Chicken Coops – What You Need
Happy, healthy chickens need proper housing, but knowing what you need may seem daunting. Don’t let choosing the house for your chickens intimidate you. Meeting the needs of your flock, whether building your own chicken castle or buying ready-made, is easy and should provide for four basic needs.
- Protection from the elements
- Protection from predators
- Place for laying eggs
- A roost at night
The Components of a Chicken Coop
As I wrote in my Free Range article, chickens have an innate homing instinct, keeping your flock close to home. Our feathered kids are such home bodies that even free ranging, every night before sundown all our chickens are perched in the coop. I always recommend a protected place for your flock to come home and roost for the night, even when free ranging.
You don’t need a poultry castle for your chickens to come home to. Chicken coops come in many shapes, sizes, and designs, from fancy to plain. Believe it or not, your chickens won’t care what the coop looks like as long as it provides the above four basic needs.
With that said, before deciding what type of coop you are going to buy or build, you must determine what coop features are needed that most closely conform to a chicken’s natural behavior. Hopefully I can help you understand what you need in the design of your chicken coop.
Let’s start with the basics. All chicken coops need 3 things; a roof, 4 walls, and a doorway for entering and leaving. The design and the materials used for the chicken coop is up to you. As long as it is mostly draft free (you still need healthy ventilation), your choices are endless.
Your coop space is based on the number of chickens you plan to house. A good rule of thumb is 4 square feet of floor space per large chicken and 3 square feet for the smaller bantam breeds. Also consider the ease of cleaning when choosing your coop design; you’ll be glad you did.
Making a chicken coop predator free is the most important part of building a home for your flock. Your coop must be secure from the top, bottom, and all sides. When looking at any pre-made coop or chicken coop building plans, consider all angles for security. Not only should you consider the security of the coop itself, but the security of the yard and run as well.
When choosing the wire for your run and coop, we advise steering clear of standard chicken wire. While it works well for keeping your chickens contained it’s not entirely predator proof. Because the holes in standard chicken wire are large, coyotes, raccoons, and foxes can still reach through the mesh, causing harm to your chickens. Always use a small hole wire like hardware cloth with ½ inch openings.
Another consideration when building the chicken yard or run, is airborne predators like hawks. You must include covering the top of the run as well. Our chicken runs use the same size mesh fencing on the top as the sides.
Finally, there are predators from below, such as rats and mice. These critters are attracted to the feed and droppings and like to burrow under your coop. Protect your chickens by using a coop with a floor built into it or burying small mesh fencing below the coop and extending it about 12 inches out on all sides.
The Outside Run
All coops need a connecting chicken run or pen. Chickens need access to the outside to do all those “chicken things”, like dirt baths, catching bugs, scratching dirt, or just relaxing in the sunshine or shade.
Ideally, your chicken run should have 10 square feet of ground space per full size chicken. The smaller bantam breeds require less, about 7 square feet per chicken. If your chickens free range the majority of the day, you can get by with less space.
If you want eggs, you need laying boxes. These can be as fancy or as plain as you like, just as long as they are about 12” x 12” and raised off the ground a few inches. You need one box for every 4 laying hens. Boxes should comfortably fit the chicken and have low enough sides for the hens to step over. Be sure to keep your boxes lined with clean straw or other bedding.
All birds roost, including chickens. Your coop needs a roosting bar or something off the ground on which your chickens can perch. We strongly suggest having perches both inside the coop and outside in the run area.
When figuring roosting pole size, provide 5-10” of space per chicken and 10” of space between each pole if you are using more than one. Multiple poles also need grading like ladders so the farthest pole is several inches higher than the next.
There are many shapes, sizes, and styles of chicken coops to choose from. Making the right choice for your needs is important, and all coops need to contain all necessary elements.