Designing your chicken coop can be fun and easy! The most important thing to remember when making/choosing a coop is to ensure that whatever you build (or buy) is
- VERY hard (hopefully impossible) for predators to access, and
- Very easy for you to access, both for egg collection and cleaning
With that in mind, let’s go into a little more detail to tailor your coop to your future flock. The first question you must ask yourself is how many birds you plan to have. Keep in mind that for every standard size chicken, you will want 2-4 square feet of space inside the coop and 5-6 in the run (more if they are always kept confined.) It is best to build on the larger side because (1) the chickens will be less likely to have inter-flock conflicts, (2) you will have to clean less often, and (3) keeping chickens can be addictive and you might want to add to your flock down the road.
Besides adequate space, your coop should also have:
- Nest boxes- at least one nest box (12”x12”x14”high works well for most standard-sized breeds) for every 4 chickens.
- Roosts- a place where the birds can perch for the night, they should be about 2 inches wide (usually made out of wood) and each bird should have a least 12 inches of space. If multiple roosts are used, they should be placed a least a foot apart.
- Plenty of ventilation- chickens are very susceptible to respiratory problems. To ensure adequate airflow through the coop, your coop should have multiple windows and roof vents.
- A run- Even if your birds will mostly be free-roaming in your yard, it is best to provide a predator-proof run that they can use on days you can’t, or don’t want to, let them out into the yard.
- A ladder- To allow for easy passage from the coop to the run.
- Clean food and water stations- These should be easy to access for cleaning and refilling
- Bedding- the most common bedding is pine shavings (do not use cedar shavings!) or hay/straw. Some people choose to use a blend, such as hay or straw in the nest boxes and pine shavings in the rest of the coop, but either can be used throughout.
A note on coop placement- Chickens can easily overheat in the summer. Place your coop and run in an area that is at least partially shaded.
A note on rodents- The best way to deal with rodents is to try to not attract them in the first place. Keep food inside the coop at all times, preferably raised off the floor, and block access to the coop at night. Also, make sure windows and roof vents are covered with hardware cloth (metal wire screen with 1/2” squares). Mice and rats can go right through chicken wire!
The easiest chicken coops to clean are coops that you can either walk in (picture a converted shed), or are raised off the ground and open wide on one side to allow for the bedding to be easily raked into a wheelbarrow. While wood can be used on the floor of the coop, something waterproof would be preferable, such as concrete or old tile.
* If you decide on a raised coop, make the cleaning access door on the opposite side as the run so you are not trying to navigate through the run with a wheelbarrow. Additionally, if you place your compost pile close to your coop, you will not have far to go with the used bedding.
PREDATORS- The Big Three
Hawks- discourage hawks by covering your run with chicken wire or strong netting. It is also recommended to wrap a piece of 1/2 inch hardware cloth around the entire base of the coop. This strip should be at least 2-3 feet high. The reason for this is a bit grim, but the truth is some hawks have discovered that if they scare chickens, the birds will panic and stick their heads through the holes in the chicken wire run. (This doesn’t end well for the chicken). By using hardware cloth at the base of the run walls, your frightened birds will not be able to stick their heads though the wire, sparing them from the hungry hawks.
Also, plant lots of shrubs to provide cover for free-roaming chickens. (The songbirds will thank you as well!)
Foxes/coyotes- prevent foxes and coyotes from digging into your run by burying a foot to 18 inches of chicken wire or hardware cloth around the outside of the run, or by covering the entire bottom of the run with wire.
Raccoons- protect from raccoons by building your coop to be strong…think fortress… latches on exterior nest boxes, solid hinges on doors, hardware cloth in the windows, NO HOLES WHATSOEVER (raccoons will reach in through any available hole), and use good materials for roof and walls (no rotting wood with soft spots). Raccoons are strong, dexterous, and determined!