Sussex chickens in a group

Having chickens in the backyard means much more than a daily bounty of fresh eggs.

Free-range chooks keep the garden healthy by aerating soil and fertilising with their manure. They also control garden pests such as slugs and reduce kitchen waste by eating scraps.

Chooks make great pets, teaching kids about fresh food and responsibility, plus they have lively personalities that will keep the family entertained.

Housing chooks

Chickens should ideally be raised free range to keep them healthy and allow them to forage naturally. House them in a coop at night for protection from the elements and predators.

Another option is a chicken tractor, which is a mobile coop with no floor that lets the chooks scratch and forage different patches of the yard while keeping them contained.

TIP Chickens are social creatures and should be kept in groups of at least two.

Chickens are social creatures

Chickens should be kept free range and in groups

Building the coop

When designing a coop, allow at least 0.4 square metres per laying hen.

If chickens aren’t kept free range, they will need a run, which is an enclosure to move about in during the day, with an additional 0.4 square metres of space per laying hen.

Give hens a place to lay eggs by making a nesting box from a wooden crate, a drawer or even a lawnmower grass catcher. One nest for every three hens is a good starting point.

Chooks will need a perch 300mm off the ground with at least 300mm of space per bird. Add a deep layer of wood shavings to the floor of the coop.

You can install a removable dropping board made from plywood beneath the perch to make cleaning the coop easier and reduce litter costs. Simply scrape droppings into a bucket daily and place into the compost.

TIP Coops need a wire perimeter dug into the ground to a depth of at least 50mm to deter predators.

Choosing a chook

There are dozens of chicken breeds that vary in their egg production, personality and the climate extremes they can tolerate. Choose one that suits your location and the needs of your family.


  • Lays three eggs per week
  • Has a placid and friendly nature
  • Prefers a damp climate

Isa Brown

  • Lays six eggs per week
  • Has an affectionate and quiet nature
  • Prefers both hot and cold climates

White Leghorn

  • Lays six per week
  • Has a shy and nervous nature
  • Prefers a hot climate


  • Lays four eggs per week
  • Has a calm and gentle nature
  • Prefers a cold climate

Rhode Island Red

  • Lays five eggs per week
  • Hens have a docile nature, roosters are fierce
  • Prefers both hot and cold climates


  • Lays five eggs per week
  • Has a calm and docile nature
  • Prefers a cold climate

Plymouth Rock

  • Lays four eggs per week
  • Has a smart and docile nature
  • Prefers a cold climate


  • Lays three eggs per week
  • Has a loud and active nature
  • Prefers a hot climate


  • Lays three eggs per week
  • Has an active and alert nature
  • Prefers a hot climate

Andalusian chickens prefer a hot climate

Andalusian chickens prefer a hot climate and has a loud nature

What to feed chooks

Chooks are omnivores and need a healthy, balanced diet to enable regular egg production.

Worms, grubs, insects, grains and layer pellets provide protein, while poultry grit and crushed eggshells contain calcium, which is essential for laying hens to ensure the formation of strong shells.

Also important in a chook’s diet are greens including weeds, grass and kitchen scraps such as lettuce, cabbage or silverbeet. Leftovers of bread, meat and cheese can be fed in moderation.

Never feed your chickens rhubarb, onion, garlic, avocado, chocolate or any kind of citrus fruit.

Plenty of fresh water, changed daily, will keep your chickens healthy and happy. Clean the water containers thoroughly at least once a week to prevent the build-up of algae.

TIP Avoid feeding chooks lawn clippings, as long strands may cause their crops, located just below the throat, to become impacted which can be fatal.

Build an A-frame coop

Made from reclaimed timber and chicken wire, this compact coop is the ideal size for a small backyard and gives a pair of chooks a safe
place to roost at night.

It can be easily transported around the yard for rotated foraging, keeping land well grazed and giving it a chance to recover each time the coop is moved.

This one has a covered section to protect the birds from the elements and a door at either end. Install a simple timber fruit crate as a cosy nesting box.

TIP If you don’t have the time to design and build your own chicken enclosure, there is a wide range of flat-packed coops available to buy from Bunnings that are easy to set up in a couple of hours.

Find out how to build this chicken coop

A coop should allow at least 0.4 square metres per laying hen
This A-frame coop is made from recycled timber and chicken wire

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