Raising chickens is an activity which has interested you for quite some time and you have to check it out. However, you will have to build a coop for them and this really demands a lot of things. You need to protect your birds from predators, provide them with adequate spaces for laying and roosting, and offer ample moving space.
Why raise chickens?
So you’ve thought about a new pet project and you realized raising your own chickens sounds like a lot of fun. Well, the good news is that you’re right! Taking care of these beautiful birds is a rewarding but also demanding job, so make sure you’re ready to commit!
Since not everybody can live at a farm, many people choose to raise their chickens in their backyard. However, there’s actually quite a lot to like about this activity if you do it right. The eggs are a real temptation since they will be tastier and fresher than any store-bought eggs you could possibly get. Imagine the cakes you will bake with them!
The shells and the chicken poop can go right into the compost pile, that is if you don’t feed the eggshells to your birds. Don’t look at us like that, this is actually a really healthy treat because it gives them the necessary calcium for their bodies.
Going on, you won’t have to worry about their entertainment because these girls will entertain themselves for much of the day, picking at worms, grass, beetles, and all the other goodies that are found in farm eggs.
Besides, another advantage of having chickens as garden pets is that their great eyes make them ideal for defending it against invaders.
Why a coop?
If you’re just starting into chicken-ing you’re going to hear a lot of people say that free-ranging is the best way you could possibly raise them. While this is a very important part of a chicken’s life because they are not sedentary by any means whatsoever, just leaving them to wander all day round is not the best way to raise a healthy flock.
They require their own space where they can eat, sleep, lay eggs, and be protected against invaders as well as the elements of nature. With that in mind, a chicken coop is the best house you could possibly get them. Therefore, any good owner will make sure the coop has a few certain elements that will ensure your hens stay happy and healthy.
If you go on the route of building one, you should first consider if the amount of money you are going to spend is not roughly similar to what it would cost you to just buy a kit off Amazon. If you do decide to go through with it, remember that the shelter has to be ventilated enough, secured against predators and rodents, as well as protected from moisture.
Chicken Coop Necessities
Space is important
First things first, size it up really well! When building your coop you’re going to have to consider the size because there are certain recommendations into place which specify how much space one single chicken needs to feel comfortable.
For standard breeds, you will want a minimum (yes, minimum) of 4 square feet per every bird. If you can, go even higher because no chicken has ever complained about having too much space to wander around it.
Larger breeds can even go up to 8 square feet per bird but if you’re just starting out, we really advise getting an all-around chicken which can be good for either meat or laying, such as the Rhode Island Red.
Furthermore, keep in mind that you also have to add in nest boxes and roosting areas so space is the one thing where you really shouldn’t cut corners.
A place to lay
Nest boxes are a must inside the chicken coop to ensure that everybody is comfortable, gets a good night’s sleep and can lay beautiful eggs when the time is right. Your hens will push and shove each other in a most un-lady-like fashion to get to their preferred laying spots every day, but that is just chicken life.
In general, you want your nest boxes to measure around 12’x12’ and enough in numbers that there is one box for every 3 laying hens. When it comes to design, feel free to be as creative as you wish for them because they really won’t care.
People like to use things like 5-gallon buckets on their sides, milk crates, dressers, or even repurposed shelves. Just a heads up, however, that if you are the type of owner who lets his/her chicks free-range a lot, they will lay where they want and all your creative designing efforts may have been for naught.
Since they are independent beings, they may decide they don’t like your nest boxes and that the one with the goat’s hay is much more suited for what they have in mind. As a rule of thumb, the more private you make the nesting spaces, the better they seem to like them.
A place to sleep
After all their hard work over the day, chickens require a place to sleep so roosts are another chicken coop must-have. Contrary to popular belief, these birds do not sleep on the ground because they like to be up in the air, so a good owner will need to provide a space for them to comfortably roost each night.
When adding these to your coop, there are a couple of things you may want to take into consideration. First of all, the roosts should be at least 12 inches away from the wall since this amount of space provides them with enough head or tail room to hang off comfortably.
Second, you also have to give at least a couple of feet between the uppermost roost and the ceiling so that you don’t risk one of your birds hitting it the moment it jumps out of the roost.
Last but not least, roost space is exactly like nesting space, except bigger. When calculating how much room you need for this, plan for at least 12 inches of space per bird.
When it comes to design and materials, you can make them from pretty much anything. However, we do recommend you to stay away from slippery plastic-like PVC pipe. Also, if you choose to go for a square board you will want to round the corners a little bit to allow the chickens to wrap their feet around them comfortably.
Air to breathe
Many people tend to overlook ventilation as an essential part of a chicken coop design but we cannot stress this enough. Chickens make a lot of dust (and we do mean a lot) because they like to bathe in it to keep themselves insect-free. By the way, a good owner will also provide his/her girls with a special place for dust bathing or, at the very least, save room for them to dig it.
As we were saying, between the manure, the bedding, the feathers, and all the scratching going on, fresh air is as big a necessity as food or water because you have to protect their lungs. There is a big difference between a well-ventilated coop and a drafty one.
Therefore, ventilation is very important to create airflow and allow that ‘soiled air’ out and fresh air in. It’s going to be necessary for you to leave some opening around the coop, usually the windows or along the eaves. Make sure to secure those openings with something resistant like chicken wire or hardware cloth, to protect your girls against predators.
Once the coop is done, you will want to do a thorough check to see if there are any areas that might allow other animals in. Because we’re talking about chickens, we’re talking about gaps or holes that are big enough for small animals such as snakes as well as larger ones such as raccoons or opossums.
To be on the safe side, all large openings have to be covered with some sort of wire and all the small areas covered or blocked with whatever sturdy material you can find.
A good rule of thumb for this is that if a 3-year-old can open it, so can a raccoon! Due to their cleverness, make sure all the door latches are, for lack of a better word, child-proof.
Your feed storage area can also be very attractive for unwanted guests so you have to do everything in your power to protect it. Not only will they eat your chickens’ food, but sharing it can cause the birds to get very sick so this is quite paramount to avoid.
One other thing to avoid is leaving the feed bags open because this is another incentive for unexpected visits. Store your feed in a covered and secured container, preferably metal as this is the most secure one. Not only does this prevent rodents from getting in but it also stops moisture from getting to the food.
One last thing to do before jumpstarting your flock is to ensure, once again, that your coop is water-tight. If you want it to last in the long run, the roof has to be good, the floors cannot leak and heavy wind must not be able to cause rain to go through your ventilation holes.