My family had chickens when I was a kid, and Angie wanted to try keeping some, so we fixed up a hen house and bought some day-old chicks. There’s one rooster, a big Dark Brahma who is not overly aggressive toward people, but very good at looking after his flock. He heads a flock of 24 hens. There are 8 Easter Eggers, 7 Red Stars, 6 Cuckoo Marans, and 3 Barred Rocks. One of the Red Stars was given to us by our neighbor after a bear ate her sisters. The rooster keeps the hens in line, and there is very little squabbling and no picking or fighting at all.
I converted a dilapidated 10×10 foot free-standing horse stall that was on the property into the hen house. All the chickens wanted to roost at the same level, so I built a multi-bar roost about 6 feet off the floor. They can fly down just fine, but they use two steps to get up there. There is a set of 8 nest boxes that stick out of the back wall so we can collect eggs without going inside the coop. The entire back wall above the nest boxes is enclosed with hardware cloth with a corrugated poly-carbonate windscreen to help keep rain from blowing in. The other three sides are enclosed with solid paneling for the first 6 1/2 feet, and with hardware cloth above that. The floor is dirt and the bedding is wood shavings. The chickens run in a large paddock enclosed by electronet mesh, and they spend 90 percent of the daylight hours outside.
We got the chickens for fun, but with the idea that we could sell eggs to pay for their upkeep. Eggs are a low-margin enterprise, but the chickens are earning their keep. We’ve expanded the chicken’s role by moving their paddock to enclose the garden over the winter. They cleaned up all the dropped tomatoes and other vegetables, along with the pumpkin vines, weeds, weed seeds, slugs, and whatever else they find to eat. They are also fertilizing and aerating the soil, so in the spring I can leave the tiller in the shed and just use a shovel and garden rake to fill in the dust baths they’ve dug. The chickens also will be integrated into the food forest we’ve started. In that environment they will be one part of the plan to keep insect pests and weeds under control so that we can avoid pulling weeds and using pesticides.