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building chickens

May 4, 2012

From Caleb-notes from the Space of Food-

Chickens have become oh so fashionable of late. They appear to be the latest hipster addition to back yards in permissive cities across the US. With the trend comes design opportunity, gracing the blogs Inhabitat and Grist, and the pages of Dwell, and the latest fashionable yard accessory to be sold by Williams-Sonoma. A Portlandia skit is imminent.

I am making a bit of cynical fun of the fad, but I do applaud the overall trend of people to grow their own, whatever it may be. Eggs are some of the big nasties in the industrial food complex, harboring salmonella and antibiotic residues, and are the product of incredibly inhumane conditions.A few chickens in your yard can provide you with more eggs than you can likely eat (the average hen lays 200 eggs per year), a high-quality fertilizer for your yard, pest control (they love to eat bugs), and their scratching helps to aerate soil and turn over mulch. In return, you need to provide them with a safe environment; food in the form of kitchen scraps, insects, and chicken feed; clean water; and you need to regularly clean their bedding. According to the Integral Urban House, once in operation only an hour a week is required for maintenance.

What most articles talk about is the shape of the things, the colors, the details. In this regard, the experimentation and attention to detail is to be applauded. But what does the chicken think? What are the essential elements of a chicken habitat? Well, most chicken dwellings consist of a hen house, and a chicken run. This is much like a typical human habitation – a house and a yard. The overall area needed is between eight and ten square feet per bird. Thus a 4’x8’ run is good for 3-4 hens. Often the hen house is elevated and the footprint reduced. A mobile combination is called a chicken tractor (a name that conjures amusing images). The tractor has some means of moving it like handles and/or wheels, so that the chickens can be moved to other parts of the yard to scratch and poop – errr – fertilize. Usually the run contains the chicken’s “kitchen:” feed and water. The hen house has nest boxes, where the chickens usually lay eggs, and brood; and roosts, which are horizontal members like a tree branch, upon which they like to sit and sleep.






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