I am completely new to chickens or any livestock but I have plenty of experience with pets. We once had 2 cats, three dogs, and several fish. We do get plenty of visitors including deer, turkeys, and an occasional black bear. I have also seen plenty of hawks and even a bald eagle or two. With this in mind, raising chickens must be done with predation in mind. As far as the hens go, my plan is not to think of them as pets but only time will tell.
I have been reading from this site on and off for months to get ideas and have some of my questions answered. However I have been thinking about chickens for about 10 years or so and decided this year I will give it a try. I am allowed to have up to 96 chickens, but think anywhere between 6 and 10 would do. Not sure I could handle mass egg production at this point. If all goes well with the layers I would like to try meat birds as well. But first things first.
I have a site picked out for the coop and run which will be within my garden. I figure having the coop and run close will help with the composting, and in the off season I can let the chickens roam the garden when I am around. We simply have too much predation to let them free range and I am not sure how my dogs will tolerate the hens. I also like the idea of the chickens in near the garden as it will force me to visit both and perhaps linger long enough to get the chores done.
So far I am thinking of a 6x8 Coop with dirt floor (mainly for cost savings). I have loads of scrap wood to build with and I hope to use whatever material I have on hand without making it unsightly. Not sure on the run as yet (nor the coop design either) but I saw these garden hoops made of fence rails that might be attractive and fit in with the garden. It might also help disguise the coop and run for the not-so interested neighbor (although I have 3 acres and this will be about 200 feet from them).
Perhaps my biggest challenge will be time. I have never been an early riser and I will try to improve that this year, but simply put...I am not a morning person. I plan to incorporate as much automation into this chicken project as possible, while still maintaining a good relationship and stewardship of the hens. I just don't see myself out there at 6am. The same goes for cleaning, keep it simple.
The BYC forum has been an excellent place to get real, practical information (which seems to align very well with any text I have read). More updates as I proceed.
Mike - 1/5/11