Chooks can be the perfect pets. They will eat your kitchen and garden scraps, produce valuable fertiliser and supply you with fresh eggs every day!
Then there are the beautiful, calming sounds they produce: the triumphant cackle as they lay their eggs and the contented gurgle as they forage for slugs in the garden.
So turning part of the backyard over to a small flock of chooks makes sense. But before you buy your chooks, work out where and how you’re going to house them.
Whatever you build, a chook palace or a basic shed, it must keep your chooks safe from predators. The ideal site is sunny in winter, shaded by trees in summer and protected from the prevailing wind.
The first thing to consider is size
Five or six chooks can supply about three dozen eggs a week when they’re laying. But check with your council – some have a limit on the number of chooks you can keep.
You need an outer sanctum (the chook yard, where your chooks will spend most of their time) and an inner sanctum (the chook house, where they lay their eggs and sleep).
You need at least a square metre per chook for the yard plus 0.3 sq.m for the henhouse. If you’ve got plenty of space, allow a bit more for the yard since this is where your chickens will spend their days, feeding, scratching, digging and preening.
Most DIYers have leftover materials that can be recycled or repurposed for the henhouse. Use untreated timber inside to reduce the risk of chemical poisoning.
A small post hole digger is good for putting in posts for the yard fence and for the henhouse if it is raised.
Security for your chooks
Both your chicken house and your chicken yard need to be fox-proof, even in suburbia. Foxes are some of the craftiest animals alive. They can climb trees and fences and they can dig under fences.
The doors to the henhouse must be lockable and the gate to the yard must be secure. Provide some sort of flooring for the henhouse – even if it’s wire mesh.
Enclose your chook yard with a fence made of posts and chicken wire and roof the yard with chicken wire to keep out foxes and hawks. It should be around two metres high, so you can go inside without stooping.
Bury a strip of chicken wire in the ground or lay it outside the yard to prevent foxes from digging their way in.
If your chook yard is exposed, use shade cloth or a sail to shade your flock from the summer sun, particularly in the late afternoon.
Sleeping in the henhouse
The henhouse is just a place to sleep and lay eggs so it doesn’t have to be too big. Two metres by a metre is enough for six chooks, in addition to the nesting boxes.
You’ll need to pitch the roof. An old piece of tin is fine. You may want to collect the water for drinking water for the chooks. Otherwise, make sure it’s directed outside the yard.
Put the coop on the edge of the yard and make the nesting boxes accessible from outside the yard so you can collect the eggs and change the straw without entering. Ensure the nesting box entry is lockable so Mr Fox can’t sneak in.
You will need at least two boxes for a flock of six chooks, but if you find eggs in unexpected place it’s best to provide an extra box.
Chooks like to perch at night. They stand flat on the perch so a piece of timber 5-10cms wide is fine. Provide a few perches at different heights and your girls will soon work out what they like.
Talk to the experts
For expert advice and the right equipment to build your chicken coop, talk to the team at your local branch.