A week after we were married, we brought our first chickens. We weren’t sure that we’d want to keep them in the long term, so we didn’t want to invest a massive amount of time until we were sure. We started out by buying a basic coop with a run, which was (according to the description) suitable for 4 chickens. Our idea was to keep the chickens in the coop, and move them around on the garden every couple of weeks, where they could scratch at and fertilize the ground as they went. This worked okay for a few weeks, but the construction was pretty much what you’d expect for a low-cost coop, and wasn’t really designed to be taken apart and moved regularly. Although I’d already reinforced some of the weak points with extra timber, we decided that it was time to make some more modifications.
Our ritual for moving the chickens was pretty simple. We would shut them into the coop, unscrew the run from the front, and then move the pieces into the new location and reassemble. Obviously, the screws didn’t hold up to the constant use, and the run started to show signs of wear. To stop this from getting any worse, I replaced the screws that held the coop to the run with some sprung “toolbox catches” that could be held in place with a locking pin. The coop could still be accurately positioned and held in line using wooden dowels, but instead of relying on screws to hold them together we now had a quick and easy method to detach the run. I also added some large gate handles at the corners of the coop, so that we could easily carry it to the next location without having to grapple with the awkward shape.
Even though we’d only put three chickens into a run that was supposedly able to house four, we weren’t happy with the amount of space that they had. After a couple of weeks watching them scratch around in a small space, we decided to build them an extension run. The extension would be removable, and wouldn’t permanently change the existing run, so that if necessary the chickens could be closed back into a smaller space. The new extension was a simple wood and chickenwire frame held together with metal braces, and was designed to be the same height as the lowest side of the existing run. I routed a rebate into some wood, and made a pair of sliding doors with plywood. . One of the doors fitted into the side of the existing run, and I positioned the other door the end of the new run. the doors were an identical size and sat slightly proud of the edge of the runs, so when they were butted together, they created a chicken-tight connection. A few weeks later, I made an additional door, and fitted it into the end of the original run, so that the extension could be fitted straight, or as an L shape. We were still moving the chickens around the garden every couple of weeks, and the flexibility in positioning made it easier to move the chickens into different areas.
As the autumn started to get near, moving the chickens on the grass got to be an increasingly athletic and muddy affair. We decided that the chickens (and we) deserved better, and set about making a new 12′ x 10′ (4M x 3M) enclosure in the corner of the garden. We used 3″ fence posts, and 3′ high chickenwire, the added 6″ timber along the bottom of the chickenwire. The garden itself has bricks all around the sides which make it difficult for anything to dig under, and we don’t generally have a problem with rats or foxes in the area. I threw together a ridiculously over-engineered braced gate from some scrap wood, working on the principle that it might come in handy in the future for keeping other animals that were heavier than a chicken.
We clipped the bird’s wings to keep them from hopping over the fence (in theory), and put the original coop and run into the new enclosure. The extension coop was reused to keep birds from attacking some of the winter crops that we have planted in another part of the garden. After a couple of unexpected chicken escapes, I raised the edge of the fence to the top of the post. I think the chickens could still hop over if they wanted to, and have recently been spotted sitting on the top of the gate, they aren’t inclined to exit their safe space now that they are settled in. The birds were very young when we first brought them, and only two of them are currently laying. After tasting fresh eggs, and watching the curious behaviour of these little dinosaurs, I think we’ll be keeping chickens for many years to come.