Keeping them safe from predators and the fury of mother nature, chicken coops are indispensable for people who are actually serious about raising these types of birds. Not only do they provide your birds with a safe space to sleep, but they also create favorable conditions for them to lay fresh eggs for you and your entire family. Whether you buy a ready-made chicken coop or plan on building on from the ground up, this article will guide you through the 101 basics that every potential chicken coop owner should know about how to have one.
What Does a Chicken Coop Need?
The idea of building a predator proof hen house so your hens can lay eggs in peace is really something to look forward to. However, you can’t just dive in and start building or buying chicken coops lefts and right without knowing a couple of things first:
- How big should a chicken coop be? Whether you build or buy a chicken house, you always have to consider how small or large you want it to be. There is a huge difference between a beginner hen house for 6 chickens and one that can provide space for 25 chickens. Even if you currently have four chickens, but you plan on growing that number, this is a factor worth taking into consideration. Wouldn’t it be worth it to just buy/build a bigger coop right from the start?
- You will need to consider that there are different types of chicken coops, so you have to wonder what it is that you expect to get from a chicken coop, exactly? For example, do you want a movable or a stationary chicken coop? A mobile chicken coop is usually not that high and makes accessing the interior more difficult for you, but you have the mobility factor which can eliminate the need for nesting, as all you’d have to do is just move the coop onto a fresh area of grass. Stationary chicken coops are usually larger, so better for 30 chickens. And, often, easy to build. However, you will need to invest more in the bedding aspect.
- What do you need for extra features? There are plenty of hen houses that come with a variety of features, but they will also cost more compared to a more basic chicken coop model. If you want, you can purchase a cheap chicken coop and then add some features yourself. Some ask how to heat a chicken coop, and the answer is more than one way. You can buy heat lamps or install full heating systems. There are people that even create their own heating methods for their backyard coops. How much does it cost? In the end, that entirely depends on a wide array of factors. But the best place to buy what you need is online or at your local hardware store.
Placement, Space, and What Size Do I Need?
Another important question that should be in the back of your mind is where you should place your chicken coop and how to set up everything once you figure it out. There are a series of different answers to that one, so we’re going to compile them in a list of handy tips:
- If at all possible, try to place the chicken house as close to the house as possible. The farther the coop is, the more time it takes for you to get there in case of an emergency. There is also the laziness factor to consider, as when the chicken coop is closer to your home, you will find it easier to care for the birds and the coop as often as you should.
- If there is a tree that offers generous shading, that would be a good spot to place the chicken coop. During warm summer days, your birds are going to love the extra sun protection. However, you need to make sure that the tree you want to place the coop under actually is safe for the birds to be around.
- Always keep in mind that you have the possibility to opt for a mobile chicken coop instead of a stationary one. This way, you can move it from one side of the yard to another, as you see fit.
- If you live in an area where predators are always on the lookout for some tasty chickens to feed on, consider placing the coop in areas that would be more complicated to reach.
- Make sure that you know the regulations in your area that refer to the required minimum distance between the property line and the chicken coop. This is different from one region to another, so we can’t really give you precise information on that.
Now is the time to consider the space requirements for your specific flock size. A small flock is basically one that has about 3 to 6 chickens in it, so you can have a point of reference as to what we’re referring to when we say, “small flock”. We’re pretty sure that you’ll find raising chickens quite addictive, but three is the minimum number of chickens you want to have.
The idea is that the space and square footage of your hen house will greatly depend on how many chickens you want to house. Another important number that comes into play here is the square footage that your chickens need for foraging. What some people may not know yet is that a flock has a dominant order, as some birds are more dominant than others.
You never want to skimp out on the space you have available for your chicken. If they always have to be jammed or fight over the door opening, your chickens will be stressed and could even get sick or start attacking each other. The type of chickens that you buy is also an important factor. For example, Bantam chicken will require at least one square foot per bird inside the coop itself, and about four square feet per bird outdoors. Large chickens, on the other hand, will need at least two square feet individually inside the coop, and about eight to 10 square feet of space each when outside.
Features & Functions
As we’ve mentioned before, a chicken coop can be as basic as a wooden box and as complex as a kiddie tree house with lots of stuff in it. Naturally, if you’re trying to stick within a specific budget, you don’t want unnecessary features to get your attention and have you spend money on features you don’t really need. And what are some of these chicken coop features, anyway?
- One of the most important features for a chicken coop that also houses hens is having nesting boxes. These provide your hens with space to lay eggs while sitting comfortably on a bed of hemp or something similar.
- Perches are also important in a chicken coop because plenty of chickens love to sleep on them. They prefer perches as opposed to sleeping on the ground because it makes them feel safer, as birds have a natural instinct of perching on high tree branches.
- Ventilation is another thing that you have to look out for in a chicken coop. These places can be quite humid, so they need proper ventilation to keep your chickens healthy and happy.
- Modern chicken coops have cleaning trays that make it easier for you to care for the healthy environment that all chickens are supposed to live in. These are pulled out just like drawers and cleaned in next to no time.
All of these features are mandatory in a chicken coop, but there are also optional features that can make life easier for both you and your flock. These additional features include automatic doors with or without integrated timers, heating systems, lighting and water systems, enclosed spaces, ramps, and other things that your chickens might not need, but they would surely like to have.
How to Maintain it
When dealing with backyard birds, you need to know how to take care of it and how often to clean it. Cleaning your chicken coop is a process that can differ from one chicken coop design to another. For the most part, chicken coops are really easy to clean if you have a walk-in type of coop.
You will have to muck out the bedding, but make sure that you use a face mask and a solid pair of gloves in the process. Take everything you can out of the chicken coop before you proceed to actually clean it. Once all items are out of the way, make sure that you remove the bedding as well. Continue by scraping all the bits and pieces that are on the floor. You can use a paint scraper for that.
Then you can grab a brush and start scrubbing any bits of chicken poop off the floor. This will also help remove other debris. You can create a mixture of boiling water and some detergent that is animal-safe. Once you’re done with cleaning the perch, you can proceed to scrub the nesting box trays as well. You can a friendly mixture of apple cider vinegar cleanser and then rinse off with some boiling water.
For a full rinse, you can use a garden hose or, if you don’t have one, just a few buckets of clean water will do the trick (although the pressure coming from the hose will provide a better rinse). While you’re waiting for the chicken coop floor to dry out, you can proceed with cleaning the items that you removed from the coop, such as feeders and drinkers.
When the coop is dry, change the bedding on the nesting boxes. Fresh hemp bedding is an affordable and comfortable way to go, but there are people who also use other suitable bedding replacements, like sawdust.
DIY Chicken Coop Tips
There are plenty of ready-made chicken coops out there for you to buy, but some of you just prefer taking matters into their own hands and building such a thing from scratch. That deserves all our admiration, as we always support people who are passionate about DIY projects. If you’ve had your own flock for quite some time, you might already know some stuff about what makes a good chicken coop, but for those of you who are new to the hobby, here are some things that you should know before grabbing the hammer and nails:
- It is always easier if you follow a premade plan. These plans are available for free or for a moderate amount of money all over the internet, and they provide you with detailed guidelines on how to get the job done without having to stress too much with planning, and without ever giving you the feeling that you’re stuck in your process.
- If you want to create your own chicken coop design instead of downloading a plan from the internet, you have to plan everything to the smallest detail before you get started. This will eliminate plenty of frustrations that might show up in the middle of the project. Don’t be afraid to write down all the ideas that you come up with while you’re drawing the plans because these notes will help you remember everything you were thinking when you first came up with the initial sketch.
- One mistake that DIY chicken coop builders tend to make is overbuilding. There is a minimum number of elements that make a chicken coop safe and comfortable for chickens, but you don’t really have to build them a palace.
- Instead of spending a fortune on materials, look for stuff that you already own and that could be repurposed in your chicken coop building project. For instance, you can easily turn old plastic bowls or buckets into nesting spots for your chicken, while those old planks that have been lying in the shed for age can make a fine chicken coop door.
- As you’re mapping out your chicken coop, remember that sizing is everything.
- There are two other elements that you need to pay attention to when you’re making your own chicken coop: roosting and nesting spaces. Chickens don’t usually like to sleep that close to the ground, so including some roosting poles in the project is a really good idea. You also want plenty of nesting spaces for your hens, so that you can enjoy fresh eggs on a daily basis. There should be at least one nesting box for every four chickens.
- Just as it is important for chickens to be able to get in and out of the coop easily, the same rule applies to you. When you’re designing a chicken coop, consider how easy it will be for you to gain access to the nesting area to change the bedding, how easy is it to clean the coop, and how will you get easy access to the laid eggs.
One thing that you may not know about chickens is that they can actually survive pretty rough temperatures and get adjusted to environments that other animals or humans might consider extreme. Have you ever noticed a chicken puff its feathers? When it does that, there is an air gap created between the skin and the feathers, that acts as insulation for their bodies. For the most part, having a well-insulated chicken coop is all your birds will ever need, but a heating system isn’t a bad idea if you live in an area where temperatures during the winter really are extreme.
There are different ways for you to keep your chicken coop heating during the cold seasons. One example is turning to heat panels. By using infrared technology, these heaters can do a really great job of boosting the temperature inside the chicken coop. However, they can be rather expensive, so if you have a small flock, they might not be worth the investment… yet!
Caged heat lamps are another way to provide your chicken coop with heat. However, there are a few things that you need to look out for before installing such lamps:
- The wattage of the lamp always has to match that of the light bulbs.
- Make sure that the bulbs are shatter-resistant.
- Install the lamp using secure hardware.
- Make sure that the lamp is positioned out of the reach of your birds.
- Always place a cage around the heat lamp.
Chicken Life Spans
The general rule states that chickens normally live between five and 10 years, but there are plenty of factors that can influence their lifespan. For example, chickens that are raised in commercial farms don’t live that long and are generally slaughtered when they are between six and 10 weeks old. That’s because chickens that are raised for meat are bred for quick maturing so that they can reach a specific weight quickly when compared to home-raised chickens.
Egg Laying Hens
Chickens that are bred for eggs will mature more slowly. They will usually start to lay eggs when they are about five months old. Hens that have passed the four-year threshold are likely to stop laying eggs. Hens that are raised on commercial farms are usually killed when they’ve stopped laying eggs because they are no longer considered productive.
The environment and conditions under which chickens are raised will also impact their lifespan. Chickens are prone to disease when they have lice, worms, mites, or other parasites. They can also pass along their disease to the other chickens in your flock.
What They Eat
Diet and nutrition also play an important role in the life expectancy of your chickens. This is an entire chapter of information that you have to know about if you plan to raise your own chickens. For instance, did you know that chickens can develop liver problems if their diet is too rich in protein?
The Rooster Booster
A question that we keep coming across is “do I need a rooster for my backyard chicken coop?” The correct answer is it depends on what you think you need it for. Hens don’t require roosters to be able to lay eggs, so if that was something you were concerned with, then you don’t need a rooster in your flock. However, if you want your hens to lay eggs that you can incubate so more chicks will hatch, then having a rooster around increases the odds of the eggs being fertilized.
What is a chicken coop going to give you in return for all this hard work? A safe place for your birds to live, and a daily supply of fresh farm eggs. The greatest thing about a hen house is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want. If you just want a safe space to house three chickens, you won’t have to make that large of an investment, but if you have a flock with 20 chickens, the entire situation changes.
You can always buy a ready-made coop, or you can build one yourself. You don’t have to worry about not knowing how to design a chicken coop, as there are plenty of plans online that will give you the steps and measurements required to see such a project through.