A chicken coop can be as simple as a repurposed dog house or can be an elaborate work of architectural design. If you’re looking to build your first coop, redesign an existing one, or add another to your property, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Know the laws in your community
Depending on they type of community/neighborhood you live, there might be different requirement and laws that permit/prevent you from building a structure on your property. Some laws stipulate that you need a permit, or how large the building can be. Some get very detailed, for example if the structure can be permanent with a foundation or if it can be free standing. At our old house, we didn’t require a permit so long as we didn’t pour a slab. The coop/small barn was considered free standing. There might also be laws that require how far away the structure has to be from your property line. Research this before you begin investing in material.
2. Placement in the yard
Think about where you spend you time. Do you want your coop visible from the living room window so you can keep an eye on your flock? Do you have dogs that you’d like to keep separate from your chickens? Or neighbors who might now want your chickens near their yard? These are all important things to consider when choosing an area for your flock. You also want to consider proximity to your house. Will you have to run extension chords for lighting and heating elements? And remember, if you live in an area that receives significant snow fall, you’ll have to shovel pathways to the coop. You’ll also have to bring water to your chickens at least once a day. So distance is important to keep in mind.
I get asked this question a lot. I’ve read many different articles that claim there is a magic number varying between 1.5 to 3 square feet per bird. But I’ve found that there is more to this answer than a simple square foot number.
How much space a chicken needs depends a lot on your set up, what kind of chickens you plan on raising and how many. If you free range your birds, or they have a large run, then the coop itself can be somewhat smaller. Chances are your chickens will mainly use the “house” section of the coop to eat, sleep and lay eggs. The rest of the time they will probably enjoy roaming and pecking outside.
The size of your coop also depends on climate. If you live in a cold climate you might find that your chickens spend more time in their coop to retreat from the harsh weather. Our’s have the option to go outside year round, but many times they choose not to.
My advice is to build the largest coop that you’re willing to clean, and that your time, money and neighborhood allow. Then, start with a small flock your first year. Pay attention to how the current amount of chickens are fairing. Is their constant territorial pecking, does the coop get dirty quickly, is the water constantly soiled, are the chickens dirty, do you have mite problems? These are all indications that your area is overpopulated. If you current population seems to be doing well, it might be ok to increase your numbers slowly.
Ventilation is one of the most important design aspects of a coop. Chickens are prone to respiratory ailments when confined to a stagnant coop. Trapped dampness and breathing soiled air will cause lung, sinus problems and other illnesses.
It’s also important to consider how your coop will dissipate heat. Chickens do worse in extreme heat, than extreme cold, so while it’s important to prevent drafts and harsh winter weather from chilling your chickens, it’s even more important to provide an escape from heat. A rain-proof vent in the roof, or the addition of a window that opens can help regulate ventilation in your coop.
5. Ease of cleaning
You want to strike a balance between providing enough space for your chicken’s needs and being able to physically keep the coop clean. Have you ever heard that a larger fish aquarium is easier to keep clean? The same applies to chicken coops. In larger coops, the bedding stays cleaner per square foot because there’s more room for the droppings to spread around.
When designing your coop, remember that chickens can fly. Expect that every horizontal surface in your coop will become soiled at some point, so be sure that you have a plan to clean these surfaces. Linoleum makes a great easy-to-clean floor option. (Check out my post for how we installed it in our coop, For Love of Linoleum) Painting surfaces with a high gloss durable paint will make wiping down a snap.
Also consider how you will reach all the areas of your coop. Can you step inside the structure? If it’s a small coop, can you reach all corners of the floor, roosts and run?
6. Egg boxes and roosts
When designing a coop, be sure to leave room for egg boxes and roosts for your birds to sleep on at night. You will need 1 egg box per 3-5 chickens. Think about the design of your egg boxes. Is it something that can easily be dumped or scraped out? Egg boxes can get messy with droppings and broken eggs. An easy-to-clean egg box will keep your eggs fresh and edible without having to scrub droppings off the outer shells.
Roosts should be placed so that every bird in your coop can reach it and have enough room to sleep comfortably. Sometimes breeds like Silkies have a hard time with high roosts. The roost should be about 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter so the birds can grip it easily. Removable roosts make for easy cleaning or replacing. Staggered roosts, like a ladder set up, should be angled so that higher roosting birds don’t defecate on lower roosting birds in the night.
Having an element in your coop that allows sunlight will help encourage your chickens to lay consistently especially through the winter months.
Chickens can be extremely easy to raise if you have a well designed coop. Take it slow, do your research and build smart. Your coop is probably the biggest investment in your flock and it’s important to do it right the first time.
What elements do you think every coop should incorporate? Share with the community by leaving a comment below, or visit the Community Chickens Facebook Page.