You’ve overcome all of the myths about chickens and decided to take the plunge and start your own backyard brood. Once the chicks are a month old or so, they are ready to move to their permanent home. So, what are you going to do for a chicken house? There have been entire books written on the subject of chicken houses, and you can find lots of plans online, so how do you figure out what’s right for you and your yard?
There are some distinct advantages and disadvantages of various housing options. The option that requires the least amount of work is a bottomless pen that is moved to fresh grass daily. The chickens fertilize the grass for you while also mowing the area where they spend the day. To learn more about how we built this movable pen for our daughter who has a tiny backyard in the city, click here.
If you want a chicken house that will add to the beauty of your yard, then a permanent structure might be more to your liking, but your coop will need to be cleaned out regularly, especially if it has a wood floor. If you don’t have a fenced yard, you will need to also create a run for your chickens, so they don’t get hit by a car or killed by predators. Richard McGinnis, publisher of Chicago’s Mindful Metropolis, built the above chicken house for his hens with with an attached run. You can check out this post for more details on Richard’s coop.
Commercial layer feeds are available in local feed stores, and because chickens are omnivores, you can give them just about anything as a treat. Stale bread or crackers tend to be a favorite, as flour is made from wheat. But you should never give them anything moldy.
Backyard hens tend to be the healthiest animals on any homestead. We’ve had a flock of about 50 hens for nine years, and I can count on one hand the number of hens that have died of natural causes. (I don’t count coyotes as a natural cause.) And we’ve never vaccinated or used medicated feed.
If you only have a few hens and see them as pets, you may be able to afford feeding them for their entire natural life, even though their egg laying will slow down considerably after they’re two years old. Three or four hens will will cost much less to feed than a medium sized dog. If you have a larger flock, however, you may decide to butcher the hens after a couple years. Although chicken and dumplings is an old-fashioned favorite for stew hens, there are plenty of other great ways to use them in cooking, which I’ll talk about in my next post!
Deborah Niemann dragged her professor husband and three children to 32 acres on a creek in the middle of nowhere in 2002 to start raising their own food organically. She blogs regularly at Antiquity Oaks, and her book, Homegrown and Handmade, comes out this fall.