When we brought home our first batch of chicks three years ago, we provided them with every amenity and comfort there was. All the books told us that chickens require certain things, so we bought them those certain things and all was fine and dandy. The only problem was, these products cost a lot of money, and we were raising chickens in order to save money on eggs and fertilizer. We’ve found that ditching these six products has allowed us to save money raising chickens, and you can too!
Over the years we’ve discovered that some of the things chickens “need” did not apply to our situation what-so-ever and we ditched them. Now we’re saving money and space and our chickens couldn’t care less that they don’t have the special treatment they used to. Although there are some products that we simply could not live without, these 6 products didn’t make that list.
This entire philosophy and resulting post is based on the fact that our chickens spend anywhere from 1-12 hours per day foraging and playing in our backyard, free from the confines of their coop. If your chickens are confined all day every day, this may not apply to you, and that’s okay.
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Let me clarify here: All chickens need grit, but you don’t need to purchase it for them at the feed store. We have never purchased grit for our flock and have never had an issue with crop problems. Instead, our chickens get their grit from the great outdoors, for free. We let them out for at least an hour each day to wander in the backyard, where they find bits of sand, teeny stones, and soil particles to eat. This is their grit. It’s free and it’s natural.
The only reason you may need to buy grit is if your chickens are contained all the time or they aren’t able to free range in winter, although we don’t use grit in the winter either and have never had a problem. We keep a tub of sand and soil in their coop in the winter for dust baths and they eat bits of that for grit.
2. Ground Oyster Shells
Most chicken keepers give their hens free choice of ground oyster shells for a boost in calcium carbonate, to help them produce perfect eggs with strong shells. The truth is, calcium carbonate is already included in most quality layer feed. If you give your chickens a balanced diet, calcium shouldn’t be an issue for you. Give them kitchen scraps, including cheese and milk. Dairy products are fine for chickens in moderation, but too much will give them diarrhea. If their eggs still aren’t as hard as you would like, or you fear a calcium deficiency, just dry out and crush up their own egg shells to feed back to them. I know it sounds strange, but it’s completely natural. The best part is, egg shells are free!
3. Specialty feeders and founts
Along with our purchase of the first batch of chicks came the purchase of special baby-sized feeders and founts. We were told we would need them to keep our birds safe and happy. Shortly after the chicks grew up we lost them, never to be found. When the next batch of chicks came around we found we could use items we already had in our house just as easily.
Instead of the special baby feeders, we used a simple flat bottomed glass bowl for their feed and placed a smaller inverted bowl on top. They couldn’t tip it over and the smaller bowl kept them from standing in the food bowl. For water, we used a shallow flat bottomed dish and filled the bottom with small stones. This would allow the chicks to access water in between the stones, but not fall into the bowl or fall asleep with their head close to the water.
As for adult birds: There are a number of commodities you can skip at the feed store.
The first is nipple watering systems, which are wonderful for large commercial flocks, but a totally unnecessary expense for small backyard flocks. They were invented because water founts can easily fill up with litter and other gunk if they’re sitting on the floor of the coop or run. They need to be cleaned out several times to maintain flock health, and that can be a very big pain. Instead of investing in poultry nipple founts, you can set a regular cheap fount on a stump to get it off the ground, or hang it from the ceiling.
The second feed product you can skip is feeders like the PVC feeder or treadle feeders. They are expensive and are only necessary if you’re feeding very large flocks or have trouble with rodents or other birds eating your chicken feed. Chickens are just as happy to eat out of a small trough or basic feeder.
4. Extra nesting boxes
Many books suggest using one nesting box for every three chickens, but the truth is, you don’t need nearly that many. Let me just say, you can fill every square inch of your coop with nesting boxes, but the chickens are all going to choose one favorite box for some mystery reason you’ll never understand.
They’ll all fight over it and crowd into it, even when there are multiple open boxes right next to it. A few nesting boxes is fine, but don’t feel the need to go crazy because they probably won’t use them all anyway.
Free ranging is all the entertainment your chickens ever need. Ours live on a small lot in the city and still find endless things to entertain them in the yard.
If you do have to keep your flock contained in the run for whatever reason and they seem bored and restless, there are several things you can do (practically for free) to keep them from picking on each other.
- Hang a head of cabbage from the ceiling for them to jump and peck at
- Make your own chicken swing by tying some rope to a thick piece of tree branch and hanging it from the coop ceiling
- Get a Flock Block to keep their beaks occupied, or better yet, make one yourself!
- Put in a variety of roosts at differing heights so they can get some privacy when they need it
- Save all the weeds pulled from the garden, leaf piles, and garden pests, dump them all in the run and watch your chickens go wild
- Move your compost bin to the chicken run- they will stir it up for you and pick through it, eating the bugs and scraps that appeal to them. This provides endless entertainment and makes less work for you!
6. Fancy Coop with all the Trimmings
With the rise in popularity of backyard chicken keeping comes high-fashion designer chicken coops with all the trimmings. We’ve seen colorful coops complete with curtains, framed artwork, and even chandeliers. Oh please. The place that your chickens live is going to be covered in poop and dust within a week. Keep in mind that anything that goes into it, no matter how cute, is going to have to be cleaned constantly and will never look as picturesque as it looks in photos.
A lot of high tech coops are on the market today as well, complete with heaters, security cameras, and automatic doors. These commodities are far from necessary to raise chickens and are used more as a comfort to the human than to the chicken. A well-built coop with good insulation, ventilation, and predator protection will keep your birds warm and safe all year long.
Simpler is better when it comes to chickens. They don’t need much, and are happy to be provided with food, water, and a dry, safe place to sleep. Skip all the fanciness and instead invest in hardware cloth and good spring loaded latches to keep out predators.
If your chickens are really deserving of something special, they’ll be just as happy with kitchen scraps as they would be with specialty treats and toys.
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