NOTES for Raising Poultry at Community Gardens Discussion

September 27, 2016
Panelists: Michelle Hernandez (founder, Funky Chicken Coop Tour), Phil Wiley (Deep Eddy CG Chicken Co-op), Sara Mills (Deep Eddy CG Chicken Co-op), Ila Falvey (Sunshine CG Chicken Co-op)

6:00 Open House
6:10 Tour of Deep Eddy Chicken Coop w/Phil Wiley & Sara Mills
6:30 Panel Discussion Begins
7:10 Q&A
7:25 Closing

Questions for Panelists + Answers
1) What breeds did you choose for this garden and why?

Phil – Americana, which has gold feathers, green eggs. Bard Rock, which has black and white stripes, a little bossy, smart. Actually chose brands based on what Callahan’s had at the time. Cuckoo Morans get broody (in egg-incubating mode) for too long.
Ila – Can order chickens to be sent in from hatcheries like McMurry. Book Moore Feed Store is another place to purchase chicks. One reason to get a variety of chicken breeds is for a variety of eggs. Buff Orpingtons are my #1 breed. They’re desirable because they have a sweet disposition, they’re god layers, they’re kid-friendly. But they’re short-lived.
Michelle – Every chicken keeper has different, favorite breeds.4

Phil/Sara – All birds at Deep Eddy CG are both meat and egg birds – dual birds. This can be good for community gardens, because meat birds are heavier, which means that they can’t fly as easily, and therefore they can’t escape and get to crops as easily as lighter birds might.

Phil – Get multiple chickens of each breed, birds of the same breed identify with each other, keep each other company.
Ila – With some birds, it’s easy to determine the sex, some are not. You can end up with a rooster. Some times are sex-linked (meaning sex is linked to a visible characteristic like color), so all are female. Good choices for breeds if you never want a rooster.

2) How did you decide on a coop design? We reframed question: What are some things to look for in a good coop design?

Sara/Phil- Deep Eddy coop was a gift. Pre-fabricated, moved it to the garden. Coops can be moved. This one is actually two sections that are combined/expanded. Expanded the original coop to be able to accommodate around 20 chickens. With this number of chickens, each day, whoever’s turn it is to take home eggs gets to take a good number.

Good to have trees overhead, to protect chickens from hawks. Need places for chickens to roost up off the ground. Need sufficient nesting boxes for all the chickens. Have 6 boxes for their flock. 1 or 2 would suffice for a smaller flock.

Extend coop mesh 6 to 8 inches down the into ground to prevent animal predators from digging down and getting in. Can also reinforce coop edges with bricks, wood, to deter predators.

Expansion of Deep Eddy coop allowed for addition of younger chicks. These must be separated from older chickens at first, or older chickens will kill them (dominance). Little chicks also need to be separated because they eat separate, super nutritious food.

Ensure sufficient air circulation. Insulate for winter cold. Can use moving blankets hung on walls. Have back-up water supply, for in case one source gets tipped over. This is especially important in summertime.

Ila – Summer is harder than winter on chickens. They cool off by standing in water. At Sunshine, they have a misting system. Lowers temperature in coop by about 8 degrees.

Michelle – Use ½-inch hardware cloth, not chicken wire, for coop mesh. This is more durable, rust-resistant, and raccoon-resistant. Raccoons can stretch chicken wire, fit their hands in, grab chickens.

Phil – Place coop close to the compost pile. Chickens love to peck bugs out of compost piles. At a community garden, visits to compost pile must be supervised, otherwise chickens might venture into plots and damage people’s crops.

Participant question: How do you manage quantity of chicken poop, fact that it attracts flies?

Michelle/Phil- Chickens poop at night, mostly, while they sleep. Use leaf litter (brown/carbon-rich compost component)to complement poop (green/nitrogen-rich component); this creates compost.

Have a drawer under roosting area that facilitates easy removal of poop to compost pile.

Can put poop in buckets and let it dry for several months, then add it to the garden. About 6 months is sufficient.

3) Any lessons learned in putting together your chicken team? – Modified question: How does Deep Eddy Coop Co-op work?

Sara – Over a 2-week span, each member of the chicken co-op has a day when they care for the chickens, and they get the eggs on those days. Once a month, one person has the job of doing a deeper cleaning (cleaning perches, etc.). Have a log that co-op members write in each time they care for the chickens. There’s a place to indicate that they’ve fed, watered, let out the chickens, the number of eggs harvested, and any comments, for example, about the health of the chickens.

There is a Google Group for communication about the coop. All co-op members are pre-existing Deep Eddy gardeners, i.e., you have to already be a gardener at Deep Eddy in order to join the chicken co-op. Currently, have 14 members.

One one day, can get anywhere from 6 to 20 eggs.

Part of daily routine is to count the chickens. Have to be accountable for them.

Ila – Some people have to take on more responsibility. Chickens need care – not like cats. Can’t fend for themselves — they’re delicate creatures. Ila tends chickens at Sunshine Community Garden, where coop is twice as big as Deep Eddy’s.

Question from participant – Would a motion light work well to deter raccoons? Had a massacre at Gullett Elementary coop.

Sara – Urban raccoons are not going to be deterred/surprised by light. Better to focus on security of coop.

Michelle – Night Guard solar lights are supposed to look like a predator. Could try that.

Paid for construction of coop/start-up costs with gift from Deep Eddy’s general garden fund. Coop’s ongoing costs are met via dues, which co-op members pay over and above basic garden membership fees.

4) How do you handle chicken “retirement”?

Ila – At Sunshine, when die, we bury them. Keep non-laying hens, don’t kill them when they are old and stop laying. It’s tough, because have around 40 chickens, many no longer laying, or laying sporadically.

Phil – At Deep Eddy, have had chickens for 3 years. Have buried chickens that have died in the wooded area by the garden. In bylaws of the garden/co-op, chickens are to leave the garden after their 4th birthday. This will be in 2017. Will put chickens up for adoption. Don’t plan to kill them.

Michelle/Phil – Reasons not to kill them: They eat bugs, do awesome things for the compost (scratch, turn, poop).

5) How do you handle broody chickens?

“Getting broody” refers to the instinct to incubate eggs. Can be brought on by stress, weather. Chickens will sit for long periods of time not drinking or eating enough. Have to pull them out of broodiness, by literally pulling them out of the coop, sometimes closing the doors so they can’t get in. Sometimes, have to go home with a co-op member in the “broody kennel” (a dog kennel). Have to keep an eye on them.

Also use the kennel to raise chicks.

Chickens have poor night vision. Put themselves to bed when it gets dark. Can’t see predators. Roosters are much more alert than hens, much more aware of danger. Can be a valuable addition to the flock for this reason.

6) Any other best practices you would suggest knowing about?

Ila – I like to bring special treats to the chickens- damaged produce from the garden. Some things are poisonous to them, for example, all nightshade leaves (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants). Love anything with seeds. Even old (untreated) seed packets.

PUt in place methods to screen for health issues. Chickens can get infections. There’s a type of foot infection called “bumblefoot”. Internet forums exist with instructions on how to treat various types of injuries/illnesses before they become advanced.

Michelle – Chicken daycare rules – same thing happens with chicken coops as what happens at daycares: chickens will develop immunity to the illnesses in their coop, but not have immunity to illnesses that exist in other coops. So, introducing germs from one coop to another can result in sick chickens. Sanitation is way to avoid this: scrub off your shoes with a mild vinegar solution and a scrub brush before entering a coop area.

General Q & A
Q: Is it true that what chickens eat affects the color of their eggs?
A: Can use mild peppers to make yolks red. Supposedly, feeding chickens purslane creates deeper, richer yellow yolks.

Q: Have a chick that seems like it’s a rooster. Bigger, spot on its head. How can we tell?
A: When it starts crowing or laying–that’s the final determination. There are signs that a chick is a rooster that you can observe sooner, though. Before they crow, roosters start to strut. Also, when they start crowing, they sound funny while they learn.