There are so many great resources out there for the backyard chicken owner! It has become so popular and for good reason, chickens are amazing!
Because there are so many resources out there I will just share our coop design with you, how to help our feathered friends through our brutal desert heat and what I learned and wished I did differently!
Let’s start with a COOP TOUR!
Actually we now have two coops! I will start with our original coop that you can see below and in the distance you can see the new little coop, more on the mini coop toward the end!
We started with an 8′ x 12′ Costco Shed Kit for a $1000. We put it together ourselves and then modified it to make it our dream coop both inside and out. It sits above our garden just in view from our house. I can see the chickens from my kitchen window, which is great for keeping an eye on them!
The Shed/Coop houses the roosting bars for nighttime sleeping and 9 nesting boxes. As well as a space for feed and supplies as shown above.
The Chicken Run built onto the coop is 300 sq ft. and predator proofed on all sides, top and underground with hardwire cloth. Our predators are no joke. We also added corrugated metal roofing to the run for shade.
PREDATOR PROOFING and SHADE are number one on your list for raising chickens in the desert.
We spent around $1500 to build the run and the inside nesting boxes, flooring and roosting bars etc. So in total roughly $2500 just to give you an idea. Most materials were new but we were able to recycle a few things into it as well. You can see the floor plan below!
The flooring inside the coop is the cheapest laminate we could find that sticks to the plywood. Its holding up ok, our coop is 4 years old now and that floor will need to be replace in the next couple of years. But it is doing a good job at protecting the plywood floor.
They get to free range outside their run all day in a fenced area that is part of our orchard. They also have a little door to get over to the goat area and the barn. We have a mini Queensland Heeler dog that is on patrol through the day to protect them and alert us of predators. At night they all get locked up in their secure coop/run. When you let your chickens free range you are taking a risk with predators. I am home most of the day, if you won’t be home most of the day, I wouldn’t risk it. Just let them out when your home on the weekends and make sure your run space is big enough for them to be comfortable.
We added a space within the coop and run to have the chicks as they grow into the pullet stage acclimate to the rest of the flock but within the safety of their own space. We have a hutch/brooder inside our house that our chicks live for the first 6-8 weeks and when they are fully feathered and the night time temps warm up in Spring we will let them go outside to their little space within the coop.
Above is the space inside the coop and below is the space sectioned off within the run. See the little door, it leads inside the above space in the coop.
This whole set up was an afterthought and we are so happy we built our coop and run big enough to accommodate it. If you want to have good egg production year after year you have to continually add new hens. More on that toward the end.
As you can see the hens are not babies anymore and are just about to be let out with the old girls. This is a hard time as the old girls let the new girls know who is boss. Hopefully it is just a few pecks and everyone knows the pecking order. If it gets bad, then you always have that space to put the injured hen into until she heals and then you can try it again.
We made access to collecting eggs easy with these flip doors. Also as you can see below we used these very inexpensive dish pans for nesting boxes that can come out easily and be cleaned. When an egg cracks or poop happens, this makes clean up a breeze.
This old fashion feeder is so handy! I found it at a junk store and its the best piece of junk I’ve found! The top part will roll if a chicken jumps on there, which prevents the chickens from pooping in their food!
We don’t have pasture for them to graze but they do get lots of garden and kitchen scraps. They also have access to the barn which has alfalfa on the floor from the goats and they love to eat that too. Those sources of greens along with any insects they find add to the nutrition of their eggs and to that nice orange yolk.
Ducks in the Desert
In my opinion ducks are a lot more work than chickens. They are in general just messier. They are so fun to watch and oh my goodness ducklings are the cutest! But they do require a place to get into the water for a bath, like a kiddie pool, but it needs cleaned daily. They also eat their food and then stick their mouth into the water to wet it down and then some of that food falls into the water. This water gets yucky fast and needs cleaned daily. We do have our chickens and ducks together and that seems to be just fine. Duck eggs are fantastic but they are definitely different than chicken eggs, I think its the texture. My girls didn’t like them but I don’t mind them! Don’t let this info shy you away from ducks, if you have a pond or good water source I think that would make a world of difference!
Raising Chickens in the Summer Heat
Raising chickens in Tucson through our summer heat can be rough on them and lead to death.
We have been successful with minimum loss due to lots of practices that really are so easy to do.
- Providing plenty of space and shade to have options throughout the day to cool off. Chickens have that pecking order so the low man on the totem pole may be out-casted to a hot spot. If there are plenty of spaces to beat the heat all will be comfortable.
- Wetting down the shaded areas so they can scratch down into the damp soil to get cooled. On the hottest days I will do this a few times a day!
- Providing fresh cool water daily and providing a few different spots to drink from if you have more than a few chickens. You can also add ice to their water. Make sure their water is in a shaded spot also to keep it cooler.
- Freezing fruit or veggies and feeding them these treats throughout the day.
- Fans to help keep the air moving especially if their space is small.
- I have provided a baby pool filled with shallow water and sure enough they loved to stand in it.
Our Winter is very mild so we do not need a heat lamp. My girls have gone through a few hard freezes just fine. Now if that hard freeze came suddenly and it was previously warm then I would add it for just that period of time. All I normally do is add extra pine shaving in the coop for the winter and extra hay/straw in their run. I also throw scratch grain and black oiled sunflowers seeds down in the run for that extra fat for warmth. The sunflower seeds also seem to help get them through their molt quicker.
Our Favorite Breeds
Here is our list in order of our absolute favorite breeds for being hardy in the heat, decent egg layers and friendly enough to pick up! There are a LOT of different breeds out there and I can only speak of the ones we’ve tried!
- Easter Egger, Araucanas, Americanas (blue egg layers)
- Buff Orpingtons and Lavender Orpingtons (light brown egg layers)
- The little Seramas are just the sweetest! They are the girls 4-H show chickens and they lay little eggs that are so good!
- Marans (they are newer to us but lay the dark chocolate eggs and are friendly enough)
- Speckled Sussex (brown egg layer)
- Golden Laced Wyandotte (brown egg layer)
Chickens we’ve tried but were not as friendly as the above are listed below:
- Rhode Island Reds
- Barred Rocks
- Blue Andalusions
What I wished I would of done Differently!
I started our flock with 25 mail order day old chicks of select breeds that would be hardy in the heat, layed well and were supposed to be somewhat friendly. That’s a lot of chickens for a first time chicken keeper! I wished I would of started with less than 10 because the first thing to happen was pecking order which led to literally pecking each other which led to loss of feathers.
Even though we built the coop to accommodate that many and they got to free range it was still just too many. Also, my entire flock was aging at the same rate and each year egg production goes down. So what I should of done is started with 10 and then added a few chicks each spring so I would always have good egg production. When a chicken reaches about 3 years you will make a decision to cull her or keep as a pet and she may give you an egg every now and then.
Always build the biggest coop possible because chicken obsession is real and you want to add more every year of certain breeds/egg color and too many chickens in a tight space leads to problems real quick!
Having the space for all stages/ages of chickens is important too and something I totally overlooked for the long term. From the chick brooder to the pullet stage space (protected from the full grown girls) to the injured chicken space.
Having more than one feeder and water will help a lot with pecking order/bullying. Also roosting spaces in a couple different locations in the coop is a good idea. The mean girls took the best spots and made others roost on the nesting boxes. This is not good because chickens poop all night long and now that poop is where they lay eggs. No one likes a poopy egg!
Because poop happens so fast and its really hard to keep up with at least plan to keep up with cleaning the nesting boxes where the eggs are laid! You will ensure much cleaner eggs that don’t even need to be washed!
They all want to lay in the same nesting boxes, so 1 box per 3 to 4 chickens is plenty!
Your coop is going to get poop all over it no matter your best design! So just be prepared to deep clean the coop often and even repaint it often if you want to keep it looking fresh!
I clean the nesting boxes daily, the coop monthly and every six months do a deep clean and repaint if neccessary. I do the deep litter method in their run. That means I will keep adding materials like hay, straw or pine shavings and then throw scratch grains on the ground and then they will mix up all this material with their poop and the dirt basically turning it like a composter. I can then go to the bottom of this and collect a nice almost finished compost for my garden!
We literally like to hang out with our chickens! They are so fun to watch and interact with. They are very personable, so designing an area next to the COOP to spend time with them is a great idea. If you put your table permanently where they are they will poop all over it! This nice bench here is great but they poop all over it and I spray it off almost every day!
The New Mini Coop
This new little coop is actually part bunny hutch too! The two little Serama chickens and our two Holland Lop bunnies totally get along and share this new space we just built! It’s 10′ x 10′ and also houses what was an unsightly electric box and gas meter.
The bunnies have a place with a little door for nighttime sleeping. It has a flip lid to easily add hay. Both the chicken’s and bunny’s feed are stored on the shelves. And that little door is access to the electric box. The bunnies food and water are on the ground and the chickens don’t seem to mess with it.
The chickens feed and water are up high so the bunnies don’t eat their food. They also have a little roosting bar and below is one large nesting box filled with hay. You can access it with the flip lid from outside.
We used an old door and cut it in half to become a dutch door. This way you can open the top to see if the bunnies are near the door. As they are fast and really hard to catch if they get loose!
The run part of the coop is filled with sand and the bunnies absolutely love to dig little holes and the little chickens love it for dust baths.
Chickens are our absolute favorite farm animal. They are so entertaining to watch, are little composters and give you breakfast!! They are so perfect for a small backyard farmstead!
Got a question? Ask me anything, I’m here to help!