What a Coop Needs
We recently redid our chicken coop for our ever expanding flock of fourteen chickens. We’ve had three chicken coops now and have learned a lot in each rendition about what to consider when building.
You’ll Get More Chickens
I didn’t think I’d have fourteen chickens within a couple of years of building our first coop, which was designed for about four laying hens. You can always build a new coop, but it’s going to be easier to fill up a large coop than to keep cramming chickens into a little one. Chickens take their pecking order very seriously, and they will appreciate having a little bit of extra space.
2. Have Enough Space for You
It’s easy to overlook making the coop comfy for a human. After all, humans won’t be kept in the coop. But it is very important that you have enough space to stand up and move around freely in your chicken’s enclosure. Not only will you want to spend time with your hens, but you’ll need to clean the coop, access eggs, and change out feed and water. The more comfortable you are the better.
3. Nesting Boxes
All chicken coops, if you want to get eggs, need a nesting box set up. There are dozens of ideas on how to set up nesting boxes, from old milk crates to specially built wall units. The most important things to consider are privacy for the chicken, plenty of comfortable bedding, and easy access for the collector. A dark, private corner of the coop is ideal, as long as it can be reached. A lot of chicken keepers prefer a box with an opening in the back against an outer wall, so the eggs can be collected from outside the coop.
All coops also need suitable roosting space for the chickens. Roosts need to be long enough for everyone to fit comfortably, and low enough that they can fly up to them. A staggered method is usually best, since they can hop from roost to roost to the tallest ones and sit at different levels. The roosting area should be away from the nesting boxes, food, and water, since dropping will collect under them at night.
5. Food & Water
There are a wealth of chicken feed and waterers available at your feed store and most are perfectly acceptable. A long, narrow feed tough is often preferred because more chickens can share it at once. Waterers should be kept elevated so that they do not clog with bedding from the coop floor, and both food and water need to be checked daily to make sure they are full and clean. In the winter months, it’s easiest to have a heated water source (such as a heated dog water bowl), otherwise you’ll need to chip out and refill the water several times a day.
6. Doors, Windows, and Ventilation
Ventilation is very important in a coop. Not only will good ventilation keep the enclosure cool and breezy in summer, but it’s also necessary in winter to avoid your chicken’s home becoming too humid. Cold humidity is the leading cause of frostbit on chicken’s wattles and combs. A window that can be cracked open is an excellent idea, and will also provide your hens with plenty of bright sunlight. You do want the pen to be tight from water, snow, and wind in winter, but chickens are much more hardy than you’d expect. You can keep your coop heated and lit in winter and your hens will certainly appreciate it, but a ventilated coop with plenty of bedding and comfy roosts should keep your hens happy through the colder months.
Keep your coop deep with bedding, and clean it regularly to avoid illness. In winter, you can leave droppings longer because they are frozen, and you can put extra shavings on top of existing bedding to build up a nice layer. In summer, a coop should be cleaned at least every few weeks. Straw and hay are good options for bedding, but shavings are the easiest to clean and use. Bed them nice and deep, they’ll appreciate the added insulation.
8. Run and Space
Place your coop in an area that has plenty of suitable wandering space for your chickens. If you are planning to build a run, make sure you have a large enough area around your coop for it. If your chickens are free ranging, a coop further from gardens and areas you don’t want them in is a great idea.
Goslings in a brooder.
A note on other poultry: Other fowl such as geese, ducks, and turkeys can be kept in the same structure but should have a separate area if they don’t have their own building. Otherwise there will be a lot of inter-flock fighting. Geese and ducks do not need roosts, but they do need access to fresh water constantly. I have found that straw makes better bedding for waterfowl, because it is easier to remove. An enclosure for water birds will need to be cleaned at least weekly, as they are very messy.
With a few considerations an ideal coop can be put together that can keep you and your hens happy for years to come.
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