First-time poster here. I very rarely participate in forums like this, but when all of my research pointed me back to BYC anyways, I figured it was time to join the party.I have a somewhat unique situation, and given that I am super green to living on land / chickens etc, I'm hoping the length of my post will not scare you away. If you will indulge me your collective BYC wisdom, I would be incredibly grateful. Here goes... BACKGROUND: - Moved my family (wife and 2 toddlers) from the city out onto 10 acres a couple years ago. Not far from town - right on the outskirts. A true urban-to-rural transplant. - Took some sage advice to go slow and learn the "rhythm" of living on property before we tackled too many projects. (Glad we did this!) - Planted an orchard this past spring (30 fruit trees). They all survived, but are currently only 2-3 feet tall after pruning. I mulched this entire area with 4-6 inches of miscellaneous wood chips from a local arborist to serve as weed block, help with water retention, serve as a compost tea source etc. To clarify, this wood "chip" is comprised of chipped up green wood and leaves so it should have a decent green/brown ratio for composting purposes. All the trees survived and seem to be doing well. - I have some adjacent land next to the orchard that I would like to use for a vegetable garden, but the site is mostly grass/weeds at the moment. Good soil underneath. - I am wondering if it would be wise to incorporate a strategically-placed chicken coop in the same area as the orchard/garden (possibly in between them?). More on this later... CHALLENGES: - HEAVY white tail deer pressure. Had to build an 8-foot fence around the orchard. Fortunately, this has kept them out (so far). - Lots of other wildlife - raccoons, coyotes, porcupines and the occasional moose/cougar. - I work, and my wife has the two toddlers all day - don't want to bite off more than we can chew. MY IDEA: - Install a chicken coop directly in between my orchard and where I will eventually put the garden. This area is bounded on one side by a creek, and on the other side by a private road. The orchard and garden both have to be fenced anyway to keep the deer out, so I thought perhaps it would make sense to include the coop in the fenced area as well to serve as one more layer of protection from predators. My thinking is that it would be desirable to have control over when to allow the chickens in to either the garden side or the orchard side, so I thought I could build a cross fenced area in the middle to put the coop in that had access gates into the orchard on one side, into garden on the other side, and out onto our property on a third side for when we want to free range them. By having a dedicated coop / run area in the middle, I could control when to let them into either the garden or the orchard without giving them free reign where they could potentially do damage at the wrong times. To recap, a deer fence would go around the entire perimeter of the orchard/coop/garden area and cross-fencing would be used to break up this area into three sections - orchard / chickens / garden with gates into each of the three areas to allow controlled passage. Note - our desire would be to allow the chickens to "free range" across the rest of our property most of the time. MY QUESTIONS (presuming there are not major flaws with my thinking so far): 1) Will chickens squeeze through the 4" metal deer fence that I currently have around my orchard? In other words, will this contain them, or will I need to use a different fencing material? 2) I intend to have a standard secure coop to protect the chickens from predators at night that I would install inside the deer fence in the middle "chicken-designated" area. Will the deer fence provide any deterrence for would-be predators wanting to get in from the outside (i.e. raccoons/coyotes etc)? 3) In my orchard, I am using a pruning technique on my trees that encourages a low branching canopy to limit overall tree height and encourage ease of harvesting. Will the chickens do damage to my fruit trees if they can reach the leaves from the ground? I probably will use this upcoming year to continue promoting good shape/growth and not allow fruiting just yet. I just don't want the chickens to injure the young trees and am not sure if they eat leaves off of trees as a rule. 4) How beneficial are chicken activities (i.e. scratching/pooping etc) specifically on a thick layer of wood chips? I believe wood chips require nitrogen to break down, and from what I understand chicken manure is high in this. I am thinking this would be a good match in that their scratching would turn over the mulch and provide the nitrogen needed to assist with breakdown. Will their manure burn new tree roots? Also, there are some pernicious weeds that are growing in/through the mulch that I'm hoping they will find delicious!. 5) As for the proposed garden site - if I give the chickens access to a fenced, grassy/weedy plot of land through the spring/fall of 2015, will they prep the site adequately for planting a vegetable garden in spring of 2016? This may be optimistic of me to think, but right now the grass is very thick and I'm not sure how to get rid of it to plant a garden without spraying something to kill it (something I don't want to do). I thought some strategically designated chicken-time on this particular patch might kill the grass/weeds and enrich/prep the soil for planting. Am I crazy? 6) I don't have a power source at this site, but I do have a fairly large solar panel I was thinking of rigging up on the coop to somehow keep their water from freezing in the winter (gets cold in Spokane, Wa where we live). Any precedent for this approach? 7) Somebody told me that goats sometimes live in chicken coops as well??? Wondering if there is any credence to this... 8) Have some typical questions regarding the easiest type of coop to maintain / harvest eggs from, deep litter pros/cons, feed questions (anyone tried cocofeed?) but will do my homework and read up on the articles others have posted. WOW - that is so much more than I intended to type. BIG thanks in advance for any insights / thoughts / words of caution you may have. If my ruminations are a bad idea, I would love to know it now before I put all the work into building the fence/coop etc. Looking forward to hearing from you!!!