Smooth wooden floors are the answer, and there’s one type that’s best of all.
A hen’s body temperature is around 40-41°C and they prefer a temperature of around 21°C – the chicken originated in the jungles of Asia so they do like it fairly warm compared to livestock. to. The disadvantages are a dirt floor can quickly become unpleasant when covered in faeces, and muddy when there is rain or spilt water. It can also harbour all types of bacteria, moulds and parasites which can be a major source of infection for young chicks or newly-introduced birds. Even if you cover the dirt with litter of some sort, your flock will soon scratch it away down to the earth for dust bathing or searching for spilt food.
If the coop is permanently sited with a dirt floor it may be difficult to clean out without removing some topsoil, and rodents can also easily burrow under from outside. It is impossible to disinfect an earthen floor in case of a disease outbreak like coccidiosis.
Smooth wooden floors may be the answer for most coops. Marine plywoood is ideal as it is damp and rot-resistant, but other plywood products coated in varnish or a similar type of water repellent can work. • The best litter for the floor is anything dry, absorbent, easily turned over to aerate, and easy to clean out. • The best litter system for a biggish coop for ease of management is the ‘deep litter’ system, a thick layer of (preferably) wood shavings which can absorb the moisture from fresh droppings, especially under the perch lines. • Do not allow drinkers to be spilt or leak onto the floor. • Turn the litter regularly at the start to ensure it mixes the fresh droppings or get the birds to do it by scattering their evening grain ration on the floor. The principle is to get the litter to heat up and act like a compost heap, with ‘good’ bacteria breaking down the new additions of droppings.
Managed properly, this system can reduce a thorough clean-out to an annual job, and you will have a lovely, well-decomposed compost/fertiliser for your garden.
This includes perches, nests, feeders and drinkers.
Perches are not essential and many commercial coops do not have perches installed, but they are useful for a couple of reasons: • they encourage the birds to jump up to find a safe nesting place; • they enable the more timid birds to have a safety spot; • they raise birds up from ground level where they are vulnerable to rats, hedgehogs and stoats.
The perch itself should be flat with rounded edges and wide enough to support the birds’ feet, with the toes flat from the back toe to the first joint of the centre toe, which in turn supports its bodyweight comfortably. A perch where the birds toes curl round underneath and is only just wide enough for the centre of the foot is too narrow.
Allow 10-15cm of perch space per bird, and place the perches higher than the nests to encourage birds to go higher, or you may find they will sleep in – and dirty – their nesting boxes. Have the highest perch reasonably close to the roof; that’s where your roosters will perch and it may discourage the early morning serenade because they need to stand up at full height to crow. If the perch is close enough to the roof, they can’t stretch up and out properly.
A ‘curtain’ made from strips of feed sacks or old tyre inner tubes, tacked across the entrance to darken nest boxes, may help prevent vent pecking by others when a bird is laying. However, don’t add any kind of ‘curtain’ until after young birds have established where to lay.
If you’re not into making your own nest boxes, you can buy ones with an easyto-clean plastic insert that allows an egg to roll away, keeping the egg clean and protected until you can collect it, an ideal solution if you have egg eating hens.
If you find birds initially lay on the floor instead of in nest boxes, lower the nests to floor level if possible, or work to make sure the birds can more easily access the nests. A perch set out from the nest boxes makes it easy for a bird to walk along and decide which one to use. You may have to block off a favourite corner of the coop if all your hens insist on laying there, or place a box there and gradually move it to where you prefer them to lay.
A broody cage built into the corner of the coop, with an airy mesh or wire floor, together with a food and water source is another good idea, or leave a space to hang a suitable cage (like an possum trap) so a hen can still be with her friends, but
Shredded kale with sultanas and almonds
Kale should have a fresh colour with moist, crisp, unwilted leaves. Remove any thick stems on the kale before you start cooking as they can be a little tough. Kale can be substituted for cabbage or spinach and makes a great dish when sautéed with garlic, a little soy and a sprinkling of chopped roasted nuts. method Heat the butter in a wok or large frying pan. Add the kale and stirfry for 3 minutes. Add the wine and season well. Reduce the heat, cover and cook gently for 5 minutes until the kale is tender. Stir in the sultanas, almonds and crème fraiche and stirfry for a further minute. Serve with a hearty stew.