It’s all but impossible to estimate just how many Americans are raising chickens in their backyards these days as the Department of Agriculture does not track hobbyists but, according to a 2009 New York Times report, hatcheries have been experiencing an unprecedented backlog of orders ever since the downturn in the economy.
Assuming you can fill an order for your birds, you’ll need somewhere to house them. The good news is that anyone contemplating a little backyard chicken farming will be spoiled for choice when it comes to henhouse design.
Googling “chicken coop” will bring up a dizzying number of companies offering laying and sleeping quarters for your cluckers. You can even purchase an ecologically sustainable (and Martha Stewart-approved) green chicken coop at greenchickencoop.com.
But buying a ready-made coop can be extremely expensive. If you’re a good amateur carpenter, you might want to try your hand at constructing your own. There are umpteen websites (just two examples are mypetchicken.com and thegardencoop.com) devoted to henhouse plans that will look good as well as ensure you build a coop that’s appropriate for the number of chickens you plan to raise.
Some chicken farmers, though, prefer to go it alone when it comes to design and a couple of North Fork backyard chicken farmers have used lots of imagination.
Mark Bridgen of Southold has kept chickens for about 20 years. When he built a new henhouse this year, he decided to give it an eco-friendly roof.
The idea of planting the henhouse roof with flowers came rather naturally to Mr. Bridgen, a horticulturist with Cornell Cooperative Extension.
“I noticed that green roofs are becoming rather popular in general and we also wanted to at least have some flowers that the deer couldn’t get at,” he said.
The Bridgen henhouse is in a shady spot that lends itself to a mixture of hosta, astilbe, sweet potato vine and other shade-loving perennials. Splashes of bright color were added in the form of impatiens and begonias. The henhouse roof is 16 feet square and covered in lightweight peat moss to a depth of three inches.
“It was built to be very sturdy,” said Mr. Bridgen. “We used two-by-fours.”
The coop now houses seven happy hens including three of the very popular blue egg-producing Araucana breed.
For another chicken farmer on the North Fork, repurposing was the way to go.
Laurie Nigro of Riverhead started keeping chickens three or four years ago.
“We began with six,” she said. “We’ve eaten some of them and replaced them.”
Ms. Nigro now has nine birds, including several of the Plymouth Rock variety, a Leghorn, a Speckled Sussex and a mystery bird that she believes is an Araucana mixed possibly with a Rhode Island Red.
“She lays greenish eggs rather than the Araucana blue eggs,” she said.
Ms. Nigro houses her nine birds in a 20-by-15-foot enclosure critter-proofed with wire and deer fencing. Inside the pen the chickens have the luxury of separate laying and sleeping quarters.
Ms. Nigro repurposed an old doghouse in which she says for the most part the hens prefer to lay their eggs.
“It’s lined with pine shavings,” she said. “We do occasionally find eggs next to the doghouse though.”
For sleeping, the birds enjoy the luxury of a Victorian-style clapboard home with shingled roof and fancy shutters that can be closed at bedtime. The house is constructed entirely of plastic and was once a child’s playhouse.
“I found it on Craigslist,” said Ms. Nigro as she cuddled Fancy Nancy, an exotic Salmon Favorelle. “It cost just $75 and is nicely faded with use.”
Ms. Nigro says the hens simply refused to sleep in the laying quarters, which resulted in a search for a new house.
“I was looking for something attractive, but henhouses can be very expensive,” she said. “We leave it open in the summer because the hens are in an enclosure. For cleaning, we can just hose it off and because it’s plastic we don’t have to worry about rot.”