Whether it’s to provide a source of fresh protein for the kitchen table, to educate your children on caring for animals and where food really comes from, or to simply tap into the pioneer spirit that inspired our families in years gone by, there are few things more satisfying than a backyard chicken coop filled with the soft clucks of a few egg-laying hens.
According to Doug Scott, a landscape designer for Redeem Your Ground in Atlanta, Ga., such farm-fresh dreams aren’t necessarily reserved only for those living far out in the country. Where city ordinances and homeowner association rules allow, a daily supply of fresh eggs can be enjoyed by suburban homeowners with a weekend’s worth of simple work in the backyard.
After ascertaining what state laws and local regulations allow for in your community, you’ll need to consider providing a backyard flock with a proper place to safely live. Many homeowners convert existing outbuildings, dog kennels or storage areas into such coop space while others purchase commercially designed coops or design their own custom-style project.
Whatever way you choose to achieve your coop dreams, you’ll want to provide an adequate amount of necessary space for the chickens to live in a healthy and safe environment. Scott says for a free-ranging flock, plan on 3 to 4-square feet of floor space per chicken. But for a flock that primarily stays in the coop, at least 10-square feet per chicken is usually necessary.
Video courtesy of Exmark’s Backyard Life
Next, you’ll want to provide enough nesting boxes in a darkened spot about 18-inches off the ground, a secure location where eggs can be safely laid and easily accessed by homeowners. While some opt for one nesting box per hen, Scott suggests that his experience shows that one box per three hens is generally enough.
Keep in mind that chickens need fresh water and feed regularly, so plan your coop’s location with such needs in mind. Also note how and where you’ll store feed to keep mice, raccoons, and other critters at bay—Scott suggests using galvanized steel pails with locking lids.
Finally, consider that of the biggest challenges a backyard coop owner faces is the determined effort to keep suburban predators out of the coop, things like coyotes, foxes, and even hawks flying overhead. While many opt to use plain chicken wire, Scott has found that plenty of sturdier hardware cloth is necessary, a predator deterring tool that is placed in strategic areas to keep wild critters from getting into the coop and feasting on your flock.
With a price tag that can range from a couple of hundred dollars to $1,000 or more, the do-it-yourself project of building a backyard chicken coop is a relatively simple work effort that can be accomplished over the course of a single weekend.
But it’s one that also adds a sense of personal and family well-being, not to mention providing a valuable out-of-the-classroom education experience on responsibly caring for an animal and understanding the natural process of how and where food originates.
Add in the superior taste of farm fresh eggs for the breakfast table, a favored recipe, or a light and fresh evening snack, and having chicken coop dreams is a rich, satisfying, and enjoyable part of a family’s everyday life.
Even as the bells and whistles of the city’s hustle and bustle linger softly in the background, suburban noises that somehow get muted by the soft clucks of a small flock of egg-laying hens.
For more “Done in a Weekend” projects, check out WeAreExmark.com.