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The Chickens + their backyard coop

You may remember that we dove headfirst into the country life and bought baby chicks this spring. Well, I’m happy to report that those sweet little fluffy chicks have grown into full-size, egg-laying hens.

This is our first go at raising chickens and while we don’t know all there is to know, perhaps you’d like to hear a bit more about how things are going and you’d like to see their coop?

Oh, good. Because that’s what this post is all about :)

For the first 6ish weeks, the chicks lived in our garage under a heat lamp in a big galvanized bin (which is now used as the kids’ lego bin on the third floor). Our plan was to design and build a chicken coop, but while walking through Costco, we spotted a pre-made coop and decided to go the easy route and brought it home.┬áHere’s what it looks like in the product image:

It is a perfectly fine coop, but needed a few alterations to work for our chickens. We painted it white, reinforced the base and sides (it’s not the sturdiest right out of the box) and added an extension of the bottom ‘run’ to accommodate our six chickens. With those simple changes, it works great and was a much easier project than if we built from scratch.

You know what the hardest part of putting it together was?

The foundation.

It’s a good idea to have fencing material around the sides and top to keep predators out, but the underside is equally important. We don’t want rodents, coyotes or raccoons digging under the coop, so Ryan set us up with a Fort Knox worthy barrier.

We started by clearing a spot in our backyard for the chickens to live. Our yard is wooded around the perimeter and so it took a bit of work to clear out a few trees, underbrush and one million roots.

Once we had our spot cleared, we measured out the finished size of the coop and dug a perimeter about 12 inches down to fill with cinderblocks. This will prevent anything from digging down and getting up under the coop.

After the cinderblocks were in and level, we added metal grating and large cement pavers to create a foundation.
And then the coop was set on top.

Ryan added a back section for added space and put in a lift-up top so we can change the food and water and access the lower pen.

I love the idea of growing flowers or vegetables in the top garden box (like shown in the product image), but that didn’t happen this spring. We also plan to put in some shrubs and ground cover around the chicken coop to add back some green. That should help with how sparse it looks now!

The chickens are pretty easy. I like to let them out in the morning to wander around the yard, pecking at the grass, eating bugs and seeds and whatever they can find, and then around dusk they find their way back up into their sleeping quarters.

Usually we go out after they are in their coop to close and lock the door, but one night a few weeks ago we did not. They were fine all night long until they wandered out early in the morning and a coyote ran off with one of the chickens. Poor Nugget made a nice breakfast for that mean coyote. Surprisingly, the kids did okay with the loss of Nugget and it reminded us to make sure we go out each night to close up the coop.

So far, we have two chickens who are laying every day. We’re pretty sure the two black and white spotted ones are the layers, based on the fact that they have the most developed top red floppy things on their heads (apparently, that is an indication that they are developed enough to lay eggs).

Our chickens LOVE when we feed them scraps of food – especially fruit. It’s ridiculously entertaining to watch them devour a watermelon or leftovers from dinner and squawk at each other when one gets in the way.

Lately, they’ve been hanging out by the back door waiting for us …

We’re still learning about raising backyard chickens, but so far things have gone fairly well. Our friends just gifted us this darling book to help us learn more about chickens and gardening:

If you’re looking for a resource on homesteading, you’ll adore this book (and the blog!). I can’t wait to dig in and learn more about how we can use our property to grow more of our family’s food.

I sound like such a country girl. And maybe I am :)

26 Responses to The Chickens + their backyard coop

  1. Lori August 17, 2017 at 10:17 am #

    How will you over winter your chickens or do you plan on slautering them for the freezer and starting with chicks again in the spring? There’s a device called a chicken tractor that you can build to control where the chickens go during the day. It keeps them protected from predators during the day, but allows the chickens access to areas outside their coop.

    • emily August 18, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

      Ryan just mentioned something about a chicken tractor. We live in a fairly mild climate and supposedly the chickens do just fine outside. We just have laying hens, so no eating them for us :)

  2. Jenn G August 8, 2017 at 10:22 pm #

    So sad I missed the deal on the sweatshirts! Please post if they are ever on sale again!

  3. Rebecca August 8, 2017 at 8:57 am #

    We used to have backyard chickens at our city house. They are the most fun! Your girls look beautiful. Love your Barred Rock. Ours only had one foot and was a sweetie. Have you ever seen Polish Chickens? They have great head feathers, but aren’t the best layers. They are more “yard art”. I miss our sweet girls. They went to live with a friend in the country when we moved to the suburbs.

  4. Taylor August 7, 2017 at 6:53 pm #

    I have to ask how much of a problem the chicken poop is. I don’t know if I could handle that! Otherwise, how fun and fresh to have your very own eggs!

    • emily August 7, 2017 at 10:51 pm #

      Not a fan of the chicken poop. Or the feathers that fall out and end up around the yard. That’s what makes the chickens feel a little gross to me. We will create a larger pen for them to run in so that they do not have full access to our whole yard. I especially do not like when they hang out on the patio and poop on it :)

      • tara August 14, 2017 at 8:29 am #

        the poop is THE worst and it only gets worse as they get older. they will always choose concrete or wood deck to do it on too! we cannot let our chickens roam free anymore which is sad but essential for my sanity.

  5. Kathleen August 7, 2017 at 5:28 pm #

    Hi Emily,

    Would love to have backyard chickens someday. I was wondering if there were there any issues adjusting to having the chickens for your dog? Do they share the same outdoor area?

    Thanks!

    • emily August 7, 2017 at 10:50 pm #

      We haven’t had any issues with our dog and the chickens! They are outside at the same time and Atlas might chase them a little, but they just fly off and squawk and he leaves them alone.

      • Rebecca August 8, 2017 at 9:00 am #

        Our dog didn’t care about the chickens either. She didn’t even bother to chase them.

  6. Caroline August 7, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

    Do you have neighbors? Do the chickens ever wander off your property? I just love reading about your new home and chickens!

    • emily August 7, 2017 at 10:49 pm #

      We do have neighbors, but they are not very close. We have 1.5 acres and the chickens mainly stay on our property. Thanks for reading!

  7. Jennifer August 7, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

    Just a curiosity question. What about poop in the yard? Is that a problem with kids running around? Ha!

  8. Candy August 7, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

    Is your yard fenced? If not, do you worry about them wandering off during the day?

    • emily August 7, 2017 at 10:48 pm #

      Our yard is not yet fenced and the chickens don’t seem to leave it. We have caught them crossing the road (ha!) once, but it doesn’t lead to anywhere unsafe for them. If we lived on a busier street, we would be more concerned with keeping them fenced in. Truth be told, I’m not super crazy about them having the run of the yard (because it also means they walk up on the porch and back patio and I’m not a fan of chicken poop). We plan on creating a large fenced-in area where they can still free-range, but not around the whole yard.

  9. Nancy August 7, 2017 at 11:51 am #

    Thank you for your post. We got chickens this june. They are about 9 weeks old. Theu are fun at this age. They love their meal worm treats. We have two black copper marans and two olive eggers. Sui and nami and thunder and storm.

  10. Andrea August 7, 2017 at 11:17 am #

    We’ve been keeping chickens for three years now. Sadly, I understand what happens when we forget to close the pen when they come back to roost! One thing we did not know until this year is that chickens can pick up bird mites in the yard while they peck around. They are nearly invisible to the eye and extremely gross and itchy and they will crawl on humans – yuck! The lid above where our hens nests are was infested this spring. Something to watch out for.

    • emily August 7, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

      yuck! Thanks for the tip.

      • Dianne August 9, 2017 at 8:29 am #

        We have never had mites crawl on us, although 2 (given to us) chickens did have them. Make sure they have an area where they can take a dust bath! That is how they get rid of any fleas, mites etc. If you don’t have a soil area, set up a large bowl with Diatomateous Earth or ashes for them to “bathe” in.

  11. Jessica August 7, 2017 at 10:43 am #

    We live in the city (Chicago) and one of our public schools has a brood of chickens. My kids’ camp is at the school this week, and my kids (and I) have become totally obsessed with them. I always thought it sounded fun, but after seeing them in person I am convinced that if we ever move out of the city I’m totally getting some. They have a beautiful coop and space on the side of the school and apparently the kids at school help care for the hens and they donate the eggs to local charities – such a great learning experience for the kids and such a sight to see in the middle of the city – they are such funny little things!

  12. Bets August 7, 2017 at 10:42 am #

    Hi Emily,

    Nice chickens and a beautiful coop! We are first time chicken farmers too. Our son brought home two 8-week old Rhode Island Reds on Memorial Day. We scrambled to make a coop out of the lower half of an old playscape and it’s worked out great. Waiting patiently for the girls to start laying eggs, but in the meantime I’m happy to watch them scratch around the yard and make their little buuurrr-ing sounds.

  13. Dianne G August 7, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    Love the coop and the chickens are adorable!

  14. Tonia August 7, 2017 at 10:05 am #

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. We’ve been talking about getting started with chickens. I’m excited and nervous.

  15. Dianne August 7, 2017 at 9:21 am #

    We have had chickens for 6 years. I love having them around! They eat a LOT of bugs, they are lovely to look at and love watermelon rinds. We love the nutritious and flavorful eggs they give us. We keep ours in till around 2-4 PM to make sure they have done there laying. Otherwise you might find a nest of unexpected eggs around your yard!

    • emily August 7, 2017 at 10:53 pm #

      We think that is what is happening :) Ryan just said today that we need to wait until the afternoon to let them out – I’m sure there are hidden eggs somewhere around the yard!

  16. Amber August 7, 2017 at 7:12 am #

    They look like happy, healthy chickens! Loss to predators comes with the territory. :( I’m glad your kids did ok with it.

    p.s The red floppy thing is called a “comb”. :)

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