Keeping chickens is a popular thing to do these days and there is a wealth of information for new keepers of the flocks. I have had chickens since 1989 and would like to offer some tips that have proven helpful to me.
If possible, have an area to store feed within the chicken house. That saves trips back and forth from another storage area each day. I store feed in galvanized metal garbage cans. I don’t use plastic garbage cans because I believe they contain pesticides—after all, they are intended for garbage—and animals can chew through them. This feed area needs to be “walled off” from the chicken-living area, which can be done with chicken wire or welded wire fencing. That brings me to my next tip.
In the chicken-living area, it would do you well to arrange to divide that space into two. I read that idea long ago in Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills (1985, Rodale Press). In my chicken house the divider is made of welded wire fencing for the upper permanent part and wood for the lower removable part. A nail at each side of the bottom part holds it in place. When I want to allow the chickens into the whole area, I remove the bottom panel by pulling out the nails enough to remove the panel. In order to tend to both sections, you need to have a door to each one from your feed room. The doors can be made with a wood frame and wire fencing or you could scrounge old screen doors for this.
This division is most helpful when my chicks come out of the brooder. The outside pen area is divided, also, so that each inside area has its own run. One side, where the chicks are put, has smaller wire to contain the little ones. The rest of the chicken run has 2”x4” wire. Young chicks can slip right through that. The chickens, big and small, can see each other. When the time comes, I can take off the bottom panel in the chicken house and open the gates within the chicken run and they will all be together.
My next tip is to be able to collect the eggs without walking through chicken poop. You might not mind it, but occasionally you might need to have someone else, who is not so much into earthy ways as you are, collect your eggs. Also, chickens can be intimidating to young children and a rooster can be an attack animal. It is best if children don’t have to watch out for that, besides making sure they don’t break any eggs. If you have a feed room, have the nest boxes protrude into that space, with the top opening up for egg collection. If your nest boxes extend to the outside of the chicken house, make sure they are weather-proof. You wouldn’t want rain dripping on your hens as they sit in the nest box. My nest boxes are accessible from the feed area. I made them from scrap wood and used the tongues of old tennis shoes for hinges.
My last tip is to put a loft in your chicken house. That gives you space to store straw for bedding—maybe even straw from the grains that you’ve grown. The loft in my chicken house is only over the chicken-living area, allowing more headspace in the feed room. I have an old wooden five foot ladder there to access the loft. I add carbon material over the chicken droppings throughout the year and clean out the chicken house once in the summer. All of it goes to the compost pile. Having that bedding material right there in the loft is nice, especially if it is something I’ve grown.
You can also store grass clippings there. If you have sown white clover in your grass, your “grass hay” will be rich in clover. You can feed that to your chickens, line the nest boxes with it, or use it as bedding. Let the grass dry for a day or two before storing it or spread it out in the loft if it is fresh. When it is dry, you can pile it up. Otherwise, you will have a hot, slimy mess. Look at all the resources you have and make sure they are part of your circle of living. What is left from one thing becomes a resource for another. As much as you can, bring your chickens into your circle.