Raising chickens sometimes requires quick thinking
We stress-bought eight tiny chicks before the COVID-19 egg shortage. We thought we'd have more time at home to raise them, and they would solve our egg shortage long term. We found online resources on how to raise backyard chickens that broke down the process step-by-step and helped us plan how much time and effort was needed to raise chickens quite easily.
It turns out that raising chicks, planning the build of their coop, and keeping them warm, fed, watered, and clean while young required a bit more thought and planning than we—mostly “city slickers"—anticipated. We faced a few setbacks: the chicks quickly outgrew their brooder, our coop expansion was delayed, and we locked ourselves in the coop (twice!).
It's safe to say our chicken journey hit a few hurdles. But the time spent upfront learning about and planning for the right setup has made owning chickens a low-maintenance activity for our family.
Improvising for space constraints
Our cute, fluffy chicks turned into several-pound chickens overnight, and they faced a tight squeeze in the little six-square-foot brooder in our sunroom. We needed a much larger brooder—and fast. During the early days of the COVID-19 food shortage, we bought an extra refrigerator to stock up on a few essential groceries and hadn't recycled the box. Problem solved!
We transitioned them to the refrigerator box when they were three weeks old. They looked like they were living in a mansion! But those chicks tried to stage a jailbreak as soon as they could by flying out of the box using their newly feathered wings. To keep them from flying free onto our cold sunroom floor, we placed an old screen door on top of the box.
We had no problem keeping them warm with a K&H Thermo-Poultry Brooder, which required minimal fussing compared to a heat lamp. If keeping them warm was easy, attending to their space needs—even with quick thinking and improvisation—was more of a challenge.
We realized the pre-existing coop on our property was too small for eight chickens. We needed far more space for our quickly feathering friends and worked with a local handyman to expand our coop to 80 square feet to provide 10 square feet per bird. Delayed by high demand, the handyman started two weeks later than we had expected, and we were starting to panic. Our (now) six-week-old birds were outgrowing their previously huge enclosure. They were fully feathered and large, and ready to be outside in our mild California spring.
Planning and creating time-saving conveniences
My husband and I both work full time, so we wanted a low-maintenance coop. We decided to be a bit unconventional. We left the roost open at the bottom so the birds can roost in the coop on their own at dusk. We also replaced the floor with “soft soil," an equal mix of straw, pine shavings, potting soil, and dirt. With the natural addition of chicken poop, this flooring turns into a compost that reduces odor. We also trenched a water line out to the coop, so they have a self-filling bowl that always stays topped off.
Enjoying the fruits of our labor and planning
We moved our chickens into their new coop, and they happily began to peck away. Suddenly, they are low maintenance birds! They have gravity feeders and ample fresh water. They're learning to roost on their own with a little help from us and staying cozy with the addition of a K&H Thermo-Peep Heated Pad screwed onto the wall near their roost.
We will keep them in the coop for a week to get them used to it, then start to free-range them when we're home. We'll use a K&H Poultry Waterer out in the yard to keep them hydrated while they peck at plants and feast on bugs. Since we locked ourselves in the coop twice—we'll obviously be changing the latches—we set up a bench outside the coop so we can safely enjoy watching the chickens. We feel like, through some improvisation and careful preparation, we now have the best chicken set up for our family.