By Melissa Souza
Backyard chickens can carry Salmonella on their feathers, feet, beaks, and eggs. Salmonella naturally lives in the intestines of poultry and many other animals. Even organically-fed chickens can have Salmonella without showing any signs of it. While it usually doesn’t make the birds sick, it can cause serious illness when it is passed to people, especially young children. I loved the idea of my free-range children toting around a chicken, but in reality, we knew that we didn’t want them to be coming in contact with the droppings.
We built a basic chicken coop and run, but with a few of our own changes and additions so that our children could be involved without actually entering the coop.
The most exciting part of owning backyard chickens is gathering the eggs. We knew that was something that our children would run out to do every day. We constructed our 12×12-inch laying boxes inside the upper enclosed coop, but hanging over the side so that the children could lift the lid and collect the eggs from outside the coop. We also built the nesting boxes under the window so that the light does not shine directly on them. Nesting boxes should be in the darkest area of the coop.
The back of the coop has a large swing door so that we can clean out the enclosed coop from outside as well. We lock the chickens in the lower run, open the swing door, and easily clean the inside, without ever going inside the coop. Every few weeks we scrape out the soiled shavings from the coop and replace with fresh, clean shavings. The droppings make incredible garden compost, and regular cleaning will also help with chicken fleas and lice (not the same kind that affect humans).
We provide our chickens with a constant supply of layer feed, but instead of us having to enter the coop to feed them, we installed a tube system using four-inch PVC pipe, two end caps, two joints, and a T-fitting. It took some time to cut, but we are now able to pour the chickens’ food into their off-the-ground feeder from outside. This style of feeder also prevents food waste from spilling, and prevents the chickens from getting droppings in their own feeder.
The last item that we wanted the children to be able to manage was giving the chickens clean water from outside the coop. When water is offered on the ground, chickens will dump it over and contaminate it daily. We invested in a chicken water pail, which is sold at most farm supply stores. These are great for keeping clean water available at all times. The pail came with a hole already in the lid for filling, so we simply put a rubber hose through that hole, fastened it to the outside of the coop wall, and inserted a funnel for easy filling.
Our children are now able to help gather eggs, clean the coop, feed, and water our backyard chickens without ever handling the birds or stepping into the coop. These were simple changes that made a world of difference for the safety of our children, and the ease of daily care for our chickens.
Melissa Souza is a homemaker and homeschooling mother of four. Her family works towards improving their modern homestead and bettering their skills to support a lifestyle closer to God, closer to family, and closer to nature. Melissa believes in being useful, aware, and prepared in an ever-changing world.