Who is with the question “Keeping chickens in the garden: what do I need to know?” busy, often searches the net for answers to his questions – and receives a flood of different information. In this post we answer the most important questions about keeping chickens in the backyard.
How much space does a chicken need?
Happy chickens need two things: a coop to sleep in and a place to retreat to, and an outdoor exercise area.
As a rough rule of thumb: You can keep a maximum of three animals in one square meter of stable area. That is a minimum, because the stable still has to be furnished – with a drinking trough, sand bath, feeding place and laying nests. The chickens sleep on perches at a height of about one meter at night and like to be outdoors during the day.
If you want to keep chickens in the garden, you should calculate about five to ten square meters per animal for the run. The more free range the animals have, the better. Happy and healthy chickens also lay more eggs than stressed animals.
Good to know
To provide eggs for a family of four, you should get four to six chickens. Would you like to take care of your neighbors or relatives too? Then you need more animals accordingly.
How many chickens are there?
Do you want to keep chickens in the garden and you are not sure how many animals you want to keep? The answer lies in the counter-question: For what purpose do you want to keep the chickens in the garden?
Why do you want to keep chickens?
- Eggs from your own chickens: an average breed chicken lays between 180 and 220 eggs per year. Of course, this cannot be compared with the amount of eggs in hybrid chickens (approx. 330). The hybrids are bred for mass production and only lay for 1.5 to 2 years. Pedigree chickens, on the other hand, provide you with their eggs for several years.
- Chicken as a pet for the children: Some children love the brightly colored, bright poultry and would rather keep chickens in the garden than take care of a cat or a guinea pig. The eggs are a welcome addition. In this case, you can limit the number of animals to two and choose a breed whose appearance you like and which has a friendly, trusting character.
- Breeding: If you want to breed pedigree chickens, you should get in touch with the closest breeders’ association for pedigree poultry.
Can you keep a chicken alone?
No. Chickens are very social animals and live together in groups. Therefore, if you want to keep chickens in the garden, you need at least two animals.
Keeping chickens in winter?
Keeping chickens in winter is not a problem. Ideally, new animals will move in with you during the summer. This way they can slowly get used to the falling temperatures in autumn. If keeping chickens usually goes without problems in winter, you should consider a few things so that the animals stay healthy and you can look forward to eggs even in the cold season.
Interesting facts about keeping chickens in winter
- Chickens need around 16 hours of daylight to lay eggs. To achieve this number of hours, you need a lamp in the stable in winter. However, this will only work if the barn is big enough for the animals to move around.
- A heat lamp (red light) provides warmth on frosty nights.
- Insulate the stable in autumn and use sufficient bedding.
- Chickens don’t like cold and wet weather. They either need a stable in which they can move around easily or a covered area in the open air that protects them from wind and rain. In addition, it is not healthy for the animals if they wander around in the cold, wet meadow or in the mud all day.
Does the keeping of chickens have to be reported?
If you want to keep chickens in the garden, you have to report them to the veterinary office and the animal disease fund.
Which breed of chicken is suitable for beginners?
If you are looking to keep chickens in the garden for the first time, the following breeds are suitable for you:
With the Wyandottes, the Americans wanted to produce a pedigree chicken that was bred for both meat and laying performance.
The Welsumer chicken is a relatively young Dutch breed of chicken, the origins of which can still not be clarified. The reason for this is their breeding.
Around 1900, Oskar Vorwerk from Othmarschen made the decision to breed a cattle that matched the drawing of the Lakenfeld chicken.
No other breed of chicken combines so many special features in one chicken as silk chickens. Aristotle described these chickens with particularly silky plumage well over 2,000 years ago.
You can keep these breeds together without any problems. For a balanced flock of chickens, make sure to get a pair of each breed. Especially in the first time you can observe that the animals of the same breed stay very close together and also sleep next to each other on the perch.
Calm, friendly characters, who at best hardly fly, are best suited for beginners.
When it comes to keeping chickens in the garden, you have to set clear priorities for yourself: What is really important to you? – Then you will also make the right decision.
Can you keep several breeds of chicken together?
You can easily keep different breeds of chicken together. It is only important that they do not differ too much in size and character.
Dwarf breeds weighing 500 to 1000 grams are completely inferior to a Brahma chicken weighing four to five kilograms. This can cause problems in battles for rank. Such combinations are therefore not recommended for beginners.
Even combative breeds such as dwarf Orloffs or Old English dwarf fighters should not be mixed into your chicken gang to get started.
Keeping chickens without a rooster?
A group of hens can usually manage without a rooster. A rooster does not affect the laying performance either. The hens lay their eggs – with and without a rooster.
Sometimes one hears the objection that keeping without a rooster would not be appropriate to the species. This may be. However, if you have already seen how torn the rooster’s favorite hens look, this argument is put into perspective.
What can you feed chickens?
The basis of chicken feeding is high-quality chicken feed.
Chickens are omnivores. If you want to keep chickens in the garden, you can feed them lots of leftovers from the kitchen.
Here are some examples:
Lettuce leaves, carrot greens, (boiled) potato peel, potatoes, rice, yogurt, quark, leftover fruit and vegetables, such as bananas with brown spots, wrinkled apples or the excess of the zucchini harvest. Of course you can also get the classic: stale bread.
Chickens are just as happy if you give them a few raspberries while snacking on the berry bush.
You can’t feed that to chickens
An important note: chickens are great recyclers of leftovers. Still, there are a few things you need to watch out for.
- NEVER feed moldy or spoiled food. It can also make chickens sick.
- Make sure you have a balanced diet: if you eat too much bread, the animals become fat, lay fewer eggs or get sick.
- Too much fruit can cause diarrhea.
As long as you keep these points in mind, keeping chickens in the garden will be a lot of fun.
The perfect chicken coop – you need to know that
If you want to keep your own chickens, the most important question is: How much space do my chickens need and which hen house is the right one?
The idea that chickens are very frugal and don’t need much space is widespread. This impression may arise on a farm: There is a laying nest and a small chicken coop with a perch for sleeping. The fact that the animals roam freely on the farm during the day and look for a large part of their food by themselves quickly disappears.
The following sections will therefore show you how you can enable your chickens to lead a species-appropriate life with a chicken coop and plenty of exercise. The animals will thank you with their health and delicious eggs.
How big does the hen house have to be?
Nevertheless, one should not mercilessly exhaust this minimum basic size, because the more space the chickens have in the barn, the more comfortable they feel.
The scratching area should make up about a third of this area and be strewn 10 to 15 cm high.
Chicken coop size
The rule of thumb for the basic size (minimum value) of a chicken coop is: Depending on the size of the chickens, there is space for a maximum of 3 medium-sized chickens or 5 bantams on one square meter.
The rest of the area in the hen house is reserved for perches with a manure board or pit. These are to be mounted at a height in order to counteract battles for the best (highest) seat.
There must be around 25 cm perch available per chicken.
So that chickens can delight their keepers with freshly laid eggs, it makes sense to set up laying nests in the barn. There are individual or group nests in specialist shops, but with a little manual skill you can build them yourself just as well.
A laying nest should measure 35 x 35 x 35 cm, with one nest being sufficient for 3-4 chickens.
And don’t worry, even without a laying nest, the hen will find a place and lay her egg!
Before you start looking for the right chicken coop, you have to answer two questions:
- What breed of chicken do you want to keep?
Bantams, such as the dwarf wyandot, require less space in the hen house due to their small size. At the same time, they are very curious and busy: they love to explore new places and are extremely adept at getting hold of berries or tasty seeds.
Big hens, such as Jersey Giants, are considered quieter and not quite as happy to run as their smaller relatives. The hen house for large breeds must be planned accordingly larger.
- How many animals should there be?
Most people want to keep chickens to meet their own needs for eggs. A small flock of three to five animals is sufficient for this. If you intend to lose eggs to relatives or neighbors, you will need more animals accordingly. Calculate with ten to twenty laying hens.
How big does the chicken run have to be?
A organic chicken is legally entitled to an open space of four square meters.
So you need forty square meters of exercise for ten animals. This is the minimum space required. After all, you want to keep your animals species-appropriate. However, a meadow will not stay green for long with this stocking density. The space is too small for that.
A note: The space required in the run results from two factors: On the one hand, the natural urge to move, on the other hand, the pecking order. Chickens are happiest when they go around cackling and searching – here a worm, there a blade of grass. In between they have to clarify the hierarchy (“pecking order”). For these “fights” to be moderate, they need sufficient space. An inferior animal can evade the other chickens if necessary. This reduces the stress of the whole group.
Buy a finished chicken coop – Our recommendations
Building a chicken coop is not for everyone. You can find various chicken coops to order as a kit. The advantage of such a chicken coop: It is constructed in such a way that you can easily clean it. In addition, the laying nests are already integrated. You can usually access it from the outside and remove the eggs.
The following models are suitable for a small band of hens (3 – 4 animals):
Build your own chicken coop: large chicken coop for 5 to 20 chickens
If you want to raise chickens or give eggs to the neighbors, you need a larger group of chickens. A corresponding chicken coop is usually quite expensive. With a little time and manual skill, you can easily build a chicken coop yourself. Here we have some great instructions for you that explain step by step how you can build a perfect chicken coop yourself. This package includes many different blueprints for different chicken coops. You can find all the materials you need at your local hardware store.
If you’re getting a colorful flock of chickens, watch out for the appropriate breeds. You will get along better with calm, balanced animals such as wyandotts or salmon chickens than with the more combative dwarf Orloffs.
Set up a chicken coop
Regardless of whether you opt for a classic chicken coop or a chicken coop with a run, or whether you want to build the chicken coop yourself: In any case, you will need the following items to set up the chicken coop.
This is what you need for the chicken coop setup
- Laying nests (size approx. 35 x 35 x 35 cm) – (mostly integrated in the prefabricated stable)
- drinking vessel
- feeding trough
- Spreadable lime
- automatic chicken door
- sand bath
Winterizing the chicken coop: this is how it works.
The original chicken comes from tropical areas and prefers warm regions. In the millennia of breeding history, humans have managed to adapt the chickens to colder climates.
Before you winterize the chicken coop, please also remember:
Ideally, new animals move in with you before autumn. In this way they gradually get used to the cooler weather. Young animals that have only grown up in the barn can get sick from unusually strong temperature fluctuations.
If you want to winterize the chicken coop, you can do the following:
- A thick layer of litter insulates the floor. The chickens usually stand with their bare feet on the floor all day and therefore need a warming mat.
- You can clad the walls from the outside with styrofoam sheets.
- In the case of permafrost, we recommend a hot plate for the drinking water so that it does not freeze.
- Cover the ventilation openings with fabric.
- A heat lamp warms the chicken coop during long periods of cold weather.
It makes sense if you don’t just make the chicken coop winterproof. The chickens also need a covered, dry area in the run – because chickens need fresh air and exercise even in cold, wet weather or snowfall.
Design the run – ideas and tips
Chickens were originally flight animals. However, through close contact with people and other animals, they lose their fear and go their way in a deeply relaxed manner, even if, for example, a dog chases its ball next to them. Chickens are adaptive and curious. You will quickly discover the best places to sunbathe and find a way to get into the garden bed.
If your chickens have a fixed run, they will be happy about a varied design.
The outlet includes:
- external laying nests
- drinking vessels
- fast growing plants that are non-toxic to animals such as mint or daylily
- Shrubs such as elder or willow
- Branches and twigs to hide or as a lookout point
Children enjoy collecting various objects in nature and using them to design their chickens’ run. Have lots of fun with it!
Conclusion: Now you have all the important information to find the perfect house – regardless of whether you are looking for a hen house for 5 chickens or 10 chickens, or if you want to build a hen house yourself.