Grit Blogs >

Simple Living Country Gal


DIY Chicken Roost: How to Keep Your Chickens Safe

Tracy LynnThe noise was deafening and sounded as if our entire flock was under attack. We went running out to help and found in the chaos of feathers and squawks there was a weasel inside of our chicken coop.

Luckily for us, the hens were all up safely on their roost yelling at the uninvited guest down below. We got in and remove the weasel and then got to work closing up his point of entry.

Over the years I have found when raising chickens, it is best to be proactive whenever possible. If it can happen, at least in our case, it will happen, so I like to try to be a few steps ahead in order to keep our entire flock protected in their coop.

That is why having a safe and secure roost is crucial to the safety of your entire flock, especially at night.

First, let’s back up just a bit.

What is a chicken roost and why do you need one?

A chicken roost is an area where your hens can get safely off of the ground to sleep at night. This is called roosting and it is not something chickens like to do on the ground. Their instinct tells them to get up to safety and having a roost will provide them a safe place to sleep.

What size roost do you need?

Chickens are unique to other birds and prefer to sleep flat-footed. For this reason, branches are not the best choice for a roost. Instead, you will want a wider surface such as 1x2 or 2x4 either of which will work nicely for your DIY roost.

GRIT chickens on a roost 3

The wider surface also protects the chicken’s fragile feet from frostbite, something that is common in colder climates.

Where should you locate your chicken roost? 

Before choosing the location of your roost it is important to know that chickens’ poo where they sleep. That means the bulk of their manure will be directly below the roost itself and something to keep in mind when choosing the location.

Easy cleaning is an important part of your coop’s set-up since a clean coop means healthy hens and also cleaner eggs.

How to clean a chicken coop step-by-step

If you find your coop is lacking a bit on space, then a scrape board can be a big help with clean up. This is just a small piece of plywood placed below the chicken roost that is used to catch the droppings during the night. Each morning you can remove the board and scrape it clean. 

These boards really do help to keep the coop neater especially throughout the winter when coop care is more challenging.

How high should the roost be?

There really are no rules here. You can have a roost just a few inches off of the ground or all the way up to just as high as your coop. But before you start creating a rooftop roost there are a few things to remember.

Access should be easy both going up and coming back down again. If the roost is lower to the ground, you should not have to make any adjustments. If, however, your roost is higher up you will want to include a ramp or another way for your chickens to get up and down.

GRIT ladder to roost

Even though chickens can use their wings to soften a landing, this may not be easy to do inside of a coop. A rough landing on a hard surface can cause injury to the chicken’s feet which is something you will want to prevent if at all possible.

Height really does matter. There is a hierarchy with most animals and chicken flocks are no different. You can see this more commonly with the chicken roost. The higher up the hen the more prominent she is in the flock. By creating a roost with different levels, you will allow this natural order to play out easier.

How much roost is needed?

A good rule of thumb is 8 inches per hen to allow enough room without too much pushing or shoving. In the winter your chickens will cozy up for warmth, but in the summer, they prefer to spread out. 

By giving them enough space, you will create a roost that is comfortable throughout the year.

DIY Chicken Roost

A ladder type roost is a great way to create an area that will hold a good amount of chickens and supply the different levels needed for the flock. It is simple to build and one of the most common roosts found in coops today.

Step #1.  Choose an area in your coop that is out of the way yet easy for you to get to for daily clean up.

Step #2.  Determine how many steps to have for your roost and the width needed for each step.

Step #3.  Attach the top of each sideboard of your roost ladder with a screw. This will not only hold the ladder securely in place but allow you create a makeshift “hinge” so you can lift it from below for easier cleaning.

Step #4.  Space the steps of the ladder far enough to allow plenty of room for the hens below. This height will all depend on the breed of chicken and how large they are when fully grown. 12-14” between each step should be enough for most breeds of chicken.

GRIT ladder to a roost

Step #5.  Remember to make your steps at least 4 inches wide for more comfortable perching and attach these to the side boards.

Step #6.  Place one or two scrap boards below to help keep this area clean.

You can also use a discarded ladder if your coop is smaller. We actually started out this way until we decided on the best location and the best design. Be sure to secure the ladder firmly to the floor of your coop so it is sturdier for your flock to use. Chickens will jump up and down the steps until they find “their spot” and a ladder that is not bolted to the floor will shift and possibly tip. A few bolts should keep this from happening.

A roost is a simple yet important addition not only to your chicken coop but to the health and order of your entire flock.

Keeping Chickens Warm During Winter

Tracy LynnThere is nothing quite as amusing as seeing a chicken come out of the coop on that first cold and snowy morning of the year. More often than not, the flock will rush out the door only to turn tail and rush right back in again.

It can be tempting to keep your hens inside of the coop all winter where it’s warm and dry, but fresh air is just as important, if not more so, even in those very cold months.

winter chicken care snow

It’s true that some chicken breeds are hardier than others, but luckily, there are a few things you can do to protect your entire flock when those temperatures drop down to the single digits.

Setting Up a Chicken Coop for Winter

Step #1: Do a through clean out in the fall. 

Remove all the bedding, sweep out the cobwebs, wipe down, and sterilize the coop. By cleaning out your coop, you will remove any soiled dirt and parasites so you can start the winter season fresh. Watch my video to see this step by step. 

As you are cleaning, look for any holes or cracks in the coop, repairing as you find them. This will not only keep drafts out of the coop, but any nasty predators as well. Remember, it’s not just our chickens that want shelter from the cold but also mice, rats, weasels, and other unwanted guests—guests looking for a free meal by eating your chicken’s feed, their eggs, or even the chickens themselves. Stop them now by plugging up even the smallest of openings. 

Don’t be tempted to skip the small holes. You would be surprised at what a mouse can squeeze through!  

Step #2: Apply an extra layer of insulation to the inside.

Your chicken coop does not need to be fully insulated for the winter, but there are things you can do to protect your flock from frostbite. 

We like to put straw bales around the inside of the coop placed snuggly up against the wall. This applies an extra layer of insulation and gives the hens a way to get up off of the ground. A chicken’s feet are very vulnerable to frostbite, so it’s important to give them protection both inside and outside of the coop. If you are short on space, you can turn the bales sideways so they take up less room.

insulate the winter chicken coop

Bonus tip: In the spring, you can reuse your straw bales as vegetable garden containers. As the chickens perch on the bales, their debris helps to compost down the insides creating the perfect growing environment. Strawbale gardening is a great way to grow crazy big and beautiful vegetables. 

Step #3: Check for ventilation. 

There is a difference between drafts and ventilation and knowing that can save your chicken’s life. Drafts are from cracks found in the structure of the coop that are normally located near the floor where your hen’s delicate feet are. Ventilation is more often found at the top of the coop and works to clean out the air inside keeping dust particles down. This type of airflow is incredibly important for preventing lung issues that can come up in a flock during the winter. If your coop has vents, be sure they are clean and free of dust and debris. 

Step #4: Use good bedding and keep it thick.

What you choose to use in your coop will all depend on where you live and the type of floor you have. Since we house our chickens in a shed with a wooden floor, I have found that wood shavings work the best to keep the smell and wetness down. We also like to use the deep litter method where we live and find it really helps insulate the coop. 

The deep litter method simply means allowing bedding to build up over the winter creating a barrier between your chicken’s feet and the frigid ground. Rather than remove soiled bedding from your coop routinely, you instead add a fresh layer on top. This keeps the smell and dust down and the debris covered. 

Heads up: If you choose to use the deep litter method in your coop, please know that your spring clean out will be a bigger chore than what you may be used to. Sitting all winter causes the bedding to turn into what feels like concrete and requires a good strong back to remove. Yes, a downside to using this method, but for us, it’s worth it since it keeps the coop warmer for our flock.

Step #5: Chicken nesting boxes. 

Keeping fresh hay or bedding inside your nesting boxes helps to create a cozy environment for your chickens. I like to use 2nd cut hay that is leftover from my goats. Each day, I take a bag of this soft and sweet smelling hay out and replenish the boxes. Not only does this keep the chickens toasty, it helps to prevent the eggs from freezing as well. 

Step #6: Have a good solid roost. 

On really cold nights, your chickens will snuggle up close to stay warm. Have a roost that is solid and large enough for them to do so. Chickens are not like most birds, meaning they do not perch on branches. They actually prefer a wider roost to walk and sleep on. 2 inches wide is a good rule of thumb when building your roost with 8 inches per hen in length.

Place your roost on the warmest side of the coop in the winter. This small tip will help protect them from those bitter winds that can stir up overnight.

Step #7: To heat or not to heat

Even though we live in Northern Pennsylvania, we choose not to use electric heaters in our coop. I have found that by relying on the tips above, I actually have a healthier flock. Don’t underestimate the ability of your hens to adapt as the weather cools off. Their warm feathers and higher internal temperature allows them to handle the cold better than we may expect. Now, this does not mean that you should rush out now and shut off any heat lamps, especially if you are reading this in December, but it is something to take into consideration for next year. 

Heat lamps are dangerous and have caused many fires in our area. For us, the risk is just not worth it. We choose to warm things naturally and rely on our flock to use their instinct instead. 

Step #8: Protect them outside too. 

Even in the snowy winter, chickens enjoy getting outside in the fresh air. Remember the most vulnerable parts of a chicken are the comb, wattle, and feet. For this reason, you will want to put down a layer of protection in your run. A nice layer of straw, hay, or bedding will work well here. You don’t need to go crazy, just enough to encourage your flock to get out and stretch their legs and their lungs. 

Please remember that whatever you put down in the winter will need to be removed come spring, so add this layer sparingly. 

winter chicken care oustide

Step #9: Have fresh water at all times. 

The biggest challenge for us is water, and the best way I have found to deal with it is to replenish it often. On very cold days, I will change out their water 3 times a day. This not only gives them plenty to drink, but it allows me to collect eggs often enough so they do not become frozen—something that can happen more often than folks realize. 

Step #10: Offer warm treats.

I like to give a few warm snacks on really cold days. Leftover soup, scrambled eggs, or even a warm mash of feed are yummy options. This is a welcomed treat for your chickens and also encourages the entire flock to eat. Why is this important? It can alert you quickly of anyone that is acting off. A chicken that is not eating needs your attention, so if you offer a warm snack and a chicken or two does not rush up to enjoy, then you may want to do a little investigating to be sure everything is okay. 

Knowing a few tips on how to keep chickens warm in even the coldest weather will keep your flock healthy and have you eating fresh delicious eggs all winter long.

Growing Herbs in Pots to Enjoy All Year Long

Tracy LynnI love container gardening. It is by far my favorite way to grow just about anything. From lettuce to tomatoes, zucchini to peppers it is a super-easy way to try out gardening without going all in and getting overwhelmed your first time out. 

And my favorite thing to grow in containers? Fresh herbs.

Having a collection of herbs right outside a kitchen window is amazing. And the best part? When the weather cools you can bring those containers into your home to enjoy them all year long. 

 growing herbs in containers-2 (1) 

 

Growing Herbs in Pots: Outdoor Tips

Step #1: Choose the best containers for your herbs. 

If you plan to move containers inside for the winter, pick pots that will work in both areas, like terra cotta. Not only are they easy to move, but they are durable in all kinds of weather, as well. 

You can also use plastic, ceramic, or even metal containers. Have fun here. You might be amazed at what you can grow in a ceramic bowl. Just be sure you use a container that will allow enough room for not only the plant but for the roots, as well. 

Step #2: Prep your container.

Whatever you choose, you will want to prepare your container for your plants. Wash with a bleach mixture of 1 parts bleach to 9 parts water and rinse thoroughly. Add holes for drainage, if needed and if the container will allow it. If you can't add drainage holes, a layer of small rocks or glass stones at the bottom will help keep the roots from laying in a pool of water. 

 growing herbs in containers-3 (1)

Step #3: Pick your favorite herbs.

I love to have basil and parsley year-round, but with so many herbs to choose from you can have just about anything. Thyme, dill, sage, cilantro...the list is endless. Find herbs that you and your family love and give them a try. Unlike a full-blown summer garden, herbs take up little room and are relatively easy to grow. I love to experiment with different varieties before committing to my favorites.

Step #4: Plant correctly.

With so many options, it is best to follow the planting instructions either on the seed packet or the plant's tag. For the pot, however, the steps are the same.

  1. Purchase a good organic potting soil mix. 
  2. Pre-wet with water to dampen the soil, mixing the water in with your hand or a wooden spoon. Repeat until the soil is damp, but not sopping wet. 
  3. Fill your pot with soil about 3/4 of the way. 
  4. Add your seeds or plant to the depth needed as per the instructions.
  5. If planting seeds, cover lightly with soil. If transplanting a plant you will want to break up the roots a bit and pack the soil lightly around the base of the plant to give a bit more stability. 

Step #5: Place in partial sun. 

Plants that are grown in containers can dry out quickly so you will want to protect them a bit from the heat of the summer sun. I like to keep our pots in partial shade for this reason. If full sun is the only option you may want to water more frequently.  Be careful not to overwater. To be sure, check by sticking your finger into the soil of your pot. If dry, water; if damp, you are fine. 

Step #6: Harvest and enjoy as needed!

Just use a pair of kitchen scissors to snip off what you need when you are cooking. If you see your herbs are growing faster than you can use them up, dice and freeze in ice cube trays with a little water or broth. Use these herbal ice cubes in soups or stews for a lovely flavor punch. 

You can also dry your herbs and store in labeled glass mason jars.

Step #7: Move indoors.

As the weather begins to cool you will want to move your plants indoors. Set pots on a cookie sheet or tray to protect your counter or window sill. Be sure to choose a location that will get the warmth of the sun for the longest amount of time each day.

Keep an eye on your plants to be sure the relocation did not do any damage by watching the leaves for any color changes. You may need to adjust your watering a bit since your plants will not dry out quite as quickly as they can outdoors. 

Having fresh herbs close by is a home cook's dream. They are simple to grow, both indoors and out, and smell so wonderful that even if you don't cook you may still want a few pots of basil in your own kitchen.

7 Safety Practices for Handling Backyard Chickens

Tracy LynnWhen you first bring home new chickens, more often than not your biggest concern is their safety. Today, however, we are going to talk about the safety of ourselves and our families.

Let’s face it, there is nothing quite as cute as a baby chick. Small and fluffy, you just want to nuzzle and kiss them. With all that cuteness going on, it can be easy to forget that live poultry may carry harmful germs such as Salmonella. This includes not only chickens but ducks, geese, and turkeys as well.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Although most folks recover on their own, those with a weakened immune system and the very young or old, may require hospitalization.

If a bird carries Salmonella germs, more often than not, they will show no obvious signs. This can make it tricky to spot. A good rule of thumb is, “treat them like they do, so you don’t get it too.” It is commonly believed that the risk of getting sick all lies with the eggs, however, most infections actually happen when people are handling the birds themselves.

Now, this doesn’t mean that your dreams of gathering eggs from your very own chickens is dashed. Not at all. It is important to be aware of what can happen so you can take precautions to ensure they do not. 

7 Safety Practices for Handling Backyard Poultry

1. Wash your hands.

Your number one weapon in fighting germs is a good old-fashioned hand wash. It goes without saying that washing your hands after handling any animal is a good practice, but this is particularly true with poultry. Get into the habit of always washing your hands after handling your birds and be sure to use a good supply of soap when doing so. If you have young children that will be in contact with your birds on a regular basis, teach them to wash up immediately after.   

2. Love from afar.

Give your kisses and snuggles away from the bird’s beak. Chickens spend their day pecking at the dirty ground. For this reason, it is always best to keep your mouth away from your hens, again most especially with younger children. This doesn’t mean you can’t love on your birds, just use common sense. No matter how clean you believe your animals are, they do live their lives outside, and for that reason, I would keep your mouth away from their beaks.

safely handle chicks 

3. Keep your birds outside.

If you have a situation where you need to bring a bird inside to treat, you will want to do so in an area of the home that does not contain food. A basement or garage would be acceptable when there are no other options. Once finished, give things (and yourself) a good cleaning to be sure no germs are left behind.

I like to have a designated spot to treat any animals that are in my barn rather than in our home. The main items needed in a medical situation are a contained area and a strong light. This will allow you to look over your bird so you can treat accordingly. Keep a labeled tote of poultry supplies such as towels, a flashlight, medical tools, and medications nearby. Again, always wash your hands before and after treating your birds.

4. Keep your coop clean.

Get into a routine of cleaning your chicken coop and any feeders, waterers, and cages. A good rule of thumb is to clean nesting boxes, feeders, and waterers daily and clean the coop monthly or weekly if you feel that is needed. Cleaning frequently will not only keep your birds healthy but you as well.

5. Toss dirty eggs.

If you find some of your eggs have feces on them, I would suggest you toss rather than wash. Soiled eggs are not something that happen frequently so the loss of an egg every now and then won’t have a huge impact. If you find soiled eggs routinely, you will want to look into your coop’s layout and correct where needed.

6. Change your shoes.

I like to have separate footwear for our coop and coverings for any visitors that stop by. This will keep poultry poo out in the coop where it belongs.  

7. Give health checks.

Finally, always be aware of your bird’s health. Observe them each time you feed for any signs. This is the very best way to catch symptoms before they become an issue that can hurt the entire flock.

 baby chick 2-2

Follow these simple tips to ensure your family stays healthy while enjoying delicious, fresh eggs from your own chickens all year long.

Raising Goats for Beginners: 6 Things to Know Before You Get Goats

Tracy LynnYou know the old saying, “if I knew then what I know now?” Well, I believe a homesteader must have come up with that quote. On a homestead, mistakes and misjudgments are the most common way to learn.

There is something about living through a mistake that embeds that lesson in our minds and makes this way of learning a valuable one—a way of earning our stripes so to speak.

And my stripes are now your checklist of how to raise goats in your backyard. Your goat care 101 introduction to raising and caring for your new herd. 

Shelter

No matter where you live, goats need to have some sort of shelter. They need a place to get out of the elements—the rain, snow, wind, even the sun. A sheltered area to cool off or dry off.

The type of shelter you need will depend on the seasons where you live. If you live in a warmer climate, a lean-to will be enough, whereas a colder climate will require a barn or shed.

Pasture

Goats long to graze, so having some sort of pasture set up is important.

A few acres will easily suffice for a medium sized herd. Be sure if you have any trees in your pasture that you want to keep, you have them protected in some way. A cattle panel that is bent to the shape of a square and staked out far enough is really all you need to protect the tree.

Goats love bark and will eat it all off along with any leaves and branches they can reach.

 grit goat pasture

Fencing

Another saying that comes to mind here is, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” I swear that one was started by a goat owner. No matter how nice the pasture is on the inside of the fence, your goats will believe it is better on the outside. For that reason, you need good, sturdy, and reliable fencing.

There are many different types of goat fencing, but I prefer an electric fence. I find that this fence will keep in a properly trained goat at all times.

Notice I said trained. That is because having a reliable fence is only half the battle. Your goats need to be trained to respect that fence so they stay away from it.

 grit photo fencing 2

Feed

It’s true, goats can live on pasture alone but more often than not, you will need to supplement with grain and/or hay. This again all depends on where you live. Know what your area is deficient in so you can supplement with the appropriate feed and herbs.

Preventative health care is much easier than dealing with sick goats. Invest in the proper feed so you’re sure your herd is healthy at all times.

Water

More particularly, fresh water. Goats are very picky, and for that reason, their water needs to be fresh at all times (or at least daily) to ensure they drink what they need. Use waterers that are easy to dump and refill.

When it’s hot, I find that offering fresh cool water encourages goats to drink much more often. This prevents dehydration from occurring on really hot days.

 grit photo 2-3

Be Hands On

If you want healthy and happy goats, you need to be an observant owner. Touch your goats, look at your goats, walk around your goats every single day. This will make it obvious when something is off. Goats are masters at hiding their symptoms, and by the time they are obvious, it may be too late.

Know your goat’s physical manner and behavior so the slightest sign of them acting off is obvious and you can treat things quickly and more efficiently.

Goats are some of the most rewarding animals to have on a homestead and going that extra step in these areas will help you have a herd that is healthy and happy.

Mulch Your Way to A More Successful Garden

Tracy LynnAs spring turns into summer, more and more folks are working hard to get their gardens planted. Tilling up plots and planting seeds, they hope their gardens will overflow with tomatoes, melons, and squash.

Gardening is one of those summer pastimes that many of us enjoy, but if we are not careful, can quickly turn into frustration and overwhelm. Frustration comes in the form of wilting and weak plants and overwhelm from a garden with more weeds than tomatoes. To help combat both of these outcomes, I like to take a few extra steps while planting my garden to keep roots from drying out and those pesky weeds from taking over.

Mulching is nothing new to most folks. Where we live, piles of bark mulch can be seen in most, if not all, suburban yards. When you tweak things just a bit and take that mulch to your vegetable garden—that’s where the magic really happens.

We are, in a sense, looking for the same outcome from mulch as ornamental gardeners. We want to lock moisture in and keep weeds out. However, since we are dealing with food, we need to be a bit careful when choosing what to mulch with.

Let’s start with the basics.

mulch

What is mulching?

Mulching is the process of adding a combination of organic and manmade materials over the surface of your garden as a covering. This covering is what will lock in moisture to help your roots flourish below the ground and also keep the soil loose and cool during hot summer months. An added bonus is the deterrence of weeds, which can strangle young and fragile plants.

Mulching is applied in two layers—an inorganic layer followed by an organic layer.

Inorganic means anything manmade such as brown, print free paper or non-glossy soy-based ink newspaper. If you are not sure of your newspaper’s ink, do this simple test. Rub your fingers over the ink, and if any stains your fingers, the ink could contain petroleum oil since it tends not to dry completely. Also, soy-based inks are much darker so comparing a known soy-based ink paper to one in question is, in my opinion, the easiest way to know for sure.

To apply, simply lay sheets down directly onto the soil in between your rows. Sprinkle on a bit of soil to hold the paper in place.

Next is the organic layer, which is your nature made materials including grass clippings, leaves, straw, (do not use hay, find out why), or compost. There are more options, however, I find these work the best.

Once your organic layer is added, lightly wet the material with a hose to hold things in place until it settles. How much you mulch is up to you. For me, several inches work the best. At the end of the gardening season, simply work the mulch back into the soil and allow it to finish composting in the off season.

If you are new to gardening, you can read up on the best vegetables to start with so you can coast a bit your first time out; 7 Can’t Miss Vegetables for Beginner Gardeners covers it all—from shopping to harvesting, it will walk you through the growing process to help make this season an easier one. Call it your trial run before you go all in.

mulch straw

Along with this mulching method, use as many other natural techniques as you can to ensure you are keeping things as organic as possible. Growing your own food is a wonderful way to fill your kitchen with aromas only fresh produce can supply and treat your family to organic foods all summer long.







Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me