A chicken’s needs are few, and pretty simple–yet these are things they MUST have if you are going to keep chickens and not expect to find them horribly killed and strewn about your yard one fine morning.
Coop– Basically a small shed, with some chicken accoutrements such as roosts, food & water containers and nest boxes, secure against predators and vermin. Used to securely house your chickens at night, during the day as a nesting area.
Run–Protected outdoor space, with a secondary set of food & water containers if needed, safe from predators.
Basically that’s it.
Chicken Housing Explained
I've always said that the Chicken Mantra is: "If it's possible for a chicken to hurt
itself on something, somehow it will find a way." This means that when you build
a coop you should literally get down at chicken level and use your eyes and hands
to seek out sharp points, dangerous wire edges, loose bits of wire to get tangled
in, etc. This simple procedure can save you a lot of grief and vet bills. It's ridiculous
how often and how quickly chickens can get into trouble, just like a two year old
In building the coop, at our house we use hardware cloth-
Chickens sleep pretty soundly at night and have poor night vision. Also, chickens being a prey animal, they display the prey animal trait of seeming to just give up, go into a trance and accept their fate the moment they feel a predator has them and they cannot get away.
Also when building the coop, make sure to extend the fencing 4-
Make sure to build your coop to withstand the weather extremes for your area-
Adequate roosts should be placed-
If it gets very cold, consider having a single roost area where the birds have to
huddle together, it will help eliminate single birds freezing to death or getting
frostbitten. Your birds will instinctively want to go to the highest point to roost,
so the upper roosts may be squabbled over. To eliminate this particular sticking
point, we use a single level roost with 4-
Nests should also be plentiful, provide a nice darkened hidey-
Because a LOT of the time they’ll do this–this is FIVE hens in one nest box:
To make matters worse, your laying hens think broodies are just fine and dandy and will helpfully ALSO cram in there to lay their eggs so that the broods can hatch them. Problems, is, the broods refuse to vacate the nest boxes while the laying hens are in there, so you end up with a situation like the one above. In the picture above, only the tiny black Silkie hen all the way in the back is laying an egg, the rest of the girls in this shot were broody. Now mind you, I had SIX identical nest boxes–but no, only THIS ONE would do.
I recently spoke to someone whose hens refused to lay in the nest boxes-
I like wooden nest boxes, built with about a 3 inch lip on the front to help contain
nesting material–hens tend to fuss and kick around in a nest, making the perfect
well for eggs. The lip also helps keep eggs from rolling out. In addition to making
my nests nice and deep front to back, I like to hang a curtain of what is called
‘shade cloth’ or the front of the boxes, with a slightly V-
Heck, even roosters LOVE to get in on nesting. The roos will climb in, snuggle around in the nest and chuckle and burble charmingly to attract the hens. This makes the hens nuts and they eagerly climb right in there with him.
In the photos here Weedcat, my Giant Cochin rooster, called in two other hens–Bug the Americaunas and Kiev, a gray Giant Cochin–into the next box he was already in. We already knew that chickens love to do this, so we planned ahead and built these nest boxes big!
It got to be like telephone booth stuffing after a while. Here is another Giant Cochin hen, seen here waiting until her sister had stuffed her fluffy butt into the nest. They successfully stuffed 4 large chickens into one nest box.
Quarantine, Broody Hen Pens And Injured Bird Pens
It's a REALLY good idea to have at least one separate, small enclosure for sick or injured birds, at the very least. Because sooner of later you'll have one, at the most inconvenient time possible. It's best to build it so the bird can remain in it 24/7, so it needs to be secure at night. Anything other than a contagious or quarantined bird can have a separate run built right into your existing coop or run, you can skip the burying wire step since it will already be inside your secure coop/run. This is great for injured birds and broody mamas with chicks, that way they are around the flock but safe from bullies. Any pens should be complete with a nest box and a roost or two, although roosts that can be removed are a good idea in case you have an injured bird that is restricted from roosting.
Sick birds or new birds to your flock that you are quarantining are another matter. You need to be prepared for this and be ready to either bring them into your house or garage, or build them a secure pen AWAY from your flock and where your flock cannot get near them in case they might catch whatever illness your sick bird has. Your quarantine/sick pen MUST be secure, complete with buried wire.
Cleaning And Sanitizing The Coop
One handy tool for keeping your coop, roosts, nest boxes and food-
When I use my cleaner I fill it as directed-
Despite that very fun little mental image you have, a chicken tractor is NOT a miniature John Deere with a big rooster at the wheel.
A chicken tractor is a small, low, long enclosed chicken run designed to hold anywhere
Make sure to keep your chicks VERY well protected in the tractor, predators are VERY
patient and clever about getting a chicken dinner, especially at night. Chicken tractors,
by design, are meant to be daytime runs ONLY and are NOT secure enough to withstand
an attack by a predator. Predators are adept at tunneling under wire and reaching
through it, or just plain ripping through things like chicken wire, which is NOT
designing to keep chickens safe. Chicken wire is designed to keep chickens out of
gardens, and is NOT strong enough to protect your birds from any predator. To make
matters worse, chicken wire quickly becomes brittle when exposed to the elements.
So if you build your own chicken tractor, PLEASE use only the best and sturdiest
If you build your tractor, one thing to take into consideration is that at some point,
it is very likely you will need to get YOURSELF into the tractor to go after a trapped,
injured or sick bird. Leave yourself some crawling room. It's also another reason
to have tame birds that are accustomed to being picked up and held or petted. If
you are planning to raise chicks-
There are plenty of sites and plans online for chicken tractors, you can also search
on 'permaculture' and 'hoophouses' for more results and how-
Great article not only on chicken coops and tractors, but on people in urban areas keeping a few hens:
The Omlet site, they sell pre-
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