Keeping chickens is really a very easy thing to do. We built our own henhouse, and this is what we learned.
How We Started Keeping Chickens
When we bought our house years ago, we did it with the idea that we would one day get animals. A few months after we moved in, I came home from work to the unmistakable sound of little chicks peeping away in a cardboard box.
My first reaction was how cute they were. They would climb over each other and struggle to keep their balance at times, but they were still adorable. After my initial reaction wore off, I realized they would need a home outside at some point because that is where they belonged, and we didn’t have a spare bedroom available for them anyway.
Planning Our Coop and Nesting Boxes
Fortunately, my wife had already done some research on how to build a chicken coop and the nesting boxes that chickens enjoy using when the eggs come calling. Being a tall guy, I decided I wanted the roof to be tall enough for me to walk in, so the design was adjusted a little bit.
We built a large coop that is about eight foot square for our initial flock of ten birds. This was a little bit bigger than what we really needed to do, but we wanted some extra room in it for them—and us—to move around in.
Cooped vs. Free-Roaming Chickens
Keeping chickens is really a very easy thing to do. Some people leave them in the coop all day while others elect to let them out and roam the yard foraging for little bugs to eat; we are in the latter group.
Chicken Coop Design Options
How to Build a Mobile Chicken Coop
Erecting a movable home for chickens can be a very simple task, and you don’t have to be an experienced handyman, either. All you need are a couple of pieces of lumber, some nails, and some chicken wire.
Simple Movable Coop
To make a movable coop, you can literally build a box or rectangle out of wood and then fully wrap it in the chicken wire. The key is to make sure the whole structure is protected by the wire because predators can find the smallest opening and jeopardize the safety of your birds.
If you make the coop small enough, you don’t even need to put a door or gate in it; just lift up a side to gain access. If you would rather put a gate in, go ahead and buy a couple of hinges, a locking kind of hardware, and some extra lumber.
Putting up a chicken tractor is even easier. If you are an outdoors person, you might be familiar with the term “lean-to.” This means that you take two means of shelter and lean them together to create a protected area inside to get out of the elements; it looks like an upside-down "V" from the ends.
When building a tractor, frame two wall sections and wrap them in the wire. Put them together and fasten them. I would suggest cutting a piece of wood to span the opening on the bottom. This piece will help stabilize the structure and give you something to fasten additional wire to.
For both types of buildings, I would also put some boxes in to keep the chickens off of the ground. They will want to nest in these boxes when they lay eggs. They also have terrible vision at night, so they will want to be off of the ground to help them feel safe.
Moving the Coop Around Your Yard
Being that these are portable structures, you can move them to areas where you might be hoping to control excess vegetation. Chicken manure is very potent, and it will burn many kinds of plants, including weeds. Being able to move these around will also simplify cleaning as well because you can just move them to a new area of the yard.
I would advise making sure you move the coops to a new spot early in the day so the chickens don’t have a hard time finding it later in the day, if you let them out. Also, make sure you put their mobile home on a flat surface, again to keep predators at bay.
Tips on Keeping Chickens
After you have built their new fancy home, your responsibilities as a chicken parent haven’t concluded yet. You will need to do what you can to keep them safe as well as provide them with food and water. If you are new to having chickens, some additional tips are included below to take care of them the best that you can.
Different Types of Chickens
One of the best parts of having chickens is the different kinds of breeds that you can choose from. We have tried four different kinds of birds over the last few years, and we certainly have our favorites.
Right now, we still have some of our original Araucanas who are way up there in chicken years. Our local feed store guy told us that the average chicken’s life span is four to five years; we have some that are past seven. We have a couple of Rhode Island Reds, one Barred Rock, and our three youngest ones are Buff Orpingtons. Out of these four breeds, the Araucanas are the friendliest ones, with the Buff Orpingtons a very close second. The Rhode Island Reds are OK, and the Barred Rocks are just not friendly at all.
Another cool thing about the Araucanas is that the shell of their eggs have different colors to them. Most of our birds lay eggs with a green tint to the shell, but they can come in pink or even a light blue. I have a photo of one of the green eggs below, next to a brown Rhode Island Red and a store egg.
Basic Chicken Husbandry
Maintaining a flock isn’t a difficult thing to do. Just like any other animal or pet, you need to keep food and water available for them. Also, be prepared to clean out their coop every week or so because the smell can get a bit overwhelming if you let it go for too long.
Every morning, we make sure they have some food and a full bowl of water and we cut them loose in the yard; it is fun to see them scratching and pecking around.
Chickens can’t sweat, so they pant when they get hot, just like dogs do. If you live in an area where it gets hot, you might want to consider installing a misting system or, at a minimum, make sure they have a bunch of shade so they don’t suffer from the heat.
What Chickens Eat: Corn Feed and Bugs
Corn is the main staple in chicken feed. For the smaller peeps, it is crushed into very small pieces so their little beaks can pick them up. As they mature, the pieces get larger and much more recognizable for humans.
One of the main reasons we let our birds roam the yard is because we don’t have to buy as much feed since they eat what they find in the yard. The other reason is it helps keep the bugs under control, and scratching around for food is what they are just wired to do.
How to Protect Chickens From Predators
The only real hazard for our birds are a few predators that wouldn’t hesitate to take one of our girls away, never to be seen again. The biggest predator to our flock over the years has been dogs. Our neighbor’s pit bulls jumped our fence once, and each of them killed a chicken before we had a chance to come outside and see what the commotion was.
Our neighbors have reported seeing coyotes and an occasional fox, but we haven’t seen any of them, even though we did lose a chicken to what we believe was a fox based on some rudimentary investigation on our part.
Being near the bottom of the food chain, chickens are under constant threat of becoming some other animal’s meal. We lock our birds up in the coop at night and when we leave, just in case. This protection is something that we weren’t completely ready for, because we never had to do it for our dogs or cats.
Free-Range Eggs Are Healthier Than Store-Bought Eggs
For us, the chickens keep us stocked up with fresh eggs. They look and taste completely different than the ones that are for sale in the grocery store. I’m not trying to disrespect the eggs in the store, but a side-by-side comparison clearly shows which one looks better.
Studies have also shown that eggs from chickens not raised in a commercial environment are better for us as well; they have fewer calories and more nutrients. We get to be entertained by the chickens roaming the yard, and they provide us with great eggs—sounds like a trade we are completely happy to make.
Chicken Coop Plans
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
David (author) from Idaho on March 07, 2013:
torrilynn - You are welcome. Ours isn't going anywhere but I can certainly see the value in having a movable unit.
torrilynn on March 06, 2013:
thanks for sharing how you can make a coup that is
portable in order for you to move it around easier and place
it exactly where you want to. thanks again.
David (author) from Idaho on March 05, 2013:
Angelo52 - Fortunately cities are starting to loosen up the restrictions they had, of course roosters are still not OK in city limits but a couple of chickens seems to be OK.
I'm glad you found the information informative and thanks for commenting.
Angelo52 on March 05, 2013:
Too bad most cities frown on keeping chickens. I have read some have changed but more have not, considering chickens to be farm animals only. Still, your article was informative and it is worth knowing this info on chickens.
David (author) from Idaho on March 05, 2013:
Lizolivia - There is nothing like eating a fresh egg, the closest comparison I can give is between a homegrown tomato and a store bought one. The taste, even the color of the yolk, is so much better when the egg is fresh. Thanks for the comment.
Lizolivia from Central USA on March 05, 2013:
Thanks for all the useful information about backyard chickens. I'm anxious to get a coop up to have fresh eggs. Following
David (author) from Idaho on March 05, 2013:
mary615 - I can't imagine our yard without our flock, I think we have about a dozen or so.
I'll take a look at your hub and show it to our daughter too, she has always considered our birds as pets.
Thanks for taking the time to vote, comment and share.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on March 05, 2013:
I'm so glad to meet someone else who appreciates chickens! We have three hens right now. We had six, but raccoons caught and ate three before we could save them! We don't usually see raccoons out during the day, but these decided they wanted a meal in the daytime.
I wrote a Hub about how chickens make great pets. I invite you to read mine when you have some time.
You did a fine job on this Hub. I voted it UP, and will share.
David (author) from Idaho on September 27, 2012:
Marcy - Chickens aren't too picky about their accommodations, just keep them safe at night and they will pay you back with eggs.
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on September 26, 2012:
I need to tell my friend (who is raising chickens in an urban setting) about this idea. Great information here - voted up!
David (author) from Idaho on September 19, 2012:
kittyjj - Our chickens are part of the family and getting the eggs is a great bonus. We can really taste the difference between our eggs and store bought ones. Thanks for the vote and commenting.
Ann Leung from San Jose, California on September 18, 2012:
You're so lucky to have a big yard to raise chicken and have better eggs to eat. I can definitely see the difference in yolk color. Thank you for sharing such an interesting and informative hub. Voted up and interesting!
David (author) from Idaho on September 18, 2012:
teaches12345 - We do enjoy our feathered little egg producers. I can't remember their names but my wife and daughter sure can.
Dianna Mendez on September 17, 2012:
A very interesting article on building coups and raising chickens. I agree with you on the cage free eggs - they are better for us. I only do wish I could have a few chickens to raise.