Bwaaakk! Our Journey to Backyard Chickens

Written by Danny Bourque.

This summer we will have eggs. This winter we will have soup. Mission Accomplished: we now have backyard chickens.

As with most home renovations I tackle, it seems it took a lot longer than anticipated – almost 5 months longer – but the coop is finally complete, and we got the chickens on Monday. I know I tend to be somewhat overly analytical, over prepare and plan before embarking on a venture, and this was no exception. Nevertheless, it’s done.

Diana recently wrote about the benefits of farm fresh eggs, and we are looking forward to our own eggs and being a step closer to a sustainable lifestyle. This is the story, and some tips on what to consider if you want to get your own backyard chickens.

The experience and adventure has just begun…

The Seed:

My amazing in-laws got us a housewarming gift when we moved – Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens; according to others, this is the book to go to if you have a question about chickens, but are not a vet.

We had upgraded to our 1/3 acre within city limits of a major metropolitan area, and had acquired the beginnings of our “family farm”.

The seed was planted, and I added “backyard chickens” to my list of home projects,   In an attempt to be thorough, I tried to read the book cover-to-cover first in order to become an “expert” on all things chicken. This did not work out.

There is way too much information that was not relevant for my situation. For example, I don’t live on acres and acres of farmland with a tractor to move my portable coop. I also don’t have multiple animals to house together to promote the possible synergies of having, say, chickens in with my cows.

I had asked at city hall about the legality of getting chickens before buying our house (to a bemused smirk by the clerk), and was told that there was no law against having chickens, but if they received complaints, we would have to do something about them.  As I hadn’t gone around the block asking permission of all my neighbors yet, and didn’t want to invest too much if someone was cranky that morning, I was looking for minimal investment.

The Plan:

Storey’s guide said that there are 12 elements to making a good chicken coop, namely:

  • is easy to clean;
  • has good drainage;
  • protects the flock from wind and sun;
  • keeps out rodents, wild birds, and predatory animals;
  • provides adequate space for the flock size;
  • has a place where birds can roost;
  • has nests that entice hens to lay indoors;
  • offers plenty of light – natural and artificial;
  • includes sanitary feed and water stations;

Three of them seem rather hard to use as a selection guide when looking at coop plans:

  • is well ventilated;
  • is free of drafts;
  • maintains a uniform temperature; (Seriously. How are you supposed to validate this when looking at a plan?)

The Research

I spent a lot of time on a lot of websites looking for something that was within my price range, but wasn’t a huge structure.  Okay, truth be told, I spent way too much time online looking at chicken coop plans, whether the free ones or paid. I probably looked at between 30 and 40 before I found something that was to my scale and looked manageable.

I have to say, the ones from Horizon Structures are pretty stylish (i.e. Aimée thinks they are pretty), offer a lot of sizes and options, and seem to have all of the elements of a good coop as outlined in the book. If you’re looking for a kit or pre-assembled coop, check them out.

However, after much pining, I decided I didn’t want a fully assembled coop or even a kit – I wanted to “do it myself” and get my hands dirty. And that’s how I stumbled upon the Catawba ConvertiCoop, whose ebook has both plans and a good pre-ambule about how to “market” and get approval for your chickens in your community.

Getting Started

Last fall, it seemed that we had so many projects on the go, and the coop building was low on the priority list. A few times, I’d get on fire and try to crank out as much as I could after work (I wanted to have everything pre-cut first before starting – but there are a lot of cuts!), but after getting the kids to bed, and the sun setting earlier and earlier each day, I’d find myself out in the dark at night with my power tools running and thinking: “Hmmm, this is probably a bad idea. I should have opted for a kit.”

Finally, I decided to put all the cut pieces and lengths away under a tarp for the winter, crossed my fingers that the wood wouldn’t warp and waited for snow. One week later, the whole thing was covered in a thick blanket of white.

Fast forward to this spring, where I eagerly shoveled off the deck with one sole mission in mind – get the coop finished. This past Easter weekend, my weekend-carpenter dad offered to come up and help me get it done. Extra help and motivation!

I (admittedly) shirked my responsibilities in helping Aimee get set up for our Earth Day Picnic and used the extra set of experienced hands to do about 80% of the work in just 2 hours. The coop was completed later that evening with Noah helping.

The Birds:

Our neighbor tipped me off on the place to go to get some local laying hens.  I’d like to say that we got some heritage specialty birds with pretty blue eggs, but when I asked our local farmer what breed of chickens he had available, he looked at me quizzically, paused, scratched his head, and then declared emphatically, “Brun!” Hmmm, does this guy really know his stuff or what?

More research revealed another local source who have Ameraucana’s, but are available only by the end of June, which is too late for us.  Oh well, maybe we’ll get the fancy ones next year.

The kids were excited as all heck when we were getting them, fancy or not.  Noah practically held the guy’s hand as we walked to where the chickens were, and as the door was opened, Noah’s eyes opened even wider, and he clucked a boy’s hello to all the chickens.  On the way back to the car, he continued to cluck, this time with thumbs in armpits and flapping his arms.

Mateo was also entranced with the birds – but in a different way, it seems.  As we were heading home with our 5 “brown” chickens in their boxes, Mateo chirped from the backseat with a silly look on his face: “What are we having for supper tonight, Mama?  Chicken?”

Yesterday morning we awoke to 3 eggs. How cool is that!

I hope to not spend all my weekends staring at the chickens like Leah, but now that we actually have some, I can see how that could totally happen.

We don’t have the climate or the coop to keep the birds over the winter, so they’ll probably end up in our freezer in the fall.  If planning on keeping the chickens over the winter, I’d need a different coop, and based on how long it took to get this one together, I should have started a month ago.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Structures, which offer a complete line of chicken coops that are shipped fully assembled and ready for use. Take a look at all their simple, functional and handsome designs.

Would you like to raise chickens? How important are farm fresh eggs to you?

About Danny

Danny Bourque is a mechanical engineer who is known at both home and work as either “the geek” or “the numbers guy”. He is very methodical and genuinely loves to analyze almost anything that piques his interest – including food.

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  1. This is fantastic and I’m excited for you all to have your chickens. I would raise chickens in a heartbeat, but unfortunately it’s not possible in Toronto’s urban areas. Please keep us posted your adventures with them.

    • Despite my heavy research, I haven’t seen any coops that are suitable for condo living. I guess it’s also a question of culture and acceptability.
      Thanks for reading!

  2. Good job Dan!

    • Thanks. Come by with the girls – and Brandon. Bring bacon – we’ll supply the eggs.

      • Hello,
        I have two hens which we could no longer care for. We are having to move out by the end of August and I need to find a good home for them. They are well fed and cared for and I’m sad to have to let them go. If you cannot take them, do you know someone who will?

        Thank you,

  3. Hey! I’m getting a chicken too this year for my backyard and have been talking to quite a few people about it…it seems that a lot of them have some trauma about eating their “pet” chicken for supper as a child. I’m not seems like a serious/painful childhood memory. I think it’s worth thinking about especially if the boys get attached to them and name them. We are giving the chickens to a farm to look after over the winter months…

    • Our chickens were “Omega” chickens before we got them. Their diet will undoubtedly change, and the farmer said he couldn’t take them back due to diet and disease/quarantine reasons. Don’t want an imported chicken cough to cause you to have to cull your whole flock, as he is doing it semi-commercially.

  4. Brian @ A Thought For Food says

    There was a time when I was completely against the idea of having my own chickens… but that time has definitely passed… and now I’m dying to get my own

    • 3 days in and it’s already easier than I thought. The hardest part is deciding and getting set up. Just decide and do it!

  5. LOVE the coop! Thanks for all the great info. I have been wanting a coop and chickens for a long time…maybe soon.

  6. Chicken Coop Mission Accomplished – hooray !!! Great job Danny 😉

  7. Great story, Danny. Now I’m all inspired. Since I’m not an engineer, I should be able to get it done this weekend! 😉 We get fresh eggs from a co-worker so I get the best without the bother!

    • Hi Kelly. With your boys and Paul to help you, I’m sure you could get it set up in record time. Glad you liked the story.

  8. I tend to over research and over think things, too. 🙂 We also got our chickens this spring. It took us a year and a half, after deciding to go through with it. Finding or making a reasonably priced chicken coop and run were the problem for us. We now have 5 and are loving them. No eggs yet, though!

    • Another 4 eggs today! I’m going to graph their output. How old are your hens? I heard they’re supposed to start laying at between 19 and 21 weeks.

  9. Cool coop! Can’t wait to follow along. Would like to have some of our own too!

  10. I so wish we could keep chickens, but it’s not feasible with current house and husband. Since I’m not planning on changing either, I buy from a local lady with chickens. The best eggs ever!

  11. We got chicks last spring, started getting eggs toward the end of last summer. The eggs were great, but in our long, long months of rain here we decided to sell the chickens. We have a very small backyard, only on a city lot.

    Some things we learned:
    1. Even though it was technically feasible to have the chickens, they were a LOT more destructive than we imagined. You really need to have space and land for them to peck around. I always felt so bad when we had to leave them in the coop/run all day, there’s only so much they can peck at after a while. Chickens dig up everything and they eat everything. They inhaled all of our lettuce and spinach in the garden, plus all of the grass in the backyard.

    2. They are LOUD. We only had hens, but we never thought they would be so loud. They cluck when they are laying, cluck when others are laying, and cluck once they have laid. We had very nice neighbors who didn’t complain, but when they were clucking at 6 AM on a Sunday morning we cringed every time.

    My cautions are for those of you who live on a regular lot with close neighbors. We had thought and read about it for a long time before we got them, but were surprised

    • Hmmm. Ours aren’t so loud, or haven’t been yet, although it has been damp and rainy since we got them. Also, I’ve heard that different breeds are more “active” than others. Maybe you should try again with the “brown” breed. =)

      We have enough spots on our back property to be able to move them around a bunch and actually are hoping this will keep some of the undesirable weeds down. Unless the weeds get fertilized….

      I’m sure there will be updates to let you know how this goes.

  12. Absolutely wonderful, Aimee! I would love to have chickens but I know there’s no way we could where we live now. Maybe in the future though! I can’t wait to hear all about your chicken adventures!

  13. My hubby wants to do this so bad… we just dont know how it will work living in MN! Love all the tips, I will be bookmarking this post for sure. 🙂

  14. We’ve had chickens for the past several years, mainly for eggs. They’re fun to watch, how they segregate according to their color, the pecking order, how the rooster calls his hens to “look what I found!” then when they’re bending over to look…….., well, this is a family website so I won’t go on. But having fresh eggs are the best and they make a great surprise gift to friends and family. Having and acre and space helps. We had a problem with a fox but caught it and took it many miles away to release. Hasn’t returned. We average around 10 hens with one rooster. They’re so enjoyable to sit after work with a cocktail and just watch them.

    • I had only tacked every 3rd or 4th wire for the “fence” underneath, but was surprised by a big hole in the side on the first morning. Instead of breakfast, I got out the stapler and secured EVERY SINGLE WIRE. Twice. The raccoons won’t be pulling them out again, I hope.

  15. Aimee – I love your hubs’ post! Having his voice here is great & adds to much.

    I’ve wanted to bring chickens to our yard for some time now & we actually live in a neighborhood where they’re permitted. I need to sell this into hubs & will share this article with him. Thanks!

  16. Maria @ Scandifoodie says

    I’m saving this post! I’ve dreamt of having chooks for so long but unfortunately we only have a tiny balcony which is not very suitable for animals 😉 Great post!

  17. I immediately sent the Catawba page to Ole. We’ve been plotting chickens for a while now, but we hadn’t found the right coop. This one may be it for us, too. I am so excited for you both, and I can’t wait to join you!

    • Exciting, Shaina! We’re all just silly with excitement over these birds (and Danny finally finishing the coop…..groan).

  18. We have had chickens in our urban backyard for a year now. We have the same Catawba coop that we had built for us. Not sure where you guys live, but my 6 hens lived happily in that coop all through our long and snow-filled New England winter. Their egg production didn’t even slow down! The only modifications we made were a tarp over the top to keep out the snow/wet and a light inside.

    Our chicks are our pets and my kids would freak out if we kept them for a few months and then ate them! 🙂

    • Hi Krista. I thought the coop seemed unsuitable for the winter, but now am almost tempted to try. (I’ll have to see again in the fall when I’m hungry for soup! Good idea about the tarp as well. Do you still let them out in winter? What do you do for the “crazy cold snaps? Does their water freeze?

      Very curious.

  19. I would love to be able to have a few chickens, but we live in town and are not supposed to have chickens or farm animals of any kind in our backyard. Free range eggs are expensive around here.

  20. Hurray! We knew you could do it! I can’t wait to hear more of your chicken stories. Believe me – there will be lots of them 🙂

  21. Congratulations on finally getting your chickens you two! This was such a great read and Ron wants me to you Danny that it was written like a true McGill Engineer 🙂
    I can only imagine how excited the boys are to go and see if there are new eggs every morning.

    Enjoy the bounty from those chickens!

  22. Christine says

    Love this post, Danny, it’s nice to read yours. I have to laugh about how you are described…methodical…research…hmm, you could be talking about MY engineer husband! I would LOVE to have chickens, but not sure our borough allows it. If I had my husband build it, it would take FOREVER as he, too, would research the coops to the nth degree — but when it was done, it’d be solid! At any rate, will you be moving it around your yard, just curious?

    • Yes, the original design calls for (2) 1×6 planks that are 10 feet long. You are supposed to carve pretty handles into them. I couldn’t find those boards in pressure-treated wood, so made do with 8-foot lengths for now. We may get them out of pine or something and then just weatherproof it with oil or paint ourselves.

      We’ve moved it with all the wood on (roof, access doors) and the chickens inside. Not too bad for 2 people – or you could install wheels on one end and the handles on the other end. It’s a DIY project, after all.

  23. I love love love our free range chickens. I eat 2 scrambled eggs every morning and they are giving me the best health I have had in years! Loaded with all kinds of goodness. Congrats on taking the plunge!

  24. Love that you have chickens… I would just love to be able to have farm fresh eggs at home. I get them at the farmers market whenever I can, but it’s just not the same.

  25. Now there’s something you don’t find in the backyards around me. Talk about getting the freshest quality eggs!

  26. earthymama says

    Chickens are great, and the coop is nice – although a bit small for my taste. 😉

    • The bigger ones were too intimidating, although now, only halfway through the first week, I can almost feel the desire for more, more, more chickens!

      Or maybe we’ll try getting a goat. =)

      • earthymama says

        Yeah, that tends to happen. 🙂 We started off with 5 hens and a cockerel, now we have 3 cockerels and 10 hens, also a few ducks and 2 rabbits. Goats or sheep are next on the list…..

  27. How great is the timing on this??!! I just signed up for a backyard chicken raising workshop in June! I am so excited to learn more about raising chickens (for meat purposes)… Great article! Thanks!

    • Man oh man. I’m sure a WORKSHOP!!! would have saved me a few months of research. Where do you live where they have these wonderful things?

  28. This is fantastic. We have been talking about backyard chickens for a while, but haven’t actually taken any steps in that direction. I eat eggs everyday and cannot wait for my very own chickens to help with that.

  29. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) says

    Thanks for the detailed description of your journey! Awesome.
    My family had backyard chickens when I was growing up, and I was thoroughly spoiled with having dozens of farm fresh eggs at my fingertips.
    During this life season, I prefer supporting local farmers rather than raising my own chickens, but maybe someday!
    By the way, awesome coop design. Looks like all that research is paying off.

  30. I looked at it and could see that this won’t do for overwintering :((( although this looks beautiful otherwise. But chicken soup is the next best thing. I live on a farm and have a luxury of space and freedom from regulations, so yes, farm-fresh eggs are among the top food priorities. The store kind – even organtic, Amish, and so on – are a completely different food item. Have fun butchering!

    • Thanks Sofya. We have no intention of wintering the chickens. We get far too much snow (among other reasons). Even if the coop was designed for winter, it would be a lot of work. We can barely keep our cars shoveled out!

      Like Danny said in his first sentence, in the winter we will have soup.

  31. I loved my chickens! We gave them away when we moved from Texas to Kansas City. I can’t have them at my house here, the ordinance requires my chickens to be 50′ from a neighbor and our house is too near the neighbors. But, my friend has room in her yard and since I have experience she said I could help her get chickens. I like the design of YOUR tractor/coop better than the one I had. It’s nice looking and more practical I think. I found after 18 months that I suddenly had a raccoon problem, and the raccoons even figured out a way to grab the end of the metal “strings” of the cloth and pull them loose, making some holes in my wire cloth. I was using heavy duty 1/4″ hardware cloth rather than chicken wire because I’d been warned a raccoon can reach into the chicken wire and grab a hen and the results aren’t pretty~ anyhow… thanks for sharing your pics, your design rocks and we’ll be trying it. But I think I’ll stick with the heavier duty wire cloth.

    • The day I rushed out to the hardware store with focus and determination to get ALL the supplies needed, they only had 100′ of wire with the 1″x1″ squares, which was way too much material, and way too much waste. They also had smaller rolls of heavy 2″ x 2″ or 3″x3″ mesh, but it seemed like the holes were too big.

      I have to change the board for the “handles”, so will consider putting a heavier mesh on the bottom at that time.

      Note that there is a little drawbridge/ramp on the underside, and so far we have closed each night and locked up.

  32. How exciting for your family! I’m sure the boys are loving their chickens! I’m not sure how much snow you get, but in Iowa we do get tons! Our temps drop below -30 and my girls do great. However, they are winter hardy and my girls do have a bigger coop. Being a chicken lover I just feel a little sad that these chickens are in production and then hitting the stew pot so soon. Great, fun post!!

  33. Loved the post!

  34. Hi Danny,
    Wonderful article. Marc has always wanted to have chickens,but I thought they were too messy and dirty. You have given me something to think about and Marc hope. Lynn

  35. Congrats on getting chickens! I can’t wait till I get mine. My neighbor has 4 of them and it looks like a lot of fun. Also the benefit of eating fresh eggs really excites me. I recently bought two chicken books and reading them before I actually buy my chicks.

  36. I live in S. Cali (suburb in Orange County) and have had backyard chickens the past 3 years! We actually have the same coop as you built! I looked & looked for the best option that would provide the most “roaming” for our chickens (city ordinance requires that our hens have to stay in the coop), but take up the least amount of sq. footage. We have a seriously small postage-stamp sized backyard. Even still we love our chickens (and the yummy eggs they provide us!).

    Our girls are named (Francis, Ozzie, and Jillian) – so we haven’t crossed the bridge yet of what to do once they reach the age of ceasing egg laying.

  37. joshua wimbush says

    nice chicken posts – deja vu for us..

  38. I know this is an older post, but I just wanted to mention that I’m part of several “backyard chicken” sites, and have read and see photos of chickens living VERY happily in places like Alaska, with their tractors totally covered in snow!! Don’t count keeping your chickens over the winter out! I bet they would be just fine. 🙂

    • But the soup, Rachel; the soup!

      Perhaps if we had “prettier” or heritage birds I would have considered it. As it is, our raccoon population culled them for us well before winter, i.e. 7 weeks after we got them.

      • lol I know… I know… but I have a rooster. So I can make MORE chickens for soup every year. I have plans for a rotating flock of laying hens and using the extra chicks for butcher. I have mutt chickens. 🙂

      • Should also say that I’ve heard if you create a corner where there is a solid wall in your coop that can help keep the ‘coons from tricking the hens into a corner and pulling them through the wire. I see you have chicken wire for your walls too… hardware cloth works better to keep out the coons (they can’t reach through it) attached with screws and washers, not staples.

  39. congrats on getting closer to your food.

  40. I am having difficulty finding out whether I can have a chicken coop in my backyard. Do you know where to start in this regard. I live in Tracy CA.

    • Actually, the building plans from Catawba have a good section on how to start. They even include petition forms / information pamphlets to bring to your neighbours to educate them that chickens aren’t noisy or stinky (so long as you don’t have a rooster and you change their bedding…), and then you can bring these to your local authority if there is a fuss. Not bulletproof legal advice, but pretty well done “big picture/steps”.

      Good luck!

  41. Just popped back to see how the chickens were faring…we have one in a coop like that and i think it’s a tight fit -that and she is ruining our grass (and it sort of smells during heat waves!)

    Alas, i see your chickens are dead! Sad! Do you think you’ll get more next year? did you like having them for those 7 weeks ?

    • We have sufficient area in our “woods” so that the grass killing is not an issue.

      We’ve reinforced the coop and are looking to get some prettier birds next year – not just brown ones. It really was great fun having them.

  42. WendyHarris says

    I have an Omlet Eglu chicken coop and run. It is fabulous! It is plastic and therefore easy to clean and therefore free from mites. It also is predator/rodent proof (and I have witnessed first hand a fox trying to get in). It was a bit more expensive that some others, but it is so easy to maintain. Also, resale values are really high! They do have a website and you should check it out!

  43. Hey nice post Danny
    I run similar blog and like you post my chicken coop photos

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