Backyard Hens: Equipment
You’ll want to have all of your ducks in a row before getting your chicks. Backyard hens require a minimal amount of equipment and here’s a list of the essentials (we’ll talk coops next week):
- Heat Lamp
- Egg Basket
- Nesting Box
Feeder: You’ll need something to contain their feed. The most important thing is to keep the feed dry and accessible at all times. Your chickens will lay the best if they are given “free-choice” feed. That means that they never run out of feed. Chickens will regulate the amount of feed that they eat, so you don’t need to worry about overeating with laying chickens.
We use long metal feeders so that the most chickens can fit around the trough and eat all at once. It is important that you have enough surface area for about 75% of your flock to be eating all at once. The disadvantage of the long feeder is the wooden handle. Chickens will roost on the handle and drop manure into the feed. You’ll need to clean this manure out of the feed twice per day.
If you have a backyard flock of 10 chickens or less, you can easily use a cylinder feeder. Cylinder feeders work well and hold a lot of feed. This means that you won’t need to feed your chickens as often. I find that this can be good and bad. If you aren’t feeding once per day, it can be easy to neglect other daily needs. I like a system where I do almost all chores everyday, that way I don’t get behind.
Waterer: We use “bell” style waterers during the spring, summer, and fall months. They work very well and keep the water very clean. You’ll also need a water source for these waterers because they don’t actually store water. We run 3/8 inch black piping up to a 5 gallon bucket. If you drill a 5/16 hole into the side wall of the bucket (very low on the bucket side wall), you can force the 3/8 pipe into the smaller hole to create a water-tight seal. It is very simple and easy to maintain. The bell waterer self-fills with gravity and works beautifully. They also work under pressure and can be attached to a permanent water supply line.
In the winter months, we use the Little Giant waterers. We like the 5 Gallon option. The smaller option is more prone to freezing, and the larger option is very difficult to move when full.
Heat Lamp: We use heat lamps when the chickens are in the brooder. We’ll talk more about this in future posts, but for now, just know that it is critical to keep your chicks warm until they fully feather out. A good heat lamp with a red bulb will easily keep your backyard flock warm in the brooder phase. The red bulb is less stressful to the birds which will reduce the frequency of a negative stress responses such as picking.
Egg Basket: Depending on the size of your flock, you may want an egg basket. If you have less than 5 chickens, you can collect them with your hands and you don’t need a basket. If you are collecting more than 5 or 6 eggs a day, and egg basket is a real help. If you collect them in your t-shirt or by trying to balance them in a circus-like way, you’ll end up dropping them (more often than you’d think). The only thing worse than spilled milk is dropped eggs. Crying is inevitable.
Nesting Box: Your chickens will want a nice, dark, comfortable place to lay their eggs. You can buy nesting boxes, or you can build one out of wood. Either option works just fine. You’ll want one box per 3-5 chickens. It doesn’t hurt to have more boxes than you need, and if your chickens are like ours, you’ll find all or most of your eggs in some, and exactly zero eggs in others. I don’t know why, but they favor some boxes over others. They are such quirky little critters!
Next week, we’ll talk coops. There are SO many options for coop building. To get you thinking, here’s a link to a google image search for coop designs. Thanks for reading!