Until I relocated to a small city in rural California I never even conceived of people raising chickens for themselves. Moving boxes into my little house that first day, I remember hearing the rustling of ruffled feathers and warbling coos of a chicken coop out of sight behind my neighbor’s hedges.
I think the first chicken I ever handled was the one that strayed into my backyard (which I’m quite impressed I caught without injury to the hen in question or myself) and returned to very appreciative parents next door. Soon it wasn’t out of place to see a multicolored chicken run across any given residential street on my way to the grocery store.
People living in semi-rural and urban locations are raising their own chickens and building their own coops. It’s a trend that is spreading remarkably fast and cities are adapting to the demand. Instead of running to the market for mass produced eggs that seem to fluctuate randomly in price these days, you can simply walk out and collect the morning’s eggs from your backyard’s chicken coup.
Benefits (what do you get out of it)
The benefits of urban or backyard chicken raising are simple. You and your family will benefit from fresh eggs and meat (if you don’t become too attached your feathered friends). If you have also ventured into gardening, chicken dropping make for great fertilizer.
Then there is the educational element for the kids. A flock of chickens will provide for a number of ready-made science project topics with the laboratory right there in the backyard. And chickens are quiet! According to one chicken raising blogger, her neighbors had no idea she was raising chickens until one leaped a six foot fence and wandered in through an open kitchen door.
Of course, roosters are a completely different story and they are not necessary to have unless you plan on actually breeding chicks.
What does it take to build your own chicken coop?
Looking To Build Your Own Chicken Coop?
Housing (Free range or Coup Living)
One of the first decisions to make is whether your flock will be free range or will you provide them with comfortable condo living space?
Free range is the trend in healthy, happy chicken products as we’d all much rather envision our grocery store chickens’ lives being spent roaming around a grassy field rather then stuffed into shoebox sized cages piled one on top of another. But when it comes to a group of chickens pecking their way around your backyard that idyllic free ranging vision may find itself challenged when they dig up potted plants and garden veggies for roosting and adorn patios and outdoor furniture with chicken poo.
Don’t feel bad if free ranging is something neither you or your yard can handle. It doesn’t mean your flock can’t have some nice digs they can call home.
For a chicken coop, first decide on a cool and dry location. You want it shaded from the sun with decent drainage against rainstorms and snow melt. Next, the flock’s new home needs to be big enough. The rule of thumb is 10sqft per bird.
Design the coop with an enclosed roosting area, usually off the ground, a ramp leading down to a run area with latching doors, all framed and enclosed with hard-wire mesh, not chicken wire. The hard-wire mesh will keep predators like raccoons, snakes and raptors out. Construct the enclosed roosting area and nesting boxes with slide out, droppings trays for easier cleaning.
Some suggest making the entire coop large enough for a person to step inside to clean all areas. Even though you spent the time, effort and money to construct a grand coop for your new flock, let them out to roam the backyard from time to time to scratch about and hunt for bugs.
Their Needs (Yes, the chickens!)
Food and water, chickens eat and drink a lot so it is important they have plenty of clean, cool, poop-free water and nutritious food. Cracked corn and grains do not make up a well rounded diet for a chicken. Today’s pampered, backyard fowl have dietary needs that change with each life stage much like other household animals you keep. In case you were not aware, chickens live on average 8-10 years.
Provide them with a dust bath area. Dust baths are essentially a chicken’s daily shower and help them control parasites like lice and mites, something you will also need to check them for at set intervals. Chicken raising enthusiasts find sand works quite well for these bath areas.
Speaking of parasite control and general health of your flock, plan for dealing with sick or injured birds by keeping a stocked first aid kit close at hand and arranging for a standby isolation area for those in need of attention. You will also have to learn how to trim wings. It sounds much worse than it actually is, which turns out to be no more traumatic for the hen than it is for a dog or cat having their claws trimmed.
Some Stray Pieces of Advice
- Seek out only reputable breeders for your new brood as opposed to those sold at auctions
- Choose chicken breeds that are accustomed to the climate in which you live and have the temperament and adaptations for the type of rearing environment they will call home. This backyard chicken raising expert has compiled a list of breeds to get you started.
- Don’t be surprised when egg laying tapers off during winter months. This is a natural trend brought on by fewer daylight hours at that time of year. Installing a light in the coop can counter some of that seasonal drop in egg production.
- Egg production will also drop off somewhat with age beginning around five years of age.
- Home raised chicken eggs do not require immediate refrigeration. Eggs have a natural coating that covers and fills the shells pores preventing spoilage. But this only holds true if this coating is not rubbed or washed off. Some chicken raising homesteaders are known to keep unwashed eggs out on the counter for up to a week but you have to be the ultimate judge as to what you are comfortable with.
- Your chickens will imprint on family members, following you around the yard and do enjoy cuddling with the kids and the family dog.