We're buying a new home in a week or two and it's always been my DREAM to have backyard chickens (since I was about 11)! Now, dreams are becoming reality and I've got SO MANY QUESTIONS! Firstly, I know the generally accepted space chickens need an average of 4' per bird in the coop. So that's that much, anyway. I'm only planning on having 3 birds. Now I live in the Midwest US and the winters get pretty cold here. Should I make the coop bigger than 12 square feet to allot for the winter confinement? If it's cold but there's no snow will they still run about the yard? that leads me to the next series of questions: I'll have a fenced-in back yard (4' on two sides, 8' on one, the other is the house). Will my chickens stay in my yard? Do I need to build them a proper run if I let them out while I'm at home (at least 6 solid hrs a day in the morning/early afternoon) or can I build a small-ish run just to keep them for the last few hours of daylight while I'm at work (I work at night). I'm considering the following breeds: Australorp, ameracauna, and Sussex Will these birds get along together? I'm hoping for relaxed, friendly birds that are good to decent layers. These seem to be combo-purpose birds but I'm a vegetarian so I won't be eating these ladies. . . .from what I've seen, though, the strictly laying hens are cranky, flighty or both. . .Any other suggestions on breeds? I think that's it for now! thanks in advance for any and all assistance!