The Right Stuff!
Making Sure You've Got the Poultry Equipment Your Flock Needs
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Poultry equipment comes in many different sizes and styles, but what do you really need for your flock? Since backyard chickens became popular again, all sorts of products have surfaced in feed stores. Some of these were adopted from the commercial poultry industry, and others were created for the consumer market. Let’s see what’s worth the investment, and how much you’ll need for your flock.
Feeders have evolved over the years, and many different styles are out there. There are mechanically fed trough feeders, tube feeders, gravity-fed trough feeders, and even flip-top feeders on the market today.
Chain-fed trough feeders are a thing of the past, but since there’s a bunch of them available in the used poultry equipment market, you may find some available to you. If it’s free or cheap, then it’s not a weak choice if you’re feeding a flock of more than 100 birds. For the average homesteader or backyard flock, these systems are overkill and an overcomplication.
The flip-top feeder is new to me. I’ve never used one, or for that matter seen one, but I’ve heard good things from small backyard flock owners. The basic idea is that the chicken stands on a roost or platform that opens the top of the feeder. When they’ve had their fill, the bird walks off, and the lid closes. Sounds ingenious, but be sure you train your birds to use this sort of poultry equipment, or they may go hungry.
From pigs to rabbits, these feeders have been used by farmers for decades. Think of a rectangle tube of steel with a tray at the bottom, sometimes equipped with a flap door to keep the weather out. It’s an old design that works, and if you need a feeder that sits against a wall, then it will do the job, however, they are prone to collecting moldy feed at the bottom.
Tube feeders are the quintessential chicken feeder. It’s a simple design that has stood the test of time, and even survived the age of automation. In large operations, plastic pipes with an auger inside deliver feed to each feeder. For our purpose, adding the feed to the tube from the top makes it easy to fill.
Having adequate room and resources is important to any flock. Regardless of what feeder style you have or buy, be certain to provide three inches of linear space per bird. As an example, if you’re using a tube feeder that has a lip that measures 21 inches in circumference, that feeder will adequately feed seven chickens. If you have a flock of 30 chickens, you will need four to five of those feeders to accommodate everyone.
Of course, you can’t forget to water your birds! I categorize water delivery systems in two ways; open systems or closed systems. This is not an official poultry equipment designation, but it’s pretty accurate.
Open Water Systems
An example of an open water system would be your classic bell waterer. There is the standard plastic screw together jug and trough style, the two-part steel water trough, and a bunch of newer designs out there. Regardless of how it’s set up if water sits in an exposed channel, I consider it an open system.
Sometimes practicality calls for an open system, especially when you have a flock that has tall and short chickens mixed together. It’s also convenient that there are heaters available for these systems for cold climates, so they don’t ice up.
Handy or not, I’m not a fan of this sort of poultry equipment. Having an open water system creates a breeding ground for bacteria and is a surefire way to spread disease in a flock. Did I mention that manure gets in the water? It’s not the picture of sanitary, but as I said, practicality may dictate their use. If you do use open water systems, be sure that you have at least one-inch of linear space per bird to be sure everyone has room to drink.
Closed Water Systems
I prefer and suggest a closed water system for watering poultry. In a nutshell, these systems keep water in a sealed vessel of some sort until a bird operates a valve to release a few drops of water. The big bonus to these closed systems is sanitation since water is contained in a sanitary vessel and protected from contamination.
Nipple valves are easy to find on the feed store shelves today, which is fantastic because it lets us build a simple closed water system. Some people such as myself, prefer to install these valves in the bottom of a bucket, others make fun contraptions that do the same thing.
In the commercial poultry equipment industry, these valves are installed in water pipes that are hung in the coop, which is fine until birds break the pipe because they think it’s a perch. I used to use a system like this, and it was great for a set and forget solution since it hooked up to a garden hose. Unfortunately, they do flood the coop if they break, and without heat in the coop, that’s a legitimate issue.
I highly recommend using a closed water system if you can, since they are easy to build and easy to keep clean. If you do use nipple valves to water your flock, be sure you have at least one valve for every ten hens, and nipple valves are spaced about six inches apart.
Roosting bars are essential to keep your birds happy, healthy, and off the floor. Roosts provide a comfortable place for your birds to sleep, and during the daytime, lets hens get away from each other. Think of it as adding extra floor space for your flock.
Make sure you have six linear inches of perch space per bird or more. When mounting perch bars, keep them at least twelve inches apart from each other. I’m a fan of using a generic 2 x 4 stud, like the ones you buy at the local home improvement store. Unlike a 2 x 2 piece of wood, a 2 x 4 will resist bowing under the weight of your chickens at night. I stand them on edge and prefer to paint them to deny a place for chicken mites to hide. Painting your perches also means you can clean them easier since it seals all the pores on the raw wood. Never use metal perches, since you will conduct the heat out of your chickens’ bodies at night.
|Equipment Type||Minimum Requirement|
|Feeder Space||Three Inches Per Bird|
|Waterer Space||One Inch Per Bird|
|Water Valve||One Per Ten Birds|
|Roost Space||Six Inches Per Bird|
|Nest Boxes||One Per Six Birds|
You do want eggs, don’t you? Be sure you give your hens an inviting place to lay them, preferably in clean, tidy nest boxes. Hens can be a bit picky about which box they prefer, so make them as inviting as possible by making nest boxes about twelve inches square and preferably about two feet off the ground. Don’t use hay in a nest box since it traps and breeds bacteria, but instead line it with pine shavings, or better yet, a plastic astroturf-like material.
Hens like dark, quiet, and secluded nest boxes to lay their eggs in, and you like particularly clean ones because no one wants an egg covered in feces! Offer at least one clean, quiet, and dark nesting box per every four to six hens. More boxes don’t hurt, but sometimes it’s a waste of space. Inevitably, they’ll all try to lay in that one favorite box, but make sure they have options, all the same, to avoid having floor eggs.