There are many chicken coop designs to consider when planning for housing your flock, so it can be hard to decide what to buy or build. After having chickens for awhile, it’s obvious to us that it’s very important to consider some things that the books, etc. on chicken-keeping don’t always mention.
Here are 10 basics that should be considered (and that we didn’t necessarily think of at first). Be sure to plan for these basics to make your chicken-keeping fun.
1) Separate Coop
Chickens are dusty! We made the mistake of trying to keep our chickens in the main barn at first, and they made the entire barn incredibly dusty. And, they put their droppings everywhere. I never noticed that every farm has a separate chicken coop until we put our chickens in the barn.
It’s highly recommended that chickens are housed in their own separate coop.
2) Adequate Space
The amount of space specified as necessary for each bird (by the coop builders) is sometimes based on commercial battery kept birds, and in my opinion is WAY too small. I’ve been told and read that 1 sq. ft/bird is all that’s needed, that means in a 6’ x 10’ coop you could put 60 birds – no way.
It’s more like 4 sq. ft/bird if they’re going to have access to pasture or 10 sq. ft/bird if they’re not. And birds tend to multiply quickly so plan accordingly. We went with 8’ x 10’ and have a large pasture, so we should easily accommodate 20 heavy breed birds (and more of lighter breed birds or bantams).
3) Predator Protection
There are many critters out there that would like to eat your chickens (even in cities) and will even tunnel to get them. So a design that protects against predators is an absolute must.
There should be no openings that anything could get through in the night and all windows should be covered with hardware wire (even when open). Also, consider an elevated coop so you can eliminate any unwanted entries from below.
Chickens generate a lot of moisture, ammonia, and heat – so it’s absolutely critical to ventilate well to remove the excess from the coop. The more time your chickens spend indoors, the more important it is to supply good ventilation. Also, the ventilation needs to be flexible so it can be adjusted as conditions change.
In areas where very hot weather’s not a problem, one square foot of vent opening per ten square feet of floor space is generally advised. In hot weather areas, it’s often recommended that entire sides of the coop be constructed so that they can be removed (and replaced with hardwire) to maintain sufficient ventilation.
In cold weather, the ventilation shouldn’t cause drafts – any ventilation that will be used during cold weather should be high up and protected from rain and snow by roof overhangs.
5) Roosts & Nesting Boxes
Chickens need both roosts and nesting boxes, so does the design include these and have an adequate amount for the number of birds you’re planning to keep?
Also, consider a design with nesting boxes that can be accessed from the exterior of the coop. It makes collecting eggs much more convenient and that’s important since you’ll be doing it every day.
Think about how easy the housing design will be to clean. Is there some accommodation for cleaning under the roosting area? The majority of droppings accumulate there, particularly if the birds are on pasture, so make sure there’s an easy way to clean it. Removable trays or pans that can easily be emptied and hosed down are an option.
Or, will you be using the “deep litter method” and cleaning the entire coop out at regular intervals? If so, then it’s important to have access to remove and replace all the litter conveniently at one time.
It’s awfully nice to have water and electricity available at the chicken house. Chickens drink a lot of water and lugging it long distances gets old fast. Electricity makes it easy to keep the water from freezing in winter, allows for “lights on” in the winter for better egg production, and can power things like an automatic door-opener.
8) Human Access
Is there sufficient space and a door so that humans can get inside the coop? In order to clean, water, feed and care for the chickens, it’s generally necessary to get inside the coop. Having an easy way to get in and out (that’s not the same as the chickens) and room to work inside the coop is important.
Chicken feed, bedding material (usually pine shavings or straw), grit, oyster shell (or other calcium source) and various medical items are all supplies that chicken-keepers need to have on hand and store. Does the coop design include adequate storage space?
Locate the chicken housing near your housing – you’ve got to visit those chickens at least once a day even in the worst weather, so make it convenient (but you might want to put it downwind).
Planning a few key features like these can save a lot of work and effort. Chicken keeping should be fun and easy, what features have you found that are critical?