How much work is it to keep layer hens?

The thread on eggs has me hankering for fresh product. The Ms has been making noises about having hens in the yard, but I’m not too keen on the project as we would have to deal with getting rid of the feces, keeping them healthy, buying food, building a coop, etc. Also, what do you do when you want to take a vacation for a few weeks? Anybody with experience doing this?

My husband and I dove in last spring, and I’ll admit I went into it with many of the hesitations you’ve listed in your OP. But now that we’re underway, I LOVE IT. It’s been SUCH a fun project and I was amazed at how easy it is to keep them fed, sheltered and healthy.

If you’re interested, I can show you photos of our coop construction and hens. We have 6 hens right now, and plan to get two more in the spring.

The biggest challenge for us was building the coop. Fortunately, my husband is really handy, so he did the work himself, with some help from me. We built it almost entirely from recycled materials, by asking for wood from people who had taken down decks or fences. We also found windows and insulation using Craigslist. We did design the coop ourselves, but there are plenty of resources online to help you either use an existing design or create a design for yourself. Or, if you want to shell out the money, you can buy complete coops that are either delivered to you, or come as a kit that you assemble.

Depending on how comfortable you are with letting the chickens range, and how prevalent predators are in your area, you can decide how big your coop and run should be. Allow for about 3-4 square feet per bird in the coop. The run should be completely fenced, lined with wire (not chicken wire, ironically – raccoons and other predators can easily tear chicken wire), and the wire should be buried about a foot deep to keep burrowing predators out. The wire should also go over the top of the run, for protection from hawks and raccoons.

We have a fenced back yard, and the hens can roam in it freely all day. We let them out in the morning, and they tuck themselves in at dusk every night. They also have a run, so during times when we’re not able to keep an eye on them, we keep them confined to the coop and run. If you don’t have a fenced back yard, you can either fence it in permanently, get some moveable fencing (available from lots of farm supply vendors), or, again, keep them in the run. I’ll warn you that the chickens eat any and all greenery, so keep them out of your garden. They also are quite good at watching for danger, and head into the coop at the least sign of trouble. They know it’s their safe spot.

I clean the coop once a week. I have several inches of woodchips on the floor, and just throw on some gloves and grab the accumulated feces and woodchips and put it in the compost pile. Chicken manure breaks down incredibly fast, which is great. I was worried about the smell, but the coop smeels mostly of wood. It’s very nice. Once I’ve gotten the gunk out I throw on a new layer of chips. Some people use the “deep litter” method, which you could look into (just Google “deep litter method”).

We have a waterer, feeder, light and heater in the coop as well. We only use the heater when the temperatures drop below 15F. The waterer and feeder are basic and inexpensive. I fill the feeder once a week, and the waterer twice a week or so. The heater is on a thermostat and comes on and off as needed. The light is on a timer to ensure at least 14 hours of light a day, which keeps them laying through the winter (otherwise they will stop when the days get shorter).

Food is cheap, and we augment with kitchen scraps and treats we make them (oatmeal, yogurt, you name it). Pretty much the only kitchen things you can’t give them are coffee grounds, potato peels and avocado.

As for vacations, our friends, neighbors and relatives were all so interested that we’ve never lacked for people willing to babysit. All we ask them to do is let the hens into their run in the morning (we often simply leave the door from the coop to the run open overnight), and to keep an eye on the water. Easy.

Anyway, all of it is really inexpensive, and frankly easier than caring for a dog or cat. The hens all have little personalities and habits, and are great fun to hang out with and observe. I think you’d enjoy it.

Check if there are classes you can take in your area to get a better handle on what to expect. You can also start here for more info:

I kept 4 white rock hens in a small shed. It was so not worth it. I liked the fresh eggs and the chicken feed was cheap but the clean up is awful. Chicken poop smells awful and you need to keep scooping up the poop and shavings. It made me gag to clean up after them.
I had to hire someone to cart the poop off to the dump as I didn’t have a truck.

Slowly the chickens kept disappearing one by one and I couldn’t figure out what was happening to them because I kept them in the shed at night. One day I was sitting on the stoop and noticed my two miniature dachshunds were under my Jeep attacking a chicken. They ripped its throat and it died. I didn’t know that some breeds of dogs eat chickens! That was the last chicken and I decided that buying eggs was a whole lot easier.

Maybe try it on a small scale to see if it is something you want to do. You will need someone to feed and water the chickens and collect the eggs if you go on vacation.

We did it for a few years, but more because my mom liked the hens than for the eggs. Hens alone was MUCH better than the second batch where three of the chicks turned out to be lil roosters. Roosters change the group dynamics, and are a bad influence on everyone IMHO. Anyway, given we put them in a secure shed at night it wasn’t too hard, and we got a neighbor to feed them when we were on vacation.

Perciful, we had the aforementioned second batch because my brother’s samoyed decided one day to slaughter all the chickens and ducks she could get her paws on. We gave her away less than a week later.

We’re building a coop right now. They’ll have a yard of about a tenth of an acre. I plan to start with about 20 birds, and slaughter half when they’re of age and keep the hens as layers. I’ll keep at least one rooster and if I can find a nice broody hen then she can raise the next generation of chicks.

I like chicken much more than I like eggs but I have a lot of friends hoping for eggs. My son will have a project hen or two himself and if we’re gone but he’s at his dad’s, he can ride his bike over to check on them and the sheep. Otherwise I have a nice neighbor kid who likes to earn a little pocket money to look after the animals.

**Beadalin **said pretty much everything I was going to say. I have three (used to be six) layer hens that are a year old. I made a coop out of three sheets of plywood and 2x4s, and a run out of 1x3s and chicken wire. I know it’s not the best, but hardware cloth was expensive and I was building on a budget. I have had dog predation, but only because I have an open fence line that my lazy neighbors won’t finish. The coop’s not insulated, and the ladies were just fine on those really cold days we had in November and December. I made a feeder out of a stove pipe and a saucer for a planter. When I fill it up I don’t have to feed them for weeks. The water gets empty about once a week. I’m way WAY behind on scooping the shit out of the coops.

I get one egg a day from each bird, so keep that in mind. As I said, dogs love to kill chickens, but cats will not attack a full grown chicken, especially a standard size one. I have a cat that loves catching the sparrows, but when it comes to the chickens they pretend the other doesn’t exist.

I buy all my supplies from Foster Feed and Farm on 110th and Foster since it’s nearest me. I bought my chicks from Pistil Nursery. Last year they had straight runs of chicks, which means they’re not sexed. Portland can have up to 6 hens within city limits, and no roosters. I know ALL about those bloody roosters, because in my straight run I got two roosters. Evil things they are, loudmouthed and rapists. I have two standard New Hampshires named General Tso and Raptor Red, and a bantam Americauna named Noodle.

OK I guess I did have more to say.

Thanks for the notes. Shoutout to Beadalin for the photos. Looks like it wouldn’t be impossible to do this, and that’s good news about cats, as there are a lot of outdoor cats in the neighborhood. We’re a bit strapped for space in the back yard, but I’ll bet I could build a coop under the deck.


Sorry if this is snarky, but … what did you think dogs eat? They’re not vegans, y’know. The presence of chicken-flavored dog food on every grocery store shelf might have tipped you off to the fact that *every *breed of dog eats chickens.

(Daschunds were originally bred to hunt. Hunting involves killing prey. Your dogs did what they were bred to do.)

Chafguy - I’ve seen many variations, but this is one type of portable chicken coop. It’s made to be able to be dragged to various parts of your yard, so as not to overstress any one part.

If I had chickens (see my post in the other thread) I could keep them in my barn, with a fenced in run to keep them safe.


As I understand it, keeping your own chickens is a swell way to alienate your neighbors, and give yourself salmonellosis. Salmonella absolutely thrives in chickens, and chickens aren’t great about personal hygiene, so assume that the entire bird is crawling with a bacterium that will make you very, very sick.

My neighbor has 2, and they’re pretty cool. (Incidentally, Beadalin, IIRC you live in the Mpls area, right? How do you get to have 6? Robbinsdale city bylaws only allow you to have 2. Funny.)

After you get them, expect all your neighbors to know immediately how many chickens you’re allowed to have according to your city’s regulations - that’s what happened to my neighbor. Which I found both hilarious and rather ominous.

She hasn’t gone to even the lengths that **Beadalin **has - we helped her build a coop out of cheap 2x4s, some donated plywood, and chicken wire. It’s about 4x8x6ish feet tall. Took us an evening to get it done. She’s since added two hutches, a roosting pole, and some cheap blue plastic tarp stuff to give them some additional protection. She doesn’t have a heater, but she does have a gravity-fed waterer and a small food thingie. They seem to be doing OK, even when it was super cold earlier. They made it, though they did stop laying because of the shorter days (which I didn’t know about - interesting).

When she’s been gone, she’s asked me if I wouldn’t mind watching them, and it’s super easy. When it was warm, I’d let them out in her yard in the morning, check their water and add more if needed, and scatter some seed around. At night, I’d put 'em back in (if they weren’t already) and check the food and water again. In winter, I water them twice or three times a day (when possible) in rotating containers, since the water would freeze. Easy peasy.

Mabel and Dixie are pretty cool - I like 'em. As hobbies go, it’s not a bad one to pick up, I think.

Glad you got a chance to check out the photos! I want to emphasize that we did take the coop-building part really seriously, but that’s in part because my husband really digs that kind of work and does well at it. We did more than was necessary. You can easily build something effective with less effort, or buy something pre-built.

It COULD alienate your neighbors, if you get a rooster or two, and/or if you simply get chickens without talking to your neighbors about it first. But you don’t need a rooster to get eggs, and the permitting process here in Mpls requires you to get explicit, signed permission from your nieghbors to do it. And seriously, a handful of chickens make almost no noise and no smell. Chickens to like to talk, but it’s a low, conversational sort of sound, many times quieter than a barking dog. The loudest my girls have gotten was when a hawk landed on the fence and they all huddled in the run and sounded the alarm.

As for disease, chickens kept at home are MUCH cleaner and healthier than those kept in CAFOs. Wash your hands, avoid eating chicken shit, and you’re fine.

Yeah, each of the suburbs have their own laws. I think the limit in Mpls is… 20? I think? It might be higher than that, because the guy we took the “Chickens in the City” class from lives on Nicollet Island and they have a whole co-op thing going with many hens, geese and ducks.

We were just on vacation for a week and came home to an overflowing egg basket! I gave away 18 yesterday, and still have about 30+ left. Love those girls.

Yeah, my neighbor has chickens and is pretty much a dick. He did not ask me for my permission, but I don’t think it’s required. One day I see him standing looking over my fence saying “Hey, have you seen my chicken?”. I go “Well, how did it get in here?”. He says, well I threw it on the shed roof to eat spiders and it jumped into your yard."

About a month later he yells at me again, missing his chickens and I tell him that I really don’t dig people snooping around my yard. He starts giving me shit about having a bad attitude. I see one of the chickens walking on the top of the fence all the time.

The chickens do make some noise although not all the time. It’s irritating when they go off. It’s not that bad but I’d rather that I didn’t have to hear them at all. I suspect that he is living in the shed which is illegal.

That said, I think it’s a cool idea to have chickens.

To update ours, the coop is almost finished, just have to shingle the roof and do a little painting, and build the nesting boxes and roost.

I’ve been ordering eggs from eBay; I have six coming for sure next week and if I win all of the auctions, I’ll have 48 eggs. My husband believed me when I estimated 20 birds; foolish man. But we won’t have a 100% hatch rate and we’ll also have some mortality in the chicks. Then half or so will be roosters, and I’ll slaughter most of them. So see? Down to almost what I told him!

Until a hen goes broody, that is.

Probably a little harder than it is to keep layer cakes, I’d guess.

My wife raises chickens, among other things. The worst part is the roosters.

Heavens there are some losers in this world- using a chicken to eat spiders?

Maplewood you can’t have any, although the city council is considering it.

Wow - paint! Shingles! Very fancy. The coop that we helped my neighbor build is nowhere near fancy, but it would be fun to have something that you could spice up. Anyway, Chefguy, the point is that you can get a coop for super cheap, or you can make something that’s probably more functional and aesthetic. My neighbor’s, while bare bones, is light enough that she can move it around her yard if needed (but with help; it’s definitely a 2-person job). It also just uses wire for the floor with some 2x4s as joists, so it’s hopefully not killing her yard (I can’t imagine that the feed and all that poop are doing it any favors, though. But maybe they are.).

Yes, my husband likes to overbuild. He took a shed plan and modified it, so if we hate having chickens we can still have a shed. An enormous shed. Whatever, I just go along with it and do the dumb work. And then fill it with chickens.

Tasty, tasty chickens.