Picking the Right Chicken Coop
Before you start raising chickens, you’re going to need someplace to house them. Let’s discuss some of the essential functions of a coop, and then we’ll think about some of the basic elements a coop needs to have./p>
A coop serves a couple of purposes. The main thing a coop provides is shelter for your chickens. Chickens will spend a lot of their time outside, but there are times that they’ll need shelter, in particular at night or during bad weather. Additionally, a coop will provide protection from predators. A variety of common animals like raccoons, foxes, coyotes, skunks, hawks, and owls could potentially be interested in eating your chickens. Depending on where you live, you might even need to worry about snakes and alligators. Also, don’t underestimate the need to protect your chickens from neighborhood dogs. Even well-behaved pets will attack chickens. The only job of your coop isn’t just to keep chickens in. It’s also there to keep predators out.
In addition to the key purposes of a coop—shelter and protection—make sure you think about some of the key elements of a coop: space, temperature control, ventilation and light, roosts, nest boxes, and runs.
Space: Your coop needs to have a sufficient amount of space. If hens are too crowded, they won’t be able to walk around, flap their wings, and interact with each other the way they’re supposed to. This can lead to violent behavior among your chickens. In general, you should plan for two to four square feet of floor space for each chicken in your coop.
Temperature control: Depending on your climate, you might need to think about controlling the temperature in your coop. Adult chickens are fairly tolerant of a wide temperature range. They prefer to be in temperatures between 40 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (around 5 to 30 degrees Celsius). In many areas, you’ll be fine without temperature control, but if you live someplace that has really hot summers or cold winters, consider how you’ll control the temperature of your chicken coop.
Ventilation and light: Your chickens will poop a lot, and they’ll poop whenever and wherever they feel like it. As a result, it won’t take long for your chicken coop to stink pretty badly if it’s not ventilated. Windows, vents, and sometimes even a fan are necessities to circulate air in and out of your coop. Windows are good because not only do they allow air to circulate, but they also let in light, and your chickens need light in order to lay eggs.
Roosts: Your chickens will need a roost to sleep on. In the wild, chickens will typically find a tree branch to perch on at night. In your chicken coop, simulate this by incorporating a pole elevated off the floor that runs horizontally. Aim to have at least twelve horizontal inches of space for each of your chickens.
Nest Boxes: The main reason many people raise chickens is for their eggs. In order for your chickens to lay, they’ll need a comfortable and secluded place. A nest box will provide this place. These boxes should be at least twelve square inches (a bit bigger would be preferable). You don’t necessarily need to have a nest box for every single chicken, but you should have one for every two or three hens. If you have a flock of ten chickens, you’ll need four or five nest boxes. Make sure that your nest boxes are in a safe, warm area of the chicken coop.
Runs: So far, we’ve been thinking about the coop itself, but the other key thing your chickens need is a run. A run simply refers to outdoor space where your chickens can spend time. Just as people like to have a yard around their house, chickens need to have a run around their coop. Chickens enjoy and need to spend a significant amount of time outside to soak up the sunshine and fresh air. Typically runs are enclosed (usually with some type of chicken wire) because you want to keep predators out of the run just like you want to keep them out of the coop. Sometimes people will let their chickens wander around free-range, but you’ll need to keep an eye on your chickens if you want to do this. As far as how much space to allow, you should aim to provide three to six square feet of space for each chicken in your flock, but the more space you can allow, the better. Your chickens will appreciate having bit more space to run around.
Designing and building a coop that incorporates all of these key elements will require some basic carpentry skills. Many people who want to raise chickens are excited about the challenge and fun of building a coop, but if you don’t feel like your skills are up to building something yourself, you can actually buy a coop fairly affordably. Chicken coops are like most things: you can spend relatively little money for something basic, or you can spend hundreds of dollars on something fancy. Whatever you decide, purchasing a coop can be a great option for people who are interested in raising chickens but don’t have much carpentry knowledge or don’t feel like designing and building a coop is worth the headache.