If you long to live on a farm, but employment or other issues keep you close to the city, you can always find middle ground by bringing the farm to you. Chickens, for instance, are adaptable animals who are as at home in a suburban backyard as they are free-ranging it in the country -- provided you have adequate housing for them. Thankfully you can put a homemade pen together that will meet all their needs.
The size of your homemade chicken pen depends on how large you flock is. The coop will need to be 3 square feet for each adult chicken you have. For instance if you want to keep six chickens, you'll build a pen that is at least 18 feet square.
A Variety of Materials
There's a lot of flexibility in what you use to build your chicken pen. You can buy brand-new lumber or you can repurpose used wood from crates, pallets, boxes or barrels. Wire fencing can cover two or three of the walls to provide a safe, open outdoor area for your chickens to relax and socialize in. Just make sure there is an entirely enclosed area that allows them to escape cold or wet weather.
Secure Yet Ventilated
Even a suburban neighborhood has predators who would be interested in getting at your chickens. Dogs and cats are at the top of the list, but raccoons, skunks and even hawks could make trouble for your chickens if you don't ensure that your pen doesn't have any gaps or openings that could let an intruder in. Although your chicken pen needs to be secure, the enclosed area shouldn't be air-tight. In fact, you should have a few ventilation holes covered in wire mesh to allow fresh air to circulate inside the walled area of your pen.
Furnishing Your Pen
You can't simply build a coop and turn your chickens loose in it. They need a few essentials. Provide your chickens with an open water dish. The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension says that your chickens don't need anything too deep. Just a 4-inch shallow dish will do. A hanging feeder will keep the chicken food up off the floor so your chickens can't get into it and kick food out of the dish as they forage around. Provide your chickens with a couple of roosts to give them options for napping and bedding down for the night. Although chickens can flap their wings and catch enough air to get up on low objects, your birds will appreciate gangplank-like ramps that allow them to walk up to and down from raised areas in the pen.
Portable pens are an inventive option for keeping a small number of chickens in a yard, and they're simple to put together. A chain-link kennel designed for a dog can serve the purpose of fencing your chickens in, and it can be moved around the yard every couple of days to give your chickens a fresh supply of grass and bugs to nosh on. The canines come to the rescue again when it comes to shelter from the weather. A plastic doghouse will do the trick, but keep in mind the 3-foot-square rule and get one large enough for all your chickens to be comfortable.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.