The successful care of poultry can be achieved by following the standard of daylight, ventilation and cleanliness. I have watered my chickens out of an old cooking pot. Fed them grain in a rubber pan. Set up nest boxes in milk crates. To solve certain care challenges, though, specific equipment has been designed. Here are a few of my favorite poultry equipment items, and why I utilize them.
Hanging Nipple Waterer
To maintain clean drinking water, to promote optimal health, I utilize nipple waterers. I hang them from the ceiling to maximize floor space inside of the coops. The enclosed waterers—buckets with tight-fitting lids—prevent the chickens from kicking bedding and manure into their drinking water. This design also reduces wild birds from entering the coops, and carrying disease such as coccidiosis and avian influenza, because they cannot operate the nipples to drink. The waterer models I have chosen are insulated with interior heating elements to thaw water in the winter. The power cords detach for the waterers’ use in the warm season.
The main pest birds that have infested my coops are the non-native European starlings, which are classed as an invasive species in the United States. Primarily, they entered my coops to eat the chicken feed. In addition to the avian disease they spread, the starlings’ appetite also increased my feed bill. To solve this problem, I switched all my adult coops over to treadle feeders. Chickens quickly learn to stand on the treadle to open the feeder’s door to access the feed inside. Starlings, and rodents such as mice and rats, are not heavy enough to operate the treadle.
Juvenile poultry are too lightweight to operate the treadle feeders. I feed young pullets and growing meatbirds with range feeders. These 50-pound capacity feeders are designed for outdoor use on pasture. The lid, which resembles a 10-gallon cowboy hat, covers the feeder’s trough to shed rain and snow before it touches the feed.
Roll-away Nest Box
It is important to keep feed and water clean for poultry health. For selling table eggs and/or hatching eggs, the cleanliness of eggs is another consideration. Roll-away nest boxes are canted for the eggs to roll away from the hens into a collection tray. This lowers the rate of breakage when other hens boisterously enter the nest box, along with the transfer of mud and manure from the hens’ feet to the eggs. A removable plastic nest box liner, similar to outdoor turf, facilitates occasional scrubbing of the boxes to reduce the amount of dirty eggs.
How many times have you forgotten to shut your chickens inside the coop at night? Yeah, I’ve done it, too. That’s why I invested in solar-powered photovoltaic sensor-controlled doors. I call them “smart” doors. The model of door that I chose swings laterally, versus sliding up and down in a track. I think this design jams less and does not freeze inside its track from condensation in winter. The solar panel and small battery allow the doors to operate even as the mobile coops rotate around the pasture. The doors can either be set to open and close at specific times, or run off photovoltaic sensors. The advantage of the latter is that the sensor adjusts the door to the sun’s seasonal rhythms to accurately open it at sunrise and to close it at sunset.
It may seem cheaper to care for poultry with whatever is handy. I have found that some investment in poultry-specific equipment advances cleanliness for the chickens and their eggs, reduces the risk of disease transmission, decreases feed loss, and promotes operational efficiency. And, ultimately, my enjoyment of caring for the poultry is greater. Hopefully this short list of some of my favorite poultry equipment items can help you!
Melissa Hemken is a freelance photographer and writer based in Wyoming. She also operates a small farm business. Read more of her work here, www.melissahemken.com, and find Melissahof Hatchery at www.melissahof.com.