There is a lot to consider when building your first coop. Here are 5 top ideas to consider from blogger Michele Cook.
Chicken coops are easy to build. You can start with something pre-made like a shed or you can start from scratch. Either way there are a few things you will need to consider when building your chicken coop.
How many chickens will you have?
This one may sound easy, but if you have ever heard the term “chicken math” you might want to rethink your plan. For a quick run down on chicken math, here is how it goes. You plan on getting six chickens. Sounds perfect. You run down to the Tractor Supply and pick out six adorable little pullets. You giggle at the little peepers carrying on as you proudly bring your flock home. Now comes the chicken math. You go back to the store and the same thing happens. Okay now you have 12 but you are absolutely going to resist for the rest of the year. And you do! Until the next year. If you aren’t careful you will wind up like Carrie Miller, one of our other writers. You can check out her chicken math story here.
The moral of the story is plan for a few more chickens than you think you want. Your coop should have at least one square foot per chicken but a little more is always better.
How will you clean out the coop?
Since I am head pooper scooper in charge, this was one of my biggest concerns when we were building our chicken coop. I wanted to be sure I had easy access to the coop. I did not want to play a game of twister every time I wanted to clean the coop. To achieve this my husband measured me and set the coop up at waist level and put a large door on the back side. I can open the door and comfortably reach in and clean out the whole coop. No acrobatics required.
One other thing we did to make cleaning the chicken coop easier was to add a linoleum floor. This lets me sweep everything out with minimal mess. In the spring when the world turns to mud, I can spray out the coop without worrying about water damage.
There are plenty of other great ways to set yourself up for easy clean-up. You can use a poop hammock (something to catch the poop under the chickens while they roost), a slide out drawer, or in shed style coops you can walk right in. No matter which way you decide to go, make sure you are thinking about how you will clean your coop, before you build it.
Where will your chickens roost?
Chickens prefer to sit up on a roost to sleep at night. They want to be up off the ground so they feel protected from predators. A good roost will be sturdy enough to hold your birds and narrow enough that when they settle down on the perch their fluffy feathers will cover their feet and keep them warm. Most roosts are made from wood to allow for a good grip. You can use a thick dowel, a 2 x 2, a 2 x 4 or even a good thick branch for your roost.
Your roost should be placed high enough that your bird feels comfortable on it but not so high it is hard for the chickens to jump up on. We currently have two coops, one we built and one that was given to us. The one that was given to us has a very high roost and the chickens ended up perching on the side of the nesting boxes instead of trying to fly up to the high roost. This created a mess in the nesting boxes and some uncomfortable chickens. Once we moved it down the chickens were happier and my eggs were cleaner.
Where will your chickens lay their eggs?
Nesting boxes come in all shapes and sizes. I have seen them made from milk crates, there are commercial ones available for purchase, or you can build your nesting boxes as part of your coop. When you are building your coop, you want to choose an area of the coop away from the general roosting area for your nesting boxes. This can be as easy as adding them onto the side of the main coop or as elaborate as building a separate nesting coop.
When you build your nesting boxes you should think quiet and cozy. Chickens like to lay in a place where they feel protected. Something with three walls where the chicken can nestle down into some bedding and lay their eggs is perfect.
Ventilation for your chicken coop
Even if you live in a cold area, your coop needs to be ventilated. An air tight coop is dangerous to your birds. The ammonia fumes from the chicken poop needs someplace to go and that makes good ventilation a must in a chicken coop. It also allows moisture to escape the coop, creating a dry comfortable place for your chickens to hang out.
Your ventilation should be high up in the coop. This can be roof vents, a gap in the top of the roof, or any other small opening you can create to allow the moisture and ammonia to rise and leave the coop. You can also add windows for use in the warmer months. Just make sure they can be closed in the winter to keep the frigid winds from blowing through your coop.
One quick note of caution about any vents or windows you create in your coop, make sure they are covered with a hardwire cloth to keep predators out.
Keeping these five things in mind when building your chicken coop will keep both you and your chickens happy. You will be able to clean with ease and your chickens will be comfy and cozy no matter the weather.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author, and communications specialist for the National Federation of Press Women. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in the beautiful Allegheny mountains of Virginia. If she is not outside caring for her farm you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.