We have a long history with keeping chickens. Unfortunately, it is a sad tale, though it has led to our current chicken situation. Our past chicken set-up (seen below) was in the woods behind our house. While the chickens were happy there and often able to free-range in our yard, woodland critters (raccoons) found their way into the run with devastating effects. We took a break from keeping chickens until we could raise them in a more protected environment. We also got a dog. All of this means that when we decided to get chickens again, we knew that their coop, run, and their time spent ranging needed to maximize safety and health for the chickens.
Enter chicken coop 2.0.
This coop was built using these instructions. We added chicken wire to the base of the structure and hardware cloth on all the walls of the run. Every nook and cranny was nailed shut or filled with hardware cloth. In addition to hardware cloth, we added solar-powered, motion-activated lights that turn on at night when any critter is roaming around outside the coop. There is also an automatic door on the coop inside the run that securely closes the chickens in at night. One of the most important changes we made was to place the coop on the field by the garden. It is not in the woods anymore. This means that any woodland animals have to leave the shelter of the woods and cross the field to get near the chickens.
The last additions to our new coop are the chicken tunnels, aka chunnels. After experimenting with a few different designs, we have found that the sturdiest chunnels are constructed of hardware cloth, pex plumbing pipe, anti-uv zip ties, and landscape ties or stakes. The chunnels allow the chickens to roam the perimeter of the garden, eating weeds and bugs, but also keep them safe from birds of prey, roaming neighborhood dogs, and Toby the poodle. We have a wooden door that we open and close to let them into the chunnels each day and to protect them at night.
To water the chickens, we use poultry drinking cups connected to a 5-gallon bucket of water with pex. They have a hanging feeder inside their coop that I refill every few days. In the spring, summer, and fall, along with their regular feed, the chickens get fed leftover produce from the garden, sunflower seed heads, and lots of weeds. In the winter, we feed the chickens any leftover kitchen scraps from all the veggies we eat. (And leftovers that don't get eaten).
We use a deep litter method in the coop with pine shavings and clean that out every three to four months. In the winter, I clean it out more often as they spend more time in there when it snows and when it is really cold. They have a dust bath in the run with diatomaceous earth, sand, dirt, and ash from the wood stove. When I clean out the coop and run, I sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the bottom of the coop and marigold flowers and herbs in with the shavings.
We recently added a bowl of the hens' own crushed eggshells as added calcium. This is available to them in a dish on the side of the run. The hens can peck at it as needed. To crush the eggshells, I rinse the cracked eggshells and let them dry. Then, I crush them in the blender and fill up the dish as needed.
Of course, the payoff to tending to our chickens is eggs! We love eggs. The other payoff is incorporating their used shavings into our compost. The chickens help enrich the farm soil, which is another input (like vermicompost) that helps boost microbial life and nurture the complex web of life that is happening in the soil.
As with everything, tending to the chickens and keeping them safe and healthy is a continual learning process. Some resources that have helped me out are Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow and the Backyard Chickens Facebook Group.
(None of the links are affiliated or sponsored. It's just stuff we use and have found helpful).