From a long line of egg farmers in Holland, Karin’s dad finally builds her a chicken coop
March, 2020 update. A lot has passed since I wrote this post. My dear father Harold died in 2018, my baby girl has grown into a kid, and she has a brother. We now face COVID-19 or the corona virus and are putting ourselves into self-isolation, with fresh eggs. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last. Start egg farming today. You will never be sorry about it.
Where bylaws allow, or can be bypassed, I highly recommend building your own chicken coop. Imagine getting fresh, free-range organic eggs every day? When my parents came to visit me in Jaffa a few months ago, Dad found himself bored.
Back in Holland, my family the Van Der Meers were one of the biggest egg producers in the country before the Depression. So you could say, eggs are in our genes. With Dad nothing to do for a few weeks, I brought up the idea of having him build me a chicken coop. That got him kind of excited. He foraged for wood in my backyard and came up with a coop that resembles a bus stop. The Chicken Express? Step right up and I’ll tell you how to build a coop in a few easy steps. And no you don’t have to invest much, unless you want to make your coop designer. My dad explains below!
In warm climates very little is needed to keep your hens happy – basically a roof over their heads, a lengthwise pole for curling their toes around when they sleep at night (you might want to raise it high where feral cats might stalk your chickens), and some fencing to keep them from, well, flying the coop.
Here are our chickens before we bought them.
As it turns out, Bedouin chickens which we bought in the Negev Desert, are very agile creatures and even sleep in our blackberry tree some nights. The fencing doesn’t help them that much, but it does keep them contained somewhat, and out of the mouth of our crazy dog.
Here’s what you’ll need to build the coop:
- A corner on your roof, garden, or backyard for the chicken coop, a couple meters by a couple meters at least
- An old door or piece of plywood for a roof
- Some plywood for the sides
- Chicken wire, if you want to contain the chickens outside the coop (they eat weeds so consider letting them run loose)
- A wooden pole
- Some boxes, or crates for roosting. Throw in something soft.
Find a corner to build against, saving yourself the need to build 2 extra walls. Be lazy. Make sure there’s a roof for the chickens to protect them against the sun, and rain, and in the winter if it gets cold, you can throw a carpet over the sides to keep the cold wind out. Make sure they have three walls.
We built a 2 meter or so pole, installed horizontally, down low about 50 cm off the ground but noticed some street cats were preying on our hens and raised the pole to about 1.5 meters off the ground. Most chickens can fly to this height but see what works for yours. It really doesn’t take much to make your chickens happy. But they do need a pole to sleep on at night.
What you feed your chickens:
- A basic seed/corn meal
- Compost – can include eggshells (ours really love labane cheese – could be because they are Bedouin hens)
- Garden weeds and greens (let them go wild!). Ours love stinging nettle – great for tea.
- Worms and bugs (they feed themselves while aerating the ground)
- Endless supply of water
Chickens do need basic feed, that which can be bought at a feedlot. Unless of course they have wide pastures to roam and a lot of your kitchen waste to eat.
Some inquiring around on where to find chickens and feed might be in order. Animal markets for livestock might be your best bet. Ask around in places like that. We bought a huge drum of feed consisting of corn meal and other seeds, and feed our chickens a regular diet of all the vegetable-based compost that would otherwise be composted. But don’t worry.
Chicken poo makes an excellent compost too. One of my friends can’t eat eggs unless they are free-range and fed with organic oats. So it’s really up to you to decide how to feed your chickens, depending on your health needs and sensitivities.
We have five chickens and one rooster. The rooster is just for the fun of it. He does keep the girls in line – tells them when to eat, when to sleep. It’s funny that they follow. You don’t need one if you have neighbors nearby who will complain about the noise. And roosters DO make noise, waking us up as early as 1:30 am.
Bedouin women (crouching like crows) selling “bede” hens at the market
Unlike commercially-raised chickens, our hens don’t get “sunshine” 24 hours a day. Some parts of the year the chickens won’t lay. They will molt and take a break. And not every chicken will lay every day once she starts. We bought young chickens and it took them a couple of months to start laying. Now three of the five are laying, but like I said, not every day.
See a video interview with my dad about chickens
We bought our chickens at a Bedouin market (for about $10 each) because it was important for my husband that we have a “wild” variety – chickens that haven’t been genetically manipulated.
Our eggs are on the small to medium size, the yolks absolutely huge compared to the white. One hen is laying eggs with the most delightful little beige specks on them.
Dad (right), the closest link to my family of egg people is determined that next time he comes to visit me in the Middle East he’ll be smuggling in white hen eggs – “the real good layers” – from Canada. He keeps asking me about building an incubator for these eggs to become hatchlings. Hopefully it will happen and when it does, I’ll report it here on Green Prophet. (Update 2019: we hatched some chicks but the rooster killed them). So we won’t start that project for a while again.
Meanwhile, I am dreaming about how many eggs I will collect tomorrow. And how exciting it will be for my little baby daughter, when she gets bigger, to go out and collect them like I did when I was a little girl (that’s me in the top photo). My family had a coop in a suburban town outside Toronto until our evil neighbour complained and we had to get rid of it.
Before the complaints, I would go out and collect our eggs and sell them to our neighbors for a dollar a dozen, to cover the price of feed. Seriously, it was so much fun. If this blogger, and lazy environmentalist who is addicted to the computer can start a coop, you can too. Get cracking and join the new movement of urban farming.