Chicken Coop Dog Crate:

Front Yard Chickens

Keeping Chickens in a Dog Crate

by Josh Day

Updated 7/19/10

I've always wanted to keep chickens so it was perfect when our three-year old got a pair of Easter chicks this year from his grandmother.

I was amazed to watch these two tiny chicks grow into Nerf football-sized hens in a matter of two months. Their rate of growth was nothing short of remarkable; every day they looked bigger and had developed new feathers. Their feet are now the size that they were when they first arrived.

The species are black sex link and New Hampshire red. The black sex link is ideal for an "Easter chick" because you can tell the sex immediately upon hatching as the male will have a very clear white dot directly atop his head. This is interesting as you'll note in the video below our little black sex link has white around his head and as you can see above that he is clearly a her! (7/19/10 Editor's note: turns out our chickens are not the species they were said to be, and they are also roosters! See the updated picture at the bottom of the article)

We kept the chicks first in a cardboard box and then graduated them into a 5' x 2.5' Rubbermaid bin. We used a simple lamp with a 60 watt incandescent bulb for heating and pine shavings as a substrate. The lamp supplied enough heat because the bulb was only a foot and a half away from the brooder floor. Every day I cleaned off the top layer of shavings and replaced food and water, and every five days I fully cleaned out the bin.

Ultimately the chicks remained indoors longer than necessary as I was unsure of what sort of coop I'd make for them.

Prefabricated coops, or smaller chicken "tractors" which can be wheeled around the yard, are ridiculously expensive, even for a miniature unit housing only two hens. I wasn't about to spend up to $400 and then have our two chicks swooped off by the neighboring hawk that lives behind us.

I discovered via youtube an affordable and innovative design for a chicken tractor made out of PVC piping and chicken wire, embedded below:

Unfortunately we experience strong winds on occasion and I didn't feel this setup would stand up to the force. However, I was still attracted to the idea of a chicken tractor as we only have two hens and tractors are much easier to maintain and clean than coops. I searched the house until I found a collapsible, steel dog crate under our bed.

The solid bottom is a removable pan which I relocated to the top of the crate so it can hold down the tarp which shades and cools the coop. The two bins are currently wind refuges but will ultimately be nesting boxes once I bolt a couple 1x4s to the base in order to hold the pine shaving substrate. A 1/2" wooden rod serves as a perch and easily slides through the crate.

I use a rabbit waterer and a simple plastic pan for supplemental feed. Note both the waterer and the feeder are outside the coop, not taking up valuable interior real estate.

While I provide commercial food, the bulk of the chicken's sustenance and nutrition comes from insects and anything else they can peck throughout our fenced front yard. They are let out in the morning and return to their coop at nightfall.

The dog crate is perfect for our situation. It's easy to break down and clean and it's a simple matter of dragging it to a new location in the yard, which I do every two weeks.

Both the black sex link and New Hampshire red are good layers and have a docile temperament, making them good for children and pets. It's fun to walk out into the front yard and watch two chickens dashing at you and then following you over the lawn.

Dog crates and kennels can be readily found at yard sales and other secondhand venues, often for under $20. As it will be outside it doesn't have to be in perfect shape, although you'll want to be sure the bottom is not a solid surface as this would inhibit scratching and make cleaning more difficult.

If you've ever wanted to keep a couple yard hens, there's no reason to spend hundreds of dollars or devote hours of your time to a clunky DIY coop project. Dog crates provide ventilation, shade, and a safe, fully enclosed environment for your little cluckers.

7/19/10 Update

Well, it turns out our darker chicken Tuck is not a black sex-link but a barred rock chicken, and Tuck is actually a he. The New Hampshire Red, which also is not a pure New Hampshire Red, also happens to be a rooster.

Like the names? Ming-Ming and Tuck are characters from the children's show Wonder Pets and were picked by our son James.

It's apparently impossible to tell the sex with certain breeds until the signs start to show. In the picture above you can see the deep red, pronounced comb (atop the head) and waddle (under the chin) on Ming-Ming. Tuck also has a developed comb and waddle in addition to his curved and tall tail feathers.

Then there's crowing, which Tuck is also doing. All three are telltale signs of a rooster, although some hens do rarely crow.

Currently they still very much get along with each other and there have been no aggression issues, among the birds or to humans.

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