|A low cost chicken "coop" and pen in the garden.|
For example, I've been free ranging my chickens pretty consistently since early fall of last year, when the first flock was barely full grown. I haven't had a real problem with it. Even over the winter, since we had little snow and most of it would melt quickly, they continued, spending most of their "free" time in the neighbor's woods (shhhh... don't tell!). Which I didn't care about- they're dense second growth scrub woods, and the neighbor's actual house is far enough away I was pretty sure the neighbors would never see the chickens, and the chickens really can't hurt anything in that kind of woody lot. But the neighbors next to them, still bordering our property, have a neglected little grove of apple trees. They spent some time there as well. Fine, the yard around their house is fenced, and they obviously didn't care about my chickens cleaning up the apple mess. BUT the yard next to that, again still bordering me, is fully open and once late spring came they planted a good sized garden. Since then, my one and only worry in life has been my chickens destroying their garden. But I can't use that as a reason to justify keeping my chickens confined 24/7, not when I have this huge yard to share with them. I've tried all sorts of cheap fencing to keep them in. Fully enclosing the yard isn't really an option, but I had reasonable success with using cheap garden fencing along the side of the property that borders the neighbors. Most of my chickens stayed in the yard... with the exception of the 5 Gold Stars.
The Gold Stars are, well, Stars. They are my best and most consistent layers. But the second I let them out they're in the shelter belt on the other side of the fence, far too close to the neighbor's garden, and I got really tired of traipsing through the dense underbrush, much of it stinging nettle and poison ivy (which thankfully I'm not allergic to) to chase them out. I had to come up with a solution.
One day, out of nowhere, it hit me. I'd been thinking for a few months about using my husband's old truck cap as a portable chicken shelter. And I'd read Harvey Ussery's book The Small Scale Poultry Flock over the winter- he's pretty keen on using chickens both to clear new garden plots and process garden waste, including chickens who live in a small enclosure inside his garden fence purely just to process compost. And I just happened to have a corner of my garden that was neglected and overgrown with grass. Things started to add up. So, only needing to purchase the treated posts and chicken wire, I built the pen above (in case you can't see in the picture, it's inside the garden fence, so they're pretty well protected). The windows slide open, so they have ventilation, plus the front has no cover. They get all the weeds and thinnings and garden waste and much of our kitchen scraps, including things you wouldn't normally compost like cooked food and meat scraps, plus a little feed to keep them balanced. I wouldn't say they're thrilled with the new arrangement, but they are healthy and still laying an egg per chicken every day, they're doing a number on the grass in that bed and getting it ready to plant next spring, and I have peace of mind every day. Problem solved!