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My wife would like to do some meat birds this spring. What type of shelter fencing etc can I get by with? Can I just cobble a small coop together and let them roam during the day? Do I need to go to the bother of fencing? How do I care for the chicks until they feather out? Any advice would be welcome. I want to raise about 25 chicks. thanks in advance tom

-- Tom (, December 10, 2001


First for raising the chicks....all you need is a box with some bedding in the bottom. I suggest something cheap like newspapers with a layer of something rough laid on top of them.(So they don't have trouble with their legs) I use the cheapy paper toweling on top of the newspapers and once a day I just roll up the paper toweling and throw it in the burn barrel. The newspapers will last longer than that. The box needs to be large. About 3 or 4 feet square for 25 chicks. Then it will need to be larger when they grow. If you have an inclosed place in the barn you don't need a box at all. You can build them a spot in there.

Next they need a heat source. I use a light suspended overhead by a horizontal pole. Mine has a shield around it just in case. I have used plain ole clip on lamps too. The important thing is to keep it warm enough... about 90 to 95 the first week, and then drop the temp. by 5 degrees each week until you reach the temp for outdoors. This is easy to do. Just raise the light a little each week. Very simple to do if you have one of those desk lamps with a movable light.

If you don't have anything to get them during the day, free-range is great. If something is around that can get them you can build a chicken yard. If it isn't very tall, you will need to put a "lid" on the chicken yard or they will fly out. Most of mine stay inside a 4 foot tall huge chicken yard that is about 75' by about 40'. I have the escape artists, but they can usually get back in. If you don't want them to get out you can clip their wings, but that doesn't always work. Some are quite good at climbing over the fence.

Your choice of Spring is excellent. Raising chicks in the Winter is a lot more difficult. Especially if you have severe Winters. If you get them about 4 to 6 weeks old and the weather is fairly mild, you can put them outside or out of the inclosure to the yard. A little coop is good to protect them from critters at night. We have to put ours in the coop at night or the coons, possums, skunks, owls, etc...would have a feast. I know that there are many other ways to do this, but this is what we do. Hope you have a great time with your birds!!!

-- Nan (, December 10, 2001.

Oops, more of my booklet....heehee! We feed the chicks chick starter. In a pinch when we have run out, you can use laying pellets and a little corn whirled around in the blender. IT makes a lovely AWFUL noise, sure to wake all of your neighbors early in the morning. Even if they are a half mile away! heehee! Also if they come to you weak, you can add a bit of sugar to their water and it will help them to recover. Some people add vinegar to the water also. This is probably more information than you were wanting! :~) !

-- Nan (, December 10, 2001.

Nan, great advice thanks a ton. Do you mean buy chicks at 4-6 weeks old? We were just going to buy "starter" chicks newly hatched from the CT. If there is a better way or place to buy let me know. again, thanks for your time -- ever need any help on hogs let me know tom

-- Tom (, December 10, 2001.

Hi Tom, I mentioned some of this before on the posts, so sorry if I repeat. I think ideas are in the archives too.

Fencing needs would depend on what you have in your area. I am in NE and we started out with a coop and let the birds free range. I had a couple birds killed by some animal at night. I started to close the coop at night, still some problems, we have hawks. THey go for overhead attacks. I love to free range the birds, but have settled for pasture in a pen. I have portable pens made out of any number of things. (pvc or wood) They should have protection from wind and rain. My box pens are light enough to haul around and give fresh ground to the birds everyday. They have a section of roof and sides, but not fully enclosed. The roofs are tilted, after I put a tarp on one and it filled with water from rain. The weight broke the frame of the cage. Yikes. Trial and error. I put fencing around the bottom edge and allow room for a "skirt" where the fence is against the ground. This keeps the varmits from digging in and under the edge.

I then park the free range pens up against my coop in the fall. They each have their section with a little door cut in it. The pens are designed to have an opening door that will open to the side of the coop building. They are parked there for the winter and the birds have better protection from the cold and snow as they can go in the little door to the inside pens.

Foxes, wild dogs, cats, racoon, skunk, possum, everything will partake of a free chicken meal if they can find it. It is up to you if you want to fence them. I would not put birds out in the weather until they are fully feathered.

If you scrounge you can make the pens for low cost. Unless you need it to be a mini barn, any shed will do for the winter coop. Air tight is not always good as the air gets quite bad in the winter from the bird doodie. Better to have an old shed that "breathes" a bit. :o) The winter coop has a perch, but my pasture pens do not.

I would keep the chicks in a brooder until they get some feathers. Put them on a porch if the temps are moderate and if you have a big box provide a light for warmth. (If they are too small and huddle together use a light) Feed plenty so they have fuel. I do not get fancy here, but my birds are all healthy and clean. I use a large cardboard box, Newspaper on the bottom that I change or add a new layer frequently, and a hanger bent and taped to hold a regular small lamp. This has worked on soooo many of my birds, I am not about to go buy a huge unit to do 50 birds a year. You have to keep an eye on it though as the light should never touch the box! (Mine is suspended by the hanger and tied secure) Hope this gives you some ideas. I raise Orpingtons and Australorps. Both dual purpose birds. I also have some turkeys. I would hatch a new batch every year for egg production, and cull in fall. I have some old favorite hens that are three years old and laying, but not as regular as the young ones.!!

-- notnow (, December 10, 2001.


Brooder and coop info (Im going to make those chicken arks):

Raising Poultry q and a's:

Hope that helps. And do check the archives--there will be answers to things you haven't even thought of the questions to:)

-- Ann Markson (, December 10, 2001.

Nope! Sorry, what I meant was that at 4 to 6 weeks(depending on your climate)they are ready to be outside. I meant that you get them a few days or day old. Oops, probably one of those comma faults that I am famous for. We have raised thousands from an incubator and ordered hundreds from hatcheries. Both have worked well for us. I haven't had as great a success with them raising their own because before we can catch them seems like something always gets them. We did have a half dozen or so last year that were raised by Mama. Depends on your predator population!!!! We didn't raise them outside though. I swiped them from the hen and brought them inside where it was safe until they got older.

-- Nan (, December 10, 2001.

Notnow: I have some questions about your portable pens ( I want to do this.)

You say ". I put fencing around the bottom edge and allow room for a "skirt" where the fence is against the ground. This keeps the varmits from digging in and under the edge." What is the skirt made of and how do you secure it.

Have you had to weigh down your pens so that they don't blow over? Or use rebar to hold tight to the ground?

Do the birds try to fly out when you open them to put in water or food? I wanted to make small pens but worry that they will poop in their water and food because I can't suspend something from the top.

I also don't relish birds flying into my face every day as I feed and water them. I guess I just mean water because you don't feed, do you? That's the whole point?

How large are your pens and how many birds are in them. Roosters? With how many hens? nesting box? roost?


-- Ann Markson (, December 10, 2001.

Hi Tom, You have some excellent advise so far. Just a suggestion for easy confinment to start your chicks in, I use a plastic child's swimming pool. Here are some of the advantages:

It is sanitary and easy to clean (you will be amazed at the mess those babies can make -- all they do is eat and poop). You just hose it out to clean it. Keeping EVERYTHING clean is the very best advise anyone can give you for success with your chickens at any age - but especially babies;

It can be set up anywhere you need it to go. Just attach a bulb or heat lamp and just raise and lower the lamp to the tempurature you need;

The babies have lots of room to excersice in and also if your heat source gets too hot, they have places to escape the heat;

There are no corners for the new ones to sufficate in. A real problem with raising the newborns in boxes. Chicks sleep all in a huddle and if someone gets in the corner and everyone crowds on top of him--he's a goner.

I use shredded newspaper to start for the first week and then change over to shredded pine (the kind you buy for hamsters, etc. -- BE SURE NOT TO USE THE CEDAR KIND!!) or any other type of litter that is chick friendly like sawdust, etc.

Be sure they have food and water at all times. Also be sure you supply chick grit. Chickens can't chew their food. The food goes to the gizzard for grinding and the chicks need some type of grit. You can either use coarse sand sprinkled a tad on thier feed or you can get commercial chick grit at the feed store. I go with the grit - it is cheap.

You are best to use commericial chicken starter. Chicks have a very sensitive nutritional needs and, although in a pinch you can use bread and milk, scrambled eggs, etc. - you are far off better using the chick starter. I also go with the medicated chick starter (which is what most is - hard to find non-medicated!). It gets them off to a good start and all the medication is gone in thier system by time they lay eggs or get big enough to butcher. Switch to adult growing mash at 6 weeks old. Don't forget to continue for life grit -- unless they free roam and then they get all they need in the little stones they pick up.

Best of luck! Your going to love you little guys and you will think you have hit the lottery on the first egg. Let us know how it goes.

-- Karen (, December 10, 2001.

Hi Ann and everyone, My portable pens are various sizes, depending on the material and how big the birds are in them. I have one for turkeys that is about 3 feet high on the low end and a tad higher on the other. I used 4ft. chicken wire on the 3ft. pen and let the chickenwire lay on the ground as the skirt. You have to split the wire at the corners on the skirt so it lays flat, but it works. I can weigh it down with whatever is around. (As long as I move it along with the pen and don't forget a brick in the grass!) It is pretty simple, and I'm sure could use a few tweeks, but they work great. I have a PVC one that I even chickenwired the bottom, but the birds get heavy and pull more than just a skirt of chicken wire around the edge.(I didn't want lose birds because the pvc pen is REAL light) Think on the next PVC one I will just tie it down and skirt, and not use the wire floor.

None of my pens blew over last year, but it could happen I suppose. I have thought of using a couple of T-polls here and there to secure it too, but have never had to yet. Use one Tpoll for two days, tie it to different areas of the pen each day.

If you move the pens often you do not have to worry about the poop problem. I do give them some corn when I pasture them just to give them something to scratch for after all the bugs are eaten. :o) I just throw the grain on the ground, nothing fancy!

On the water situation, do what you like best. I have some expensive waterers that I have to take out of the pen and fill and put back in. I usually feed them to distract them. Lately, I read about using milk jugs and have tried that. I use the bottled water gallon, and cut out the a section in the top on the front. Just a jug with a big hole cut in it.(different depths for different birds. Turkeys have long necks and can get a good angle) I leave the handle and attach it with duct tape to the inside of the pen on the wire.(two or three wraps in case of agressive drinkers) I can then fill the water from outside the pen. (if you put the waterer in the right spot like a corner) If you take off the cap you can even have a little hose go into the top and fill it with more acuracy. I have two of these waterers for each pen. If it breaks when it is cold, you can replace for cheep. I have a metal waterer that I use inside and it has a light heater base for freezing weather.

If you use the milk jug idea, you leave the top handle area and the cap area and birds can not really pearch on it and poop in it. :o) It is up off the ground so they do not step on the edge. :o) They do not tip it over. :o) All problems I have encountered with my other waterers. Come cold weather, I will probably do something else, like the metal waterer, but I used a plastic bowl one year until it cracked and then had a back up one. Why get expensive? As long as the birds get water. :o)

The other questions... I have twenty five Orpingtons in one larger portable. I have about 7-10 Leghorn/meat bird crosses in a 5ft x 7 ft. pen. Remember, in the summer they constantly get new ground and stuff to pick at. In the winter they butt up against the coop and they then double their space with the indoor pens.

I have made flat 2 ft tall box pens that are about 5x5 for growing out some early spring birds. Chickens do not have to have 5 ft tall pens, unless you want them to roost and all that. My grow out box pen would not be for layers, as it does not have a nest area. I put the layers in the taller portable pens :o) that actually have a little house built on it. You can make a teepee and close in the top area like in the magazine a few issues back, or whatever you feel like building.

I know some of these ideas sound cheep, but when you break several water bottoms or whatnot, it is great to have alternatives. My ancestors didn't do it fancy either, but they all did fine. :o) Have fun and God Bless!

-- notnow (, December 10, 2001.

Cheap? Hey, Cheap is my maiden name! I think what I am interested in are the tiny ones (I am thinking of putting a banty rooster and two hens in a small tractor that can be moved all around the garden to capture bugs. How do you make your small ones?

You have really helped me alot. I love your waterer ideas--being able to fill from outside--that is brilliant and really makes this more doable (also, rain can refresh the waterers if needed).

How do you move these with the skirts? Don't they drag? Don't the chickens escape when you move them? Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

-- Ann Markson (, December 11, 2001.

To keep chickens from flying out, trim the flight feathers of one wing.

My main-most "predator" problem is over-fed bored dogs belonging to "wanna-be" country folk.

-- carol (, December 11, 2001.

Karen - When you use the child's swimming pool, do you cover the top with anything? If so, what?

BTW - My wonderful husband gave me a "gift certificate" saying he would build me a chicken tractor for my birthday. Will be starting with my first small flock of 25 chicks this spring. Reading about chickens will be my Wisconsin winter pass time (along with lots of other projects/reading!).

-- Julie (, December 11, 2001.

:o) In answer to above questions...

My smallest portable is a 4x4 box. I made it with 2x2's and it is pretty light. They came 8 ft. long, so I just cut them in two. I made it 2 ft. high for my little chickens, so they can get out and get some fresh grass, etc. without the hawks eating them. I just made the two squares, top and bottom, cut some 2ft. sections for the corners, attached them all together with those metal brackets that are L shaped so the do not wiggle apart as I pull it.

Half of the top is covered by a cheep press board peice that was about 3$.(painted so the rain does not ruin) I also did the back and a little on each side, effectively enclosing half of the pen. I used a hinge and hook and eye, just anything that allows the top to be secure and you can open it too. It all holds together really well when you put fencing all around the outside. (I used a hand held staple gun thing) I feel better that the chicks are safe and it is light enough to move. (Do not go too fast with the chicks and they walk right along with the pen)

If you want something smaller, in the Countryside magazine a few issues ago they showed a 'tent like' little coop that had the top enclosed and the area under it open. The entrance for the birds was on the floor of the enclosed area. You put a little door on the end so you can collect eggs.

How do I move them with skirts... Well, you can pick a side up about 6" or so and the skirt kinda droops and covers the area, so birds do not rush out. I attached a rope to two spots on the pen and pull it most of the time. It is pretty light. THe only problem I have had with the skirts is when you leave the pen in place when you do not use it, the weeds grow through the wire skirt and you have to rip them off. If you move it once a week it shouldn't even get that bad.

Yes, I move the pen, feed(a bit of cracked corn or whole oats) and water from outside, and open the little side door to collect eggs. I never really have to get in with the birds any more on a daily basis. I do give them kitchen scraps too. If you leave a portable in one place toooooo long, the birds scratch and actually leave little dents or holes in the ground from dirt baths, so you may not want to keep them on the front lawn if you do not move daily.

Different birds require different space, but I have a bird village in the summer. :o) All easy to move and easy to feed.

-- notnow (, December 12, 2001.

We don't put anything on top of the swimming pool until the chicks get to where they want to start seeing the world. Then I cover it with chicken wire and just fold the ends over to secure it.

-- Karen (, December 13, 2001.

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