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Watts: Getting started with baby chicks

By Morgan Watts
For the Salisbury Post

A few weeks ago, I wrote about what to do when you first bring home baby chicks. Now that a few weeks has passed, it is time for part two: housing. There are a couple must-haves when you start to consider housing your adult or younger birds. First off is protection. The birds will need protection from weather, predators, injury, and potentially theft. Secondly, you want to make sure they have adequate space. Space requirements will depend on the type of bird you have. The third thing is easy access to feed, water, and a source of light. Last but not least is ventilation; this is a major piece that gets overlooked regularly. For ventilation, you can do windows by using hardware cloth (1/2 inch). Make sure you have at least two ventilation sections (one to let air in and one to let air out) to aid in airflow. Your end goal is to provide air movement without a draft.

When thinking about housing, you will need to decide if you want to do stationary or portable housing; there are benefits to both. With stationary, you will use less space and it limits the amount of time you would spend moving the housing around. It can also accommodate harsh weather conditions. The benefits of portable housing would be keeping parasites from building up and limiting destruction to the ground and forage.

Location should also be a big thing to consider. Is there enough shade? How far from water and electricity are you? Is there enough room for the size of coop you need to build?

If you are doing stationary, a general rule you can follow but may need to adjust depending on the type of birds you have is to allow 2.5-3.5 square-feet per bird in the coop with an additional 4-5 square-feet per bird in the fenced outside area. Low-density housing (more space per bird) results in less stress for the birds – translates to less pecking and fewer health issues. I would also make sure it is large enough to stand in (for cleaning purposes). I have a few coops that are not, and checking eggs or cleaning the coop out is a lot harder and more time consuming.

For the inside of the coop, the flooring can be concrete, wooden or dirt. I recommend pine shavings for bedding or floor covering. You will also need to add nest boxes, roosts, feeders and waterers. I recommend putting the waterer outside the coop in the run. Place the nest boxes no higher than three feet. Nesting material — shavings or straw. If you have laying hens, you will need one nest box for four to five birds and the boxes need to be in place by the time they reach 18-20 weeks (laying age). For the roosting space, two feet or higher off the floor — you also want them higher than the nesting boxes. They need to be two inches in diameter and one foot space per bird. Have a cushioned layer below roosts for when they jump down. The feeders can be in the coop or in a covered run outside. Adult hens need 3-4 inches of feeder space, chest high. The waterers need to be outside with one inch of space per bird. It can be placed on blocks but needs to be chest high also.

Hopefully, this will help you get started with the next step. My next article that will be available in a few weeks will be on predator protection. If you have any questions, contact me at 704-216-8970 or amwatts@ncsu.edu .

Morgan Watts is a livestock agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

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