Raising chickens in your own backyard is increasingly popular, comes with a variety of benefits, and is easy to get started on a limited budget: beginning with an idea of how many chickens you will want, a look at your yard, chicken coop plans, and some materials. Before you begin, however, you should examine why chickens might be right for you, and the options available to fit your needs.
Why Raise Your Own Chickens?
The benefits of raising your own chickens include not only health, budget, and entertainment advantages for you, but also positive effects on the environment and animal welfare. First, for you, fresh eggs taste better. Keep an eye out for signs that offer farm fresh eggs and buy a dozen to see for yourself: the yolk has a richer color and the difference in taste is significant whether cooked alone or included in a recipe. Research has also shown the eggs of grass-fed, free-roaming chickens to have higher levels of Vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acids and lower amounts of cholesterol than store-bought eggs from factory farms.
Producing your own eggs can save you money, especially if you get your neighbors hooked on fresh local eggs and sell your extras to offset feed costs. Eggs produced locally are better for the environment, as they do not require fuel to ship them. The less demand your family places on the factory farm egg industry, the fewer chickens they will need, and the fewer chickens will be trapped in inhumane conditions. By feeding your chickens table scraps instead of throwing them away, you put less waste into landfills. Chickens in your yard will also help insect control without the use of chemicals.
The popularity of chicken raising is on the rise, but still relatively unique. Most people who have not been around chickens will be surprised, but chickens are individuals with distinct personalities. In comparison to most pets, they are low maintenance and inexpensive, as well as being more useful and producing food for the pantry. They are great for getting children of all ages involved in chores; even a toddler can toss grain and delight in watching the chickens run to eat.
Housing Your Chickens
Before selecting the chicken coop plans that are right for you, you must determine your needs. If you simply want a few chickens that will be generally free to run loose in the yard, your shelter needs will vastly different than if you plan to raise your own chicks from several different breeds. If you have a dozen chickens that will roam free during the day and be penned in a coop at night, you need a simpler shelter. If you have many predators but want your chickens to range as much as possible, a portable coop or chicken tractor will be best for you.
Your chicken coop plans should include two to three feet of available space for each bird, sufficient feeding points, enough points for watering, the proper balance between shelter and ventilation, protection against predators from both ground and sky, easy and secure access for both you and the birds, and sufficient roosting places for your birds to be well rested. If you live in an overcast area or want to keep egg production up in the darker seasons, a light source will help encourage laying. That light source must not be left on all night, however; exhausted hens will not provide eggs.
A few factors should help decide if you want to keep your chickens contained all the time or allow them the freedom of your yard. First, if you have a narrow lot and your neighbors are not keen on the idea of poultry straying into their yards after bugs and weeds, you will need at least a movable coop. If you have a lot of owls, hawks, or eagles, among other birds of prey, your birds will need defense from above. If you have no sturdy boundary fences and your neighborhood is home to dogs, or if you are in an area with coyotes, foxes, and other predators, you will certainly need a coop to keep your chickens safe.
Purchase a Coop or Build Your Own?
While buying a coop already assembled might seem the easiest route to getting your birds secure, the cost can far outweigh the convenience. Your options are also limited to the buildings available for sale. If you decide to buy your own materials and build your own shelter, the variety of chicken coop plans ensures you will find just the right shape and size building for your yard and the needs of your chickens.
One choice among chicken coop plans is a permanent building with a small door that lets out into a scratching area walled and roofed with chicken wire. The building is a good option if you will have more than a few birds, and is an easy way to have nesting boxes available to both you and the hens. Another choice is a lightweight framework of pvc pipe or metal that is enclosed with wire. This can be dragged across the yard to new patches of lawn so your birds have the advantages of free range birds while keeping the protection of cooped birds.