Preparing your Farmyard for Chickens

So you’ve decided to start raising chickens —  the next step is to prepare a space for them. There is a lot more that goes into getting your farmyard yard ready beyond simply setting up coops. An often overlooked element is other pets you may have. Pets will react differently to the sudden change, and to the chickens themselves. Additionally, children running through the backyard and making loud noises can scare a new flock.

These are our tips for dealing with pets, readying the yard, and human activity. Get more tips and helpful information in The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens.

A flock of chicken drinking water.

Preparing Family Pets

Before your chickens or chicks come home, consider that some dogs and cats have strong predatory instincts. If you are unsure whether your pets have this tendency, try a preliminary introduction with training in mind. For example, if you have friends or family with chickens, borrow and bring home a few feathers for the dog or cat to smell. Don’t make a big deal about this new item. Rather treat it like something completely normal and expected for the pet.

Cats

Keep in mind when preparing your farmyard, cat curiosity could be injurious to your chicks. Make sure chicken wire is in place and repair damage immediately.

Cats usually do not like traveling to new places, period, so we don’t recommend bringing them to a farm for a through-the-fence introduction to chickens. Cats tend to pose the greatest risk when you brood chicks inside the home. Obviously letting cats get into the chick pen is a no-no. Place a window screen over the brooder top to keep kitty out.

Dogs

A dog can be a chicken’s best friend against predators once he finds common ground and bonds with the flock.

Dogs, on the other hand, tend to handle traveling well. Start with an on-farm, through-the-fence introduction to chickens and watch the dog closely. Immediately correct unacceptable behaviors such as excitement, whining, barking, or focused, intense gazes toward the chickens. Make the dog lie down or face away from the chickens until calm. Keep the canine’s attention on you as much as possible. And remember that your level of tenseness and excitement transfers right down the leash to the dog. Act nonchalant but in charge. If you have multiple dogs, conduct separate introductions so the behavior of one dog does not influence the other.

 

Preparing your Farmyard

Fencing for Pasture Rotation

If you’re building a coop for the first time, be sure to carefully consider the outdoor area. The most up-to-date thinking in chicken-coop planning has moved away from a single outdoor run toward a coop with four runs. The more outdoor runs or pastures available to the chickens, the better it is for your flock because one spot doesn’t become a denuded, muddy mess.

Plant different grasses and forages in each run. For example, in one, grow shade cover such as sunflowers or corn among shorter grasses. This will allow your chickens a shady run in the height of summer that is also edible later in the season. In different pens, spread out tall fescue, Bermudagrass, and alfalfa, as well as red, white, and ladino clovers. Chickens love clover and can quickly decimate a pen filled with it; plant clover in conjunction with another grass to keep the pen usable for longer.

A Rock Border

When you design your outdoor runs, keep in mind that loud noises can be very stressful for your flock. Building a 12- to 18-inch (30 to 45 cm) rock or dirt border around the coop and runs to prevent things like lawn mowers from getting close to the pen’s edge. One tip to make mowing a positive experience for your flock is to make your first pass with the lawnmower one that blows clippings directly into the pen for the chickens to eat.

Sprinklers

Direct sprinkler systems away from the feed containers and pens because the water can quickly make the pen muddy and the feed moldy. If you wish for your yard sprinklers to also water the runs, consider running them at night when the flock is inside and not likely to get soaked. 

Children can hardly contain their enthusiasm when they see an active flock of hens and chicks, but they need to be taught the proper way to handle poultry.

Human Activity

Children running around playing can scare a new flock. Be sure to teach the younger members of your family to treat the coop and its flock with respect. Also, consider the smoke of a barbecue and activity of dinner on the patio. Chickens do not like smoke that drifts into and lingers in the coop. Also, chickens beg for treats just like any other pet, so unless you want to hear their cackle and endure hens’ stares throughout your dinner, erect a visual barrier between the chickens and where you cook and eat.

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The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping Chickens. Are you looking for a great way to reconnect with the earth, the community, and your food sources? Keeping backyard chickens is a fun, simple way to start making this happen, even with limited space in your backyard. Let the Chicken Whisperer (poultry personality Andy Schneider) teach you everything he knows…and everything you need to know…about raising a backyard flock! Ditch the super-technical manuals and enjoy Andy’s unique, common-sense perspective in The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping Chickens. This fun, comprehensive guide is a perfect fit for your busy lifestyle.Inside, you’ll learn:

—The Benefits of a Backyard Chicken Flock

—So You’re Eggspecting: The Art of Incubation

— The Art of Brooding

—Home Sweet Home: Coops & Runs

—Nutrition, Health, and Wellness

…and much more!