LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION!
The Real Estate folks keep quoting this about their product. My experience also would follow this dictum. I've spent over 25 years raising poultry in Southern Maryland and my comments will apply to my location. Our weather is in plant hardiness zone 7. We are located about 25 miles from Washington DC- one mile from the Patuxent River and 10 miles from the Chesapeake Bay. This moderates our climate to some extent. The neighborhood has become more heavily developed, eliminating wildlife habitat and at the same time increasing my problems with predators (raccoons, fox, opossom, skunk,etc). As a result all of the chickens must be kept penned and locked up tight at night.
GOAL- Egg production on a year round basis to supply two farmers markets (one year round and one seasonal).
Chickens lay well for the first two years and by the end of the second year they are down to about 25-35% efficiency. Therefore I rotate my flocks semiannually, in the spring and fall. Each group of 50-60 hens is kept together in a coop and pen by age and source. None are mixed together and each group comes in and leaves together. That way fighting and health are better managed. I have used both day old chicks and started pullets and due to time limitations I prefer the started pullets. I currently manage about 200+ hens with 1/4 rotatated out every six months. The chickens are fed twice a day and they get greenery from the gardens as often as I can manage. They know that when I mow near their fence they will get green clippings and come over to the fence to meet me.
Eggs are collected and kept separate by coop until washed so I can track their production efficiency. They are washed in a mild dish detergent by hand , sorted by weight and refrigerated. No eggs are more than a week old when at the markets because I never bring any home.
My housing is unheated in winter. One coop requires fans in summer because of its open exposure.I use homemade wood feeders and a combination of plastic waterers and 3 gallon buckets. In the winter it is easier to handle the buckets than to keep the normal chick waterers ice free. I have two sets of buckets- if one is iced over it is taken into the basement to thaw out and the ice block dumped out when thawed sufficiently.
I started out years ago making my own nest boxes out of wood. However, they became hard to clean and the wood rotted. I have changed to metal and plastic nestboxes found in most catalogs (both are made by Kuhl). I prefer the 10 hole nestboxes, not just from a size standpoint but also from their sturdy construction.
Both units are shipped KD and require assembly. The all metal 10 hole unit on the left is riveted while the plastic unit on the right uses screws and nylock nuts (the picture shows the perches in the upright position). The bent metal top on the left provides a lot more structural stiffness compared to the plastic. The plastic warps easily causing the nest box bottom inserts to fall out below. I've lost eggs that way! The perches on the left are wood and are capable of handling the weight of the birds easily. The plastic perches on the right are too lightweight and when a hen sits on the end, it bends and the opposite side lifts up! The perches only have one screw and nut on each side, allowing the perch to shift sideways- not a good idea. I intend to replace all the perches with wood.