Buying a ready-made chicken coop, instead of building one yourself, has several advantages. It doesn’t require any carpentry tools or skills. It doesn’t take up several weekends of your free time to put together. And you don’t need a PhD in all the features a chicken coop needs. But you should know enough about how to keep chickens safe and comfy to recognize a good coop design. Here are 10 things to take into consideration before buying a prefab chicken coop:
Do you want to be able to walk into the coop?
An elevated coop, that you access simply by reaching inside from a standing position, provides outdoor space underneath for flock activities out of the sun or rain. It also discourages rodents and other critters from taking up residence under the coop. Such a coop is adequate for a small flock of half a dozen chickens or fewer. But a larger flock requires a walk-in coop, which is also more people friendly. If you opt for a walk-in, you’ll thank yourself if you make sure it’s plenty tall enough that you won’t constantly bump your head in the doorway or on the ceiling.
Does it have easy access for flock and coop maintenance?
In addition to a small chicken-size door, the coop should have a larger people door that allows you to easily reach every spot inside the coop for cleaning, or in the event you need to retrieve a sick or injured chicken hiding inside the coop. If a feeder and drinker are located inside the coop, you should be able to easily access them for refilling. You should also be able to easily retrieve eggs laid in the nest boxes. The best coop designs allow you to collect eggs from outside the coop.
Does it have good ventilation without being drafty?
Good ventilation keeps air in motion without causing drafty conditions, and removes suspended dust and moisture. Another important benefit of good ventilation is that it will prevent the buildup of ammonia fumes generated by chicken poop. Removing moisture also helps avoid frostbitten combs and wattles in winter. A well-designed coop has windows that can be opened in warm weather, with hardware cloth covering the openings to keep out wild birds and predators.
Does it provide protection in all local weather conditions?
A well-designed coop maintains a comfortable temperature year around. It should neither trap heat in the summer, nor remove the flock’s collective body heat during cold weather. Depending on your location, maintaining chicken comfort may require an insulated coop. For extreme conditions, a coop fitted with an electric outlet allows you to run a fan in summer and an indirect heating panel in winter.
Is it big enough to house the number of chickens you want?
Many prefab coops are not big enough for the number of chickens indicated in the description. The rule of thumb is that a coop should provide at least 4 square feet of living space per chicken. And that’s excluding space taken up by a feeder, waterer, and nest boxes. If feeders and drinkers are positioned inside the coop, they need to be far enough away from the nearest roost to prevent chicken poop from fouling the feed and water. An elevated coop might have enough space underneath for feeders and drinkers. A run with a solid roof would also protect an outdoor feeder from rain and keep the drinker out of hot sun.
Does the coop come with a run?
For protection from predators, especially neighborhood dogs, and to keep the chickens from wandering or flying to areas where they aren’t wanted, most chicken coops are attached to, or surrounded by, a run. Some prefab coops come with a run. For others you may have to furnish a run, which could be as simple as surrounding the coop with a welded wire or chainlink dog kennel. The rule of thumb for run size is to provide at least 10 square feet per chicken.
Do you want a stationary or portable or coop?
Some coops are designed to be located in one place and left there — the traditional method for housing homestead poultry and other small backyard flocks. Other coops are designed to be easily moved on wheels or skids, or with a set of handles, and some of these portable coops have no floor. The advantage is that the coop can be moved periodically to give the chickens fresh, clean ground to scratch and peck in. Floorless portable coops — called arks or chicken tractors — are popular for use in family gardens or for pastured poultry in yards with enough land for the coop to be moved frequently.
How important are legal considerations?
Assuming you are legally allowed to have chickens in the first place, other legal considerations may come into play. The coop should architecturally fit in with its surroundings, which may be dictated by homeowners association bylaws. The size of the coop relative to your yard size should allow you to comply with legal setbacks from nearby houses and property lines. Depending on the coop’s size, you may need a building or zoning permit. In some areas, if the coop is portable, or is under a certain size, no permits are required. Also, a portable coop generally is not taxed as property improvement. Check out legalities before you place your coop order.
Are ready-made coops available locally?
With the constantly growing popularity of chickens, in many areas you can find a local business that builds and delivers chicken coops. A big advantage is you won’t have to pay long distance shipping. Another advantage is that you can visit the builder and review available coop designs before you buy. You may even be able to modify stock designs to suit your personal taste or needs.
Bottom line, you get what you pay for!
Prefab chicken coops come in a wide range of styles and prices. The cheapest ones typically don’t hold up for more than a couple of years due to wet weather, high wind, or destruction by predators. Many also have serious design flaws. The upside to going cheap is it buys time to decide if you really want to keep chickens and, if so, you will learn firsthand what features you like or don’t like about the coop design. A rent-a-coop service, if available in your area, is another option that serves the same purposes. On the other hand, a top-of-the-line coop can become a cherished once-in-a-lifetime purchase.
To get you started on your coop shopping trip, here are some sources to review:
- The Chicken Chick Essential Coop
- Portable Shelters — Small Chicken Coops
- Portable Shelters — Large Chicken Coops
- Portable Shelters — Floating Duck Houses
If you’re a person who likes to do serious research before making a decision, the following coop building guides offer plenty of suggestions on chicken coop designs and features:
And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.
Gail Damerow, author, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens