Provide a Safe and Comfortable Coop for Your Chickens

Even though coops may vary from one to another, there are some common items that you need to keep in mind to ensure that your chickens are kept safe and perform at an optimal level. We’ve gathered some basic information to get you started on creating a safe and comfortable place for your chickens to call home:

Size
One of the first things you need to consider when constructing your coop is the size — which should be based on the number of chickens you plan to house. The more space you can provide your chickens the better, as chickens that are too confined could begin fighting. A general rule of thumb is to provide four square feet of floor space per full-sized hen. Of course, smaller breeds will require less space.

Outside Run
A protected outside run will provide your chickens a safe area to get fresh air and sunshine — which are both vital for their growth and productivity.

A small door on your coop allows your chickens to easily go in and out and gives you control of their access. You might want to consider utilizing a Coop Controller to make management of their access more efficient. A sensor automatically opens the access door at sunrise, and closes it at sunset. It also keeps the door closed if the temperature is below 20°F so your chickens are kept warm and safe during extreme winter temperatures.

The bottom of your run’s fencing should be secured deep enough in the ground to prevent unwanted animals from digging under the fencing and gaining access, as well as to prevent opportunities for your chickens to get out. In addition, the fencing you select should be strong enough to withstand predators from tearing through it.

Roosting
Because chickens are “wired” to sleep high above the ground, they will search out the highest place in the coop to perch before going to sleep for the night. Installing a perch will give them a place to comfortably roost. A tree branch that is approximately three inches thick makes an inexpensive and effective perch. Our day roost easily installs to any 4″ x 4″ post.

Even though hens like to snuggle up when they sleep, you will want to make sure the perch is big enough to give them ample room to move around — a good rule of thumb is one square foot per chicken.

Be sure to keep the space under the perch clear, as it will end up covered with droppings and allow for easier cleaning of the space.

Nesting Boxes
A nesting box is a great solution for providing chickens with a private place to lay their eggs. Even though they will build a nest and lay them just about anywhere, having nesting boxes makes it convenient and comfortable for both of you. You can build your own nesting box or purchase them pre-made, such as the Single-Hole Roll Out Nest or the Rugg’ Ranch Egg Nesting Box that we offer on our website.

One nesting box can be used for no more than four to five hens. The boxes should be big enough that the hen can comfortably get in and out and turn around, but small enough that they feel safe. A standard rule of thumb for size is 12” x 12” x 12” but this can vary depending on the style of nesting box. Adding an outside ledge provides hens a place to fly to, and get situated before entering the nesting box.

Boxes should be kept dry and clean and include some type of bedding to cushion the eggs as they drop. This is a great opportunity to use compostable materials so you can easily toss all the bedding into your compost bin, if you have one.

Experiment with the placement of your nesting boxes to find a location that works best for you and your hens. Be sure to keep the nesting boxes off the ground so that the eggs are out of the sightline of the hens.

Light
Proper lighting is important for a hen’s health and their ability to lay eggs. Egg production slows down when hens don’t have enough sunlight. Select bulbs that cast a warm glow and avoid bluish-white light as it will not trigger laying. Your coop should also include a window to allow for natural light. Hens need about 14-16 hours of light to continue to produce eggs in the winter.

Ventilation
Proper ventilation is vital as it removes humidity, dampness and odors that can cause your chickens to get sick. Chickens rid the water they drink in the form of vapors which makes the air inside a coop more humid and ultimately unhealthy for breathing.

You can add a screened-in area between the walls and the roof to allow hot air to escape without causing a draft in the sleeping area. Another option is having windows or flaps built in to the coop to provide good air flow. Just be sure that any openings are well reinforced so predators cannot get inside.

Predators
Regardless of where you live, you will have predators. Using wood floors will help ensure that predators don’t have easy access to your flock. Dirt floors make it easier for them to dig holes and gain access to your chickens.

Cover holes with wood or hardware cloth as open areas can be quickly found by predators and cause multiple issues. For instance, snakes can slither in and not only eat small birds but your eggs as well.

Use solid materials to build walls to keep predators out. Your roof should be solid and leak-free. A solid roof keeps not only the predators out, but the elements as well.

Access Door
Be sure your coop has a door to provide you with easy access to cleaning of the coop and to allow for proper ventilation while doing so.

Cost
Whether you decide to build your own chicken coop, or buy a pre-made one, the cost will vary depending on how elaborate you want it to be. Coops can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands. We’ve seen a lot of very creative coops over the years and believe that your coop should be a reflection of your personality and surroundings. Have fun with the construction process — it is part of the fun of owning chickens.

For more information and materials to consider using in your coop, we invite you to check out our website. We have also compiled a list of some of our more popular items and resources in our latest newsletter for your quick reference.

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Tips to Keep Your Chickens Cool During the Summer

Photo by Nora LantagneWith summer approaching, you’ll want to start thinking about keeping your chickens cool. If a hen is not able to stay cool, it will slow and stop laying eggs. If a chicken gets too hot or stays hot for too long, they can die from heat stress.

The best way to know if your chickens are getting too hot is to watch their behavior. Because chickens don’t sweat, they keep cool by panting to allow the moisture within their lungs to evaporate and move out of their bodies. Early signs that they’re having to work harder to stay cool would include panting and holding their wings away from their bodies. If they’ve become listless or their breathing has become labored, then they’re experiencing heat stress.

Here are some tips to keeping your chickens cool this summer:

Space. Make sure your birds have plenty of space. Chickens have a natural body temperature of 107° (F). They put off a lot of heat and moisture. Put too many chickens in too small of a space and it will be difficult for them to stay cool. For full size birds, we recommend a minimum of 4 square feet per bird.

Ventilation. The coop should be well-ventilated. Good airflow will help to move out both the moisture and the heat put off by the birds. If you’re not able to get enough airflow with natural ventilation, consider creating a breeze with a fan.

Shade. Consider positioning the coop and run under a tree or a building or other structure. This will provide additional shade and assist with lowering the temperature. Also, consider finding a spot that allows the coop and run to benefit from a breeze.

Water. Your chickens should always have access to plenty of fresh water and, in hot weather, this is even more critical. On extremely hot days, replace warm water with cooler water throughout the day. Chickens will drink more water when the water is cool. Placing waterers in the shade will help keep the water cool as does adding ice. Chickens may be reluctant to go out into the hot sun to get a drink so provide more accessibility to fresh and clean water.

Be observant. Check on your chickens every day and watch their behavior to discover things before they turn into a problem.


Some of our readers have shared the following tips as well:

  • Using misters helps keep the area cool for the chickens.
  • Use a large pan and place a frozen gallon jug in it. This will cool the water and provide the chickens with a cool drink as it melts.
  • Cut small watermelons in half and put them in the freezer. On very hot days, set the melon outside in the shade with some meal worms sprinkled on top. As the melons defrost, the chickens pick at the cold fruit providing hydration. Frozen blueberries are also another cool treat idea when it is very hot.
  • Tarps work great to provide additional shade and block out the heat of the sun.
  • Place a layer of straw or fabric on the top of the run to provide your chickens shade.

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2017 Best of Breeds Photo Contest: Bantams

2017 Best of Breeds Photo Contest: Bantams

Do you have a bantam rooster or hen that is the best in its breed? Over the next three weeks, we are looking for images of Bantams who exemplify their best in breed to be featured in our upcoming catalog and/or website. Entries should be a clear, close-up photo highlighting your bird’s breed and features.

Be sure to include your bird’s breed in your entry. You are welcome to submit multiple photos, however only one prize per entrant will be awarded. Please note, you will be required to create a login on our website in order to enter. Click here to view the complete set of rules.

Enter Now at https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/p/2017bantambreeds

PRIZES:

  • Winning photo(s) will receive a $50 gift certificate to Murray McMurray Hatchery.
  • All entries will be eligible to be selected by our staff for use in our catalog or website. Photos selected for use on our website or in our catalog will receive a $50 gift certificate to Murray McMurray Hatchery. Photos selected for use on our website will be announced in early July. Photos selected for use in the 2018 catalog will be announced in late October.

CONTEST DATES

  • May 25 – June 16, 2017: Enter the contest by uploading your photos.
  • June 17 – June 23, 2017: Vote for your favorite photo online.
  • July, 2017: Winning photos will be announced via our newsletter and social media.
  • October, 2017: Photographs selected for use in the catalog will be announced.
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Safe Table Scraps For Your Chickens

Photo by Stephanie MetzgerMost chickens enjoy table scraps but it is important to feed them in moderation and use as a special treat because they are not part of a balanced diet.

We recommend waiting until your chickens are about 3 – 4 months old before you introduce them to table scraps. Baby chicks need plenty of protein to grow and develop properly and table scraps are lower in protein than commercial grower rations.

If you are looking to feed table scraps, following are some that are safe for your chickens to consume:

  • Bread (in moderation) — Avoid moldy bread.
  • Cooked meats — Cut the meat into small pieces before feeding.
  • Corn — Raw, cooked, or dried corn
  • Fruits — Most fruits are fine to feed your chickens.  Apples, berries, and melons (watermelon rinds are one of the favorites). Some of our customers say their chickens really enjoy grapes.
  • Grains — Rice, wheat, and other grains are fine for your chickens.
  • Oatmeal
  • Peas
  • Vegetables — Most cooked or raw vegetables are okay. Suggestions include: broccoli, carrots (cooked or shredded), cabbage, chard, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, pumpkins, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
  • Misc. — We have had customers tell us their chickens also enjoy shrimp tails, unsweetened yogurt and spaghetti. One customer told us they serve pumpkin to their chickens because it is a natural dewormer.

Not all foods are safe for your chickens to consume. Here are some that you should avoid feeding:

  • Salt — A little salt won’t hurt them but avoid feeding them too much.
  • Processed foods — It’s healthier for your chickens to eat leftovers from a home-cooked meal than leftover pizza or scraps from a frozen microwaved meal.
  • Raw potato peels — Potatoes are members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae). Potato peels, especially when they turn green from exposure to the sunlight, contain the alkaloid solanine, which is toxic. Sweet potatoes and sweet potato skins belong to a different plant family and do not contain solanine. They are safe to feed to your chickens.
  • Avocado skins and pits — These contain persin, a fungicidal toxin, that can be fatal to chickens.
  • Spoiled or rotten foods — Foods can produce toxins when they spoil.
  • Soft drinks
  • Coffee or coffee grinds
  • Chocolate — Chocolate contains theobromine which may be toxic to birds.
  • Very greasy foods — These can be difficult for your chickens to digest.
  • Raw meat — Feeding chickens raw meat can lead to cannibalism.

A few foods you will probably want to stay away from, only because they could cause an undesireable taste to the eggs your hens lay are: garlic, onions, and other strong tasting foods.

For more information on feeds and feeding of chickens, see Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow.

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May is National Egg Month

McMurray Hatchery | Christy Andersen | eggs

May is National Egg Month and we will be celebrating throughout the entire month here at the McMurray Hatchery. Eggs are not only high in protein but they provide essential amino acids that are vital to a healthy and balanced diet. To help kick off the month, we thought we’d share some facts about eggs that you may or may not know.

Did you know…

  • The average American eats over 250 eggs a year.
  • Candling an egg refers to shining a light source through the egg shell to determine if there are double yolks, blood spots, if the egg is fertile or not and other interior defects.
  • The largest egg was laid in 2010 by Harriet the hen. The egg measured 9.1 inches in diameter.
  • A hen’s diet determines the color of the egg yolk and has nothing to do with its nutritional value. A dark yellow yolk means the hen was probably fed more green vegetables. A medium-yellow yolk means the hen was probably fed a diet of corn and alfalfa and a light-yellow yolk means the hen consumed a diet of wheat and barley.
  • Salvador Dali was obsessed with eggs and often included them in his paintings. The roof of the Dali museum is lined with gigantic eggs.
  • In 1911, Joseph Coyle, a newspaper editor from British Columbia, invented the egg carton to solve a dispute between two locals who were quarreling about broken eggs.
  • It is commonly stated that a chef’s hat has one pleat for each way you can cook an egg.
  • When an egg is laid it is about 105 degrees Fahrenheit.
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Spring Photo Contest Winners Announced

March 2017 Photo Contest Winners

Congratulations to our Spring is in the Air 2017 photo contest winners. These winning photos were voted on and received the highest ratings on our website. Each entrant will receive a Murray McMurray Gift Certificate. We received over 900 entries in this contest — thank you to everyone who entered! Click here to see all of the entries. Click the links below to learn more about the breeds in these photos.

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February Photo Contest Winners Announced

February 2017 Photo Contest Winners

Congratulations to our February 2017 photo contest winners. These winning photos will be be used on our website, and each entrant will receive a Murray McMurray Gift Certificate. We received over 675 entries in this photo contest — thank you to everyone who entered! Click here to see all the entries. Click the links below for more information on these breeds.

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Understanding Feed Categories for Optimal Growth

Providing your flock with a balanced and nutrient-rich diet will help them achieve optimal growth, maximize egg production, have adequate weight gain and build their resistance to various diseases. It is important that you understand the difference between the various feed categories because as your chickens grow, their nutritional requirements will change.

Following is a list of the different feed categories for your quick reference:

  • Chick Starter is used to start your chicks off on the right foot. You should use it for a number of weeks and then switch to a grower feed (for pullets) or a broiler feed (for meat birds) depending on your intentions. Chick starter feeds are available in both medicated and non-medicated varieties. The medicated variety is intended to help the chickens develop an immunity to Coccidiosis. If you chose to have your chicks vaccinated for Coccidiosis, then you should use a non-medicated feed.
  • Chick Grower feed is used once the chicks are a few weeks old until they are ready to transition to layer feed which is typically from 4 to 20 weeks or onset of egg production. If you are raising layers and you use a brand of feed that is not supplied in a grower ration, then you would switch directly from starter feed to layer ration at the onset of lay. Similarly, if you are raising broilers and a grower ration is not available, you would switch directly from chick starter to broiler ration or broiler finisher at the appropriate age.
  • Broiler Finisher is for feeding to your broilers until they are ready to be processed. Murray McMurray Hatchery sells an organic broiler finisher that is designed for use beginning at around 5 weeks of age.
  • Pre-Layer or Pullet Layer is a feed designed for early layer breeds such as Red and Black Stars. Because the birds begin laying at a younger, less developed age they have a different feed requirement. Packed with amino acids this layer feed helps the bird grow and mature physically while also providing the right nutrition to produce eggs. This feed may not be available at every hardware store and could be hard to find but it is essential in development. If unable to source you can mix Broiler Booster into your Layer feed. One packet per 250 lbs of feed or 2 Tbl per 50 lbs.
  • Layer feed is formulated for hens approaching laying age. Some layer feeds are designed to be used starting at 16-18 weeks and others are designed for use beginning at 10 weeks. Some layer feeds are complete feeds, meaning that you do not need to supplement them. Some layer feeds are lower in calcium and need to be supplemented. One supplement option is adding oyster shells to your feed. Murray’s Select Oyster Shell will provide your laying hens the calcium they need to keep their eggshells strong. Hens that get too little calcium will lay thin-shelled eggs that are prone to breakage. Why oyster shells? Oyster shells are made of calcium carbonate which is found in egg shells.

In addition to the many types feed, there are several different forms as well, including:

  • Mash is ground up feed.
  • Pellets consist of mash that has been processed to shape the feed into pellets. Note: pellets can help to reduce feed waste but are not as easily digested as mash or crumbles.
  • Crumbles are a feed containing pellets that have been broken up into smaller pieces making them easier to consume.

One other item to make sure you have easily available for your flock is access to fresh, clean water. Water is not always considered to be a nutrient but it is one of the most important items to consider for your flock’s health.

Always follow your feeds recommended feeding schedule as they are all formulated differently.

 

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How to Store Your Eggs for Maximum Freshness

Assorted Chicken EggsWe all know that the freshest eggs come directly from your chicken but, more often than not, you will have to store your eggs for a few days or possibly a few weeks. So, what is the best way to store eggs so they remain fresh until ready for use?

Eggs that have been washed should be refrigerated. Washing the egg removes the “bloom” which is the protective outer coating. Egg shells are porous and the bloom seals up the pores allowing the egg to breathe. The bloom is the egg’s best defense against bacteria and contamination.

If you plan to use the eggs that day, washing them first is a good idea. But if you plan to store the eggs, then delay washing them until you plan to use them.

When you gather your own eggs, you may leave them on the counter for several weeks and they will still be fine. If your house is too warm (above 80 degrees) its best to keep them in the fridge as they might incubate!

When refrigerating eggs, it is important that the temperature be kept between about 36 degrees (F) and 40 degrees (F). Anything colder and the eggs are likely to freeze. Anything warmer than that, and they will deteriorate faster.

Eggs can absorb strong odors from other foods in the refrigerator, so it best to keep eggs in an egg carton rather than store them in the open-topped egg tray that comes with or was built into your refrigerator. Store them on one of the shelves instead of in door as they will remain at a more constant temperature. Also, eggs should always be stored with the large end up, as this helps the yolk remain centered.

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Reducing Stress in Your Flock

Reducing or limiting stress is one of the best things you can do to keep your flock healthy and productive. Similar to how stress affects humans, in poultry it can lead to many problems including: reduced egg production, poor rate of growth and development, and greater susceptibility to disease.

According to Gail Damerow, author of The Chicken Health Handbook, chickens are always undergoing some level of stress. Our task shouldn’t be to totally eliminate stress but instead limit and reduce it.

Lots of things can cause stress to your flock, most of which are easy to correct or prevent. Some of the obvious causes of stress include:

  1. Water problems. Running out of water can cause unnecessary stress. Poor quality water can also cause stress. To reduce stress, give them a continual supply of clean, fresh water, and clean their watering equipment regularly. For more information, see our article on the importance of water for chickens.
  1. Inadequate nutritionChicken feeds are designed for specific applications and ages. Feeding the wrong type of feed can lead to inadequate nutrition, as well as not having enough feed or letting feed spoil. For example, newly hatched chicks should receive a chick starter that supplies adequate levels of protein, not a lower protein ration intended for mature birds, such as layer ration.
  1. Excessive or Rough Handling. Handling chickens stresses them to some degree, particularly rough handling. Children that have not been properly taught how to handle the birds can cause a lot of stress. On the other hand, proper handling of your birds can reduce stress overall. If you rarely handle your chickens, they will not be use to human contact so when you have to handle them (ex. to check for mites), it will stress them more than necessary. The solution is to handle them gently and frequently enough that they get used to it, but in moderation. Just spending some time in the coop or pen with them for a few minutes daily will help. Picking up a hen or rooster and holding it for awhile before gently setting it down will help them learn that you aren’t going to harm it. With regular handling, they will get tamer (some breeds more than others) and be less stressed when you do have to handle them.
  1. Fear of dogs or predators. If your chickens are being threatened by predators, or if dogs are allowed to run around the coop, they may frighten the chickens, which causes stress. You may want to consider putting up some type of perimeter fencing that can keep animals like these away from the coop.
  1. Overcrowding. Having too many chickens in a too small of a space increases stress, exacerbates tendencies toward pecking one another, makes good hygiene more difficult and can increase the risk of diseases and parasites. Make sure your chickens have plenty of space.
  1. Parasites and disease. Diseases as well as internal parasites, such as worms, and external parasites, such as mites, causes stress in chickens which weakens their immune systems making them more susceptible to disease.
  1. Extremes of Temperature. Heat stress is one of the most commonly discussed types of stress for chickens as does excessive cold. Chickens are typically much more insulated than we are, so what feels cold to us is not necessarily cold for them.

One of the best ways to recognize sources of stress and other problems is to spend time with your chickens and observe their behavior and their living conditions. You’ll be able to see quickly when living conditions aren’t clean enough and allow you to smell the harmful ammonia build-up that can result from inadequate ventilation.

Beyond that, chickens’ behavior will change when they experience higher levels of stress. If you spend time with them and watch them enough to recognize their normal behavior, then you’ll be able to more easily notice when their behavior has begun to change as a result of stress. You can then quickly determine the cause and make changes to fix the problem and reduce their stress levels resulting in a happier, healthier and more productive flock.

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