[This article is part of a series. Start with part 1.]
As I mentioned last time, there are only a few essential parts of a chicken coop. There are also a few considerations you can make as you’re choosing a coop. Today we will look at both of these topics.
Essentials in a chicken coop:
- Enough space. Inside your chicken coop there should be 2-3 square feet per chicken. It is okay to give them more space than this, but actually the birds rely partially on body heat to keep warm during the winter and if there are not enough bodies for the generous space that you give them, they may be cold in the winter. If you live in an area that has really mild temperatures, this may not be a big deal.
- Shelter. Your chickens need to be able to escape excessive heat (with shade), strong wind, rain, and excessive cold.
- A roost. Basically, you need a bar that spans across your chicken coop. It should be up off the ground, but at a height that the birds can jump up to. The bar needs to be flat. Don’t use a dowel. A 2×4 piece of wood would be good, if you put it flat (not on end). I’ve noticed that some pre-made chicken coops will include a roost that looks like a 1”x1” piece of wood. I’m not sure why they do this. The people who developed it must not actually have chickens. A narrow roost will work; your birds will perch on it. A wider roost is much better because in the cold their body sits on their feet to keep them warm. If the perch is narrow, their body can only heat a small top portion of their feet, but if the perch is wide they can keep most of their feet warm.
- Nesting box, or somewhere to lay eggs. When our birds get out, they make nests all over the place. We joke about going on Easter egg hunts, because that’s basically what we do; we scout around until we find them. If you don’t have nesting boxes, your birds will make a nest of pine shavings and start laying eggs on the ground. Anything will work. Most chicken coops come with nesting boxes already built in (and an easy access door for collecting eggs). If your chicken coop doesn’t have nesting boxes you can either build some, buy some pre-built nesting boxes, or use a plastic shoebox filled with pine shavings. The funny thing about chickens is, they tend to all lay their eggs in the same nesting box. If you have a lot of birds, it’s good to have more nesting boxes because they may want to lay at the same time, but my birds almost always lay in the same box even they have three boxes to choose from.
- Access to collect eggs. Once you have laying hens, you will be collecting eggs every day. Is it easy for you to access the nesting boxes? Chicken coops usually have a roof that swings up, or a special egg access door. If you’re using something like a dog house, you’ll probably want to put the nesting box near the door, because you may not want to crawl into the dog house every time you need to collect eggs. Direct access to the eggs from outside the coop is very nice.
- Heating during the winter. Depending on where you live, you may need to heat your chicken coop during the winter. You may also need to provide them with light. (More about these topics later.) If you live somewhere mild, it may not be a problem for you, since the birds generate a lot of heat on their own. Still, you can consider other options, like an insulated coop, or you can incorporate heating tiles, or other things that will make it easier to keep the coop warm in the winter. When you are selecting a site for your coop, remember that you will probably want to somehow get electricity out to the coop during the winter.
- Ventilation. Some air flow keeps things cool during the summer and helps the litter dry out, etc.
- Protection from predators. Depending on where you live, you’ll need to prepare to protect your birds from predators. Sometimes this means fencing in, or completely enclosing the chicken area. For especially determined predators, you’ll need to dig a trench, and extend the fence underground—in a “J” shape, so that when predators dig they won’t be able to get under the fence. Where we live, our biggest predator is our dog, so we keep our birds safe by only allowing the dog in their part of the backyard when we can fully supervise her.
- Cleaning the bottom of the coop. We use the “deep litter” method, but there are other options. You’ll want to decide how you plan to keep the bottom of the coop when you choose your coop. I’ve heard of people putting linoleum at the bottom of a large coop, and then they just scrape the floor. Some people will put another board beneath the roost; the birds poop a lot while they are roosting, so if you are able to just remove that portion of the litter, the whole coop will get dirty much slower. Or, as I mentioned in the last post, you can use a mobile or “tractor” chicken coop, and then you have even less litter to deal with because it will fertilize your yard.
Well folks, I think that about covers it. I think we’ve looked at most of the basics of keeping Preparedness Chickens. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask me! I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to help where I can. Good luck!