Keeping chickens in your backyard can be a great idea. Not only are they terrific pets, but they’re wonderful recycling machines, too. Chickens convert kitchen scraps, garden weeds and grubs into fresh eggs and chook poo, which is an excellent fertiliser.
However, if you want to keep chooks, you must look after their welfare and give them shelter and protection. Your backyard should be fenced and you’ll need a chook house of some description. And you don’t have to build one from scratch, just convert a disused cubby into a palace for your feathered friends.
Check with your council
Before you begin, check with your council about any restrictions that may apply. Different councils have different rules regarding number of fowls and whether roosters are allowed, distance from the boundary and the house, cleanliness and odours, vermin-proofing and drainage. It’s also worth sounding out neighbours to prevent any local disputes.
To prepare the cubby, clean out any junk in, under and around it. Remove all the unnecessary parts, such as rope ladders and slippery slides, but leave the structure, walls, deck and roof.
Keeping chickens happy
Your chooks will need water, food and bedding to be happy. Here’s how:
1. Install a waterer that holds ample water, held up off the ground on a chain. Make sure you change the water every day.
2. Cover the floor of the house and nesting area with wood shavings.
3. Install an automatic feeder, suspended off the ground, inside the chook house, and scatter food scraps on the ground outside. Also, cover the pavers with coarse river sand and give the chickens oyster-shell grit to aid their digestion.
4. To allow your chickens to get off the floor, make a simple perch. Use 50mm-wide timber or plywood and a notched bracket at each end that allows you to take out the perch and clean it from time to time. Locate the perch 250-300mm off the floor.
Dr Harry’s top tips for chook houses
- Vermin-proof your chicken coop to keep out foxes, dogs and rats.
- The chook house must protect its inhabitants against the weather, especially wind and rain, and provideenough space for the hens to move around freely and easily.
- To make cleaning much easier, design your chicken coop so you have access to all areas.
- Let the chooks out of their coop every day to exercise, flap their wings, forage and have dust baths.
If you don't have a cubby to makeover, try our popular chicken coop project.
make a chicken coop here