My brother and I decided to get my recently retired mother set up with a small flock of her own backyard chickens, just enough hens to produce eggs for baking and eating. She lives in a small town - where it’s legal to keep chickens in city limits - and it was important for us to start at the drawing board to formulate a plan. Though I was raised with chickens, it had been awhile since I had cared for any of my own, and in the years since I’d kept chickens I knew there was tons of new ideas and info on keeping free-range chickens. I went about doing my homework, and the book I pulled from my shelf was Raise Backyard Chickens put together by the Mother Earth News crew. It answered a lot of the questions we had, and gave us a few creative ideas that made keeping backyard chickens even easier for Mom.
We needed a docile breed that would be quiet enough to keep in town, wouldn’t bother neighbors, and would also be self-sufficient free-range chickens. We also wanted a breed that wouldn’t be too big for Mom’s limited yard space, and would lay a decent number of eggs.
We wanted to be able to free range the chickens, which would be possible in Mom’s backyard, but a movable coop wasn’t ideal for her situation. We ultimately decided to go with an immovable coop with a spacious run and employ the deep litter method inside the coop. That way Mom wouldn’t have to move a chicken tractor every day by herself. She could let them out while she was home, and on days she would be away from the house, they would still have a good 20 square feet of fenced-in earth to scratch on. And the deep litter method meant the smell would never get too bad.
Mom is a creative soul, so she loved the “Chicken Lovers Chicken Coops” chapter in Raise Backyard Chickens featuring an old pickup serving as a nest box and coop. It got her creative wheels turning, and we ended up with some pretty cool chicken coop plans. For the time being, we went with a standard four-walled coop, but she’s got her eye out for some salvageable materials that will make a beautiful DIY chicken coop to get the neighbors talking.
Our trusty chicken-keeping manual had lots of great tidbits of information from experienced free range chicken keepers, including learning your chickens calls, avoiding white chickens as they are easily spotted by predators, and lots of advice on winter care, which can be a difficult season to get through for some chicken keepers.
As far as coop placement, we decided to place it next to the house so that during the winter the house would help heat it without any additional lamps or heaters, but we knew we would definitely spring for a heated waterer in the cold months.
There are some roaming neighborhood dogs, too, so we got the rundown on predator proofing the coop and yard. With as few hens as Mom was getting, we didn’t want to chance losing any to wayfaring pups.
One of the more appealing things about getting free-range chickens for Mom was that, as an avid gardener, she would have a whole flock of new gardening buddies. Chickens are great for organic pest control, picking up bugs and ticks from the yard and garden, which also contributes to healthy eggs. It was an all around win-win.
When we put all the pieces together, we had narrowed it down to Barred Rocks and Gold Stars. When I was growing up, we had both these breeds and they always seemed to do well, and they fit all Mom’s requests. Before long we were hauling home a chirping box from the post office, just like I remember doing 20 years earlier.
Whether you live on 1,000 acres or 1,000 square feet, there’s plenty of room in your backyard for a flock of chickens. Join the chicken revolution today and be prepared to reap a lifetime of benefits that goes far beyond the enjoyment and the eggs. Get a copy of Raise Backyard Chickens for your bookshelf at MotherEarthNews.com/store.