Chicken Feed Container Conundrums
Clever storage ideas for chicken (and other poultry) feed and tools.
by Frank Hyman You don’t want to store lots of chicken feed for long periods. The longer it sits, the more likely that something can go wrong: water, bugs, vermin. Water is insidious. Condensation or a leaky roof or a spill of some kind could ruin a bag of feed before you realize it. Bugs and vermin will fatten on your feed and not even repay you with eggs.
To protect your feed before it gets dispensed, you might be tempted to store it in plastic totes or plastic garbage cans. These are good for keeping moisture and bugs out, but not always so good at deterring vermin. Raccoons are dexterous enough to open plastic containers. And rats are toothy and patient enough to gnaw their way through a corner to get at your grainy treasures.
If you do use plastic containers you may want to double up on the pressure on the lid by running a shock cord (aka bungee cord) from handle to handle over the top. This will make a bit more work for you, but that’s better than hosting a raccoon buffet.
Shock cords over the lid won’t stop gnawing rats though. So, if you’re lacking in barn cats (or underfed domestic felines) you’ll want to keep a few rattraps positioned along walls and near your feed containers (but not in your chicken run!).
And then I would look into slowly switching out your plastic chicken feed storage containers for galvanized metal garbage cans.
Galvanized Goods and Goofs
Galvanized garbage cans were designed to keep water and vermin out, so they have many advantages for storing chicken feed, which I’ll get to. But they also have one weak point. Since it’s easily addressed, I’ll begin there.
Many products besides garbage cans are galvanized: nails, bolts, fences, horse troughs, etc. The silvery-gray color of galvanized products comes from the coating of zinc applied to them. Without the zinc, the bare steel underneath would rust away from exposure to rain. But that coating of zinc is also a weak point–if it’s touching the ground. The organic acids in the soil will oxidize the zinc and leave the steel exposed to moisture and prone to rust.
We’ve all seen garbage cans or cattle troughs with rusted out bottoms and now you know why (wet kitchen waste can also rust out a garbage can from the inside).
Fortunately, there is a low-tech solution to this problem: set any galvanized product above the ground on bricks, cinderblocks or scraps of pressure-treated lumber. So long as it’s not touching wet soil, it will last indefinitely.
With that problem addressed, I store our bags of chicken feed outdoors, in the run, so they’re very close at hand. I put these chicken supplies in a couple of small, galvanized garbage cans. One is a 30-gallon container that holds one or two 25-pound bags of feed. The other one, rated at 20-gallons, holds bags of grit, oyster shell and mealworm treats. Both are sitting up on bricks and show no signs of rust after nine years.
The other thing that would cause rust would be the organic acids in chicken poop. Chickens love to get up on top of things, like galvanized garbage cans. And they are non-stop pooping machines (they even poop in their sleep!). So, I put a scavenged metal hanging plant basket on top of each of our containers to deter the hens from sitting and pooping up there.
The lids on galvanized cans fit tightly enough and are heavy enough that I don’t have to worry about raccoons busting in. And even when the cans are empty, I don’t have to worry about a storm blowing them away: they are too heavy for that.
There’s one more non-garbage use for galvanized trash cans: holding organic fertilizers in the garage. Vermin would love to gorge on organic fertilizers as they’re made largely from slaughterhouse waste and fish industry waste. But unlike a plastic container, no one is going to gnaw their way into my organic fertilizer stash.
Some people accuse me of loving my tools. But what I really love is all the things they let me do. They let me do what I want, the way I want, when I want (in the backyard anyway). With my tools, I can express my creativity, learn new skills and explore new techniques. I only experience frustration if I can’t lay my hands on them when I need them. So, figuring out how and where to stow my tools has become a regular part of my tool maintenance—and acquisition—process.
Many of my coop maintenance tools can hang on a nail near the coop when I drill a hole at the end of the handle. But others find a better home in a repurposed metal barrel in the garage. Salvaged garbage cans–even with rusted bottoms–are perfect for this. One such can holds my long-handled shovels. Another holds short-handled tools like a sledgehammer, a spade, axes and a maul. I first saw this storage technique at a landscaping business. They stored the tools with the handle down. But I store mine with the handle up. That way the dirty business end of the tool is down in the barrel and the handles stay cleaner.
Other tools find a drier home in a repurposed metal barrel in the garage. Clean, salvaged oil cans, or even those plastic trash cans you’ve retired from storing chicken feed are perfect for this. One such can holds my long-handled shovels. Another holds short-handled tools like the sledgehammer, mattock, axes and the maul. I first saw this storage technique at a landscaping business. They stored the tools with the handle down. But I store mine with the handle up. That way the dirty business end of the tool is down in the barrel and the handles stay cleaner.
I also repurpose old chest-of-drawers scavenged from curbside for small tool storage. The drawers allow me to store tools, grouped by their purpose. For example, one drawer holds safety gear, like dust masks, hearing protection and a face shield. Another drawer holds ropes, shock cords and rolls of tape.
Five-gallon buckets and ten-gallon nursery pots hold other tools and supplies: one big pot holds electric cords and three-way plugs; another pot holds everything for the chain saw: gas, mix, chain oil, sharpener, anti-vibration gloves and rags. That way everything is in one place—and has a handle–when I have a project to complete.
After adding a fleet of cordless tools, I needed a place to keep batteries charged up, but out of the way. In our mudroom I drilled a hole in the bottom of an overhead cabinet. I put a power strip in the cabinet and ran the cord down through the hole so it could plug into the outlet below. I can keep three chargers plugged in with their respective batteries ready to go in that cabinet: one for a flashlight; one for cordless drills; a third charger for a cordless leaf blower. Even though the chargers and batteries are in the house, they are out of sight when I close the cabinet door. Now if I could just make enough room in the garage to stash my wheelbarrows.
Frank Hyman is the author of the DIY backyard chicken keeping book, Hentopia. His second book, How to Forage Mushrooms Without Dying: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to 29 Wild, Edible Mushrooms comes out in October.