Simple chicken coops can be made at minimal cost using pallets.
I try to avoid crazes; like fashions, they are so bad that we have to change them every year. Do you remember the pet rock?
And frankly, keeping chickens is no different; it requires considerable thought and planning before launching out.
You can spend a lot of money purchasing, or building a chicken run from scratch. But have you considered that the hens have to be fed twice every day, and the coop cleaned a couple times a week?
Fresh water is easier with a container that needs filling and cleaning perhaps every five days; still, it has to be done.
Then are you going to use your coop as a chicken tractor? Something that will be moved around the garden every week to a fresh place of ground? They will peck the earth clean within a few days, hunting for grubs, manure it thoroughly, but it will make your backyard stink unless you have a plan.
Are you prepared to step in with a shovel, bent double and scrape all the chicken litter out? Have you budgeted for extra visits to the chiropractor?
The kits that you can purchase at a shop like Walmart look very pretty, starting at around $200, but they still have to be assembled; looking at them that will take several days I fancy, and need a few tools. You are limited then to about four or five birds.
The Australian Taj Mahal comes in at $600.
Your hens will each provide about five eggs a week if you feed them properly; my advice is to find out the value of cage free eggs at the supermarket, if you can find them, and the cost of feed.
These may turn out to be very expensive eggs that you soon find are far too onerous to produce, especially when the neighbours start to complain about the stink.
I'm not trying to put you off, but unless you are in this for the long run, and plan to be into cage free eggs for at least a few years, this is just another craze that I recommend you forget before you start.
Just how many birds do you want to keep? And are you going to have a rooster for fertilization, what the British call "proper eggs". It depends on the breed but most folk seem to agree that he can cope well with about ten to twelve hens.
If you are breeding and want to be sure that every egg is fertile then you may want to drop that number, but otherwise if a few eggs are not fertile, does it really matter?
If you have a family of five, does it make sense to purchase an unassembled chicken coop that will allow for a maximum of three or four birds?
Depending on a number of factors, you can work on about 4-6 eggs per week from each of your hens. Chickens in the garden have added a wonderful new dimension to our lives.
Would you want to expand and keep say eight hens as we have done? Then don't limit yourself by purchasing a craze hen house from Amazon that looks very pretty initially, but seriously limits you. Those made in China get particularly bad reviews.
You will need some form of poultry drinker; this is very similar to mine and has proved very successful.
Simple chicken coops give you access to free range eggs; but unless they are easily able to have fresh ground periodically you will have to feed them a large amount of greens in order to get the vastly improved nutrition that you may be looking for; to my mind that's the only sound reason to get into this new craze. They are quite a lot of work; and a lot of fun.
There are any number of options that you might consider. We started with a movable chicken tractor made from electrical conduit with a roost hanging up in the sky and covered with a tarpaulin. It proved moderately successful but didn't provide sufficient protection from the elements; mind you they huddle together and can withstand considerable cold, but not wet.
We made do with the chicken tractor for six months, and still use it, but long term it's not a satisfactory permanent home for your birds. Predators cleaned us out twice.
Then you could purchase a Walmart chicken coop; they have a maximum of two square meters of what you might describe as free range; but unless you move it periodically it will soon turn into a stinking desert. It won't provide the healthy eggs you are looking for, and provide for a crowded maximum of about five birds.
And then the third option is an enclosed run as small or large as you choose, with one of these simple chicken coops.
On the advice of an experienced egg farmer, I decided to build a chicken coop using five pallets, with a large hanging door. It's been a great success.
It was really inexpensive with the pallets costing about four dollars each, made from rough, untreated timber.
The whole structure, with heavy duty roofing plastic covering and tiles cost less than $50. Two really solid hinges for the door were quite expensive.
We currently have seven hens in it, but could easily expand to say twelve and a rooster; it's in the planning. We want to have proper eggs.
We had eight hens and a rooster, but the mongoose took two before I started looking at simple chicken coops.
This isn't suitable if you have snakes that will attack the birds; they can slither through the gaps in the pallets, but it will keep larger predators like a mongoose, and even your own dogs at bay.
I chose pallets that are 1m x 1.2m long; it's about right, but you could make it bigger. You'll need a spirit level.
First, lay out four concrete blocks for the four corners, getting each block level, and square. Place your first pallet on the blocks.
It's then really very simple to place three pallets for sides, and a back, and another on top for a roof; using 4" nails hammer everything securely in place; I used a couple six inch too just to be certain. Use a large square to get it ship shape, or the door won't fit.
Cover the whole structure with heavy duty roofing plastic, including the sides and back. A staple gun makes it very secure and simple.
Your simple chicken coops must have a secure door, of course. Measure up the size of the gap, lay out the struts leaving a space of no more than about an inch; find two cross pieces and a diagonal and glue and screw it securely.
Two strong hinges and a clasp complete the first, and hopefully last of your chicken coops; simple, eh?
Even though it's made of rough untreated timber, out of the rain I figure it will last at least five years. Pallets are sturdily made for obvious reasons and your hens won't notice if it's not finely planed and finished!
In total, it took me less than a morning to assemble.
Your hens won't like sitting on the ground all night of course; every simple chicken coop must also have a roost. Drill holes through the conduit at say 10cm intervals and wire the sticks firmly in place; they should be at least an inch thick.
Suspend the whole structure firmly inside your simple chicken coop, about 18" from the ceiling. Use strong nylon; with eight plus birds it will be quite heavy.
One of my older hens is unable to fly up into the coop so I've place a log for her on the ground.
Alternatively you can spend R6137 ($600) + courier charges + six weeks of assembly according to the manual!
It's very pretty, I must admit; fit for an Indian raj, but are you even going to have a cockerel?
With their deep orange yolks, free range eggs make the most delicious eggs Florentine; it tops the list of a healthy breakfast.
Hens need a lot of calcium in their diet; and the eggshells from their own eggs, suitably disguised, make the perfect source.
Can you feed eggshells to hens? Certainly you can.
Free range eggs with their deep orange yolks are a nutritional delight, rich especially in choline and omega-3 fatty acids. But to have them you will need one of these simple chicken coops.
We get six or seven free range cage free eggs most days; now and again only five; that's from seven hens.
I'll get another photo this evening with the hens in situ. Just before dark you'll find them sitting happily in your coop, waiting for you to lock them up for the night.
Deciding what is going to be the best chicken feed for your hens is obviously dependent on whether they can wander in the garden; that's where they'll find the protein for your delicious free range eggs. Cutworms, beetle larvae, grasshoppers and the myriad of tiny creatures in a compost heap then give them a well rounded diet, on top of the many weeds they'll nibble at.
Betaine is an important component of best chicken feed. You'll find they'll gravitate to the spinach in your garden, and best of all any bread from 100% healthy flour will drive them crazy with desire. What is betaine?
Careful planning of the vegetable garden needs then to be done; ours is divided into three sections. The hens are only allowed into an area where the plants are well established; they scratch out seedling with abandon hunting for worms in the compost.
Keeping them well away from the bush beans is important; vegetable protein is right up their street and they will demolish them. If starved of greens they'll get stuck into your kale and broccoli too. Right now they are wandering in the corn where they do no damage after the plants are about 6" high; and provide copious manure obviously.
At times, for a few weeks whilst seedlings are vulnerable, they'll be sent back our first chicken tractor design; the next will be smaller and lighter.
We also supplement their diet with a bucketful from the worm farm once a week; that's Christmas! The wonder of worm farms goes synergistically with your hens.
Periodically one or two naughty hens will spurn the nest you provide; then you need to be adroit at testing eggs for freshness.
I now let them out early for a couple hours, and then keep them in the chicken run until about 10 o'clock when most of the eggs have been laid.
Chicken coops for broodies is next on the agenda; there seems to be an inevitable progression of events in green living; there's never a dull moment. My granddaughter wants us to raise chicks.
A broody hen, and her eventual brood have to be kept intially separate from the rest of the flock who will disturb her brooding and bully her chicks. We are keeping Togo's eggs back, learning about candling, and have built her a private home of her own.
The gate is all welded and ready to erect; the roost needs to be covered in plastic to keep the rain out, and a door to keep the mongoose at bay. Soon Togo, the Australorp, will be able to brood in peace; we are already collecting her eggs.