If you live in the city, or in the suburb and have a decent sized backyard there is no reason you cannot keep chickens and have fresh eggs weekly. With local legislation relaxing about keeping backyard birds and people’s desire to eat healthier, raising a small number of healthy chickens is a realistic goal for anyone with a backyard. The right fencing, hardware cloth, and coop design are essential however to keeping you, your neighbors and the chickens happy. Here are a few tips to consider however before heading to the hardware store to buy materials.
Chickens, and the eggs you look forward to enjoying, can easily be killed and carried off by predators. To deter them a sturdy and enclosed coop is needed for the times you are not around to supervise free ranging. The most common problems are pests that want to steal eggs, rats, raccoons, and other rodents will happily make off with them if the birds are not carefully contained. The best option is to make use of proper fencing to keep the predators at bay. While chicken wire may sound like the best option, its thin gauge is not a true deterrent to the larger animals like raccoons. Welded wire is an excelled option, in 16 or 14 gauges it is thick enough that raccoons cannot tear it apart. It also comes in vinyl coated options that will increase the stability and life of the fence. Make sure to pick a wire fence that has openings small enough to prevent animals from crawling though. Common garden fence will allow rats and other rodents to squeeze through 2×3 or 2×2 inch openings. Your best bet is to select a half inch by half inch opening. Remember raccoons are crafty enough to reach though openings they cannot crawl though.
Rat, mink and other rodents will also attempt to dig into your coop from below. Use hardware cloth in half or quarter inch opening s to line any uncovered areas on the bottom of your coop or pasture. This will keep out the rats but grass will still be able to grow up through the hardware cloth for grazing. While protecting the bottom of your coop and grazing area, don’t neglect to cover the top. Rodents will climb the fence and while some sites may suggest using chicken wire on top as a cost cutting option the welded wire or hardware cloth is still a sturdier fence that a persistent rodent cannot tear open.
Dogs may also attempt to chase and kill chickens. And while training and supervision may prevent any problems, a large dog that wants in the pasture area where you chickens are grazing will damage fencing around the coop. Sectioning off the chicken area of your yard from pets can be as simple as heavy gauge garden fence. If you have successfully enclosed your coop and chicken pasture with predator proof fencing then simply bordering a slightly larger area with 3 or 4 foot high 14 gauge garden fence will help keep both your pets and your chickens happy and safe.
If you live in a warm climate and do not get snow in the winter a coop allows approximately 2 to 3 square feet per bird inside and 5 square feet per bird outside is sufficient assuming the birds can go in and out of the coop at will. If you live in an area where it snows in the winter the chickens will have to live inside the coop most of the winter (chickens don’t like to walk on snow covered ground) and the coop design should accommodate at least 5 square feet per bird both inside and outside. The bigger the coop the better, as most problems such as pecking and aggression can be solved by simply giving the birds more room. Remember to fully enclose any pasture area: top, sides, and bottom. Hardware cloth or welded wire with small half inch openings is the best choice.
Chickens will graze on any fresh grass available in the area and their droppings are an excellent fertilizer. If the coop is a movable chicken tractor design the coop can be moved to fresh grass as needed and the previous location will benefit from the droppings left behind. If however you plan on making a stationary coop there are a few ways to prevent over grazing. The most common problem with grass in a stationary pasture area is that chickens will eat the roots of the grass if allowed. To stop this a simple frame of 1×2 boards can be made and topped with half or quarter inch hardware cloth. These frames can be placed on the ground and grass will then grow up through the hardware cloth allowing the chickens to graze but preventing them from digging up the roots. The frames of wood and wire mesh also protect seedlings and new growth allowing the chickens time outside everyday without destroying new grass. As winter approaches you can remove the hardware cloth frames and allow the chickens to eat the roots and bugs that were below and replant the area in the spring.
If you are the first on your block to raise chickens be courteous of your neighbors who may not be thrilled about “farm animals” living next door. Many assume chickens are noisy and will attract pests such as rats and mice, and with good reason.
To address noise problems the best solution is to not keep roosters, in fact many cities forbid the keeping of roosters in non rural areas, so be sure to check your city laws before making any purchases. Hens alone are relatively quiet unless frightened or kept in poor conditions such as over populated coops. Most hens lay on average 6 eggs a week so keep in mind the number of eggs your family will eat and don’t keep more birds than you need.
Pests will be drawn to your chicken coop if there is access to food. Usually rats and mice are drawn to the storage area where you keep you chicken feed. To keep them from getting into the feed a galvanized metal trash can is the best option and if raccoons are a problem make sure to bungee cord the lid down or place heavy rocks on top. Keep all feed that is put out for the chickens inside the coop where, if you have built it correctly, it will be safe from pests. Don’t spread feed around the yard for chickens to scratch, they will leave food behind and it will attract animals. Outside the coop the chickens should have access to grass and bugs if you use hardware cloth frames to protect the roots of the grass. If you make sure your coop is as rodent proof as possible, and keep food stored properly, rats and other pests won’t find food and will move on.
Fencerwire.com has a great selection of both welded wire and hardware cloth for chicken coop construction. And we would love to see your designs. Send us a message on our facebook page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org