Make the chicken home large enough so you can easily manage the large compost and deep litter piles for zero-grain feeding.
The trick with feeding chickens on kitchen scraps is to put in way more scrap, leaf, and green material than they can eat (see post) and create a big compost pile which also provides the chickens with worms and grubs feeding on the decomposing foods, and warmth in the winter. You need space for a compost piles that is a couple of cubic yards. Moreover, every now and again, you, the chicken owner, will want to turn get in and work the piles with your pitchfork: you might turn the piles to create more heat in winter, or expose yummy worms for your ladies in the summer. Twice a year – in Fall and in Spring, you will “clean” the coop by taking out fantastic half-cured compost for finishing. There will be multiple wheelbarrows of this good stuff, so you want to have an enclosure that will comfortably fit you, giant with a pitchfork.
We built an enclosure that is 7 feet tall in the middle and 8 feet wide with a door large enough to comfortably enter it. Ah yes, and another reason to have a large enclosure that you can stand up in is so that you can socialize with your chickens and they can perch on you!
Enclose your chicken home to protect chickens whether they are out and about or sleeping on their roosts.
The conventional backyard chicken set-up typically includes a run and a coop. The run is the area where the chickens can roam around during the day (at least 8-10 square feet per chicken), while the typical coop is an enclosed area safe from the elements and predators, where the chickens sleep at night (2-3 square feet per chicken). To protect the chickens from night-time predation, the chicken owner has to close up the chicken coop after the chickens have gone to roost, and in the morning, has to let them out. I do not want to have to get up early every morning to let out chickens!
So for the relaxed chicken care, I was looking for a coop set up where you don’t need to let the chickens out in the morning and close them back in at night. Besides, it is chicken empowerment to let them decide on their own when they go in and out. Our solution was presented to me by a 14-year old boy at the BFFC chicken mini series): he and his dad built a large run that is enclosed with the coop inside it so the chickens are always protected and can come and go into their coop as they like.
We have a similar setup. The entire coop and run is an enclosed hoop house with hardware cloth all along the bottom. Two-thirds of the hoop house is open-air with hardware cloth up the sides to 4 feet, with chicken wire around the higher areas; and one-third is closed to the elements by plywood and a metal roof. In this protected area, which is always accessible from the open run, we put the roosts and the nest boxes.
Find a way to keep the chickens warm and protected from wind and snow in their run in the winter.
Although chickens are very cold-hardy, they require 50% more energy when the temperatures drop. This means extra food, and it means they have fewer calories left to turn into eggs. A couple of design elements kept them warm in the colder months: the compost; putting some reflective insulation around the roosting pole area; covering the hoop-house with greenhouse plastic.
During the leaf-fall period, we put out word in the neighborhood that we would take leaves. Soon, a number of neighbors approached us and asked if they could leave their leaf bags on our driveway. In no time, we had more than 70 bags, which we brought to the back. After the Fall compost clean-out in October, we put half the leaves about 3 feet deep into the run and the coop. The chickens had a good time with it!
As the months got colder, the pile heated up, exuding a nice temperature balance. A Cornell article I found said that a ton of compost can produce 1000 BTU of heat per hour. We have at least two or three tons of compost in the chicken house, which might have put out 5-7 MBTU from December to February (compare: an efficient people-house around here uses about 30 MBTU for winter heating).