How to house your chickens is an important decision.
Since you want to keep your chickens alive after you’ve raised them or bought them fully-grown, you need to make sure they have adequate housing to keep them healthy.
Free range? What about predators?
You must first decide if you plan to keep your chickens contained in a chicken yard or pen or let them free-range over your property. Free-range basically means that the birds are not kept contained at all times in small cages. Think giant poultry farms. Those chickens never see the outside of their tiny cages until it’s butchering time.
Free range also can mean that you let them out of their house mid-morning and they roam all over, eating grass, bugs, flowers, whatever they find, then they should return to their house toward evening.
Free-range is great if you’ve got a large, rural property and no neighbors. If you live in town, there may be ordinances against owning chickens and/or letting them roam.
Trust me, your neighbors won’t appreciate your chickens digging in their flower beds, pooping on their porches and eating their mums (which they will do, by the way).
Another thing to consider when choosing their ranging habits are the possibility of predators. If you live in a populated area, you may not have as much trouble with coyotes or foxes, but you could have an issue with roaming dogs and even stray cats.
Where I live, in an unincorporated community, I have neighbors all around my 1 1/2 acre property. We have lots of roaming dogs that pass through our yard. Some of them bother nothing, while others tear up trash, chase cats and generally make a nuisance out of themselves.
I rarely let my chickens out of their enclosed yard. Where I lived previously when I had chickens – on five very rural acres with no neighbors – I let the chickens roam every day. We had dogs that roamed, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, owls and a partridge in a pear tree, but I never lost a chicken. That is unusual to say the least.
Space recommendations and chicken houses
The recommended space size for chickens is roughly four square feet per bird. Currently I have four chickens. We built an 8 by 8 enclosed pen/yard for them. In the Spring, we will expand that to provide more room (and hopefully get more hens).
There is a small house attached to the yard to provide shelter. It was made from an old, wooden swing frame. We covered it with scrap roofing metal, put a door on one end and attached the other end to the yard. Inside this little house is a nesting area, a roost (made from two longer tree limbs and two shorter tree limbs, screwed together in a ladder formation).
Chicken houses need adequate ventilation – I have a small “window” covered with chicken wire at the top of my house for ventilation.
As the nights get chillier, I cover the dirt floor of the house with a hefty layer of straw to keep the chickens warm.
The yard/pen is covered with chicken wire. Even the top is covered to keep out predators. Raccoons and possums love snacking on fresh chicken dinners, as do owls, hawks, foxes, coyotes, dogs and even cats.
A pen doesn’t have to be tall to satisfy the chickens, but if you want to get in with them, you’d be best to build the enclosure tall enough that you can walk around comfortably and not duck-walk.
Check your local library for books on raising chickens. There are plenty of great books available that can give more complete information than this article.
Chicken housing can be small and simple, elaborate and large or even portable (do a search on chicken tractors for portable chicken pens – there’s even a book called The Chicken Tractor which is a great resource).
Since most adult hens will continue to lay for 3-5 years (roughly – give or take), your chickens will be around for awhile. You would be well-advised to build a nice house and yard to make them happy and comfortable. After all, happy chickens will bless you with great eggs!
Getting Started with Chickens, Part 1: Chicks or Adult Birds?
Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil, by Andy Lee, 1998
Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens: Care/Feeding/Facilities, by Gail Damerow, 1995
The Chicken Health Handbook, by Gail Damerow, 1994