Updated: May 6
Roosters crow, you pour a coffee, slip on the boots and mosey on down to cluck-cluck with the birds. Generally, you’re reminded on a daily basis to feed and water the birds – but what are you forgetting? You remembered to collect eggs and pet everyone, but you just know there is something you forgot but can’t put your finger on it. Chicken keeping can be a lot fun – but also a lot of work and time consuming without a well thought out routine. With livestock management there has to be a method to the madness if things are to go over smoothly on a daily basis whether you have one coop or twenty. Over the past year or so I’ve kind of gotten this routine down which has become second nature to me and generally I don’t think about what I’m even doing anymore when caring for the birds – but nevertheless there is a method to my madness and today I’m going to talk about what consists of a great daily chicken routine.
1. Release the Hounds The most obvious chore is to let those feather clad monsters out of the coop! Whether you let them out every morning manually or use automatic coop doors – the first priority is letting the girls out to play. Next years project here on the farm is to install automatic coop doors on each of my breeding coops, but for now I do this manually.
2. Fresh Water Daily I actually do this part first before letting out the girls and boys just simply because I use water cans and it’s easier to move in and out of the runs with a water hose and not have anyone escape. I prefer water cans opposed to automated drinking systems for three reasons – I can disinfect the water supply if necessary with Oxine, add electrolytes in the summer, or in the really rainy and cold times of the year treat the entire flock with a precautionary round of antibiotics before anyone gets the super sniffles – doing this with an automated system will get expensive unless using gravity feed systems. I keep my 5 gallon drinkers on a cement paver so less grass and dirt gets into the bottom tray which can lead to unwanted bacteria and algae forming at a faster rate. It is absolutely imperative to clean the drinkers once a week to minimize funk– I have been to A LOT of chicken farms over the past year and seen some horribly disgusting things like black mold, centimeter thick algae, poop in the water cans, and so on. Honestly when I first started I wasn’t the best at cleaning as often as needed either, but if you want healthy birds – bleach and clean those drinking fountains on a regular basis. If you have automatic watering systems more power to you – but they still need to be disconnect from the main flowline and cleaned just like a good old fashioned water can. I use Oxine AH or Dawn and Bleach to clean my drinking equipment – you can find on amazon or any online pet supplies store Link: https://www.amazon.com/Bio-Cide-International-Oxine-Gallon/dp/B000HT7H8W
3. Fresh Grain Store bought grain is one of the easiest and fool proof ways to keep your birds healthy and happy. I also do this step prior to letting them out as the girls will crowd me like a backstreet boy in 1998 Las Angeles if I try feeding them after opening the doors. I find myself hopping on one leg way too often when attempting to walk about with a bucket full of grain on my way to the feeder – its just simpler to do it first. Some other great things to feed the chickens in moderation is freshly cut grass, meal worms, fresh black soldier fly larvae, flowers, garden vegetables, and table scraps. If you save your egg shells like we do – it’s a great idea to heat them in the oven to dry out and grind them into a course granule to supplement their feed for an added calcium boost. When you have extra shells its also wonderful to add to the garden so never throw them away!
4. Scoop that Poop
Chicken Manure piles up fast and you have to deal with it at some point or you will have filthy and eventually sick birds. Beneath the roost is generally the dirtiest and hardest to clean area so it may be smart to think of a creative solution to gathering all the doo. I have boards and trays underneath the roosts that catch droppings easily so I can “harvest” the manure to add to my compost for the garden later on down the road. Chicken manure has a ton of nitrogen which is an essential element in garden fertilizers, but before you can throw this in the garden it MUST be composted because it is too potent for immediate use and to remove unwanted pathogens like e-coli which are a major no-no for consumables like vegetables. If you pick up any bag of organic fertilizer at the store I will almost guarantee that poultry manure is one of the main ingredients.
5. Fresh Bedding This step is primarily for younger birds you keep in brooders as ammonia can build up choking you and the babies out, birds can consume the droppings of other birds and get overloaded with parasites or develop coccidia, and because it just isn’t fun to show off your feather babies living in a nasty environment. It is also important to remove any additional buildup that may develop in areas of the coop or run, and occasionally disinfect horizontal surfaces that birds hang out on to avoid bacteria build up.
6. Collect the Eggs! The most rewarding step for some is collecting all the fresh eggs we get from out feathered friends. White, Brown, Blue, Green, Pink, Purple, Cream, and if you have Cayuga ducks even Black! This is the main reason we domesticated chickens aside from meat purposes which I wont get into today. Loaded with protein and healthy nutrients, it is the ideal meal for a sustaining breakfast. Web MD has a great article about egg nutrition – ill post the link below. Link: https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/good-eggs-for-nutrition-theyre-hard-to-beat
7. Clean Nesting Boxes If you plan on collecting clean eggs its important to clean the nesting boxes. Hens use the nest not only to lay eggs in, but to hatch babies, and even as a toilet when feeling lazy. For all these reasons we need to make sure the nest is clean of droppings and bacteria so we aren’t providing an environment for unhealthy chicks, dirty eggs, or dirty feathers. If you incubate eggs you know just how important a clean egg is for a high hatch rate, as the eggshells are permeable and come out wet - unhatched babies can stop developing if an egg is laid directly in a pile of number two before the bloom is able to dry.
8. Lets get Physical This is a two step-step. One of the most important part of the chicken tenders routine is to regularly inspect your birds for health and cleanliness. Mites and ticks love to hide under feathers so just like the nurse would check your head for lice in school – you should check your hens for creepy crawlies on their skin. Does your hen smell a little foul? This might be a sign of upper respiratory infection. Have you found that your hen is missing some feathers on her head? You may have too many roosters in the pen pulling them out during “alone time”. Random sores or cuts and scrapes? There may be a predator who missed their chance at a free meal – time to inspect the coop or run for openings that a hawk, owl, rat, raccoon, or even a stray dog might get into. A secure coop is imperative to your birds livelihood, so don’t overlook a thorough inspection on a regular basis.
9. Raise the Run In Texas, we flood. Hurricanes and flash floods are quite common in certain times of the year and frequent rainfall can wash away the body of your run. Since I also clean the run of droppings every month or so I drag out a bit of dirt and sand when I do that. After a heavy rain or cleaning the run I bring in a wheelbarrow full of new sand or soil to top off and level the run to prevent standing water which promotes bacteria that can be dangerous to your flocks health. Some other options to sand and soil are mulch, pine shavings, or fresh lawn clippings. Whatever you choose make sure the run is raised and kept dry.
10. Keep a Dust Bath Happy birds sunbathe and dig holes to lay in. Ever seen a hen playing in the dirt? They’re actually taking a bath. Hens rub their feathers in dirt to help remove dander, old feathers during molt, and keep clean of ticks, lice, and other parasites their prone to collecting. I fill my dust baths with a combination of top soil, course construction sand, barn lime, EZ-coop cleaner, wood ash, and Diatomaceous Earth. While you could get away with just DE and Sand – I like to go over the top and create a diverse mineral bath of various micron sizes to really help keep the birds nice and clean.
11. Last but not least, coop up the birds at night! Predators come out at night, whether you’re in downtown Houston walking home from a bar at 2AM or on a farm - if you aren’t paying attention you’ll run into a predator. Raccoons, Foxes, Owls and Wild Cats are frequent in our area so once night falls, the girls are locked up. I have a few chicken friends who have trouble getting their birds out of the trees at night or find them sleeping on the fence when the others go into the coop. It’s natural for birds to develop a tendency to sleep in abnormal places, but its important to gather them up and lock the door lest you find yourself one or two birds short in the AM.
If you follow these few steps you will find yourself having happy hens and a very successful time managing the flock from disease, predators, parasites, and general unhappiness! Thanks for spending the time to read this blog and comment below if you think I might have missed something super important which new chicken keepers might find important for tending fowl.
Don't forget to check out the farm store for new rare breeds to add to your flock like Deathlayers, Lavender (Self Blue) Ameraucana, Black Ameraucana, Ayam Cemani, Double Silver Laced Barnevelders, and German Bielefelders.