Happy, healthy chickens need proper housing, but knowing the chicken coop necessities may seem daunting. Don’t let choosing the house for your chickens intimidate you. Meeting the needs of your flock, whether building your chicken castle from scratch 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 homebodies that even after free-ranging all day, our chickens are perched in the coop every night before sundown.
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 if it provides the above four basic needs.
With that said, before deciding what coop you will 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 to buy or design and build your chicken coop.
Below, you will find what I consider the chicken coop necessities.
Let’s start with the basics. Chicken coops need a roof, four walls, and a doorway for entering and leaving. The design and the materials used for the chicken coop are up to you. Your choices are endless if the coop is primarily draft-free (you still need healthy ventilation).
The number of chickens you plan to house determines the coop space. 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 crucial part of building a home for your flock. You must secure the coop’s top, bottom, and sides. Consider all angles for security when looking at any pre-made coop or chicken coop building plans. You should consider not only coop security but also yard and run security.
We recommend steering clear of standard chicken wire when choosing the wire for your run and coop. While it works well for keeping your chickens contained, it’s not entirely predator-proof. Because the holes in the 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 burrow under your coop. Protect your chickens using a coop with a floor built into it or burying small mesh fencing below it and extending it about 12 inches 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.
Your chicken run should ideally 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 most of the day, you can get by with less space.
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Laying or Nesting Boxes
If you want eggs, you need laying boxes. Make your boxes as fancy or 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 four 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 that your chickens can perch on. We strongly suggest having perches inside the coop and outside in the run area.
When figuring roosting pole size, you need 5-10″ of space per chicken and 10″ between each pole if you use 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 essential; all coops must contain all the necessary elements.
Regardless of how big or fancy you make your chicken coop and run, knowing the basic chicken coop necessities is the first step toward raising a happy and healthy flock. You can add many other additions for your chickens’ pleasure, but the above five items are standard for any chicken coop and run.