Coop, Sweet Coop: How to Set Up a Home for Your Chickens

Coop, Sweet Coop

How to Set Up a Home For Your Chickens

By Lisa Steele, Blue Seal Brand Ambassador

  

Chicken coops come in all shapes and sizes. No design is perfect, but all good chicken coops do share some common

characteristics. You can buy a prebuilt coop or a coop kit that you put together yourself. You can also build from scratch, or

you can even convert a garden shed or other outbuilding into a perfectly serviceable coop.

 

No matter how you choose to build it, here are a few requirements for every coop:

 

Make it predator-proof. While some predators such as hawks, dogs and fox will hunt by day, the vast majority are out at night

looking for a meal. By far the most difficult predator to thwart is the raccoon. Raccoons can slide deadbolts, undo bungee

cords, and lift latches. They are also relatively strong.

 

This means that all the doors on the coop need to be fitted with locks that are secured with carabiners, spring-loaded eye

hooks or even padlocks. That includes the latch on the top of the nesting boxes which has allowed a crafty raccoon entry

into many a coop. All windows and vents need to be covered with welded wire (not chicken wire or regular window screen)

with the holes no larger than 1/2" to keep out even the smallest of predators such as snakes, mice, rats and weasels.

 

 

Provide adequate ventilation. In northern climates, this might mean two vents up high under the eaves of the roof, and then

two windows that can be raised or lowered as needed. In the southern climates, more windows will likely be needed to

provide a good cross-flow of air and cool breezes to blow into the coop at night. As a guideline, about one-fifth of the coop

wall area should be windows or vents.

 

 

Provide nesting boxes and roosting bars. These are necessary accoutrements inside the coop. Chickens need

nests in which to lay their eggs and bars on which to sleep. A rule of thumb is that you need one box for every 3-4 chickens,

but in reality, most flocks choose one or two boxes and all the chickens lay their eggs in the same place, so several boxes will

be fine for flocks up to a dozen or two. The boxes should be 12-14" square to allow space for just one chicken to sit at a time

comfortably, and filled with a soft bedding material to cushion the eggs so they don’t break.

 

Boxes can be made of wood or metal, or even fashioned from plastic pails or tubs, half wine barrels or other similarly-sized

containers. Chopped straw, pine shavings or nesting pads are all good choices for box bedding. Dried leaves or grass

clippings can also be used successfully for a more economical option. The boxes can be at floor level or slightly raised. If they

are any higher than 18" or so off the ground, a ladder might be necessary to help the chickens get up to the boxes.

A roosting bar should be made of wood. Plastic is too slippery and metal is too cold in winter. A 2x4 board with the wide side

facing up works perfectly, but a wide branch is also a good choice. Chickens don’t grip a branch like a wild bird might and

are perfectly happy sleeping flat-footed (this also helps protect their toes from frostbite in the winter). The roosting bars

should be positioned higher than the nesting boxes. Chickens instinctively seek the high ground to sleep and positioning the

roosts up high encourages roosting. Staggered roosting bars allow the chickens to hop from one to the other to reach the

top, eliminating the need for a ladder.

 

Give ‘em enough space. Generally a chicken coop should be large enough to allow 3-4 square feet of floor space per bird.

But more importantly, since chickens should really only be inside the coop to sleep or lay eggs, the amount of roosting

space the coop provides is critical. Allow for a minimum of 8" of roosting bar per chicken. In the winter, they’ll huddle

together for warmth, but in the summer they’ll appreciate a bit more space to spread out.

 

The floor matters. Coops can be made of wood, metal or even stone – and the flooring can also be any of these materials. A

dirt floor isn’t recommended because predators can easily dig underneath the coop walls to gain entrance. Covering the floor

material with a piece of inexpensive vinyl floor covering makes for easy clean-up as well as provides a barrier to inhibit poultry

mite activity. Bedding on the floor should be used to cushion the chickens as they dismount from the roost and to absorb

their manure. This can be straw or pine shavings and should be raked out and replaced as needed to prevent ammonia

fumes from building up.

 

 

Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com