What tasks do you each day? Each week? Other times? Here’s a basic run-down of what it takes to keep chickens.
Something that people always seem to say to me, is that it must be a lot of hard work to take care of chickens. I wouldn’t say that it’s terrible to take care of chickens. If it was, you wouldn’t see so many people wanting to do it. But there are certain things that do have to be done if you want healthy, happy chickens. Let’s take a look at some of the basic tasks. Depending whether your chickens are pastured, live in a coop/run or a tractor, the “maintenance” may vary, but this schedule is for general purposes.
There are certain things that need to be done each day for your chickens.
Food & Water
I am an early riser. I get up before the sun because I like to wake up slowly, enjoying my first cup of coffee before the day begins. After that first cup, I don my apron and head out to do the morning chores. Each morning my chickens get fresh food and water. Because I have over 30 chickens at this point, I divide my feed into two feed pans. This gives all of the chickens the chance to get to the food without crowding or fighting. The chickens are also given plenty of fresh water every morning. After I give them fresh food and water, I head over to the coop and open the door, and it’s the morning stampede out into the pasture.
In my case, I give them the majority of their food in the morning and they will eat it throughout the day. Then they get goodies and scratch later in the afternoon. Depending upon the weather though, they may need more water later on during the day. Always go out again in the afternoon (or a couple times a day) to check on their food and water situation, particularly in extreme temperatures – hot or cold. Make sure they aren’t running low or that the water hasn’t frozen over.
Check for Eggs & Inspect the Nests
Every day you need to collect the eggs that your chickens are laying. When you do, take a good look at the nesting boxes. Make sure that they aren’t soiled or wet. If they are, clean them out. Dirty nests make dirty eggs. I collect eggs normally twice a day. Once mid-day and again in the late afternoon. I have a couple hens that like to lay very late, 4 or 5 pm.
Inspect the Chickens
In the afternoon when I go out there, I will take a scoop of scratch grains with me, or some kitchen scraps or treats if I have any for them. I’ll “call” all of the chickens and they’ll come running to see what I have. When they all gather around me, I’ll toss out whatever goody I have for them and will stand and watch them for a little bit. I’ll make sure no one is injured and that everyone looks healthy. Then I’ll go gather the afternoon eggs.
Put the Chickens to Bed
Okay, I don’t literally gather up the chickens and put them to bed. The chickens head into the coop and up onto their roosts every night all by themselves. However every evening at dusk, I will go out, close the coop door and close & latch the shutters for the windows. You see night time is when many of the 4-legged predators are the most active. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, opossums and others can wreak havoc in the coop and leave you with a terrible sight to discover in the morning. I know, it happened to us in years past.
Chickens can’t see well at night and are very “dopey” when they are sleeping. The old saying “a sitting duck” should have more accurately been “a sitting chicken.” If a predator got in, it could slaughter a chicken and the others might never wake up. If it was a really ambitious predator, it might just go right down the row killing chicken after chicken and the rest of the flock wouldn’t even have the sense to run out the door. I close everything up to keep them safe, and so I don’t have to leap out of bed at the slightest sound outside.
Weekly to Bi-Weekly
Clean the Coop
Depending upon your situation (bedding used, weather, coop style, etc.) you will need to clean your chicken coop about once a week to every other week. If it has been very rainy, mud may get tracked in, chickens (particularly my younger ones) will spend more time inside the coop rather than out in the pasture. That means the bedding in the coop will get dirty faster. When the weather has been bad, I’ll change the bedding every week. When the weather has been good, I’ll let it go a little longer.
Something else that I do in the cleaning process, is I sprinkle a good layer of “DE” (Diotomaceous Earth) under the bedding to take care of any mites or other pests that find their way into the coop.
If you are using the “deep bed” method, see if you need to add any bedding, mix it up or do any general maintenance of the bedding.
Clean & Sanitize the Dishes
Whatever kind of feeders or waterers you use for your chickens, it is important to give them a good, regular cleaning. Every morning I rinse out my water pans that the chickens drink from, but once a week it needs something more. The waterers have a way of getting slimy and gross, the feeders get food residue built up. You can wash your feeders/waterers with a scrub brush, dish soap and water. That usually does a good job. But occasionally sanitizing the dishes is a good idea as well. To do so, simply wash them out with a 1/10 bleach/water solution (1 part plain chlorine bleach to 10 parts water.) Rinse them well before using again.
Rotate the Pasture
Because we use electric poultry fencing and give the chickens a big area to roam in, we don’t keep them in the same area for too long. About once a week we will rotate the fencing to a new area. They’ll have a clean area, fresh vegetation and lots of bugs to chase and eat. This is a system of rotational grazing, similar to what you would see for larger livestock.
Deep Clean the Coop
About twice a year, you should deep clean the chicken coop. That means pulling out all of the bedding and adding it to your compost area (or whatever you do with yours) and scrubbing it down. Sanitize the entire inside with the bleach/water mixture mentioned above. Do this on a day when the weather is good and you can leave the coop wide open for it to air out and dry. I find that the end of summer and the end of winter are the best times to do that deep clean.
Modifications, Repairs, Improvements
When you do the semi-annual deep clean of your coop, take a good hard look at it. Is there anything that you need to do to it to get ready for the next season? Do you need to do any repairs? Is there something that you want to change or improve upon? Now is the perfect time to do that.
While this list isn’t set in stone, and may vary depending upon your flock size, location, coop style and other factors – this is a good start for someone thinking about getting started with chickens. It is very doable and quickly becomes part of your lifestyle – having happy, healthy chickens that give you the gift of great eggs.