Hi, We've had chickens for about 4 years and in that time have changed their living arrangements a few times, never quite felt we'd got it right.
First of all they (3 hens) had a smallish house & run (about 36 sq ft) but free ranged pretty much all the time. Very happy hens but no veggies in garden and lots of poo for little children to step on!
Next we tried the house in an enclosed area - about 14 x 12 ft - but they stripped it bare pretty quickly, could escape over 5 or 6 ft fence (despite wings being clipped
one very athletic hen in particular!), and also it took up quite a bit of our small garden.
Thidly - and currently - we have a 4 x 12 ft enclosed run (with roof - but 6ft high so a bit of jumping room, as one bird likes to sit on top of her house) but I've felt unhappy with them (now 2 birds) in there. They soon churn it up, we've had problems with rain this year even though we had a tarpaulin roof, the poos soon build up, and the ground gets too compacted for dust bathing so I put a dust bath in there but all in all needs very regular maintainance to stop it getting really grotty and I don't feel the hens are as happy.
Today I decided to let them out into garden again and they look much more content scrabbling around together.
I think we'll continue to let them free range for the winter, as no veggies growing anyway and children in the garden less. But come next spring we'll need to keep them enclosed again for quite a bit of the time. So a few questions...
If we continue to let them free range for a couple of hours a day are there any veggies which are chicken-proof (we tried fencing off the veggies before but they always got in!) Now we have a half allotment, so can grow some things there, but still want to use the space at home too. And I'll have to a poo pick-up in the evening!
For the time they're enclosed I'm wondering about some sort of mobile system, so we can rotate the ground they're on, but in small garden the possible locations are limited! I'd like to use plants to provide a chicken forage system, but I suppose in a small area they'd just decimate that quickly too, so it might have to be either rotated or they only have access to it for some of the time. But I don't know what sort of run would be easily moved over new areas of forage.
I'm also wondering about converting a small shed to replace their house, so they have more indoor space to keep their food/water and to shelter - maybe mesh at the side but big enough to keep them in if weather really wet to stop them churning over wet ground. But then that would be less mobile...
Any ideas for small garden chicken keeping gratefully received.