It is always helpful to see what other chicken people are doing. I love to see how others house their chickens and learn so much from this. Here in the desert southwest, it is a little different than in other places. All those cute chicken houses would serve more as ovens than coops. We have temps in excess of 100* for about 4 months of the year here. Amazingly, we also have below freezing temps here, too! Where I live it can get down to 15* in the winter. Although it doesn't happen very often, it is still cause to protect the chooks during the cooler months. We live in a semi-rural neighborhood and there are many predators in the area such as coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and snakes. Here is our set up and how we keep our chickens as safe and comfortable as possible:
Here you can see (as you look past the garden on the left to the coop in the middle of the picture) that the coop sits in the side of our backyard (North is to the right, here) and it is under 2 shade trees. It is spring in this picture, so the Mesquite is a little skinny on leaves, but the cascalote is thick as it blooms in the winter. There is also a huge mesquite to the left of the garden that provides shade at noon time. They are well shaded in the summer as well as protected by a block wall on the back side which helps shield them from the afternoon sun.
Moving closer to the coop, here are two views that show the space inside the chain link "dog run". It is 7.5 feet wide by 13 feet long. It has a chain link roof as well. We chose chain link because we thought it would be good protection against predators. We feared that harware cloth or chicken wire could easily be broken into by a pack of coyotes. The lower 2 1/2 feet is wrapped with hardware cloth to keep out snakes and rodents. This works, but there are some tiny mice that we are currently having trouble with. There is a wood roof on top for asthetics and shade and rain protection. The entire run is wrapped with bird netting which keeps those nasty tweety birds out! They poop on everything and eat as much or more feed than the chickens! Since we have done this, those birds have moved on and are not even in the yard anymore.
You can also see that we have some green shade cloth wrapped on the back half of the coop. This helps ensure that there is always some shady spots. Also it protects from sideways rain. Rain in the desert always comes in sideways!
In January (2010) we had a pack of coyotes dig a hole under the fence and take most of our flock. Our solution to that was to drive 3' sections of rebar into the ground every 4" all around the coop. There is, literally, an underground jail cell beneath the coop now. Much safer.
The dark box on the right side of the coop is our brooder. It is currently housing thirteen 4 week old chicks. It is a dog kennel wrapped in a tarp with two lights inside.
This is the hen house. This is not a necessary thing, but it is cute and I wanted a cute hen house! We found the plans for this online and built it from scratch with the kids. A very fun project! You can see that it is very open and airy. In the winter, we put up plexiglass windows to keep warm air in. There are 8 nesting boxes and you lift the lids from the outside to collect eggs. I love the ramp! It just needs something cute on the front...
The feeder holds 40 lbs of feed. We LOVE the feeder. We have to fill it about once every 2 weeks depending on how many birds we have feeding from it. (at this writing - only 5) Hanging the feed is important as chickens will throw their feed about. We keep it up high enough that they have to stand up tall and crane their necks a bit to eat. They just can't throw much feed this way and it saves a ton in waste!
This waterer, purchased at a local feed store is the BEST! They can't stand on it, poop in it, step in it, or otherwise defile their water!!! It is an autofill - a must-have in the desert!! We keep it elevated for the chickens to easily reach into the windows to drink. Also, we have found that anything sitting on the ground will house roaches, crickets and mice underneath it. So - everything is elevated!!You can see the valve that DH has installed. This also feeds the mister system that is on a timer during the hot months.
We recently put in this dust bath. Our girls used to go out free ranging a lot and do all their dust bathing in the yard, but with all the predators that are currently frequenting our yard because they have been fed well here, we are not letting them out as much. Dust bathing is super important for your chickens' health. This is their natural way of keeping clean and pest free. We used to use wood chips in the coop and they could move them aside and dust bathe, but we found that the chips were flying out of the coop and mulching into our expensive gravel. We are now trying a product called TerraMigo. So far, we like it and it is heavier, so it doesn't get everywhere like the chips did. I like the earthy color, too. It's all about asthetics for me!!
When the weather is nice, the girls like to roost outside on the provided perches. There are several that they use to get up high like they are. They can also roost inside the hen house, but it is nice for them to have options
Inside the hen house, there are 8 nesting boxes and two roosting perches. One thing I would not do again is put roosting perches near the nesting boxes! This encourages the chooks to roost on the edges of the nesting boxes and poop in them. This means that we have to go out every morning and clean out the nesting boxes so that there are clean places for eggs to land. The roosting polls should have run perpendicular to the nest boxes. Live and learn...
One thing we never considered when we started out was the idea that we might ever have a "broody" hen. We didn't even know what that was. But we have one and we love it when she is broody!!! The only problem is that the nesting boxes are all 2 feet off the floor of the hen house. If she has chicks, they will fall out! So we are working on an expansion for the broody. Here she is on 15 eggs. We removed the partition between 2 boxes and then added another 2 square feet. So she will have 4 square feet of space and will be closed in with her own ramp down to the floor level so the little fuzzy butts will not get hurt. I may do another page on that once we get it done - which will be this weekend as the chicks will be hatching on Monday!!
So that is how we house our chooks! If you have any questions about keeping chickens in the desert, just pm me. I am no expert, but I am always glad to share. You can also visit the Arizona thread where all us desert southwest chicken owners hang out! http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=31227&p=1