There are several methods of housing backyard chickens. You can house them in the traditional coop and run, use a chicken tractor, or even keep them indoors. You probably won’t want to have them totally free-range unless your backyard is heavily fenced and they aren’t a flying breed. Otherwise, your neighbors may end up with chickens they don’t want. You also risk predators killing your chickens. Whichever method you choose, chicken housing needs to be:
- Sturdy enough to protect chickens from wet, cold weather and drafts.
- Sturdy enough to protect chickens from local predators. If there are large predators around you will need a sturdier coop – although it is true that there are few coop designs that will stop a determined bear.
- Easy to clean and to obtain eggs. The easier it is to clean, the less you’ll mind cleaning it. Full-height coops are easier to clean than ones that require kneeling down. Many coops have an egg flap you can open which opens onto the nests, making it easy to collect any eggs.
- Large enough for the number of chickens you plan to keep. Estimates of exactly what ‘large enough’ varies depending on how large your chickens are and how much of their time they are likely to spend in the chicken coop. A good mid-range number is 4 square feet per chicken, unless they are bantams, which require less space.
- Provided with nest boxes for egg-laying chickens
- Provided with perches. Chickens like to perch at night, unless they are the heaviest meat breeds.
- Supplied with a shady area so the chickens don’t overheat on hot days.
Chicken coop and run
This is a very traditional method for keeping backyard chickens. The chicken coop might be called a chicken hut or chicken shed, but they are all basically the same idea. The coop and run is very suitable for city yards because it doesn’t require a large amount of space, and unlike a chicken tractor you don’t have to worry about moving it. On the other hand, if you want the chickens to weed or remove insects from your garden you’ll have to let them out of the run. The floor of the run generally loses all its grass and ends up as hard-packed dirt.
The size of coop and run you’ll need depends on how many chickens you want. Four square feet of indoor space and 10 square feet of outdoor space per chicken should be adequate for full sized chickens. Coop and run combinations can be bought or built from scratch. There are both coops and plans available in many places on the net.
A chicken tractor is a mobile coop and run built all in one, often on wheels. It is moved around a lawn, field or pasture to allow the chickens access to forage without being directly exposed to predators. Chicken tractors generally work best with small numbers of chickens because large chicken tractors can become too heavy to move easily.
Indoor Pet Chickens
This is best done with just a couple of bantam hens such as Silkies. They can be kept in a rabbit cage, and then allowed out while you are home. To prevent them pooping on things, there are now chicken diapers available to buy over the internet in sizes suitable for everything from small bantams to Jersey Giants.