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.

Richard McGinnis built this coop with attached run, which the chickens enter through a hole in the floor of the coop.

 

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.

Feeding layers

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.

Health

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.

Older hens

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.

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  • By: Hannah

    This was a thoroughly well written article. I also really got a kick out of Nancy Storer's comment; what a funny trick for your chickens! My mom has always wanted chickens, but our homeowners association doesn't allow them. Fortunately, we've found a loophole! A friend recently gave us two Serama chickens, which are a Malaysian variety of bantam, and they live in a cage in our living room! Their names are Doc (John Henry Holliday) and Dottie (Dorothy). It's been so much fun having them, and I can't wait for the tiny little eggs to show up this August or September.

  • By: sonia

    My family and I raise chickens for the egg production and the mobile coops work wonders for keeping them on fresh grass and to fertilize your lawn or literally clear weeds and grass for new flowerbeds lol. Chickens make wonderful pets too. The "friendliest" breed I have found is by far the Buff Orpingtons… they're fairly hearty and lay during the winter when most breeds prefer the warmer months.

  • By: Jean

    We have 3 dozen chickens including 7 roosters. There are several varieties and include both regular and bantam sizes. Each with a unique personality! We plant extra garden so that if the chickens choose something for their 'dinner'; there is still plenty for us. When we go out and free range the chickens and feed them scraps and treats, we call it chicken TV since ther is comedy, drama, soap operas. amd even the news of the day. We have enough eggs to sell most weeks and they are delicious and brightly colored. The neighboring children love eating the little eggs from the bantam chickens!

  • By: Nancy Storer

    My family and I raise chickens, and by far the most excellent breed has proven to be the Americauna. They are bright and friendly, and follow us around the yard. They are not skittish, and have been known to chase a hawk away from the chicks more than once. And more importantly, once shown where they can or cannot eat/scratch in the yard, they are actually quite good at following directions. Our oldest hen, Chrysanthemum, has also passed on a funny trait through the last 8 generations of chickens. Because she was raised initially in the house, and let outside through the sliding glass doors to the deck, she knows that if she "knocks" (pecks, in chicken)on the same doors that I will come and provide her with a snack and a scratch. Thus, all of her chicks have learned to do the same. It is quite a conversation maker at parties. The other breeds have not figured it out yet, and they often look bemused when they see her and her daughters getting extra snacks and attention. Happy Farming!

  • By: Greg Nunes

    We have had our chickens,( 2 Gingernut Rangers), for about 6 months and are very happy with them. They are very friendly and come running towards me when ever I go outside hoping that I am coming to them with scraps.

  • By: backyard chickens Ke

    I find it that all of my chickens will live much longer if you give them a lot of room to run around and scratch. Free range chickens is only natural and by having them cooped up, you can really tell that the taste of the eggs are much less tastey. Just my thoughts, I am very picky when it comes to having the best eggs. Thanks for the post :)

  • By: Deborah Niemann

    You are absolutely right about them seeing color, Leigh. In fact, birds can actually see color more vividly than humans. It has to do with the ratio of cones and rods in their eyes, which determines an animal's ability to see color, which is in direct opposition to the quality of their night vision. Just as a dog has excellent night vision but only sees in black and white, a chicken has excellent color perception but is practically blind at night.

  • By: Leigh

    LOVE the red and yellow house! Such wonderful craftsmanship!

    I also feed our chickens kitchen scraps; anything from potato peelings to fruitcake! They seem to be able to see colors as they always go for any kind of berry first. The only thing I never give them is leftover chicken products like chicken soup, etc. Very bad biodynamics!

  • By: Kathleen

    Fantastic article!!! Now that I am in my house with a large yard, and a garden plot just waiting for me to get settled, I am thinking about chickens…..we are allowed to have 6 chickens in our neighborhood….. I thinks next spring is going to be an education like I have never had before. Thanks again for the article.

  • By: Jean Taylor

    On a 70's Post-Hippie life sustainable farms, I had 100 chickens – selling about 20 dozen a week. Turkeys, Guineas, Geese, and Ducks are also very easy to keep should you not have severe predator problems. Both Geese and Guineas make fantastic watch "dogs." Wanted to pass along a couple of hints about eggs: unwashed, they will keep for several weeks – even out of the fridge. Google the matter for more info. Additionally, should your shells seem weak (or have Feather picking or egg cannibalism) – get thee to a bag of Oyster shells. They love having them and work wonders for both them and the shells. My favorite small farm/backyard shelter is: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=chick+n+
    But also have a Chick n Hutch: http://www.google.com/products/catalog?q=chick+n+… which have available attached runs. Neither of these will hold more then a few "Happy" hens but are perfect for a small family operation. For those in the Kuntry' Country – the greatest thing about free-ranging birds is that they will end your tick and/or chigger infestations. No Joke!!

  • By: Nancy McGee

    We love our chickens! We have 2 Delawares here in Freeport, NY. They started laying this week! They are a lot less work than we anticipated, except that they really do eat everything in the yard. We like letting them roam free around the yard when we're out there, though. The destruction is worth watching them play with my daughter and her great-grandmother! :) Four generations and 2 chickens — you just can't beat it!

  • By: Andrea Duke

    Thanks for the nice article. I have wanted a few chickens for several years now, but just haven't gotten the nerve yet :)

  • By: Jennifer Vizzo

    I have 12 chickens; when they were younger, we always let them run loose – even at the expense of the garden. But as much as I love to see them scratching and annhiliating the creepies, they are soooooo destructive that we had to stop letting them loose. Because chickens, pea-brains that they are, don't differentiate between weeds and lettuce. If it's green, it's edible. I still give them all the kitchen scraps and even buy them apple. The best is seeing them attack an entire watermelon.

  • By: CiCi

    Keeping chickens is work, but so much less than we thought. We get more in return from them anyway – the eggs are great and they really are fun to watch.

  • By: Shel Gooch

    Nice article, Deborah. We love having our chickens. They get all our produce trim/scraps and keep the bug & mice population down. It's nice to have pest control that gives something in return!

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