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We've Had Chickens for One Year!

We've Had Chickens for One Year!

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If Apple Photos isn’t lying to me, this week marked a year since we bought way too many chicks and had them living in a big plastic tub in our house. We’ve learned a lot, and yet—a chicken death last week reminded us that we don’t know much, yet. I’m going to ‘hot-wash’ the things we did: things that work well, some… not so well.

(Here are the links to articles on our build last year, if you’re curious about our design decisions.)

Part 1: Site selection

Part 2: The (borrowed) tractor work

Part 3: chicken yard layout

Part 4: The Coop Build

Part 5: Predator and Snow Load Protection

Part 6: Water & Food Systems

Part 7: Coop Update


The Bullet Points Version

The Good:

  • The overall security seems to be working. Not a single sign of predator entry
  • The occasional cleaning is pretty easy based on the ergonomics of the design. Shavings get shoved directly into a cart
  • The hanging food buckets have never show signs of mice stealing food
  • Using horse bed pellets in the cage during the rainy season. It absorbed the water that ran in from uphill, keeping they’re feet relatively dry, even if it was soaking wet

The Bad:

  • The watering cups. They work better than the nipples, but the girls broke two jumping on them. We had to configure a little roof over the cups to protect them.
  • The hawk net. It held up to the snow, but we’ve learned to cut it open to clean off big pools of leaves, sticks, etc. Then we zip-tie it shut again. It sags, and I’m too lazy to tighten it up.
  • My roost plan. I’ve been using these scraps of 4” post, which is on the verge of being too big. And in the coop, they’re too far apart. I’m about to rebuild the interior roosts closer together out of branches in the 2” diameter ballpark.
  • The egg boxes: The roll-away feature works great—if you’re human. The girls were not fond of them, not when they have nice shavings to sit on in the main coop
  • The Run Chicken automatic door: Yep, every content creator out there loves these things. I’ve not been a giant fan.

The Ugly:

  • Leaky roof and mold
  • Loosing two chickens to illness and not knowing why
  • Realizing that because they’re way down the hill, we don’t spend enough time with them. I think we’ve become so automated, that only checking on them once or twice per day has… I don’t know… made them less happy?


The Wordy Writer Version

The area design was okay. Our property is hilly and filled with about a billion rocks. I may be underestimating that number just a hair. But we wound up with a mold problem in the coop, a combination of not enough ventilation and a leaky roof. The low pitch of this roof made it difficult to drill down the roofing screws. I got them on the peaks of the corrugated rows like you’re supposed to, but some still went in at angles that probably squished the little o-ring, or left it loose on one side. Regardless, I didn’t run a good, long watering test on the metal roof after I finished. Here in Kitsap, we have a lot of drizzly days, and enough heavy rainy ones to drive most of us a bit mad. When I discovered the mold, it did not take long to see that most of the plywood roof was soaked on the inside. I could see a drip fall off a few of the screws.

I also think I didn’t put enough ventilation up high. Enough experienced chicken owners have since convinced us that we can quit worrying about coop temp. Those little heaters were just fine through the cold winter. I added a decent level of open ventilation at the top of the walls. Nothing fancy, just some holes filled with chicken wire. There’s still a giant brown tarp over the coop and run. When we have a decent streak of hot weather coming, I may take it off and just go fill every gap and screw with expanding foam. There won’t be much: we did a pretty good job in initial construction. But obviously I need to re-seal the screws on both sides of the roof, and probably hit the tops of the walls again. Who knows… We’re also considering just leaving the tarp up. It is zipped tied to the hawk net.

We recently had to train the girls to quit trying to put themselves to bed on top of the nesting box. We still had 11 hens several weeks back, and only 1 was going inside at night. We broke them of this when I finally convinced my wife we should move the automatic door off the coop and put it on the cage, instead. [The chicks no longer get to go through the human access into the cage.] We spent a couple of weeks every night in the dusk hour getting them trained to go into the cage through that tiny door. I mean, they knew how to get water and food; they just were choosing not to at bedtime. Not through that, and not through the human door. Their love of the dark side of the force (meal worms) cannot be overstated, though. “Trained, they were.” — Yoda, if he owned chickens. But the point is they now do what they’re supposed to when it gets dark; and can go into the coop from the cage when they feel like it once they're shut in at night.

My biggest complaint with that automatic door has been the lack of a power switch. I’ve had to change batteries on it 3-4 times in a year (which is way more often then they said we’d need to); and when you try to screw the motor housing back onto the door frame, the motorized gear keeps trying to drive. I’m guessing this is because you can’t help but put your hand on and off the little light sensor a few times, and it thinks it is dawn or dusk. A simple on/off feature would go a long way in making me happy about this hassle.

I now make a point of going to see the girls at least three times a day. I’m learning to name them not as pets, but so I can tell who is missing when I look at the huddle. My wife and daughter—they’re the real culprits of pet names. When we found chicken one dead about 3-4 weeks ago, I had no idea her name was “Robin Sparkles.” When we found “Bluey” last week she was still alive, but the end was literally twelve minutes later. I couldn’t feel a “crowning stuck” egg, but I’ve since learned I was supposed to be feeling lower. But I don’t know how common egg-binding is as compared to a gastric, respiratory, or viral issue. But that’s the point of getting down to the coop three times per day, now. I want to get better at early detection of behavior changes.

Coming improvements:

I already touched on the roosting bars. But in short, they’re horizontally apart 16”. I know this because I use the coop studs for them to rest against in the little notch they sit it. That is too far, and they can’t jump or flap to the second or third roost. I’ve only ever seen the one on the first bar. I think they all sleep in the poopy end of the shavings. We are also adding a USB chargeable light that turns on by remote and will turn itself off with a built-in timer. We’ve learned that they don’t see well in the dark, and I want them to start using the roosts when they put themselves to bed.

The watering system:

I’ve added a drain to the inner-cage piping, because during a winter freeze, the pipes broke. {We used a rubber bowl with a heater to keep them watered during a few weeks before 32F. I’m going to add a drain and two watering nipples to the outside piping near the barrel, just to save them a trip into the cage when they’re thirsty. I’m also going to leave that rubber bowl out there all the time. Filling it off the barrel drain is easy enough to do. The tarp prevents rain collection, but I can reach the barrel with a hose off the shop’s water supply up the hill.


Once I improve the roosts and lighting, It is time to train them to stop laying eggs in the coop. I’ll add shaving to the upper egg box; we’re willing to lose the egg roll feature to try this. To get them to stop using their favorite corner, we’ll put something over it. One video I saw, the guy made a little dome shape out of cattle panel to keep them from sitting there. I dunno. The intent is to keep eggs from getting poopy.


It’ll be interesting to go back and read this in a year, to see what new things I’ve learned. Thanks for joining me on this journey today! And if you get my novels or shop thru the affiliate links, thank you for that, too!

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