How to House Chickens in Your Backyard
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.
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.
Do you keep chickens in your own backyard?
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 kinds of issues you need to think through when assessing different runs for chickens in your backyard.
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:
- worms/caterpillars that attack apple trees, cherry trees etc
- white cabbage moths and their larvae.
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.
Building a Backyard Chicken HouseClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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.
The stairs have been fun for the larger birds, but once winter passed, we replaced the steps with a ramp . . . better suited to accommodate baby chicks. 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.
Springtime Changes to the Chicken HouseClick thumbnail to view full-size
Best Backyard Chickens
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.
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
- 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
And . . .
You don't need a big backyard.
Backyard SilkiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Different Hen House and Run for Backyard ChickensClick thumbnail to view full-size
How Many Backyard Chickens Do You Need?
How many chickens do you plan to keep in your backyard?
Before you rush out and buy six, eight, 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.
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.
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. :)
How Big Is Your Backyard?
Check for Danger Before Locking Your Chickens Up at Night
- I locked a Brown Goshawk in with my chickens - How m...
I accidentally locked my poultry in their house with a hawk for a night, yet my chickens survived. Photos of the Brown Goshawk in the chicken run.
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