Here are one backyard chicken farmer's personal tips on raising happy, healthy hens. Carolyn Hecht began raising hens in 2009 in a Freeport chicken coop she calls the ChickArena.
HOW TO DEAL WITH CHICKEN MANURE:
The Deep Litter Method requires a bare earth floor inside the coop, a carpet of pine shavings with a liberal sprinkling of food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) mixed in. No smells, no flies. No visible chicken poo, ever. It all just gets absorbed, decomposes and disappears. All you see are the pine shavings. The "girls" stay healthy, happy, contented, lively, shiny and busy laying big, beautiful, eggs.
I liberally sprinkle DE into the hens' dust bath areas in the backyard at least once a week. I sprinkle it in their food, on their roost boards, in the nest box, and over all the pine shavings litter inside and outside of the playhouse coop. It's the pivotal component for a successful Deep Litter Method of swift and sanitary management of chicken poo. Here's a webpage with info on DE: http://wolfcreekranch1.tripod.com/defaq.html
It's a good idea to wear any sort of simple face mask when sprinkling DE. It's not toxic in any way, but because each particle is a mass of tiny sharp points, it can irritate your respiratory tract.
You can clean the coop and run of all its shavings once a year or so. Compost it for a year with all your autumn leaves and your summer grass clippings for your vegetable and flower gardens.
You can even avoid the labor involved by posting a notice on www.freecycle.org, and other gardeners will come and clean it all out for you. If you do need some of it to remain for your own garden, they can leave you one-third of the buckets.
Roost boards should always be placed higher than the nest boxes. Chickens will choose the highest possible spots for sleeping the night hours away, and they poop while they sleep. If they don't sleep in the nest boxes, the boxes stay clean, and that means clean eggs stay clean until you come and collect them. Most poo drops down into the deep litter on the coop floor. Any that lands on the roost board during the night is scraped down in the morning's first visit to the coop. A big, long-handled barbecue scraper is used for that purpose. Scraped board is then sprayed with vinegar/water and wiped down with a paper towel on the end of the scraper. Whole cleanup takes maybe 20 seconds every morning.
Here are some of my supply sources for maintaining my little flock:
Chestnut Vale Feed, Inc. (a/k/a Hicksville Agway) 10 Duffy Avenue, Hicksville, NY 11801 (516) 931-0342. I get my Purina Layena and my Purina Layena Plus chicken feed from them. They have all sorts of items for keeping chickens; watering gadgets, feed bowls, pine shavings, scratch feed, oyster shell, etc.
They deliver those big 50-pound bags of feed right to my coop.
Countryside Organics sells organic scratch feed online. www.countrysideorganics.com. I buy it in 50-pound bags from them.
Ozbo sells Farmers Helper Ultra Kibble online. I buy it in 15-pound bags. It's very high in protein and is great nutrition to support growing new feathers when a chicken is molting. www.Ozbo.com or 866-601-5616.
Adding that UltraKibble to their daily diet cuts down on their consumption of the Layena feed.
All food is stored in the ChickArena in closed metal containers. That keeps it all safe from moisture, rodents, and bugs, and keeps the food fresh.
In addition to water and feed, I keep a bowl of oystershell calcium bits, and a bowl of small pebbles, also called grit, in the coop. Calcium makes for strong eggshells, and the grit helps to grind their food for maximum nutritional absorption. (They don't have teeth, so the grit does the work.)
Here's a backyardchickens.com member's Web page of treats to feed chickens:
One treat that my girls especially like in the hot summer is ice-cold watermelon slices. Yum! And cold yogurt!
In winter, I give them warm oatmeal, and any leftover hot breakfast things: scrambled eggs, pancakes, etc.
HOT AND COLD WEATHER:
Chickens tolerate the cold of winter much better than the heat of summer. They hop around looking for bits of grass poking through the snow. In summer they seek out the shady spots under shrubs and trees. I set out small wading pools (shallow dishpans) of cold water when July and August temperatures climb. They walk right in and stand there in the chilly water, cooling their feet and legs.
Scratch feed is high in corn and other grains that help chickens combat the cold in winter, as it raises the chicken's internal body temperature. So I cut way down on the amount of scratch in the summer months. In winter, I feed about a third of a cup per chicken with about three tablespoons of Kibble mixed in. In summer, I reduce the scratch to a few tablespoons.
Chickens need protection from cold winter winds. A clear plastic tarp kept in place over the coop helps keep out the wind while letting sunshine in.
HOW EGGS COME CLEAN:
People often wonder why the egg's shell isn't "dirty" because of the chicken having only one opening "down there."
It's true that the single vent is used to discharge the poo, but what most people don't know is that a sleeve emerges from the vent to deliver the egg. The sleeve keeps the egg from ever touching the internal walls of the poop delivery system.
Chickens molt once or twice a year. Old feathers fall out, new feathers grow in. They put all their efforts into growing those new feathers, so egg-laying drops off and may stop completely for two or three months. Increasing the protein content of their food helps considerably (to keep up egg production) and UltraKibble is well suited to keep them in prime nutritional status. Ultrakibble can kick start a new season of egglaying in a hen that hasn't laid in a while. Eggs from UltraKibble-eating hens have deeply orange yolks, thick whites, and superb taste.
KEEPING HENS AND PEOPLE DISEASE FREE:
Biosecurity in both directions is always important. Hands are washed after coming into the house from the coop. Kids are taught the importance of doing so. One pair of shoes used just for the coop. Those are my pink Crocs kept at my back door. Visitors that may have been with other flocks must get their shoes covered before going out to my coop. Plastic grocery bags work great. Home Depot has disposable ShoeGuards in the painting department. They can be reused.
The coop and water bowl and feed bowl is sprayed with and wiped down regularly with a 50/50 solution of plain white vinegar and water. Every couple of weeks or so, I spray and wipe everything down with a solution of Oxine, an antibacterial agent. Shoe bottoms are sprayed with Oxine if a visitor comes from visiting another flock. I buy the Oxine online at amazon.com
Flies can sometimes be a problem. Not because of chicken poo (the Deep Litter Method quickly erases the poo) but because of the kitchen scraps that I often set out for the hens. Two items that I use to prevent flies in the coop: Fly Traps and vanilla-scented cardboard deodorizers made for hanging in cars.
GETTING THE BIRDS:
There are many hatcheries online that will ship day-old chicks, juveniles (young males are cockerels, young females are pullets) and adult chickens (at one year of age, they are called roosters and hens).
Poultry enthusiasts have several social network websites available for mutual interaction, conversation, education, sharing of "stuff," including chickens and buying and selling just about anything related to chickens. I've gotten several four-month old pullets, free of charge, from generous backyardchickens.com members. Just had to pay for shipping (about $60).
Backyardchickens.com has a thread devoted to Southern New York chicken-keepers, and that includes Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as Westchester, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan, etc. Lots of fun to read and participate. http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/534036/southern-ny-dutchess-county-and-below