Keeping chickens in your own backyard has become a popular and rewarding endeavour for many individuals and families. We loved the idea of having chickens as pets but didn’t know where to start. We had a number of questions and learnt a lot in the first few weeks of ownership that I’d like to share with you throughout this article. As seasoned chicken owners, we can conclude that chickens are a fantastic addition to the family and aren’t all that difficult to care for.
Not only do backyard chickens provide a sustainable source of fresh eggs, but they also offer a delightful opportunity to connect with nature and experience the joys of responsible animal care. However, before embarking on this feathered adventure, it is crucial to establish a well-designed and functional chicken coop and run. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the essential steps and considerations for setting up your very own backyard chicken coop and run, ensuring the comfort, safety, and happiness of your feathered companions. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or completely new to the world of poultry, this article will equip you with the knowledge and confidence to create an ideal home for your flock. So, let’s dive in and explore the exciting world of backyard chicken keeping!
Chickens? Chickens I asked myself. Is that normal, or isn’t that for farmers? Quite a lot of people own chickens and you don’t need to be a farmer. In fact, I’d say they’re a lot easier to look after than most other pets. And, you get free eggs every day! It cost a fair bit to get everything set up but general maintenance and looking after them is super easy and quite cheap. So getting chickens was a no-brainer.
Table of Contents
- 1. Evaluate your Available Space
- Designing and Building the Chicken Run
- Equipment and supplies needed for the chicken coop and run
1. Evaluate your Available Space
Allowing chickens as much space as possible is always going to be beneficial for their health and well-being. We have a 100ft x 30ft garden and wanted to dedicate 1/4 to 1/3 for the chickens. The coop and run (enclosure) would provide a safe place for the chickens to live and entertain themselves but we also wanted them to have a little more freedom outside of the coop. Somewhere to explore, run and stretch their legs.
The trouble with giving them this level of freedom is that they tend to dig, scratch and peck at everything, including our vegetable patch and flower beds. This couldn’t happen so we decided to section off part of the garden for the chickens to do as they please. We had the nice side and the rough side.
General Rules for Chicken Coop Sizes
The amount of space each chicken needs depends on various factors, including the breed, age and purpose of keeping chickens. As a general guideline, it is recommended to allocate a minimum of 4 square feet of coop space per standard-sized chicken. However, providing more space is always beneficial and can contribute to happier and healthier chickens.
If you have larger or more active breeds, such as Rhode Island Reds or Sussex, or if you plan to keep chickens primarily for egg production, it’s advisable to increase the space per chicken to 6 to 8 square feet. This additional room allows for better movement, reduces stress, and minimizes the risk of overcrowding-related issues, such as aggressive behavior or feather pecking.
Here are some of our favourite chicken coops designs available on Amazon
How We Prepared the Garden and Coop
We wanted the chickens to have a good run, a nice bit of space to stretch their legs but we also needed to ensure they were protected from predators like foxes, wolves and bears… ok, mainly just the foxes! 🙂 We started by selecting a section of the garden that wouldn’t be too intrusive, then thought about what else the chickens would need. Shade from the sun in summer, a dust bath for cleaning themselves and a coop to sleep in and lay eggs.
The most important thing (and most difficult) was to ensure the coop was secure. We purchased a pre-made flat pack coop from e-Bay which is ideal for up to 5 chickens. I measured the coop size and dug a trench around the area so that concrete slabs could be inserted into the ground. This would prevent foxes from digging their way into the coop. I then lined the ground with sand and small wood chips. The wood chips are great for absorbing and hiding the chicken poop. Finally, we purchased some fence panels for the run and viola, one safe chicken house and a spacious run.
Please note the fence panels pictured were upgraded to taller ones as the chickens were able to jump over these.
The coop and run evolved over the next few months whilst we worked out what was best for us and the chickens. Here’s what we learnt:
- The fence panels need to be about 5 ft tall. Chickens can jump up to 5ft.
- The coop we purchased on eBay was a great design but it was difficult to access to change food and water.
- Food and water dispensers had to be elevated off the ground as the chickens would poop in them.
- We needed space for a dust bath. Chickens love to clean themselves in dust. (I know, that sound odd but it’s a good way for them to de-lice themselves. I’ll explain more later.
Here are a few key considerations for your chicken coop:
- Ventilation: Adequate airflow is crucial to prevent the buildup of moisture and ammonia, which can lead to respiratory issues. Ensure that the coop has windows, vents, or openings that can be adjusted based on weather conditions.
- Nesting Boxes: Provide enough nesting boxes for your chickens to lay their eggs comfortably. One nesting box per 3-4 hens is usually sufficient. These boxes should be well-ventilated, cozy, and easily accessible for egg collection.
- Roosting Bars: Chickens naturally seek elevated perches to rest and sleep. Install sturdy roosting bars at an appropriate height (around 12-18 inches above the floor) to accommodate your chickens comfortably.
- Security Measures: Protecting your flock from predators is of utmost importance. Ensure the coop is constructed with sturdy materials and has secure latches on doors and windows. Additionally, consider burying hardware cloth around the perimeter to prevent digging predators.
Designing and Building the Chicken Run
The chicken run evolved a little over time but essentially provided a safe area for the chickens to exercise, entertain themselves, clean, climb and feed. The run was simply added onto the chicken coop as an extension.
Importance of a Chicken Run for Exercise and Safety
A chicken run is an enclosed outdoor area where your flock can roam, scratch, and engage in natural behaviors. It serves as an essential extension of the chicken coop, providing several benefits for your chickens. Firstly, it allows them to get exercise, which is crucial for their overall health and well-being. By having space to stretch their wings and explore, chickens can maintain strong muscles and avoid becoming sedentary. Additionally, a well-designed run offers protection from predators, preventing your chickens from wandering into unsafe areas.
Factors to Consider When Planning the Run
When planning your chicken run, there are several factors to take into account:
Size: The size of your run depends on the number of chickens you have and the space available in your backyard. A general guideline is to allocate at least 8 to 10 square feet per chicken in the run. However, more space is always beneficial, as it allows for more freedom of movement and reduces the risk of overcrowding.
Fencing: Ensure the run is enclosed with sturdy fencing to prevent predators from gaining access. Chicken wire or hardware cloth with small openings (typically 1/2 inch or smaller) are effective in keeping out predators while allowing for proper ventilation. Consider burying the fencing a few inches into the ground to deter digging predators.
Shade and Shelter: Provide shaded areas within the run to protect your chickens from extreme heat or inclement weather. Trees, shrubs, or purpose-built shade structures can offer relief from the sun’s rays. Additionally, include a covered area or small shelter where your chickens can retreat during rainstorms.
Access: It’s important to provide suitable access to your chicken run for ease of maintenance. Cleaning schedules along with food and water changes are much easier when you have easy access via a door. Head height runs are great for access and also provide more space for your chickens.
Vegetation and Enrichment Elements: Incorporate vegetation, such as grass or edible plants, into the run to provide natural foraging opportunities for your chickens. Not only does this encourage their instinctual behavior, but it also offers a diverse diet. Furthermore, consider adding enrichment elements like perches, stumps, or logs for chickens to hop on and explore. These additions provide mental stimulation and prevent boredom.
By carefully considering the purpose and design of your chicken run, you can create a safe and stimulating environment for your flock. Remember to balance the size, fencing, shade, and enrichment elements to provide your chickens with ample space to exercise, protection from predators, and opportunities to engage in natural behaviors.
For some more inspiration and more details on how to build a DIY chicken run check out my DIY chicken run build guide.
Equipment and supplies needed for the chicken coop and run
Preparing your coop and run for the chickens is essential. You’ll want them to feel comfortable when introduced to their new home. Likewise you’ll need to be prepared to clean and maintain the space. Here are the essentials you’ll need to consider.
Flooring and Ground Cover
The flooring material you choose for your chicken run plays a significant role in the overall cleanliness, comfort, and health of your flock. Consider the following options:
Grass: Allowing chickens to have access to a grassy area in the run can provide a natural environment for them to graze, scratch, and forage. However, keep in mind that chickens can quickly wear down and dig up grass, especially in smaller runs. Rotation or providing additional areas for regrowth may be necessary.
Gravel: Using gravel as the flooring material offers several benefits. It provides good drainage, prevents muddy areas, and allows droppings to be easily washed away. Choose pea gravel or similar-sized stones to ensure the chickens’ feet are not injured.
Sand: Sand is another popular option due to its excellent drainage properties and ease of cleaning. It can be raked or sifted to remove droppings and maintain cleanliness. However, keep in mind that chickens may kick sand out of the run, so containment may be necessary.
Wood Chips or Mulch: Wood chips or mulch can be used as a ground cover, providing a soft and comfortable surface for chickens. They can also help with odor control and moisture absorption. Ensure that the wood chips are not toxic to chickens, and periodically replenish or replace them as they decompose.
Importance of Drainage and Cleaning in the Run Area
Proper drainage is crucial in the chicken run to prevent the accumulation of water and moisture, which can lead to unsanitary conditions and potential health issues. When designing the run, ensure that the ground is slightly sloped to allow water to drain away. This prevents the area from becoming waterlogged or muddy, which can harbor bacteria and promote the growth of parasites.
Regular cleaning of the run area is essential to maintain a healthy environment for your chickens. Remove any accumulated droppings, uneaten food, and soiled bedding regularly. Depending on the flooring material used, this may involve raking, sifting, or scooping. By keeping the run clean and free of debris, you minimize the risk of disease transmission and odors.
Selecting Appropriate Feeders and Waterers for Your Flock
Feeders and water
When choosing feeders and waterers for your chickens, it’s important to consider their size, durability, and ease of use. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:
- Size and Capacity: Ensure that the feeders and waterers are large enough to accommodate your flock without frequent refilling. Consider the number of chickens you have and their daily consumption.
- Durability: Look for sturdy feeders and waterers that can withstand pecking, tipping, and adverse weather conditions. Plastic or metal options are common and easily cleaned.
- Pest Prevention: Opt for feeders and waterers with features that deter pests, such as rodents or wild birds, from accessing the feed or water. This helps to maintain the hygiene and health of your flock.
Here are the feeders we use:
Ensuring Easy Access and Maintenance
Accessibility and ease of maintenance are important considerations when selecting feeders and waterers. Look for designs that allow for easy filling, cleaning, and adjustment. Consider options with removable or adjustable components that simplify maintenance tasks, such as removing debris or adjusting water flow.
Bedding and Litter
Bedding materials serve multiple purposes in the chicken coop and run, including providing insulation, absorbing moisture, and reducing odors. Common bedding options include straw, wood shavings, and shredded paper. Consider the following factors when choosing bedding:
- Absorbency: Select bedding materials with good absorbency to help manage moisture and control odors. Wood shavings and straw are popular choices due to their absorbent properties.
- Comfort and Safety: Choose bedding materials that provide a comfortable surface for your chickens to walk and nest on. Avoid materials with sharp or rough edges that may cause injuries.
- Availability and Cost: Consider the availability and cost of different bedding options in your area. Evaluate the long-term affordability and accessibility of the chosen material.
Regular cleaning and maintenance of the bedding are essential to ensure a clean and healthy environment for your chickens. Remove wet or soiled bedding regularly and replace it with fresh bedding. This helps prevent the growth of bacteria, parasites, and odors. Additionally, periodically deep clean the coop and run, replacing all bedding, to maintain optimal cleanliness and prevent the buildup of harmful pathogens.
We tend to clean the coop once a fortnight and the run would get a fresh bed of wood shavings every couple of months. We’d also give the coop a deep clean every three months or so.
The Importance and Benefits of Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a natural product derived from fossilized diatoms. It offers several benefits for chicken keepers. Firstly, it is an effective pest control method, eliminating external parasites like fleas, ticks, mites, and lice. DE’s sharp edges damage the pests’ exoskeletons, leading to dehydration. Additionally, DE acts as a natural deodorizer, absorbing moisture and neutralizing odors in the chicken coop. It also provides internal parasite control when fed to chickens, acting as a natural dewormer. DE’s absorbency properties help control moisture, reducing the risk of bacterial growth and respiratory issues. Lastly, DE is environmentally friendly and safe for use around chickens. Using food-grade DE labeled for agricultural use ensures its non-toxic nature.
Incorporating diatomaceous earth into your chicken keeping routine offers effective pest control, natural deodorizing, internal parasite control, moisture control, and environmental friendliness. It promotes a healthy and comfortable environment for your flock, allowing them to thrive.
Setting up a dust bath for your chickens
Chickens love taking dust baths—it’s a natural behavior that helps them maintain their health and hygiene. Providing a designated dust bath area in your chicken coop or run is essential.
We used an old sandpit the kids didn’t use any more but you can use any large container. Or you could simply dig a pit in your run. The dust bath should be filled with a mix of sand, wood ash, soil and diatomaceous earth.
Setting up your first backyard chicken coop and run is an exciting endeavor that offers numerous benefits for both you and your feathered companions. By following the steps and considerations outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can create a comfortable and functional home for your flock, ensuring their well-being and happiness.
From assessing your available space and complying with local regulations to selecting the right coop, planning the chicken run, and acquiring essential supplies and equipment, each step plays a crucial role in creating a successful chicken-keeping experience. Remember to prioritize the space requirements for your chickens, providing them with ample room to move, exercise, and engage in natural behaviors.
Consider the importance of proper flooring and ground cover, as well as the benefits of diatomaceous earth for pest control and maintaining a clean environment. Don’t forget to set up a dust bath area to facilitate your chickens’ natural grooming instincts.
Check out my top 10 tips for keeping chickens which also outlines some of the most popular breeds and what you can expect in terms of egg output and care guidelines.
Hopefully you’re now well-equipped to embark on your backyard chicken-keeping journey. Cherish the joy of collecting fresh eggs, observing your chickens’ antics, and connecting with nature right in your own backyard.
So, take the plunge, set up your first backyard chicken coop and run, and savor the rewarding experience of caring for these delightful creatures. Enjoy the countless hours of entertainment, the delicious eggs, and the fulfillment that comes from embracing a sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle as a backyard chicken keeper.