No homestead is complete without chickens. We started out with eight in our first year of homesteading, but within a year we had tripled the size of our flock. We loved them! More chickens require more housing, so my husband frequently built coops for our growing flock last year.
If you have gone “coop shopping” or spent hours browsing chicken coops on Pinterest like I have, you know that housing can be as simple as a reclaimed child’s playhouse to something as elaborate as a small mobile home. It all depends on your goals and the time and resources you are willing to invest in the project.
Since we want to breed ours someday, we built three separate coops with three separate yards for our flock. My husband built the first coop from plans we'd purchased off of Etsy. By the time of the third, however, he designed his own based on a few things we'd learned about chicken coops along the way.
A good shelter should provide about 4 square feet per each heavy-sized, full-grown bird.
While this may seem large, it is recommended by Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.
A secure coop must provide protection from the elements and predators.
All of our coops sit on concrete blocks about 12 inches off the ground. This prevents predators from digging into the coop, and allows the chickens to shelter from rain and wind underneath their coop during the day. Each window is covered from the inside with hardware cloth. On the outside each opening is secured with a series of bolts and cup hooks that lock. This is our second year with chickens and we have yet to lose any to predators.
A coop should have good ventilation while remaining draft-free.
The purpose of ventilation is to supply fresh air, remove heat released when the chickens breathe, remove harmful gases from their droppings, and remove dust particles stirred up from their bedding. Openings should be placed near the ceiling to give warm, moist air an escape route. We have numerous little doors, and differently-sized vents that open and close in different configurations. These allow for cross breezes in the summer. During the winter, they are kept closed to protect the birds from drafts.
Each bird needs adequate space to roost.
Each roost should allow 8 inches of space per bird. Roost bars should be rough enough that the birds can hang on to it, but not so rough that it will give them splinters. They should also have rounded edges, so as not to hurt their toes. We have used wooden curtain rods as well as wooden poles used for bannisters. Both can be purchased at any home and garden store.
Each coop should have a place to lay eggs where they can easily be gathered.
One nest box is recommended for every four to five hens. Ideal dimensions are about a 12×12 to 14×14 inch square and 12 inches deep. I know some chicken keepers have successfully used plastic dish pans, and I have seen ready-made nest boxes available at the local ranch supply. The majority of our coops have nifty looking nest boxes built into a cubby. In the last coop however, we ran out of time before we could add them. The chickens took care of the issue themselves buy building a beautiful nest in the corner which, ironically, has turned out to be a favorite nesting spot of the girls. It works, and so we’ve let the situation, however unconventional, ride for the moment. The important thing is that they have a dark place out of the way to lay their eggs. Our nest boxes are situated towards the back of the coop with a hinged roof that can be lifted for easy egg collection.
The chickens need easy access their home, and so do you!
A friend of mine has a beautiful walk-in coop with storage space where she can comfortably care for her hens. Ours, on the other hand, are reach-in models built just off the ground. Whichever design you choose, the chickens should enter and exit easily, and you should be able to comfortably reach inside for cleaning, retrieving eggs, and any necessary care-giving.
My favorite coop has two large front doors that open on the outside, making it easy to service and clean the inside of the coop. Our chickens however, are allowed in and out by means of a little side ramp and a tiny door. While it is entertaining to watch them enter and exit the coop, someone does need to be here every night to lock them in. If you travel often, or want the ease of allowing your chickens to come and go as they please, you might consider fitting your coop with an automatic door that can be programmed to open and close in the morning and at night.
A coop should be easy to clean.
We use the deep bedding method and either use hay from our property or straw as bedding. Do your research carefully though! While the hay has not caused any problems whatsoever in our birds, I know that it has caused respiratory issues for others. About once a week, or when I notice things are especially dirty, I add an extra layer of bedding. Once a year we pull it all out and compost it, allowing it to sit for a year before adding it to the garden.
Some optional extras, in my opinion, include:
- Electricity for a heat source or artificial lighting if you want your hens to lay through the winter.
- Feed and watering stations inside the coop. Ours are located outside which does create the extra chore of having to put them out in the morning and bring them in at night. However, feeding the chickens in the morning is my favorite time of day, and it gives me a chance to monitor the flock and see how everyone is doing.
- An inside storage area to make feeding time chores a breeze.
- A covered run to provide extra protection for the flock. This is something to consider if you have a problem with hawks or other predators.
Do you keep chickens? Tell us about your coop!
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