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How to House Chickens in your Backyard

Updated on June 16, 2016
LongTimeMother profile image

LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing etc.

We keep our chickens' scratch mix in a metal bin. Is it a clever hen (or a lazy one) who chooses to sit on it when all the others are free ranging? lol.
We keep our chickens' scratch mix in a metal bin. Is it a clever hen (or a lazy one) who chooses to sit on it when all the others are free ranging? lol. | Source

Backyard Chickens

Have you always wanted to have chickens in your backyard and fresh eggs for breakfast? An increasing number of city and town backyards are now home to hens. But keeping chickens in your backyard is not always as easy as you'd like to think.

Many people advise clipping the wings of backyard chickens to stop them from wandering.

Wing clipping is certainly an option but in my experience it is too difficult for most new chicken owners to catch their birds and clip their wings effectively. It is not pleasant for the chickens and no fun for their owners.

Even if your chickens can't fly, they can still cause mayhem and chaos in a suburban backyard. How will you protect your garden?

A chicken run in the backyard attached to the hen's house could be your best option.


Chickens are great when they stay in your backyard. But what can you do when they fly over your fences or jump up and over your gates?
Chickens are great when they stay in your backyard. But what can you do when they fly over your fences or jump up and over your gates? | Source

Backyard chickens

Do you keep chickens in your own backyard?

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Different Runs for Chickens in the Backyard

Choosing the best option from many different runs for chickens kept in backyards requires you to think carefully about your home, your yard, your family and exactly what role your chickens will have in your life.

If you want to keep your chickens at a distance from your house, tucked away in the bottom of your backyard, you'll need a different size and type of run than one chosen by a family intending to keep chickens as pets.

Do you have cats in your own home or nearby houses and fear they may attack your chickens even during daylight? Will your family dog adopt the chickens and keep them safe from predators?

These are kinds of issues you need to think through when assessing different runs for chickens in your backyard.


Silkies have beautiful feathers and soft, lovely temperaments. These backyard chickens make good family pets.
Silkies have beautiful feathers and soft, lovely temperaments. These backyard chickens make good family pets. | Source

How Safe is your Backyard for Chickens?

What kind of chickens do you intending keeping, and how many? Do you expect your breed of hens will be adventurous and fly over fences into other backyards where they are not welcome? If so, you'll need wire covering your chicken run.

Or perhaps you have your eye on ground-dwelling Silkies less likely to jump your boundary fences.

Free-ranging hens can happily wander unattended through a backyard and return to a small hen house to roost, if that's what suits your lifestyle. Lock them up at night to keep them safe from predators, and let them run free again each morning.


Brilliant at controlling pests but with big, strong legs this is the main offender when my seedlings are scratched from the garden.
Brilliant at controlling pests but with big, strong legs this is the main offender when my seedlings are scratched from the garden. | Source

Backyard Chickens for Pest Control

Aside from the obvious advantage of fresh eggs for breakfast, keeping a couple of chickens in your backyard can help with pest control.

The variety of hens you choose will influence their effectiveness in your garden, but in theory chickens can help control the following pests:

  • flies
  • fruitfly
  • mosquitoes
  • grasshoppers
  • millipedes
  • earwigs
  • scorpions
  • spiders
  • ticks
  • worms/caterpillars that attack apple trees, cherry trees etc
  • white cabbage moths and their larvae.

Free ranging chickens can be very effective pest controllers. To control pests, however, chickens do two things; they peck and they scratch.

Big hens with big feet on strong legs can make a mess of garden beds as they scratch looking for worms and other food.

Hungry chickens will peck and eat your lettuce and tomatoes and other foods growing in your garden as well as the caterpillars and flying bugs they may find on the leaves.

If you don't want your chickens to have access to your entire backyard, you will need to build them a run. Your other option is to effectively fence your vegetable garden.


Building a Backyard Chicken House

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The new hen house began with a raised platform at a convenient height for us to reach in and replace straw, and easily catch the chickens when necessary. No need to bend down to ground level. We painted the floor to seal it. The frame of the hen house takes shape. We recycled one sheet of glass from an old oven door as a window. It is positioned at the height of the roosts, allowing us to check the chickens at night by shining a torch in.The laying boxes extend out the side of the chicken house. We can access the eggs without needing to enter the hen house.My husband demonstrates the convenience of being able to collect eggs from the laying boxes without having to bend down. :)In various chicken houses we've had in the past, the entry has either been on ground level,  involved a ramp or required a jump to a raised doorway. In this version we've decided to try them out with some stairs. No reason other than their amusement.Corner posts for some of the fencing are made from trees, just like in days of old. The wire fencing and metal posts are recycled.To the left is the fence of a vegetable garden freshly weeded by pig-power, waiting for spring planting. To the right is the new chicken run. The door to the chicken run is an old bed base from a camp bed.If we need access to the inside of the chicken house, we don't have to enter the chicken run. Recycled wood for door and laying boxes needs painting. The roofing iron yet to be finished.The access door is at a convenient height. Removing straw will be easy with a shovel and a wheelbarrow.We used two branches of slightly different thickness to create roosts.One wall insulated. Metal strapping provides additional strength for the structure in high winds.
The new hen house began with a raised platform at a convenient height for us to reach in and replace straw, and easily catch the chickens when necessary. No need to bend down to ground level. We painted the floor to seal it.
The new hen house began with a raised platform at a convenient height for us to reach in and replace straw, and easily catch the chickens when necessary. No need to bend down to ground level. We painted the floor to seal it. | Source
The frame of the hen house takes shape. We recycled one sheet of glass from an old oven door as a window. It is positioned at the height of the roosts, allowing us to check the chickens at night by shining a torch in.
The frame of the hen house takes shape. We recycled one sheet of glass from an old oven door as a window. It is positioned at the height of the roosts, allowing us to check the chickens at night by shining a torch in. | Source
The laying boxes extend out the side of the chicken house. We can access the eggs without needing to enter the hen house.
The laying boxes extend out the side of the chicken house. We can access the eggs without needing to enter the hen house. | Source
My husband demonstrates the convenience of being able to collect eggs from the laying boxes without having to bend down. :)
My husband demonstrates the convenience of being able to collect eggs from the laying boxes without having to bend down. :) | Source
In various chicken houses we've had in the past, the entry has either been on ground level,  involved a ramp or required a jump to a raised doorway. In this version we've decided to try them out with some stairs. No reason other than their amusement.
In various chicken houses we've had in the past, the entry has either been on ground level, involved a ramp or required a jump to a raised doorway. In this version we've decided to try them out with some stairs. No reason other than their amusement. | Source
Corner posts for some of the fencing are made from trees, just like in days of old. The wire fencing and metal posts are recycled.
Corner posts for some of the fencing are made from trees, just like in days of old. The wire fencing and metal posts are recycled. | Source
To the left is the fence of a vegetable garden freshly weeded by pig-power, waiting for spring planting. To the right is the new chicken run. The door to the chicken run is an old bed base from a camp bed.
To the left is the fence of a vegetable garden freshly weeded by pig-power, waiting for spring planting. To the right is the new chicken run. The door to the chicken run is an old bed base from a camp bed. | Source
If we need access to the inside of the chicken house, we don't have to enter the chicken run. Recycled wood for door and laying boxes needs painting. The roofing iron yet to be finished.
If we need access to the inside of the chicken house, we don't have to enter the chicken run. Recycled wood for door and laying boxes needs painting. The roofing iron yet to be finished. | Source
The access door is at a convenient height. Removing straw will be easy with a shovel and a wheelbarrow.
The access door is at a convenient height. Removing straw will be easy with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. | Source
We used two branches of slightly different thickness to create roosts.
We used two branches of slightly different thickness to create roosts. | Source
One wall insulated. Metal strapping provides additional strength for the structure in high winds.
One wall insulated. Metal strapping provides additional strength for the structure in high winds. | Source

Springtime changes to the chicken house

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Shade cloth for summer protects the entry ramp from excessive heat and also keeps their water tank shaded.The entire length of the chicken run has been covered with nets to stop our top flyers from escaping and scratching up seedlings in the vegetable gardens. They will be set free again once the young plants are established.With not a blade of grass left in the lengthy chicken run, we now provide them with food - including clumps of grass. Our hens love to free range and eat fresh greens - which is why our spring gardens are not safe. lol.The stairs were fun for a while, but now that some of the hens are clucky and sitting on eggs we have replaced them with a ramp for easier entry and exit for baby chickens.
Shade cloth for summer protects the entry ramp from excessive heat and also keeps their water tank shaded.
Shade cloth for summer protects the entry ramp from excessive heat and also keeps their water tank shaded. | Source
The entire length of the chicken run has been covered with nets to stop our top flyers from escaping and scratching up seedlings in the vegetable gardens. They will be set free again once the young plants are established.
The entire length of the chicken run has been covered with nets to stop our top flyers from escaping and scratching up seedlings in the vegetable gardens. They will be set free again once the young plants are established. | Source
With not a blade of grass left in the lengthy chicken run, we now provide them with food - including clumps of grass. Our hens love to free range and eat fresh greens - which is why our spring gardens are not safe. lol.
With not a blade of grass left in the lengthy chicken run, we now provide them with food - including clumps of grass. Our hens love to free range and eat fresh greens - which is why our spring gardens are not safe. lol. | Source
The stairs were fun for a while, but now that some of the hens are clucky and sitting on eggs we have replaced them with a ramp for easier entry and exit for baby chickens.
The stairs were fun for a while, but now that some of the hens are clucky and sitting on eggs we have replaced them with a ramp for easier entry and exit for baby chickens. | Source

Fine-Tuning your Hen House

It is difficult to anticipate precisely how your hens, roosters and baby chicks will cope with changing seasons and their new living quarters, but there are a few obvious factors you'll need to take into account.

For instance, sometimes you'll have heavy rain. The space beneath the hen house in our most recent design has proven extremely useful for the fowl to take shelter.

Similarly, in the summer heat there needs to be shelter from the sun. In addition to the space beneath their house, at the first sign of spring we added blue shade cloth to provide additional cover over the fenced area near the entry.

The stairs have been fun for the larger birds but once winter passed we replaced the steps with a ramp ... better suited to accommodate baby chicks.

And in order to protect the seedlings in our vegetable gardens, we covered the entire chicken run in nets. (I am not a fan of clipping their wings.)

Our poultry will be confined to their house and outdoor run until the gardens are safe for free ranging again. Meanwhile, we bring clumps of fresh grass and other greens to them and treat them to grain and seeds.

Despite the general success of the original house and run design, we have definitely found a need for fine tuning. Our free-ranging hens and roosters can fly over even the highest fences.


Backyard silkies

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Two of my Silkies. One white hen with a rooster. They won't be kept in the new chicken run because they cause no damage to our gardens and we simply lock them up in their own little house at night.Another friendly fluff-ball chicken!Silkie rooster.Start with a Silkie and then add other larger hens. We have many varieties of chickens on our small farm.
Two of my Silkies. One white hen with a rooster. They won't be kept in the new chicken run because they cause no damage to our gardens and we simply lock them up in their own little house at night.
Two of my Silkies. One white hen with a rooster. They won't be kept in the new chicken run because they cause no damage to our gardens and we simply lock them up in their own little house at night. | Source
Another friendly fluff-ball chicken!
Another friendly fluff-ball chicken! | Source
Silkie rooster.
Silkie rooster. | Source
Start with a Silkie and then add other larger hens. We have many varieties of chickens on our small farm.
Start with a Silkie and then add other larger hens. We have many varieties of chickens on our small farm. | Source

Best Backyard Chickens

My best recommendation for anyone keeping chickens in the backyard for the first time is to choose Silkies. Begin with this small, friendly, well-behaved breed of chicken (compared other breeds), and then expand your flock with other varieties once you become more experienced and confident.

Silkies offer many advantages if you want backyard chickens.

  • Silkies rarely fly
  • They are not likely to be aggressive
  • They are lovely and soft to touch and hold
  • Their eggs are small but tasty


Equally important,

  • Silkies have feathers on their feet so they are less likely to scratch your garden
  • Their size means they eat less if you are buying layer's mash or pellets instead of letting them free range
  • Silkies are good mothers and will even sit on a larger hen's eggs. When the time comes to expand your flock, you can purchase fertile eggs for a Silkie to hatch.
  • Silkie roosters are just as cute and lovely as the hens - unlike larger varieties whose roosters can be far more intimidating to inexperienced chicken owners


And ...

  • You don't need a big backyard.


A different Hen House and Run for Backyard Chickens

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This small chicken house holds our larger hens at night. The structure is mainly metal and wire - with a wooden side facing the direction of winds and bad weather. Some of the smaller hens also choose to stay in this particular chicken house.The hens have a run attached (covered with wire mesh to stop them escaping), and can reach it via a small opening beneath the wooden wall. Room to stretch their legs and access water early in the mornings.During the day, we let them out through the main door (opposite their chicken run) and they free range with all the other poultry.
This small chicken house holds our larger hens at night. The structure is mainly metal and wire - with a wooden side facing the direction of winds and bad weather. Some of the smaller hens also choose to stay in this particular chicken house.
This small chicken house holds our larger hens at night. The structure is mainly metal and wire - with a wooden side facing the direction of winds and bad weather. Some of the smaller hens also choose to stay in this particular chicken house. | Source
The hens have a run attached (covered with wire mesh to stop them escaping), and can reach it via a small opening beneath the wooden wall. Room to stretch their legs and access water early in the mornings.
The hens have a run attached (covered with wire mesh to stop them escaping), and can reach it via a small opening beneath the wooden wall. Room to stretch their legs and access water early in the mornings. | Source
During the day, we let them out through the main door (opposite their chicken run) and they free range with all the other poultry.
During the day, we let them out through the main door (opposite their chicken run) and they free range with all the other poultry. | Source
How many eggs are too many eggs? When your backyard chickens are laying in peak production periods, you have to be prepared to eat, store or dispose of excess eggs.
How many eggs are too many eggs? When your backyard chickens are laying in peak production periods, you have to be prepared to eat, store or dispose of excess eggs. | Source

How big is your backyard?

Proud Indonesian Jungle Fowl rooster with his family. Not the best choice for backyard chickens. They fly too well to contain in a small backyard.
Proud Indonesian Jungle Fowl rooster with his family. Not the best choice for backyard chickens. They fly too well to contain in a small backyard. | Source

How Many Backyard Chickens Do You Need?

How many chickens do you plan to keep in your backyard?

Before you rush out and buy six, eight, ten cute little chicks to bring home and raise with the dream of supplying your family and friends with fresh eggs, I suggest you give thought to exactly what you will do with an excess of eggs during the peak laying season.

Those of us who keep many hens know that there comes a time every year when you're suddenly overwhelmed with more eggs than you can possibly use.

In my home when our chickens are busy laying one egg each per day, I write the date each egg is collected on the eggshell in pencil before putting it in the fridge. Instead of eating 'the oldest eggs first' as people tend to do when trained to look at use-by dates on supermarket products, we always eat the freshest first.

Any old eggs are fed to our pigs. But if you don't have backyard pigs as well as backyard chickens, you may well find that during spring and summer you have too many eggs to give away and no real hope of eating them within the three months they'll keep in your refrigerator.

Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs, quiches ... there's lots of ways you can eat them but sooner or later everyone grows tired of too many eggs.

If you are keeping backyard chickens for the first time, I strongly suggest you start with just two hens. You might have to buy extra eggs during the colder months but you can always add more chickens to your backyard flock in future years.

Most backyards can accommodate two chickens, and most families can cope with two eggs a day. :)

Never underestimate the convenience of being able to access your chicken house without having to walk through their run. Housekeeping can be completed with ease without disturbing its residents. :)
Never underestimate the convenience of being able to access your chicken house without having to walk through their run. Housekeeping can be completed with ease without disturbing its residents. :) | Source

© 2013 LongTimeMother

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This is a beautifully written and detailed hub with excellent photos of your building process. I like your idea about writing the date on the eggs and giving extras to pigs. I will share that with my brother who has chickens, pigs, a cow, a donkey, and more critters in a "farmette." I sure wish I could have chickens, but I like in the suburbs and there are rules against it. I do dream, however. Voted up and more, plus pinned.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      It's always great to read a hub of someone who's really speaking from experience. Very clear and easy to read, and very good advice for anyone new to poultry raising. Nothing beats fresh home laid eggs. Another beautiful and very friendly breed are Pekins. We have had both silkies and Pekins, and both are quiet small breeds ideal for children.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Very interesting, I got 3 chicks this fall and they are about ready lay I think. Sure look forward to it.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Hi FlourishAnyway. I've never heard a small farm being called a farmette before. How creative!! Pigs love eggs. It's fun to watch them crunch them and then move really quickly trying to catch all the drips. :)

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Jodah, you are very kind. I agree with you about Pekins. They are also a good choice for children. Thanks for your feedback!

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Hi Jackie. You can't beat the taste of a truly fresh egg. I hope they start laying soon. :)

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image

      ExpectGreatThings 3 years ago from Illinois

      Another hub of yours that makes me wish I lived in the country! Those silkies are adorable :) Great hub! - Ginger

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      It costs nothing to dream, Ginger. You can always be a country girl at heart!!

    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 3 years ago from India

      Nice hub. It is interesting and useful Thank you for sharing.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Thank you, My Cook Book. We moved the chickens into their new house tonight. :)

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I only wish I could have chickens in my back yard. I used to get fresh eggs from a neighbor back home - they are so tasty. Love the silkies, but I would only keep it as a pet.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Hi teaches12345. Few pets are as helpful as a cute little silkie. Maybe one day you'll have the chance to get one. :)

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I wish I could do this, especially here in OK where the winters are pretty mild. I've been buying eggs from a friend for a couple of years now, and that was one of the smartest choices that I ever made.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Hello aviannovice. As long as you're getting fresh healthy eggs, that's the main thing. :)

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Backyard Chickens and Hen Houses great hub here and so interesting. You have such lovely photos and a created an informative hub in detail.I enjoy reading your hubs.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks, DDE. I'm pleased you enjoy reading them. I enjoy writing them. lol. :)

    • profile image

      Alise- Evon 3 years ago

      Really interesting, as usual, LongTimeMother! I love your photos- those Silkies sure are cute!

      Voted interesting and useful.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Hello Alise-Evon. It is summer here and I have more baby chickens than I thought possible. The new hen house has proven a great success. I will take some photos and post an update. lol.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this useful post on raising chickens in the backyard! I would do it just for the pest control you mention, but you can't beat fresh eggs, excuse the pun. :)

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 3 years ago from Iowa

      Congrats on HOTD. I have three backyard hens that live in a 6'x20' old dog run that I converted into a chicken pen, with a 3'x4' chicken coop inside the pen that I lock them into every night. After one hen kept flying out of the pen - despite a 6-foot high fence - and laying eggs in the garden, we put a top over the pen. Problem solved. Love the fresh eggs, and the chickens make such entertaining pets.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia

      So pleased to see your hub was chosen for HOTD, LTM. You deserve it for this very informational article. One of my first memories of going barefoot was stepping in some fresh chicken manure. You don't forget something like that very quickly. LOL!

      I'm considering getting a few hens and maybe some goats in the near future. This hub will help me a lot.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 3 years ago from America

      Congrats on HOTD. Love your chickens and enjoyed your hub. We had chickens at one time. We buy fresh eggs now.

    • theBAT profile image

      theBAT 3 years ago

      Hi I enjoyed reading your hub. Having backyard chickens and hen houses is a very practical idea. Hope to read more of your hubs. Thanks.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I'm back to say congratulations on HOTD! Well done!

    • simondixie profile image

      Nancy McLendon Scott 3 years ago from Georgia

      Wonderful! Excellent, informative information. Your hub also brings back some beautiful childhood memories. My grandmother, who lived with us until she died at 95, raised chickens for years (along with a lovely vegetable garden). Somewhere are pictures of me as a two or three-year-old feeding the chickens.....when the chickens wandered into my grandmother's garden, her dog Bubbles would obediently chase them back to their chicken yard area. I didn't like the times when they had to be killed (Ugh) although I surely liked the fresh fried chicken. Ah.....no worries about hormones or other additives in the chicken....I've thought about trying to raise a few myself, but haven't figured out how to get past the slaughtering part....oh, well, maybe I could just raise the chickens for eggs!

    • Better Yourself profile image

      Better Yourself 3 years ago from North Carolina

      Love your hub and congrats on HOTD! I would love to have Chickens some day but right now we have 4 dogs to keep us busy. This is really helpful for people considering getting Chickens and whether they will be able to manage the responsibility.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Great hub! Love those Silkies ... I want some too. Congrats on the HOTD ...well done.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      Thanks, everyone. I missed the fun of discovering I had Hub of the Day on the day itself. I was in hospital with a leg injury.

      I appreciate the comments and encouragement. Thanks again!

    • Kelsey Farrell profile image

      Kelsey Elise Farrell 2 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Awesome hub, I'll be passing along to my mom who just moved onto a farm with a chicken coop. She has yet to make the spring for the chickens, but she'll find this useful for sure.

    • LongTimeMother profile image
      Author

      LongTimeMother 2 years ago from Australia

      Hello Kelsey. My girls are all happy with their hen house and run. It is winter now so they spend most days out in the gardens cleaning up for next spring. :)

      Best wishes to your mother.

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