see, when I first became interested in keeping chickens, I wanted to do so for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to have my own source of organic, free range eggs.

Ironically, information junkie that I am, the more I read for the purposes of learning how to raise my own chickens, the more I learned about the use of chemicals and medications…

So… if I de-worm my chickens 4 times a year with chemical de-wormer, if I put antibiotics in their water at the first sign of a ruffled feather and if I rub my flock down with chemicals to treat or prevent mites and lice, how would I be eating organic eggs?

I wouldn’t be!

It was only by chance (or fate) that I happened to stumble upon an informational forum thread on a popular chicken website… and I found Bee and her no-nonsense, all natural wisdom. This was what I had been looking for all along! If I wanted to use chemicals and antibiotics, what would be the purpose in raising my own chickens? Why not just buy chemical and antibiotic-laden eggs at the store?

So how does this chicken newbie do things differently than she would have if she’s followed the most common advice out there?

  • I don’t use poop boards or clean out my coop daily. I use the deep litter method which is healthier (and more natural for my flock.
  • I do NOT use Diatomaceous Earth (DE) in my coop or on my chickens… ever. I don’t want to kill off those good nematodes that feed on the larvae of mites and lice!
  • I provide wood ash for my birds to take dust baths in. Wood ash kills mites and lice, and my chickens love to roll about in it. And it’s free. Can’t beat “free!”
  • I feed my birds chopped pumpkin seeds every now and then – it’s a natural, organic de-wormer… and the chickens think it’s a delicious treat.
  • I ferment the chicken’s feed – they are better able to absorb the nutrients in this feed, and I’ve cut my feed costs by 2/3rds!
  • I use unpasteurized apple cider vinegar in their fermented feed and in their water. The U-ACV has many benefits, including making my chicken’s digestive tract a “hostile environment” for parasites. It may also change the pH and mean more of their fertilized eggs will result in female offspring. Not proven, but I’ll report back on that when I start hatching.
  • I understand now that if kept healthy, most chickens with good genetics will not succumb to common illnesses like coccidiosis.
  • All critters – including humans and chickens – carry parasites and bacteria. It’s a fact of life. It is only when there is an overgrowth of either that we have problems. Balance is the key! Living in a sterile coop is no better than living in filth. The most natural and organic way to achieve health is by finding that middle ground where a symbiotic relationship is created with both bugs and bacteria – not too many and not too few… just the way life was created and developed on this planet.

So there’s my perspective on some of what I have learned so far.

Oh… and you’re still probably wondering who won the key chain?

Drum roll please…

Commenter #7 – Aoxa

Anonymous November 21, 2012 10:50 AM
Wow! Awesome post :D

I often get eggs with blood on the shell and never considered it abnormal. Usually it is from pullets coming into lay or really big eggs like Bee said. :)


(And if you’re wondering, multiple comments by one person were counted as one, and MY posts don’t count. I also didn’t count those that were just a question about another comment.)

So congratulations, Aoxa! Please email me at with your mailing address and your choice of keychains!

Leigh –


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ask Bee - Why Are My Hens are Laying Thin Shell / Soft Shelled Eggs??

Dear Bee,

Speaking of thin shells and egg eating (from the post:
Ask Bee - Help! Egg-Eating Chickens!), I have a question. Starting a few weeks ago, I suddenly had no-shell and soft-shelled eggs. My flock’s diet hasn’t changed, but I switched feeds to a higher protein layer ration. I also sprinkle oyster shell on the ground in addition to their already free choice and I grind up the egg shells (what I use myself - the rest are sold and don't come back) and mix with table scraps.

I have a few pullets new to laying, so I attributed the no shells to them. But then I noticed the thin and soft shelled (membrane only) eggs. This also happened in March. Is this the "time of year" when I'm starting to get these eggs because of the molt? Or is there something else going on?

Since I changed the ration and started sprinkling oyster shell on the ground, the no-shells have disappeared, but I still have one laying a thin shell. Will it take a while to get them situated again? 

Bee's Answer:

Spring and Fall are the times of year that hen's reproductive organs are recovering from a lull, a down time in the hormones, etc.  When they restart, sometimes things sputter a little.  Sometimes when they are gearing down for a low egg production time, they will also do this.  This goes away in time and pretty soon the eggs are all good.  Yes, this is the time of year and again in March when they are gearing up for peak laying season after their natural winter slow down.  You'll also see this at times from a broody who is going back to laying. 

Much like how a woman’s body can do things differently after having a baby… but then things go back to normal after a while.

Bee -

November 27, 2012 is the last day to leave your comment to be part of