Making a Home for Your Chickens

Movable A-Frame Chicken Tractor

Raising your own chickens is a great way to provide your family with fresh eggs and meat, while knowing that the food was raised humanely and without unnecessary antibiotics. If you raise chickens however, they will need shelter and a place to roost. Below are a few different ways you can go about acquiring this shelter, from making your own to buying a coop pre-made.

According to The Ultimate Self-Sufficiency Handbook (2012) by Abigail R. Gehring, a chicken coop needs the following characteristics:

  • close to your home so you won’t forget about it.
  • in a place where the ground is dry, to prevent the growth of disease
  • well-ventilated. Free air flow
  • protected from the weather
  • has shade and sunny areas
  • a sturdy roof
  • perches not more than 2.5 ft (76 cm)
  • smooth floor under perch area, easy to clean
  • roomy nesting boxes-in shaded part of the coop.

Chicken Coop No. 1 and Brooder House - Elevations and Floor Plans - Dudley Farm, Farmhouse and Outbuildings, 18730 West Newberry Road, Newberry, Alachua County, FL HABS FL-565 (sheet 9 of 22)

Traditional Chicken Coop

Chicken coops have been a part of our farming heritage for as long as humans have been raising livestock. It is not surprising then, that traditional designs and plans can be found easily on the internet and elsewhere. Shown here is a blueprint of a chicken coop from 1870 with a concrete floor and stone foundation.

Chicken “Tractor”

A more recent idea is that of a movable coop with no floor (or with a wire floor) that can be moved easily so that the birds can feed naturally on plants and insects without stripping any one area bare. It also enables the manure from the chickens to fertilize the area. This gives the benefits of free ranging but provides the protection that poultry need from predators.A-frame chicken coop, Portland OR

Buy your Chicken Coop Pre-Made

Depending on your budget, time, and skill, you may opt to buy a coop pre-made. Again, There are many options and price ranges.

Everything You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know – About the Common Housefly

Everything You Never Thought You Needed to Know about the Common Housefly


Fly Fact Sheet (Musca domestica)

  • The Common Housefly, Musca domestica, is the most widely distributed animal on the planet that can be seen with the naked eye.
  • There are over ten thousand species of flies.
  • Farm raised houseflies produce more biomass, meat, per square foot than any other agricultural product.
  • Houseflies are omnivores. They can get nutrients from vegetable or animal based foods. Our insects are raised on vegetable diet as it is safer for the animals who eat the insects. • It takes about twenty days for a new generation.
  • The Flies' buzz sound is in the key of "A".
  • In Payette we make nearly fifty different products with the
  • insects.
  • Flies reproduce so rapidly that they would cover the earth except than nearly everything eats them.
  • Flies are important to Idaho because they feed the wildlife and can be used to reduce manure wastes from farm animals like cows and chickens.
  • Flies have fifty percent more protein than beef.
  • The houseflies lived along side of dinosaurs.
  • They live for thirty to forty days.
  • The hen fly can lay up to 2500 eggs.
  • Their two eyes have four thousand lenses per eye. Their vision is poor except for detecting the movement of predators.
  • Most insects have four wings but flies have only two which beat at over two hundred beats per second.Every
  • Flies smell with their antenna but taste with their feet. They can smell something to eat from over a quarter of a mile away.

- compiled by Skip (Skipio) Cockerum, 2014

Wild Bird Suet

Oregon Suet Block
Appalachia Suet Block

Dear folks,

May I introduce you to a product I designed in 1988 and have manufactured continuously since? I have always felt that the time a bird spends feeding in our yards is the period of greatest jeopardy. The time the bird spends at the feeder must be worth the birds’ effort and exposure. So my products are made of highest quality ingredients that deliver that food value in a brief and harried visit.

My Oregon Suet Block™ was the first insect based wild bird food produced anywhere in the world. It was formulated this way because the woodpeckers I feed are insectivores that also thrive on non-insect sourced animal fat. I integrated the highest quality cattle fat available, beef kidney suet knobs, with the insects I grow for the purpose of augmenting avian diets, Musca domestica, the Common Housefly.

“Beef kidney suet knobs” are among the hardest and most stable animal fat commonly available. It costs about five times  as much as ordinary tallow. I can’t see using cheap ingredients with my valuable insects. Top suet has a higher caloric density than the cheaper and more commonly used tallows that are a mixture of all of the fat of the beef.  Tallow is the fat component of common and thrift suet cakes. I coined the use of the term “suet block” to point out the difference from suet cake products. Suet block has now become widely used to connote high quality. For years my firm has purchased fresh kidney suet knobs that are rendered and processed in our own specialized equipment.

The humble insect I culture and use as a nutrient, Musca domestica, The Common Housefly, is ubiquitous and is the most widely distributed organism that is visible to the unaided human eye. In 1975 I discovered that this insect could be adapted to intense husbandry to provide nutrients for other animals.

Custom Suet Block
Custom Suet Block

The Housefly is the best feeder insect being grown anywhere in the world. Its nutrient profile is more useful than that of the more commonly used crickets and meal worms. But it’s use suffers from the stigma associated with the word “maggot”. The maggot is viewed as unclean when in fact it is the cleaning agent. The pigs used in medical research are more clean than most of the planet’s human population but the ordinary, easy, glib use of “pig” is to connote filth because of its environment. Similar popular misconception of the maggot stifles its use in some very useful applications. Unlike the pig who creates and lounges in his pile the maggot can actively convert the microorganisms growing there into usable nutrients. The fly maggots don’t eat manure and decaying offal. They eat the bacteria and yeast that are degrading the waste. In my husbandry operations the insects never come in contact with offal of any kind since bacteria needed to degrade animal matter may be harmful to birds if the insects are fed out alive. This cautionary measure is standard for my insect products, live or processed, regardless of ultimate use. My larvae are grown in the vegetable waste we get from well fed dairy cows, their fresh manure. The larvae take less than a week to mature and so voraciously consume the bacteria and yeasts that the resulting detritus is fluffy and smells mildly of greenhouse.

Together these ingredients make the classic Oregon Suet Block and the companion suet products.  Although these products cost more than you are likely used to paying they are considered to be an economical buy. Besides being nutritionally superior they last three to four times longer with the same use because the quality of the dense, hard fat used. The firmness prevents the blocks breaking and falling to the ground. Over the years, as insect yields increased from my grow beds, I have steadily increased their percentage in OSB.

“By Far The Best Chicken Food!!” ~ A Customer Review

Dear Skip Cockerum,

testimonial3My Wife and I purchased four Araucana Pullets last year in March 2014. We have been using your chicken feed ever since they hatched, and they have been doing Excellent!! We have used at least 3-4 varieties of your food and they have enjoyed everyone of them.

The Hens all have full, silky feathers and are very healthy and eager for us to come feed them every day!! We used the Skipio’s Poultry Fare Caviar Blocks, Chickie Puffs, and Neo Nate when they were just Fledglings. As they have grown, they are about 15 months now, we have changed to the Skipio’s Poultry Fare Crumbles, Chicken Scratch, Dirty Grain and Chicken Treat.

The Hens are all healthy and flourishing! They are always full of energy and their egg laying seems to be quite constant. The eggs that are produced are wonderful and taste great!! On the average, we get 3-4 eggs a day out of our four chickens. The eggs have a nice, hard shell and they also have a dark, rich yellow yolk; as compared to store bought eggs which seem to be soft shelled, break to easy, and don’t have the vibrant yellow yolk, either.

The part of the feed they like the most is the “Freeze Dried Bugs!” They will fight over each other to get the last one, they enjoy them so much!! The Chicken Food that you produce is by far the best and healthiest we have ever used for our Poultry!!

We are looking forward to the new varieties that you have coming out soon! Everyone should definitely try out your chicken food for their Poultry. They will see the difference compared to store bought food in no time!

testimonial4Thanks again,
Justin & Shandee

Soya Musca™ ~ 61.60% Protein Insect Soft Food for Your Flock

Soya Musca™ is a powdered formulation of vegetable and protein (insect) based nutrients compounded to serve as a broad spectrum, easy to use and thrifty way to easily add insect value to the aviary diet.  It has been successfully included in the diets of several hundred species of finches, softbills, hookbills, game birds, waterfowl and small mammals.

Soya Musca™ came about through a conversation with a friend who had many nice birds, mostly finches. He had been using my dehydrated insects to supplement his flock, but it became apparent that we needed to find a way to both stretch the insects and create a useful, more bulky and therefore easier to gauge product for the bird kitchen. He suggested that I use a soy flour as a carrier and that it be soy protein concentrate rather than soy protein isolate. The isolates available were too high in mineral salts including monosodium glutamate. These mineral salts had caused problems recently in other companies’ formulations. The combination of the dehydrated ground insects, soy flour and dried spirulina powder as a natural source of vitamins and minerals, makes up Soya Musca™. I started using this mixture on my own flock of finches, softbills, hookbills and fowl. I found that it was easy to incorporate Soya Musca™ into many kinds of uses and that had an easily noticeable, almost magical, improvement in the diet.

Using Soya Musca™ you can improve other brands of pablums and soft foods by simply mixing it in. Soya Musca™ moistens very easily and can be used wet or dry in combination with other foods. You can continue using your favorite brand and still get the benefits of the Skipio’s diet. As a dry powder it can be sprinkled over fruits and vegetables. When considering adding it to seed mixes, some birds will adhere and consume this combination if the seed has been oiled. Soya Musca™ can be incorporated into egg bread recipes either by mixing it in the batter or powdering the breads after their baked. It can also be mixed in with nectar gels, but caution should be taken to keep those preparations fresh. I have found it useful to think of Soya Musca™ as a condiment. Since I have kept a lot of softbills I used a lot of Soya Musca™ with both fresh fruits and vegetables as well as canned fruit cocktail. I also took the advice of a Skipio’s customer and used Soya Musca™ in a pint jar with a piece of fly netting secured with a rubber band over the top, sprinkling everything as if I were powdering my French toast with powdered sugar. This is more economical and covered better than using a spoon.

Many people have reported that babies raised using Soya Musca™ are very robust. They develop a good skeletal structure and a nice musculature. Their feathers are strong, colorful and they grow out beautifully. This product also helps encourage feeding among parents or fosters as well as aids in times of feather molt. My own opinion is that these positive results are largely part is due to the lipids provided by the insects. The added nutrient value of Soya Musca™ when fed to adult breeding birds causes them to produce more eggs with seemingly enhanced viability. Soya Musca™ also most commonly makes an excellent additive of protein in any hand feeding formula (2 tbsp per 1 cup of mixed formula).

Having raised birds myself I found that the ease-of-use and adaptability, applicability for many species and economic value makes Soya Musca™ the most valuable contribution my work has made to the bird kitchen.

The dark side: yes, even lovely, healthy, benign Soya Musca™ has a dark use. It is not inherent in the product, though. It comes from misuse. Adult birds with Soya Musca™ in their diets produce more eggs. Some years ago I heard of this misuse with Psittacines, mostly South American parrots and Aussie budgerigars. The birds were forced to over produce eggs. When I confirmed this information I became more careful about the product sale and backed off on its promotion. With proper, humane use, however, there have been nothing but enthusiastic responses from bird breeders bird keepers alike.

An example of what good can come from this product; I’ll recount the experience from another customer. These people, who have retired, were professional bird importers who brought birds from Africa. With their first use of Soya Musca™ they found a rapid improvement for their birds that were being held in quarantine. Once confident with the efficacy of Soya Musca™, kilo sized packages were carried by the owner on collection trips. His method was to buy birds along the course of a multi-country trek. When birds were purchased they were left with a supply of Soya Musca™ that was to be used in conjunction with whatever food the birds were currently eating. When the birds were collected on the return trip the birds continued on the Soya Musca™ diet through transit and quarantine. Toward the end of the life of that company the mortality rate of the imported birds was dramatically reduced. The down side of this effort was that it became quite difficult carrying a spare suit case through customs that was filled with kilo sized bags of white powder!


New Product! ~ Dirty Grain

Our newest product is here! Now in 2# and 15# sizes. Dirty Grain is part of our Poultry Fare line of foods designed for backyard chickens, other poultry and game birds. Here is the product description:

One of the reasons free range chicken eggs taste so much better than industrial farmed eggs is that the girls get out and root around in the dirt. The dirt has many of their minerals, micronutrients and it has grit. The dirt has microbes and noticeable insects. I’ve heard lots of gardeners and farmers extol the virtues of their dirt. It is with confidence and comfort I call this lovely poultry supplement Dirty Grain.

Included in this mix is non-GMO wheat and corn coarse ground along with alfalfa, flax and oyster-shell. Into this base I blend fine powdered kelp and powdered spirulina. This blend is coated with pure rendered beef kidney suet. I think the use of this particular animal fat is very good for laying hens. Fat is necessary to make cell walls. The chicken egg is the largest single cells we are commonly in contact with. To use fine animal fat (and this is as good as it gets) for this purpose simply makes good sense. Next, coarse ground dehydrated Musca domestica larvae and pupae that were grown and processed at my insectary. The insect particles stick to the greasy grain particles and give the “dirty look”. Every peck gives most all of what is offered.

One of the tricks I’ve used over the years is to employ the ultraviolet reflectivity of the pupae. Many natural foods reflect UV and bird’s eyes can detect it. They also know that it generally means there is something to eat. So I add dry pupae to act as little beacons enticing the birds to investigate.

Last year my cousin Dave, who is a superb baker, made a huge batch of canolis for desert for a family party. They looked to me very much like housefly pupae cases or shells from which the adult insect had emerged and left behind. Dave filled his shells with luscious creams, cheese and fruit. Now while the empty pupae cases do not have the same nutritional benefit of the whole insect there is significant value none the less. That dessert prompted me to try to fill the empty pupae cases because I knew the birds already liked them. I worked up a technique for “loading” additional nutrition, spirulina and kelp, into the empty shells. These nutritious UV reflective gems are the finishing touch to Dirty Grain. They catch the bird’s attention and excite them to feast.

As usual we have the quality on the inside of the bag where it belongs. Our packaging is selected to protect and preserve the food. The labels are simple, clear, legal and accurate.

Insect Culture as a Social Driver

Widespread acceptance of insectary viability is here. We are at beginning of acceptance of farmed insect products with many applications and forms.

This new resource availability will be a societal driver, not responder, and time is on the side of development. Attitudes toward insect consumption will adjust. Early reactions will not matter much as the needs grow and we get used to its uses.

Insectary based husbandry can replace fish meal’s expensive infrastructure of vast fleets and shore support, cheaply and sustainably.  Development  will be in hands of small holders widely spread instead of mega companies. Commercial quantities of insect materials are attainable with low investment, local labor and local substrate sourcing with husbandry performed in rural or urban settings.


What is Musca Domestica?

Musca domestica is one of the most widely distributed organisms on earth and occupies a basic position in the food chain. It is in every stage of its life cycle food for some other animal or plant. If for some reason an insect population fails, all that consume them suffer diminished fecundity and possible starvation. If the insect population is robust and the other myriad environmental factors aren’t weakening the system, reproduction and survival can be wildly successful. Far from disgusting, this little bug is noble and is consumed with alacrity by Rothschild’s Pheasants straight from the jungle, penny-sized frogs, aquarium & pond fish, and canaries captive-bred for generations. The housefly in its several forms will not fill every nitch in live feeder insect use, but it will fill many better than anything else available so far.

Insect-eating birds are generally brought into peak breeding condition by eating the foods that are best suited for rearing their young. The effect of that food is not limited to just its nutritional value. Abundant availability of the right food has a positive effect beyond nutrirional concerns and has real environmental and behavioral significance for captive breeding birds. Adult birds that have some live, soft wriggling larvae, knowing that their young will thrive on just such a food, seem to have a heightened sense of confidence that results in better and more fertile eggs. Since the attractive live larvae are exactly what the chicks need, they start eating far sooner than if left to figure out that they should peck a lethargic or headless bettle nymph or some grain compound. Another noticable behavioral change with the use of dry fly pupae is a reduction in feather picking and cannibalism among adult birds.

Image14As a feeder insect, the two most useful of the developmental stages of the housefly are the larvae (maggot) and the pupae (cocoon). They are simple creatures comprised of excellent material. Their substance, over a period of time as brief as one hundred hours, allows for the metamorphosis of a simple “eating machine” into a complicated and elegant master of the earth. That substance has valuable proteins, 18.5% in live larvae, and lipids. During metamorphosis amazing chemical changes take place. From larvae to pupae the Vitamin A content increases five and a half times, and Vitamin C, 12 times. A calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1:1 is supposed to be best for birds. In the most common feeder insects the C:P’s are: cricket, 1:2, meal worm, 1:13.5, and housefly 1:3.4. A C:P ratio of 1:1 was achieved by Allen and Oftedal for crickets, and I regularly augment housefly larvae to 1:2.5.

But, all of that goodness is of little use if they are too difficult to find, use, control, or are too expensive. Use the correct feeding techniques, avoid overfeeding, and there will be no need to worry about the ambient fly population increasing. If properly handled, shipped and cared for, housefly larvae will keep well for up to three weeks. It is important that the fly larvae be raised on a vegetable diet. If the maggot eats meat, it may have contact with the bacteria associated with droopneck (Clostridium botulinum). A vegetable diet for the larvae eliminates this worry. Another application for the fly is as adult on the wing. If that is the case, like for certain waterfowl or reptiles, adult flies will emerge from live larvae if they are left to pupae in several days. In the eighteen years that I have studied and bred these amazing four-wingers, others have fed them out in all the stages and presentations I’ve mentioned above to nearly two hundred species of birds. The birds appeared to be healthier for it, producing more and better offspring. This fly is a splendid tool for the aviculturist. It works very well, is economical and the existing delivery system insures that they arrive in perfect condition. The informed use of Musca domestica in captive breeding programs is helpful in numerous ways.

Over the years I have developed quite a few processed foods for birds and fish that all contain a significant quantity of processed insect material. Unlike the manufacturers of most of the world’s other bird and fish foods, we at Skipio’s™ have had the ability to start with the insects to produce foods for insectavores rather than using a vegetable base source of nutrients. Some of our results follow as the Skipio’s™ Aviary Supplements and Wild Bird Food products. Further research and development of our work is continuing at our Oregon insectary.

F.L. Cockerum

fly-on-flowerHandling Instructions for Musca domestica

These Skipio’s™ live Musca domestica larvae (maggots, gentles, wrigglers) have been specifically grown for shipment as live food.

Open the package immediately upon arrival.
If any claims are to be placed they must be made on the date of delivery.

Usually the live larvae will arrive in good condition by overnight shipment. In the event that the larvae are quite warm or hot, the first action you should take is to cool them down. This may be accomplished by placing the unopened bag on a rack in the refrigerator. In the event that the bag is hot, wet and stinky, but otherwise OK, rinse the unopened bag under cool flowing water until the water is mostly clear. The bag should then be centrifuged in the spin cycle of the clothes washer for about two minutes.

Each batch of larvae should be processed into new corn meal. The corn meal should be ready for use by having it at room temperature when the larvae arrive. Tear the bag open and dump the contents out onto the surface of the corn meal. Leave the container out in direct light until the larvae, who do not like being in the light, have crawled under the surface of the meal. Then scrape the packing material and other refuse off of the meal with a stiff card.

Refrigerate the container for several hours. The larvae will clump together to preserve their body heat as they cool. Stir them all around to break up their clusters. This will insure that they will all get the air necessary to keep them alive and well.

Take out only the number of larvae that you will be using for the feeding. If the whole mass is allowed to warm up repeatedly the optimum shelf life of the larvae, about three weeks under ideal circumstances, will be significantly reduced.

Insect Food For Fish

We have used Musca domestica for fish food successfully off and on for over twenty years. These applications have included live, dried, and frozen larvae and pupae as well as a custom made fry ration. The fish fed in these applications were various fresh water aquarium fish, pond raised trout, laboratory raised salmon and koi.

The aquarium fish most closely observed were Discus and Oscars although several dozen species have been tested with the insects. All of the fish seemed to find the insects palatable and digestible and had no initial difficulty recognizing the offering as food. It was determined that live or frozen larvae would be of particular use as a food source for Oscars from one to three inches. The Discus were fed dried larvae “gut loaded” with canthaxanthin. Over a period of several weeks the colors of the fish improved considerably with particular enhancement of the reds.

Rainbow trout hatched and grown for commercial fishing ponds grew rapidly on dried larvae and an experimental fry food. The free swimming fry grew to an average length of three inches in sixty days. The mortality rates during the trials were one tenth that reported by the hatchery when compared with rearing cycles using similar procedures with their standard foods. The duration of their standard rearing cycle with regular food was ninety days to achieve the same three inch length.

Our firm provided dehydrated insects for nutrition and growth rate experiments by the US Bureau of Fisheries Colombia River Research Station. The results were reported as positive. Other Northwest researchers have speculated that the introduction of the insects to the hatchery raised fish before their release into wild waters would familiarize the smolt with the smell, look and taste of natural foods thereby enhancing their viability. Frozen loaded larvae may be useful in hatcheries for substance delivery.

Our experience with koi spans a little more than five years. Most of the feeding has been in test tanks and lined pools. The insect materials studied consisted of plain and loaded dehydrated larvae and frozen loaded larvae. Although we were actively watching the progress and results of the koi trials we did not perform the work. Study done in England reported that it was apparently not possible to feed so much of the canthaxanthin loaded larvae that the fish were harmed. Japanese researchers have allowed possible benefit from their use and continue observations.