Diagram of home built chicken coop colony cage for the backyard.
ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Many town and city dwellers are becoming interested in
homesite farming these days . . . and, where local
ordinances permit, such an operation might well include a
small flock of poultry. If you've always wanted to keep a
few chickens, but held off because you thought that the
project required more room than you can spare from your
limited plot . . . well, it doesn't have to!
How To Build A Chicken Coop
When necessary, although they won't be as happy as they
would in a large run, chickens can be kept in a very
restricted area and still enjoy good health and a
reasonable degree of comfort. That's the goal I had in mind
when I planned the cage you see in the accompanying
illustrations how to build a chicken coop. The coop measures 7-1/2 by 3 feet and
provides brooding, growing, and laying facilities for 10 to
12 birds . . . enough to produce half a dozen eggs a day,
which is more than sufficient for the average family. If
you live in a mild climate where temperature, seldom drop
to freezing, this system may be just right for you.
On the other hand — though I believe the cage is well
suited to Figure 1 backyard poultry — keeping in the more
temperate areas in the U.S. — it wasn't invented for
that purpose. I designed it the island of Mauritius (where
I served as a micro-farming specialist with the Peace
Corps) for use by the Rural Reconstruction Project, a
division of the Mauritian Economic Planning Unit.
Mauritius lies off the African coast to the east of
Madagascar, and its climate forced me to a compromise
between my own inclinations and the realities of life in
that latitude. Personally, I prefer to keep chickens in
roomy grow ground enclosures . . . but because of the
severity of coccidiosis in many tropical countries, such
confinement often proves less humane than the clean
environment of a cage.
On the other hand, I hate battery cages. To allow a bird
only enough room to stand and sit — without even space
to turn around — is incredibly cruel. The EPU colony
cage is, I think, by far preferable . . . and even offers a
few advantages over the admittedly more natural
surroundings of the conventional chicken run:
 Ease and economy of construction.
 Increased efficiency, which allows you more time for
 High percentage of clean eggs, and tow incidence of
cracked or crushed shells.
 Prevention of roundworms and coccidiosis — that
nefarious chick killer — by means of the wire
 Easy collection of manure for use in the garden.
Conversely, this system does give rise to a few problems
(which are, however, easily prevented):
 In some cases the birds' droppings won't dry fast
enough to avoid the breeding of flies. Manure should be
removed weekly when such pests are troublesome.
 Since limited space inclines chickens to cannibalism,
they should be debeaked (preferably before the onset of egg
production). This operation is easily done on a young bird
by removing the tip of the upper beak — just in front
of the pad — with a sharp knife, scissors, or side
cutters. (See Figure 1 in the image gallery) To prevent bleeding and infection,
cauterize the wound by placing a hot knife against the cut
 The cage should be placed under shade to protect it
from direct sunlight when temperatures are high. This is
very important because the sheet-iron roof is an efficient
conductor of heat. On windy or rainy days, burlap bags can
be hung over the front of the coop. (According to some
interesting test results, higher egg production can be
maintained by protecting layers from wind . . .
particularly during the winter.)
The colony cage shown in the plans with this article was
built from the following materials:
 Packing crate boards (for back, sides, removable
partition, central wall supports, and nest-box frame)
 Five eucalyptus poles (two 60-inch-long posts for the
front uprights, two 54-inchers for the back, and an 8-foot
 50 feet of 1 by 3 lumber strips (frame)
 8 feet of heavy wire mesh, 3/4-inch square or
3/4 by 1-inch rectangular (floor)
 10 feet of 1/2-inch-square galvanized mesh . . . not
the flimsy round type (doors and nest-box floor)
 Two raisin crates (nest boxes)
 One sheet of galvanized iron, 8 feet by 3 feet (roof)
 2-inch straight nails, 3/4-inch U nails, flat-headed
galvanized roofing nails, hinges
Here's how the "C" cage operates: Chicks are started in the
left-hand compartment. Newspaper placed on the floor and
topped with about 2 or 3 inches of wood shavings (crushed
corncobs, cane fiber, peanut shells, etc.) will provide a
soft absorbent litter to keep the young birds dry and
A cardboard box, prepared as shown in Figure 2 and fitted
with a 60-watt electric light bulb, is placed in the rear
of the compartment . . . or a kerosene lamp, surrounded by
a wire basket chick-protector, can be substituted (see Figure 3).
For seven to eight weeks the chicks are confined to the
left–hand section of the coop, provided with heat, and fed
from shallow troughs or pans of mash and water placed on
the litter near the door. After that the box can be taken
out, the partition removed, and the birds given the run of
A good food container for older birds is a trough feeder
fitted on the inside of the middle door. By making this
unit deep and filling it only half full, you can reduce
wastage by beak-swinging hens. A simple gravity waterer is
excellent for this type of coop, since its large volume
ensures less work for you and plenty of clean, fresh water
for the flock.
The particular cage on which the plans are based was fitted
with a roost pole . . . which isn't absolutely necessary,
but pleases the hens and gets them off the cold wire at
night Such a pole should be painted twice with crankcase
oil, which has been diluted half-and-half with kerosene, to
protect the flock from bloodsucking mites.
The two nest boxes — which are adequate for 10 to 12
layers — must be kept darkened with a burlap blind to
encourage use by the hens (since birds seek privacy and
darkness at laying time). The 1/2-inch square mesh of the
nest floor gives a bit under the occupant's weight and
prevents the egg from cracking when it's dropped.
One disadvantage of the conventional henhouse is that eggs
often accumulate in the nests and are sat on and kept warm
when other hens enter the boxes. Naturally, the quality of
the layings deteriorates very quickly under these
conditions, and cracks and breakage often result In the "C"
cage, this problem is eliminated by a slanting nest-box
floor which rolls the freshly laid eggs to an open air
shelf. They cool quickly in that container and can be
gathered whenever their collection is convenient.
As the hens' production declines, the partition can be
replaced and preparations made for a new batch of chicks.
I've already pointed out, of course, that I don't regard
the above system as ideal . . . but where little space is
available, or ground enclosures are hazardous to a flock's
health, the colony cage is a workable and humane
alternative to the usual form of close confinement. Perhaps
some of MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers will find it useful. Good farming!