Health and Safety


Winter Chicken Coop Care, Part 2: How chickens keep themselves warm — and how you can help them.

Monday, November 15th, 2010

This is the second in a four-part series on preparing your backyard chickens and coop for cold weather.

Most standard laying hens are quite cold hardy (check this handy breed chart). Just look at their names: Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red. . . . These girls were bred to withstand cold climates well before the advent of electric heat. So how do they manage to withstand temperatures that send us scampering for the nearest cup of cocoa? (more…)

Winter Chicken Coop Care, Part 1: Clean your coop.

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Cold weather tips for backyard chickens and coopsWhether it’s your first winter keeping chickens or your fiftieth, it’s helpful to have a checklist for preparing your backyard coop for the change of seasons. Of course, what’s on your list will depend on a lot of things including your particular climate, coop design, chicken breeds, routines, and more.

In this four-part series, I’ll share what has worked for us to get our backyard chickens and coops ready for the cold. I’ll also include several ideas offered by The Garden Coop Facebook community and others on how to keep your flock healthy all winter long. So here we go. . . (more…)

How to break a broody hen

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Quit hogging the nesting box!I’ve been looking into this recently, since one of our hens, a Welsummer, is passing the typical three-week window of broodiness. Here are three of the most common methods we’ve found for breaking a hen’s broody mood:

  1. Put the hen in a small cage with a wire bottom (at least 1″ square openings) and elevate it off the ground so that cool air can circulate underneath. Include food and water, of course. It may take a few days in solitary to do the trick.
  2. After dark, move the hen from her nesting box onto the perch with the rest of the flock, and block her access back into the nesting box for the night. It may take a few nights of doing this to see results.
  3. Dunk the hen in a bucket of cool water up to her neck. Some claim luck with this, others not.

All these methods have something to do with cooling down the temperature of the hen’s chest. There’s also always the option of finding someone with fertile eggs to hatch and letting your hen do the job. It’s worth noting too that some breeds (Buff Orpingtons, for instance) go broody more often than others.

From a coop design standpoint, this is where an extra nesting box can come in handy. When a hen is broody, she will not want to get out of her box. That leaves the others either searching for a new place to lay their eggs or — as we’ve seen with our flock — to climb into the box with the broody hen and lay their eggs there anyway.

Strange birds.

Have you successfully broken a broody hen? How’d you do it? And if you couldn’t snap her out of it, what happened next? Leave a reply and let us know!

Urban foxes in Melbourne, Australia (and how to protect your chickens)

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Apparently, people, there is a growing problem with urban foxes in the major cities of Australia. I learned about this from a customer who wrote for ways to keep his flock secure from these foxes in a mobile chicken coop like The Garden Ark.

To hear what I proposed pertaining to predator proofing his portable poultry pen, please press play. . .

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(runs 4:18)

Or read on. . .


Make It Your Own: Dan’s Garden Coop, Madison, Wisconsin (VIDEO)

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Madison, Wisconsin. Where the winters are mean and the chickens are many. I got a note recently from Dan Marleau, a customer in Madison, who wanted to pass along this video tour of his backyard chicken coop, built using The Garden Coop plans and adding some of his own modifications. Take a look.

I asked Dan if he would share more of his experience keeping chickens in cold climates, specifically, what extra steps did he take to prepare his Garden Coop and his flock for the Wisconsin winter. Here’s what he had to say. . .   (more…)

Got chicks. Now what?

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Caring For Baby ChicksYou’ve picked out the cutest little fluff balls you could find to start your flock. Now it’s time to set them up in a brooder, give them some feed and water, and hope they grow into a sturdy flock of backyard hens (no roosters. . . no roosters. . .).

There aren’t too many choices you have to make right now, but there are some. Medicated or organic feed? Where to put the brooder? What bedding to use? How to control the dust? (Chicks produce an unfathomable amount of nano-chicky-dust.)

I’ll post more on these topics soon. But for now, check out this chronicle from Amy over at Garden Rant. She’s starting a small flock too and gives a good description of the basic setup.

Let it snow!

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Kara and Jeff M. sent me a couple of winter updates from their Garden Coop in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I thought I’d share some of their ideas here for anyone looking to give their chickens a little extra protection from the snow and cold. Here’s update #1:

Chicken Coop WinterThere was a blizzard here overnight and so far we have 18″, and it’s still snowing and blowing. It’s been bitterly cold all week, and we’ve been contemplating what to do to make sure our girls are safe and secure.

Finally, last night in the dark, Jeff and a friend wrapped the run in heavy plastic—leaving the ceiling open. It worked wonderfully! It might not be the most perfect job (done in the dark and trying to beat the storm), but it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. . .


Is the zinc coating on galvanized hardware cloth harmful to chickens?

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

If you keep small birds as pets, you may have heard that you shouldn’t use galvanized hardware cloth when making your own birdcage. The reason is that high levels of zinc can be toxic (this is true for humans too). When hardware cloth is galvanized, sometimes little globs of it will be left near where two wires cross. Small birds that use their beaks to climb and maneuver around their cage can eventually break these off and swallow them whole.

This is not a problem with chickens, however, both because of their much larger size and because they don’t climb or chew on the cloth with their beaks.

What about plants? Plants actually need zinc, though as with anything, too much can be harmful. You’ll notice with your hardware cloth that, over time, the finish begins to get duller. This is the zinc gradually weathering off the wire, washing down to the ground. This process happens so slowly that it should not create a harmful buildup of zinc in the soil.

Is formaldehyde offgassing from plywood or OSB an issue in a chicken coop?

Friday, October 9th, 2009

I got this question from a coop builder a few months ago:

“A friend saw that I had bought OSB [oriented strand board] and mentioned that this was a potential hazard due to formaldehyde emissions. What are your thoughts on this? Am I better off returning it and going with plywood?”

Some background first. Formaldehyde is used in the resins (glues) of some manufactured wood products like plywood and particle board. The emissions the builder was concerned about are often referred to as “offgassing” or “outgassing,” which is the gradual release or evaporation of chemicals from a building material. If these vapors build up in an enclosed space, like a car or home, it could lead to a problem. But what about in a chicken coop?


What’s the best kind of chicken wire and fencing?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Fencing of some kind is essential around your coop and/or chicken yard to keep your chickens in and to keep pests and predators out. Pests (mice, rats, snakes, etc.) want your chickens’ dinner. Predators (dogs, raccoons, foxes, hawks, etc.) want your chickens for dinner. There are a several kinds of wire and fencing, and I’ll talk about a handful of them here:

Galvanized hardware cloth. This is the best material for enclosing a chicken coop or enclosed run. In particular, you want 1/2″ galvanized hardware cloth (usually 19 gauge). Smaller openings could be too brittle, and larger openings will not deter against rats or snakes. Hardware cloth comes in 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-foot rolls—with 3′ and 4′ being the most common — and in roll lengths anywhere from 5, 25, 50 to 100 feet.

The mesh is made by weaving or welding steel wires together, then hot-dipping it in zinc (galvanizing it) to protect it from rust. It’s a stiff product, but you can bend it by hand, cut it fairly easily with a pair of wire snips, and attach it to your frame or posts with 3/4″ galvanized poultry fencing staples. Once bent into shape, hardware cloth holds its shape well. Avoid using staples from a hand-powered staple gun. They rust easily, and if/when they slip out, they will get pecked at. Galvanized staples shot from a pneumatic staple gun, on the other hand, work great.

See our online Buyer’s Guide for more specific recommendations on hardware cloth, wire snips, and air-powered staplers for your chicken coop project. 

Chicken wire. Maybe because of its name, this is what most people think to use first on their coops. It’s made of thin wire woven together to create hexagonal openings. It’s relatively cheap but rusts quickly. And while it will keep your chickens in, it won’t keep the raccoons out. . . . (more…)