Pondering the idea of raising chickens often raises the question, what does a chicken coop need? Even if you have free range chickens in your backyard, you still need a chicken coop.
Several years ago I had a beautiful chicken coop, built by my son-in-law. It had everything my chickens needed to be healthy and happy. The nesting boxes were easy to get to and the floor had linoleum squares installed so it was a breeze to clean. I sold that terrific coop when we moved to Texas. Now that I’m planning the new homestead, I’m also thinking about building a new, deluxe coop. I’ve been reading a new book by Janet Garman called 50 Do-It-Yourself Projects for Keeping Chickens: Chicken Coops, Brooders, Runs, Swings, Dust Baths, and More!. It’s giving me tons of ideas for my new setup.
The ultimate purpose of a chicken coop is used to provide shelter, keep the chickens cool in the summer and warm in the winter, protect them from predators, and give them a dark and quiet place for laying eggs.
You can build your own chicken coop, buy one pre-built that is delivered all ready to go or purchase a kit with all the building materials. You might have a large coop for 20 hens, a tiny urban setup, or even a chicken tractor; the essentials inside the coop are the same.
Plenty of Space
The first thing you should consider when building a chicken coop or purchasing one pre-built, it making sure it has enough space for the number of hens you want.
A good rule of thumb is to allow at least four square feet per chicken. This must be inside the coop, and space not including the food and water areas, nest boxes, or roosting areas. If your chickens need to be enclosed in the hen house for long periods of time, you should consider increasing that space to 7 or 8 square feet.
If your chicken coop is combined with a chicken run (if they spend all their time in the coop) there should be at least 10 square feet of space for each chicken.
Types of Chicken Coops
When choosing a coop, you have several options. The first is to purchase one that is pre-built and delivered to your home. You can often find them at a local home improvement store, or search online for local artisans building their own. This is the easiest way to get a new coop, but also the most expensive.
Ready to assemble coops are available, but they are often just as expensive as the prebuilt items. If you don’t mind doing a little work, you can purchase kit plans that show you how to build it yourself. These will include a list of all the materials you need.
Another option is to convert a small storage shed into a chicken coop. This will provide plenty of room for a large flock of standard egg layers.
Finally, you can build your own from scratch if you can find the materials. Building materials can be found just about anywhere, including those that were dumped by someone else.
A Good Foundation
Cement or concrete floors are easy to keep clean and will prevent rodents from chewing into the coop from below, however, that option is not always available.
In her book 50 Do-It-Yourself Projects for Keeping Chickens, (Amazon) Janet Garman suggests discouraging rodents by building your coop 6 inches above the ground. Above everything, make sure the ground you are building on is level and be on the lookout for animals trying to dig under your foundation or fencing.
Chicken tractors need to be fully enclosed with welded wire or hardware cloth, even on the bottom. Janet recommends this to provide a higher level of protection for the chickens. Securing it to the ground with stakes will prohibit predators from pushing the tractor over.
Chicken Coop Necessities
So now that you have your coop, what does a chicken coop need? After you’ve takes care of security and made sure the coop doesn’t have large holes or gaps that would allow small rodents to get inside, work on these areas.
- Ventilation – It should also have proper ventilation to allow the hens to get fresh air and cool off during warm days. You should also have a way to control the temperature, including adding warmth when it’s cold so they don’t get ill. They should be wire covered to keep out predators.
- Perch or Roost Bar – Your chicken coop should have a perch about two feet off the ground that the chickens can get onto for roosting. This is where they sleep. If not provided they will roost in and on the nesting boxes and may not want to lay in them. This can be as simple as a long 2×4 or a large sturdy branch.
- Nesting Boxes – You also want at least one nest box per four chickens. These can be stand-alone wooden crates, plastic milk crates, or you can build a set attached to the wall. Be sure that each box at least 12x12x12 inches square and increase it to 14x14x14 for large breeds like Jersey Giants.
- Have food and water areas for your hens. This can be offered in a wide variety of containers. 50 Do-It-Yourself Projects for Keeping Chickens (Amazon) has a whole section on this topic, with instructions for making a PVD Pipe Feeder (a good solution if you have limited floor space), a bucket feeder or waterer, and several other options.
- Keeping it clean – Chickens make a lot of droppings! You’ll find it hard to keep the coop clean if you haven’t planned ahead for this. Keep at least 2-4 inches of pine wood chips, shavings, or straw as floor materials for the bottom of the hen house. Doing a daily cleanup controls the fly population and also keeps the eggs from becoming too soiled.
When deciding what goes into a chicken coop first think about their safety. Offer them protection from the elements and extreme weather and give your chickens plenty of room for exercise. Nesting boxes provide a safe and quiet place to lay eggs. Clean food and water will keep them healthy and strong. I will be making several of the projects in Janet’s book. It really is essential for anyone wanting DIY alternatives for their chickens.