Building a chicken coop can be an extremely easy, fun, and educational experience for your family. However, it can also be a challenging and stressful experience if you don’t know where to start. There’s a lot to keep track of when building your own chicken coop, and every step is extremely important for keeping your chickens happy and healthy. To get off on the right start with building a new chicken coop, here are five things to consider before building begins:
1. Decide On the Chickens You Want First.
The breed and number of chickens you intend to raise should be your first consideration when building the coop. Most other aspects of the coop design will hinge on this decision, from the size of the coop frame, to the number of perches and nesting boxes you will place inside.
Breed. There are many, many breeds to choose from, so start by deciding whether you want to raise them for eggs, meat, or dual purpose. Once you’ve figured that out, you should find a chicken breed that is easy for beginners to raise. Generally, the best birds for beginners have docile temperaments, can acclimate to a variety of climates, and will tolerate small backyard spaces. Some great options to consider are Barnevelders, Dorkings, and Rhode Island Reds.
Number. Before deciding how many chickens to purchase, check with local ordinances to determine if there are any regulations. It is especially common for highly urban areas to have restrictions on the number of chickens that a homeowner can have, and the most common allowance is 4-6 hens. In suburban or rural areas, however, the number can be much higher, or even unlimited!
2. Make the Coop Size Unique to Your Flock.
Once you have decided on the breed and amount of chickens to purchase, you can begin designing the coop. The best thing about building your own coop is that you can make the size perfectly fit the flock’s needs and your goals for raising them. As a rule of thumb, here are the space needs for Bantam, standard, and large breeds:
- Bantam: Provide 2 square feet in the coop and 5 in the run per hen.
- Standard: Provide 3 square feet in the coop and 8 in the run per hen.
- Large: Provide 6 square feet in the coop and 15 in the run per hen.
There are a few other considerations when determining the size of the coop. One is the temperament of your flock. While docile beginner birds can tolerate closer quarters, more aggressive birds will prefer some personal space. A second consideration is climate; if it’s consistently too cold to keep the hens outside, you may want to make the coop larger. Lastly, you should consider your own personal goals for raising chickens. If you are limited on space you can adhere strictly to the space recommendations above, but if you have more room available you can expand the boundaries. For instance, you may want to expand the size of the run to promote free ranging.
3. Be Proactive with Protective Measures.
There are a number of dangers your chickens may face if you don’t prepare for them right away during the building process. The first of these dangers are uninvited guests: pests and predators. Pests and predators often enter the coop by digging under the fencing, and airborne predators can swoop right over the fencing. To prepare for these intruders, bury the fence a foot deep and angle it outwards, all the way around the coop and run. Another great option to prevent digging is to lay a concrete base underneath the coop. To keep away flying predators, cover the run with wire or netting. If these options do not seem safe enough to you, you can also consider laying an electric fence.
Another danger is harsh weather conditions, whether hot or cold. During hot weather, ensure the hens will have access to lots of water and shaded areas. If there are no shaded areas around the coop, consider raising the coop so they can cool off underneath. Provide lots of ventilation in the coop by adding vents and windows to the coop design. During cold weather, you can prevent drafts and moisture from entering the coop by adding insulation, filling any gaps or holes with caulk, or even securing a tarp to the coop. Just be sure that there is still adequate ventilation so that toxins do not build up inside. If the weather becomes extreme most years, consider installing a heating unit in the coop.
4. Don’t Let the Design Lead to Cleaning Difficulties.
Creating a personalized coop is fun, but be careful not to let your coop design interfere with cleaning. After all, a coop that gets dirty quickly will put the hens at higher risk of illness and infections. You should consider cleaning when deciding on both the material to use, and the shape of the coop. A popular material for building the coop is wood, which is generally easy to work with. When using wood, be sure that it is sealed properly, but also is not treated with harsh chemicals.
With many coop designs, you will not be able to walk into the coop to clean. If this is the case, consider hinging a roof or wall for easier access. You should also try to keep feeding and roosting areas somewhat distanced from the nesting boxes; if they are too close, food and fecal materials could contaminate the nesting box.
5. Make Move-In Safe and Stress-Free.
After building the coop, it’s time for the residents to move in! Before they do, be sure to clean the coop thoroughly. Ideally, you should do this two weeks ahead of time. You can use generic soap and warm water to clean, but you should use a commercial disinfectant that is specifically labeled for use in coops. Once you’ve completed that, you can begin adding the bedding.
If your hens are matured, they will be ready to move in as soon as the coop is clean. Check them regularly for signs of stress during the first few weeks, and then they should be good to go! Chicks, however, will require a little bit more work before they can move into their new home. You will need to establish a brooding pen with at least one heat lamp. The heat lamps should be 1 ½ to 2 feet off the ground, and you should have it warming up the pen before the chicks arrive. Once the chicks arrive, you will have to monitor them even more closely than hens, checking their behavior patterns and their temperatures every day. They will not be ready to live in a regular coop and pen until they are about six weeks old, but make sure it’s ready for them once the time comes!
Breed selection, coop size, flock protection, cleaning, and move-in are all extremely important to think about when building a coop for the first time. Without having some background knowledge and ideas about each topic building a coop will be unnecessarily challenging, but these 5 tips should make the process not only easy, but enjoyable too!