With the economy and employment situation being what it is, more and more people and turning to growing and raising their own food in their back yards. Whether you keep 100 acres or 1, providing it’s not prohibited by your local ordinances or housing association rules, you can keep a few birds in your back yard – on a budget.
The birds will need somewhere safe, draft free and warm to sleep at night, and somewhere to hang out during the day. You may have a small shed or barn on your property already which can be quickly and frugally turned into a chicken coop with scrap wood and wire; work with what you have. Enclose a small area for them to be locked in at night, and provide a roost in the form of a piece of wood or an old broom handle nailed securely.
They will also need laying boxes, which can be anything from a cardboard box lined with straw (if you use cardboard you will have to replace the box fairly regularly as it will get soiled and squashed) to a purpose built wooden box constructed from offcuts. Milk crates, old plastic cat litter tubs and clean, sanitized litter trays are also popular options. All the birds really require is somewhere secluded and quiet to lay their eggs, undisturbed.
Even an old dog house can provide perfectly adequate housing for a couple of birds. If it is the plastic type, simply take a cinder block, piece of pressboard, OSB or similar to block up the access door at night. A wooden dog house is easier; a set of hinges and a square of wood and you can make an impromptu door to keep them safe. A small roosting stick can be made from a small tree branch propped or nailed between two logs, just make sure it is stable for them to sit and sleep on. They just want to get up off the ground and this will prove more than acceptable.
You might be surprised what can be made into a chicken coop; even the children’s old plastic playhouse can be converted into a cute and very useable coop. To repeat, again: work with what you have!
Keeping the birds safe is a big concern and should never be underrated. Losing a bird of laying age is traumatic and a loss to your flock. It cost you in feed and time to raise the bird to laying age, so losing it in one night to a hungry or opportunistic predator is frustrating. In Georgia, we have plentiful raccoons, possums, foxes, stray dogs and even the odd bear to contend with and, while a simple door probably won’t deter a determined bear, it will more than likely make the other predators pass by in search of easier prey.
If the birds are to spend any time in the coop during daylight hours, just make sure that ventilation is adequate without being drafty. Atlanta area temperatures can be into three figures, and this can be fatal for birds. Equally, the ventilation should be constructed so that, should the area experience periods of freezing weather and snow, such as in 2009, they can be blocked to keep the indoor temperature bearable for the birds. No special tools or materials are needed for this; just use an old blanket, towel or tarp.
While it is perfectly possible to spend hundreds and even thousands on a coop, just spend a few minutes looking around your yard and apply some imagination… who knows what kind of unique, frugal and truly personalized coop you can make for your birds!
Follow me on Twitter.