Poultry Homesteading Hacks for 2021
We reached out to some of the most popular YouTubers to get the best 2021 homesteading hacks for raising poultry. Whether you’re a veteran or just getting into the hobby these tips will increase your productivity and efficiency.
Our chickens just love fresh fruits and vegetables. One hack we love is getting fresh produce from our local market. Ask your local markets what they do with their discarded produce. What we found is that our local market would discard any produce that looked ugly or was a day or two from being past its “Best Sell” date. They let us have it for our chickens, for free. This means our chickens get fresh fruits and vegetables all year round, and it cost us nothing but our time. Generally, your big box stores will not do this, but we’ve found that your locally owned markets or even the vendors at the farmer’s markets, probably will. Just be sure you inspect anything you give to your chickens, and to research what your chickens can and cannot eat before feeding them any produce.
The Fit Farmer-Mike Dickson
Ducks can be an excellent addition to any homestead. They are more cold-hardy, heat-tolerant, generally healthier than chickens and some lay more eggs. However, one challenge of raising ducks is, they can be messy.
Yet, with what I call a “Duck Shield,” you can greatly minimize the mess ducks make. The Duck Shield goes over their waterer and restricts them from getting in it and making a mess. Yet it is designed so that they can access drinking water at any time. And since they are waterfowl and do need to submerge their bodies from time-to-time when you want to let them play in the water, you can simply and easily remove the shield from their water and they can splash around. You can make a duck shield with almost any kind of materials and can customize your duck shield to fit over a pool, watering tub, etc.
Chickens act like they’re starving all the time! But don’t be fooled. One might say savage. Others might liken them to pigs with feathers. They are biologically wired to pig out (to constantly stay full) because they don’t know when or where their next meal will come from. They’re survivors. I know, you’ve fed them faithfully for that last 1,000 days. Still, they don’t trust you. It’s either that or they’re experiencing a major case of bird brain and forgetting. I think it would be cooler to say they’re gangster, not dumb, so let’s go with that.
Here’s a couple of hacks to keep your wallet in your pocket. Hack #1) Ration their feed to 1/3 pound of feed (dry weight) a day per chicken. That’s all they need. They’ll eat more, but they’ll also drop production the fatter they get. Hack #2) Cut your feed 15% by tomorrow by simply taking a day’s ration and putting it in a bucket. Then, cover the feed with water until your water is at least 4” over the feed. Leave it till morning then strain off the water and feed that soaked feed. Just by soaking those grains you’ve broken down anti-nutrients and made that feed 15-25% more digestible. And remember, I’ve got your back.
My favorite hack for raising happy healthy chickens is to raise them in a moveable coop. Chickens love to eat grass and insects. Allowing your chickens to eat grass and insects keeps them from getting bored and makes for tastier eggs. The yolks get so orange when they can forage. The other benefit is that they will fertilize your lawn for you while they are eating your insects and making the best eggs.
If you can’t have a moveable coop, then you could have an enclosed run for them. When we lived in the suburbs, we would bring our chicken the grass clippings along with the leaves that we would rake up. The other nice thing with chickens is that they are omnivores. So there is no need to throw away your food scraps anymore. Just feed them to your chickens and they will love you forever.
Our chickens not only provide us with farm fresh pastured eggs, but they help improve our pasture for us as well. Due to a large number of natural predators where we live, we quickly learned free-ranging was disastrous to our flock (18 chickens killed by a pack of coyotes in 2 days). However, we wanted our chickens to be able to eat bugs, grass, and clover, and enjoy fresh pasture while still staying safe. With busy schedules and sometimes nasty weather, we didn’t want to run out every night and transfer them to the coop. We came up with a chicken tractor/coop combo hack. We built an A-frame coop that sits on top of an eight- by 10-foot rectangular chicken tractor. The water and feed buckets hang from hooks so they stay clean and I don’t have to climb in every time we want to move them to fresh grass. By rotating them around the pasture, they scratch up the top surface (this really helps with moss in our Pacific Northwest climate), their droppings help to fertilize the field for our cattle, and they’re always on fresh grass. We’ve found this to be the perfect solution for both us and our hens.
When we first started homesteading and keeping poultry, in Australia in 2006, funds were tight so I made our initial poultry run/pen on the cheap by wrapping galvanized chicken wire around a dozen (or so) gum trees with a makeshift gate I hammered together out of old recycled 4×2. This kidney-shaped quick DIY job is still standing and in use today!
However, due to the pen perimeter being made from standard-sized chicken mesh it could only ever be used as a poultry run throughout the day as pythons easily navigate the wire at night. Therefore, last year I decided to build a smaller but snake and predator-proof run directly off our chicken coop so that if the chickens and ducks needed to be locked up for a period of time they would still have a decent and safe area to roam until we were able to let them out into the free-ranging area.
I sourced recycled and free materials to build our predator-proof rectangular chicken run from scratch. In the end, I not only saved money, but I had a lot of fun building our “over-engineered” poultry run that I’m certain our hens adore.
My hack is, building a poultry run or chicken coop need not be an expensive off-the-shelf exercise. Some good chicken wire, a bunch of logs, and salvaged wood can be easily constructed to make a functional and safe home for your birds.
An easy chicken coop hack is to add wood chips around your backyard chicken coop. Add a thick layer of fresh wood chips in the chicken run once a week to prevent smells and keep the area sanitary for your backyard flock. You can find free wood chips from local landscapers and tree trimmers in your area. With the combination of chicken poop and wood chips, you are also creating compost for your garden.
Keep them mobile. Static chicken coops are a thing of the past. We have a large mobile chicken coop on a homemade trailer, four larger chicken tractors, and three smaller chicken tractors. Getting chicks on grass as soon as possible is ideal. And keeping them on fresh grass and off of dirt is better for their health (fresh grass and bugs) and keeps them from getting bored and fighting with each other.
Originally published in the December 2020/January 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.