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How to House Chickens in Your Backyard

LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.

We keep our chickens' scratch mix in a metal bin. Is it a clever hen or a lazy one who chooses to sit on it when all the others are free ranging? LOL.

We keep our chickens' scratch mix in a metal bin. Is it a clever hen or a lazy one who chooses to sit on it when all the others are free ranging? LOL.

A Henhouse for Backyard Chickens

Have you always wanted to have chickens in your backyard and fresh eggs for breakfast? An increasing number of city and town backyards are now home to hens. Keeping chickens in your backyard is not always as easy as you'd like to think.

What About Clipping Chicken Wings?

Many people advise clipping the wings of backyard chickens to stop them from wandering. Wing clipping is certainly an option, but in my experience, it is too difficult for most new chicken owners to catch their birds and clip their wings effectively. It is not pleasant for the chickens and no fun for their owners.

Even if your chickens can't fly, they can still cause mayhem and chaos in a suburban backyard. So, how will you protect your garden? A chicken run in the backyard attached to the hen's house could be your best option.

Chickens are great when they stay in your backyard. But what can you do when they fly over your fences or jump up and over your gates?

Chickens are great when they stay in your backyard. But what can you do when they fly over your fences or jump up and over your gates?

Different Runs for Chickens in the Backyard

Choosing the best option from many different runs for chickens kept in backyards requires you to think carefully about your home, your yard, your family, and exactly what role your chickens will have in your life.

If you want to keep your chickens at a distance from your house, tucked away in the bottom of your backyard, you'll need a different size and type of run than one chosen by a family intending to keep chickens as pets.

Do you have cats in your own home or nearby houses and fear they may attack your chickens even during daylight? Will your family dog adopt the chickens and keep them safe from predators? These are the kinds of issues you need to think through when assessing different runs for chickens in your backyard.

Brilliant at controlling pests—but with big, strong legs—this is the main offender when my seedlings are scratched from the garden.

Brilliant at controlling pests—but with big, strong legs—this is the main offender when my seedlings are scratched from the garden.

How Safe Is Your Backyard for Chickens?

What kind of chickens do you intend to keep, and how many? Do you expect your breed of hens to be adventurous and fly over fences into other backyards where they are not welcome? If so, you'll need wire covering your chicken run. Or, perhaps you have your eye on ground-dwelling Silkies less likely to jump your boundary fences.

Free-ranging hens can happily wander unattended through a backyard and return to a small hen house to roost if that's what suits your lifestyle. Lock them up at night to keep them safe from predators, and let them run free again each morning.

Backyard Chickens for Pest Control

Aside from the obvious advantage of fresh eggs for breakfast, keeping a couple of chickens in your backyard can help with pest control.

The variety of hens you choose will influence their effectiveness in your garden, but in theory, chickens can help control the following pests:

  • Flies
  • Fruitfly
  • Mosquitoes
  • Grasshoppers
  • Millipedes
  • Earwigs
  • Scorpions
  • Spiders
  • Ticks
  • Worms/caterpillars that attack apple trees, cherry trees, etc
  • White cabbage moths and their larvae

The Disadvantages of Pecking and Scratching

Free-ranging chickens can be very effective pest controllers. To control pests, however, chickens do two things: They peck and they scratch. Big hens with big feet on strong legs can make a mess of garden beds as they scratch looking for worms and other food. Hungry chickens will peck and eat your lettuce and tomatoes and other foods growing in your garden as well as the caterpillars and flying bugs they may find on the leaves.

If you don't want your chickens to have access to your entire backyard, you will need to build them a run. Your other option is to effectively fence your vegetable garden.

Fine-Tuning Your Hen House

It is difficult to anticipate precisely how your hens, roosters, and baby chicks will cope with changing seasons and their new living quarters, but there are a few obvious factors you'll need to take into account.

Shelter From Rain and Sun

For instance, sometimes you'll have heavy rain. The space beneath the hen house in our most recent design has proven extremely useful for the fowl to take shelter. Similarly, in the summer heat, there needs to be shelter from the sun. In addition to the space beneath their house, at the first sign of spring, we added blue shade cloth to provide additional cover over the fenced area near the entry.

Stairs for Adults, Ramps for Chicks

The stairs have been fun for the larger birds, but once winter passed, we replaced the steps with a ramp, one that was better suited to accommodate baby chicks.

Nets to Protect the Garden

In order to protect the seedlings in our vegetable gardens, we covered the entire chicken run in nets. (I am not a fan of clipping their wings.) Our poultry will be confined to their house and outdoor run until the gardens are safe for free-ranging again. Meanwhile, we bring clumps of fresh grass and other greens to them and treat them to grain and seeds.

Despite the general success of the original house and run design, we have definitely found a need for fine-tuning. Our free-ranging hens and roosters can fly over even the highest fences.

Silkies have beautiful feathers and soft, lovely temperaments. These backyard chickens make good family pets.

Silkies have beautiful feathers and soft, lovely temperaments. These backyard chickens make good family pets.

Best Backyard Chickens: Silkies

My best recommendation for anyone keeping chickens in the backyard for the first time is to choose Silkies. Begin with this small, friendly, well-behaved breed of chicken (compared other breeds), and then expand your flock with other varieties once you become more experienced and confident.

Top Reasons for Raising Silkies

Silkies offer many advantages if you want backyard chickens.

  • Silkies rarely fly.
  • They are not likely to be aggressive.
  • They are lovely and soft to touch and hold.
  • Their eggs are small but tasty.

Other Great Aspects of This Breed

Equally important:

  • Silkies have feathers on their feet, so they are less likely to scratch your garden.
  • Their size means they eat less if you are buying layer's mash or pellets instead of letting them free-range.
  • Silkies are good mothers and will even sit on a larger hen's eggs. When the time comes to expand your flock, you can purchase fertile eggs for a Silkie to hatch.
  • Silkie roosters are just as cute and lovely as the hens, unlike larger varieties whose roosters can be far more intimidating to inexperienced chicken owners.
  • You don't need a big backyard to raise Silkies.
How many eggs are too many eggs? When your backyard chickens are laying in peak production periods, you have to be prepared to eat, store or dispose of excess eggs.

How many eggs are too many eggs? When your backyard chickens are laying in peak production periods, you have to be prepared to eat, store or dispose of excess eggs.

How Many Backyard Chickens Do You Need?

If you are keeping backyard chickens for the first time, I strongly suggest you start with just two hens. You might have to buy extra eggs during the colder months, but you can always add more chickens to your backyard flock in future years. Most backyards can accommodate two chickens, and most families can cope with two eggs a day.

Before you rush out and buy six, eight, or ten cute little chicks to bring home and raise with the dream of supplying your family and friends with fresh eggs, I suggest you give thought to exactly what you will do with an excess of eggs during the peak laying season. Those of us who keep many hens know that there comes a time every year when you're suddenly overwhelmed with more eggs than you can possibly use.

How to Deal With Too Many Eggs

In my home, when our chickens are busy laying one egg each per day, I write the date each egg is collected on the eggshell in pencil before putting it in the fridge. Instead of eating 'the oldest eggs first' as people tend to do when trained to look at use-by dates on supermarket products, we always eat the freshest first.

Any old eggs are fed to our pigs. But if you don't have backyard pigs as well as backyard chickens, you may well find that during spring and summer you have too many eggs to give away and no real hope of eating them within the three months they'll keep in your refrigerator. Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs, quiches . . . there are lots of ways you can eat them, but sooner or later everyone grows tired of too many eggs.

Proud Indonesian Jungle Fowl rooster with his family. Not the best choice for backyard chickens. They fly too well to contain in a small backyard.

Proud Indonesian Jungle Fowl rooster with his family. Not the best choice for backyard chickens. They fly too well to contain in a small backyard.

Check for Danger Before Locking Your Chickens Up at Night

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2013 LongTimeMother


LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 26, 2015:

Hello Kelsey. My girls are all happy with their hen house and run. It is winter now so they spend most days out in the gardens cleaning up for next spring. :)

Best wishes to your mother.

Kelsey Elise Farrell from Orange County, CA on May 26, 2015:

Awesome hub, I'll be passing along to my mom who just moved onto a farm with a chicken coop. She has yet to make the spring for the chickens, but she'll find this useful for sure.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 13, 2014:

Thanks, everyone. I missed the fun of discovering I had Hub of the Day on the day itself. I was in hospital with a leg injury.

I appreciate the comments and encouragement. Thanks again!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 10, 2014:

Great hub! Love those Silkies ... I want some too. Congrats on the HOTD ...well done.

Better Yourself from North Carolina on April 10, 2014:

Love your hub and congrats on HOTD! I would love to have Chickens some day but right now we have 4 dogs to keep us busy. This is really helpful for people considering getting Chickens and whether they will be able to manage the responsibility.

Nancy McLendon Scott from Georgia on April 10, 2014:

Wonderful! Excellent, informative information. Your hub also brings back some beautiful childhood memories. My grandmother, who lived with us until she died at 95, raised chickens for years (along with a lovely vegetable garden). Somewhere are pictures of me as a two or three-year-old feeding the chickens.....when the chickens wandered into my grandmother's garden, her dog Bubbles would obediently chase them back to their chicken yard area. I didn't like the times when they had to be killed (Ugh) although I surely liked the fresh fried chicken. worries about hormones or other additives in the chicken....I've thought about trying to raise a few myself, but haven't figured out how to get past the slaughtering part....oh, well, maybe I could just raise the chickens for eggs!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 10, 2014:

I'm back to say congratulations on HOTD! Well done!

theBAT on April 10, 2014:

Hi I enjoyed reading your hub. Having backyard chickens and hen houses is a very practical idea. Hope to read more of your hubs. Thanks.

moonlake from America on April 10, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD. Love your chickens and enjoyed your hub. We had chickens at one time. We buy fresh eggs now.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on April 10, 2014:

So pleased to see your hub was chosen for HOTD, LTM. You deserve it for this very informational article. One of my first memories of going barefoot was stepping in some fresh chicken manure. You don't forget something like that very quickly. LOL!

I'm considering getting a few hens and maybe some goats in the near future. This hub will help me a lot.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on April 10, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD. I have three backyard hens that live in a 6'x20' old dog run that I converted into a chicken pen, with a 3'x4' chicken coop inside the pen that I lock them into every night. After one hen kept flying out of the pen - despite a 6-foot high fence - and laying eggs in the garden, we put a top over the pen. Problem solved. Love the fresh eggs, and the chickens make such entertaining pets.

RTalloni on April 10, 2014:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this useful post on raising chickens in the backyard! I would do it just for the pest control you mention, but you can't beat fresh eggs, excuse the pun. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on January 03, 2014:

Hello Alise-Evon. It is summer here and I have more baby chickens than I thought possible. The new hen house has proven a great success. I will take some photos and post an update. lol.

Alise- Evon on January 02, 2014:

Really interesting, as usual, LongTimeMother! I love your photos- those Silkies sure are cute!

Voted interesting and useful.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on December 01, 2013:

Thanks, DDE. I'm pleased you enjoy reading them. I enjoy writing them. lol. :)

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 01, 2013:

Backyard Chickens and Hen Houses great hub here and so interesting. You have such lovely photos and a created an informative hub in detail.I enjoy reading your hubs.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 15, 2013:

Hello aviannovice. As long as you're getting fresh healthy eggs, that's the main thing. :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on November 15, 2013:

I wish I could do this, especially here in OK where the winters are pretty mild. I've been buying eggs from a friend for a couple of years now, and that was one of the smartest choices that I ever made.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 08, 2013:

Hi teaches12345. Few pets are as helpful as a cute little silkie. Maybe one day you'll have the chance to get one. :)

Dianna Mendez on November 07, 2013:

I only wish I could have chickens in my back yard. I used to get fresh eggs from a neighbor back home - they are so tasty. Love the silkies, but I would only keep it as a pet.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 05, 2013:

Thank you, My Cook Book. We moved the chickens into their new house tonight. :)

Dil Vil from India on November 04, 2013:

Nice hub. It is interesting and useful Thank you for sharing.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 04, 2013:

It costs nothing to dream, Ginger. You can always be a country girl at heart!!

ExpectGreatThings from Illinois on November 03, 2013:

Another hub of yours that makes me wish I lived in the country! Those silkies are adorable :) Great hub! - Ginger

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 03, 2013:

Hi Jackie. You can't beat the taste of a truly fresh egg. I hope they start laying soon. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 03, 2013:

Jodah, you are very kind. I agree with you about Pekins. They are also a good choice for children. Thanks for your feedback!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 03, 2013:

Hi FlourishAnyway. I've never heard a small farm being called a farmette before. How creative!! Pigs love eggs. It's fun to watch them crunch them and then move really quickly trying to catch all the drips. :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 02, 2013:

Very interesting, I got 3 chicks this fall and they are about ready lay I think. Sure look forward to it.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on November 02, 2013:

It's always great to read a hub of someone who's really speaking from experience. Very clear and easy to read, and very good advice for anyone new to poultry raising. Nothing beats fresh home laid eggs. Another beautiful and very friendly breed are Pekins. We have had both silkies and Pekins, and both are quiet small breeds ideal for children.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 02, 2013:

This is a beautifully written and detailed hub with excellent photos of your building process. I like your idea about writing the date on the eggs and giving extras to pigs. I will share that with my brother who has chickens, pigs, a cow, a donkey, and more critters in a "farmette." I sure wish I could have chickens, but I like in the suburbs and there are rules against it. I do dream, however. Voted up and more, plus pinned.