Building or buying your chickens a coop is a major part of the flock-raising “process.” A proper home protects your birds from the elements and predators, as well as gives them a place to roost, nest, and mate (kidding, they’ll mate anywhere.)
If you’re really trying to invest some money into a coop, or if you’re just not that handy, there’s an endless amount of different coop sizes and styles that will fit the aesthetic of your house or backyard as well as the size and nature of your flock. These coops come in all sorts of different price ranges but typically get more expensive the larger your coop needs to be. If you’re pretty handy and enjoy DIY projects, building your own coop is a great activity to take on by yourself or with friends and loved ones. Whether you’re building or buying a coop, ensuring there are a few features to satisfy your flock is a must no matter what you’re raising chickens for!
When considering or building a coop, you must have these simple additions.
- A reliable design that keeps predators out and your chickens in when necessary
- A roof and side panels to protect against rain or drafts
- Access to light
- Adequate roosting space
- Feed and Water
These features aren’t the only things you need, but at the most basic level these concepts will allow your birds be themselves and develop healthily. One thing that’s also very important is ventilation. Though your flock needs protection from rain and drafts, ventilation and access to light help keep the birds in good health. Light also affects the hen’s laying cycle.
Moisture buildup can become a major problem that may lead to various respiratory infections and other health complications. Creating a ventilation hole that also has a hood at the top of the coop is a great method to let excess heat and moisture out, while blocking rain and snow from getting in.
Many backyard farmers raise egg-laying chickens. If you have an egg-laying flock then you should definitely provide your hens with some nest boxes. Nest boxes are small enclosures where a hen can go in and lay her eggs in peace. Hens will instinctually look to lay their eggs in a protected and secluded area. Since egg-laying breeds are typically smaller, a 12 square inch box, enclosed on all but one side usually works. If your laying flock contains any particularly large hens or a large breed, you may have to create a 14 square inch box. Sometimes you will have to guide or encourage your hens to lay in the nest box. Providing dummy eggs, or letting a few eggs accumulate in the nest box will help your hens associate the box with being the proper place to lay eggs. Despite this, you can’t completely control your hens’ egg laying habits and you will inevitably sometimes find eggs elsewhere. Nesting boxes will help protect and consolidate your eggs for easier collection and a longer shelf life. Depending on the size of your coop, some type of a “roll-out” feature can enable you to slide out the bottom part of the nest box and collect the eggs without having to enter the coop.
Speaking of size, the thing about chicken coops is that they can’t really be too big. Given that you probably can’t turn your whole backyard into a coop, you’ll probably have to coordinate the size of your coop to the size of your flock. Another aspect of coop size is how easy it is for you as the owner to enter the coop to clean it or refill waterers and feeders, which are two required activities. Depending on how tall your coop is, creating an openable roof might be a great strategy for giving yourself a reliable entry point.
3 – 8 square feet per bird is a good guideline for how large your coop should be. Bantam and egg laying breeds will be towards the smaller end of that spectrum with table birds towards the bigger end. If you plan on locking your birds up for an extended period of time, like if you live in an extremely cold climate, you should give your birds at least 5 square feet of space no matter the breed or size.
Roosting is a common behavior displayed by your birds that you’ll need to accommodate for. Chickens will “roost” by sitting on a rod or something resembling a tree branch and go to sleep in a perch-like position. Roosting poles can be set up inside the coop using things like 2×4’s or wooden dowels. Birds like to defecate when they sleep so make sure the space below their roost is easily cleanable or features dropping pans.
Food, Water, and Light Are Kind of Important
Lastly, your birds will need food, water and access to light. Food and water can be provided via many different feeders and waterers. What you decide to use is up to you and the size of your flock. Almost as important as the food and water is making sure you have enough feeders and waterers to let every bird get their fill. Access to light can be provided for in a covered run that allows the birds to go “outside” but still be enclosed and safe via a layer of wire or mesh.
Be sure to subscribe to the blog grab a copy of our free eBook “Getting Started with Chickens”, featuring tons more information regarding chickens. Also check out the diagram below to see what your backyard coop might end up looking like!