10 Essential Supplies for Raising Backyard Chickens
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You probably already know you need a coop to protect your birds at night, but what else do you need when raising backyard chickens? Here are 10 essential backyard chicken supplies you should consider.
1. Poultry Waterer
If you’ve never kept chickens, you might not realize how messy they are. Simply leaving an open pan or trough in the coop practically guarantees you’ll have to change the water constantly, since the chickens will kick bedding and dirt into it until it clogs up. It wastes bedding, attracts mosquitoes, evaporates quickly and can even pose a drowning risk.
Instead, use a poultry waterer. It’s a lot like a hamster water bottle — simply fill the bucket and the chickens can drink from it at their leisure by pecking the metal nipple attachments. Another style uses bowl attachments, but they sometimes cause the same problems as an open water source.
Commercial poultry breeders always use nipple-style poultry waterers for their flocks. The closed lid minimizes evaporation and ensures your chickens always have clean water. Plus, many styles have an anti-roosting cone on top so your chickens don’t poop on it.
Most chickens learn to use the waterer quickly because they love to peck at brightly colored dots. You can help them learn even faster by poking the waterer with your finger, showing them how water droplets come out. Make sure they understand how to use the waterer before you leave them to their own devices.
Some people feed their chickens directly on the ground, especially when giving them leftovers or grass. While it’s perfectly fine for your chickens to eat like that, you might lose some of your feed to mice, insects or other wildlife.
Many people use something called a Grandpa’s feeder, which is an automatic trough that protects its contents from rain, pests and spillage. It’s not cheap, but it can feed your chickens for several days before you have to refill it.
Or, you can buy a classic poultry feeder at an animal supply store. It looks like a bucket with a round dish on the bottom, and it slowly lets out feed throughout the day. The only problem with these feeders is chickens tend to kick a lot while they eat, which means the feeders end up full of dirt. You also need to fill them up enough so they don’t blow over when running low on grain.
Lastly, you could simply put a heavy dish on the ground. There are numerous options when it comes to feeding.
Grandpa’s Feeders Automatic Chicken Feeder
3. Nest Box
Hens typically start laying eggs between 18 to 22 weeks old. Some breeds — like Jersey Giants, Cochins and Brahmas — take much longer. You may have to wait up to 28 weeks for these slow-growing chicken breeds to reach maturity. Regardless of the kind, all hens prefer laying in a dark, semi-enclosed space with bedding inside.
A nest box doesn’t need to be fancy, nor does it need a roof. A three- or four-sided milk crate, plastic tub, metal box or even a bucket turned on its side can make a great nesting spot. Tuck it into a corner of the coop and make sure it’s raised slightly off the ground.
It’s crucial to note chickens can easily tip their nest box over and crush the eggs. To avoid this, put a flat rock or concrete tile on the bottom of the box underneath the bedding.
4. Nest Box Bedding
Line the nest box with straw, lawn clippings or wood chips. You can also use sawdust, but if you live in a windy area and your coop is exposed to drafts, get ready for a very dusty enclosure! Avoiding fine, gritty materials in the nest box is often best. It makes cleaning easier and prevents your chickens from breathing in a lot of dust.
Keep in mind that “bedding” doesn’t actually mean the chickens will sleep on it. Chickens like to sleep off the ground on a perch or platform, so they don’t need bedding to lie down on like livestock do.
Silkies are the only chicken breed that can’t fly at all. If you have silkies, you’ll need a special ramp for them to walk up to an elevated platform at night. However, most chickens — especially fully-flighted bantam breeds — prefer to roost. Your roost will be safer from predators if it doesn’t include a ramp.
You can use a branch, wooden plank or even an elevated platform in one corner of the coop for your chickens to sleep on. Make sure to put extra hardware cloth, wood or metal on the outside of the pen near the perch, since raccoons can easily pull chickens’ heads through the bars at night and bite them off. Enclosing the perch within a wooden hutch offers extra protection.
Chicks like to start learning how to roost at around three weeks old. They should still be in the brooder at this time, but you can add a chick perch for them to climb on. It will enrich their environment and give them a little extra vertical space to explore. You can also use a thick stick as a perch.
6. Tin Snips and Wire
The run and coop aren’t meant to keep your chickens contained — they’re intended to keep predators out. If you’re raising backyard chickens, something will try to force its way into the coop sooner or later. A pair of tin snips and some extra wire will let you make the necessary repairs.
7. Protein and Grit
Have your hens started laying eggs? If so, provide them with a high-quality layer feed that contains 15% to 19% protein. If you’re raising backyard chickens for meat, they may need even more protein depending on how old they are when you slaughter them. They’ll eat starter, grower and finisher feed over the course of their lives.
Chickens don’t have teeth. Because they can’t chew their food, they swallow small rocks and dirt particles to help grind up their meals. Outdoor chickens will freely eat grit throughout the day, but if you’re raising chickens indoors, you’ll have to provide grit in their diet.
8. Long-Handled Dustpan or Snow Shovel
These are some of the most underrated backyard chicken supplies. One of the easiest ways to clean up droppings is by sweeping them into a long-handled dustpan or wide shovel. Then, simply empty the contents into a trash can.
Use a broom to sweep up droppings, scattered bedding and leftover food. It even works in the chicken run — after all, you won’t have any grass!
If your birds sleep in an enclosed space like a hutch, it will quickly get dirty because chickens poop a lot overnight. A hand trowel can help you scrape it out.
Backyard Chicken Supplies: Starting a Rewarding Hobby
It can be a lot of work, but raising backyard chickens is fun, rewarding and exciting. The right backyard chicken supplies can make short work of tough jobs and keep your birds happy and healthy. You’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labor in no time.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.