The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Keeping chickens in our garden

rose and henWe have kept chickens for three years and we love them. A lot of my clients keep chickens and I got the longing from watching them. Danny was encouraging but I overheard him telling his brother to make the run no taller than 5’4″, my height, so as to avoid chicken cleaning duties! I didn’t care and still don’t. I quite enjoy cleaning them out each week. There is definitely a Wendy house element in keeping a small flock.Ideally, chickens are locked up at night but allowed free range during the day. Unfortunately our min pin dogs are expert assassins so free range was out of the question. We decided to construct a long run 30 x 6 feet, to give them a reasonable amount of space to live in. D’s brother was over from Dublin at the time and offered to make the gate and set the posts for us. He cheerily assured us that all we had to do was link the posts with timber cross bars and cover the run with netting.

We nearly divorced over this.

We had ordered the chickens but the construction of the run took far longer than we had estimated. We were working at night under torchlight. The staples that tied the chicken wire to the structure were tiny. The cross bars were bendy. Trying to strike the teeny staples into the bouncy cross bars was nail-shatteringly difficult. We managed to finish the run the night before collecting our new friends.

For the first few weeks we spent hours watching their antics. My mother dragged a garden bench up to the run so she could combine reading The Times with goggling at the unfolding chicken soap opera. They still entertain me enormously and I’m sad when one dies, as two did in the first year.

Tips and tricks:

  • I now realise that a winter and a summer run are a good idea if you are keeping chickens in a small space. This is more hygienic and gives the ground more time to recover
  • Buy the biggest feeders and water fountains that you can find. This means that you shouldn’t have to feed and water them every day. I do check they’re OK every morning and evening but I know that they can survive if plans go wrong and they are left alone for a day
  • Chickens are not the smartest of creatures but they do get bored. If you can provide distractions they will are less likely to bully each other. These could include:

Alternative shelters (there is generally a chicken that is ostracised)
Regular scraps from the kitchen
A bucket full of grass clippings when you mow the lawn
A few bags of gravel scattered in the run in the winter both stops chickens becoming mud bound and gives them something to scratch about in

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  1. Hi can u help me,
    We r new to chickens, we bought them last october. All has been well we converted a shed into a luxury pad for the girls, but has now been infested with red mite, and 2 of the girls have bald necks.
    My husband has spent the last 2 weekends jet washing the inside, and has now resorted to removing and burning most of the inside as the red mite were behind paneled wood.
    We r planning to put big sheets of chipboard and make as few crevices for the blasted things to hide.
    But can i ask u would it b better for us to invest in an egglu which is easy to wash and disinfect, or is it just as easy for them to breed in those 2??
    please help as the fun of having the girls is being ruined 🙁

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi David

    Get the smaller one as it will be stronger. We lined the bottom of our run with a small mesh chicken wire as the hens were sticking their heads through the mesh to eat the grass on the other side and could easily have been nipped by the dogs.

  3. I am interested in making a large walk in run and wondered what mesh size you use for the chicken wire “cage”. I can get 75mm (3″) or 50mm (2″)- which would you recommend?
    Great site thanks.

  4. keeping chickens happy

    it is a good idea to get a plan together before anything else, this will give you a good idea of what design you want based on the space you have available and the number of chickens you want, but even the greatest plan still goes belly up

  5. If you want professional chicken coop plans you should check out You can build one for your backyard with common tools, and easy to follow step-by-step instructions.

  6. Right help plz
    we are rescuing a couple of old chickens from a battery farm -i need help in building and designing a coop and run how muck space do i need -space is limited
    ty Nick

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hi Nick

      There are lots of free chicken coop plans on the internet such as this

      Your hens need as much space as you can give them. Look up the dimensions of the Eglu hen houses to get an idea of the minimum for 2 hens.

      They also enjoy some sunshine and a little shade on hot days. A feeder is a good investment and a water fountain (get the biggest that you can afford as if you suddenly cannot get back home you know that your hens have food and water.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Carol

    That sounds like a great idea. The problem with us would be the guinea fowl who stay up far later than the chickens and take ages to eventually go to bed!

    I might try this idea though. Especially in the winter months when the days are so short.

  8. Carol Donaldson

    We have two very active Jack Russell Dogs that would eagerly kill our chickens, but we also like to see our chickens running loose in the garden. We have met this problem half way by keeping the dogs inside the house for the last one to two hours before sunset, we then release the chickens to run free in the garden. They always put themselves to bed and all we have to do is lock them up. You just have to make sure you don’t let the dogs out by accident, so far so good.

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