Raising Chickens 101 – Building the Best Chicken Coop

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Raising chickens is a wonderful thing to do. Chickens make wonderful pets for the kids, they lay lovely fresh eggs every day (or most days, anyway), they’re gentle creatures, and they’re natural predators for the garden pests you don’t want.

Raising chickens isn’t hard, nor is it expensive. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You don’t need fancy gadgets to raise a chicken, you don’t need a luxurious coop, and you don’t need expensive feed. This article is adapted from Mary Miller’s book Raising Chickens. It is a book that’s in the public domain, which is why I’ve shared some of her wonderful illustrations in this article.

Accommodation for Your Chickens

chicken-coop-frame
A very simple frame for a chicken coop
In this section, we’ll talk about chicken coops, runs, and everything about air, warmth, sun, and protecting your chickens from disease and vermin. As Mary says: “No matter how plain and ordinary your chicken house is, the test of your fitness comes with its care, not once a month, but day by day.”
simple-chicken-coop-DIY
“Chicken house a boy can build” – Mary Miller

Why Build a Coop?

A chicken coop serves a few purposes. Your hens are safe in there. It’s their home and they feel comfortable. When chickens are comfortable and peaceful, they lay lots of eggs. Stress put them off the lay, like we’ve had when a snake took up residence in their coop. They’re uncomfortable with new, exciting things.

It’s also the place where they lay their eggs. You don’t need a coop. You can let them free range and they’ll find their own nest, their own place to lay eggs. The only thing is that you’ll then have to go out and look for those eggs. And how do you know how old the eggs are? They’ll lay anywhere, in the grass, under things, behind things.
It’s fun to find eggs during Easter time, but becomes a bit tiresome year-round.
free-range-chickens-101

Protection is another benefit of a coop. Build a coop that can keep foxes and dogs out. Here, we try and build our coops snake-proof, but I’ll tell you, it’s nearly impossible! This year we only have snakes that steal the eggs, they’re too small to eat the chickens. I don’t mind sharing the eggs but I don’t want to lose chickens.

We have had snakes get stuck in the wire too. Once they’ve eaten, they’re bigger than they think and they’ll get their front part through only to get stuck on the egg bulge in their tummy. We go out and cut the mesh to free the snake, but I’m slightly uncomfortable getting that close to them. Life on a farm….

Features of a Great Chicken Coop

What do the best chicken coops look like, what features do they have?

Chicken coops so be dry and have protection from wind and storm. Your girls’ll love some sun and some shade. The sun is the best purifier and disinfector in the world, so face your chicken coop to the south or east if possible.

It doesn’t matter what you build it out of. We’ve always used recycled farm things for chicken coops. At the moment it’s an old trailer attachment of the back of a truck (or so I think, it’s hard to tell). The last one was some form of transport box with a forklift attachment underneath. Some simple corrugated iron makes a good roof.

To make the coop dry, it should be built on well-drained soil. Sit it up off the ground, about 6″ is great. This helps the air to circulate. Our current coop doesn’t have this. I decided to build this one fully on my own and there was no way I could lift it up. It doesn’t have a floor anyway. I did put it on a slope so the water runs away freely, and I’ve built up the ground inside with road base (sand/rock type mix).

best-chicken-coop-features

Smaller is Better Than Bigger

What? Isn’t lots of space good for chickens?

Well, yes, space is great. But, consider that the only heat in the chicken coop comes from the hens themselves and the sun. Unless you have heating installed, that is, or you’re in a super warm climate. So, to make the chicken coop warm, you should make it small enough so that your hens can generate heat together to keep warm in winter.

Face the coop so the sun can get into it. A big shady tree or a vine grown over the top helps with shade and insulation.

Wondering whether to raise chickens or ducks? Here’s my article on chickens vs ducks and which is best for your homestead.

How Much Space Do Chickens Need?

Each chicken needs 4-5 square feet of floor space. Each chicken needs 8 to 10 cubic feet of air space.

Square coops are more economical and easy to build. Draw a diagram to figure out how big your coop needs to be to house your flock. How low can you make it at the back so you can fit through without bumping your head? How high does it need to be to fit your door in the front, and possibly a window?

Chicken Coop Building Material

Think about the materials that are the easiest to find in your area and use them to build.

Self-Feed-Chicken-Grit-Feeder
Self-feed grit box
Consider many things in the selection of material. Rough boards are a little cheaper, but how they do ruin good paint and whitewash brushes! Matched boards are cheaper and tighter than unmatched boards with strips nailed over the cracks. For the roof some kind of waterproof roofing material will keep the house warm and dry.

Chicken Coop Flooring

You may have seen chicken coops with a cement floor. Once you’ve seen that, you can’t un-see it. Cement floors are wonderful to clean. I’ve never been lucky enough to have a chicken coop with cement floor, but if you can afford it, it’s great. Cement floors stay dry and they hold heat, providing another source of warmth for cold nights. 
Cement floors discourage rats and vermin and they last forever. Your hens won’t have issues with wet feet and other diseases that are brought on by dampness and cold. You can always put cement in later, too, so you can keep it in mind for the future. 

DIY Cement Chicken Coop Floor

Figure out how much the cement is going to cost. Aim for 1 1/2″ thickness of cement, laid on a bed of gravel and small stones. Mix the cement:
  •  1 part Portland cement
  • 3 parts clean sand
  • 5 parts gravel
Mix the cement pretty thick then tamp it down until it’s level, or with a slight slope to help water run off when you clean it. With a trowel, smooth it and smooth it, over and over, until the surface is free from anything like a stone or large pebble.
Don’t forget a name sign for your chicken coop, I’ve compiled a huge list of the best chicken coop names!

Chicken Coop Doors and Windows

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You don’t need a door. Many of our coops just had a bit of mesh you hold open and sneak through. But a door really makes life easier. It’s easier to get the eggs, easier to look after your hens.

A chicken coop door, ideally, should be easy to open, shut, and lock. The window is to let light and sunshine in. Sunshine is especially important. Small windows are cheaper, but they don’t let as much light in. The window should be placed so that the sun can get way back to the very farthest corner of the house. A high window is better for this than a low one.

The diagram shows why.

The windows should be placed high enough to let the sun in to the back of the house.

Chicken Run

Not just a funny movie, it’s essential for your hens to have a place to get active and get out into the sun. And have a dust bath!
Sunshine and exercise are necessary for healthy fowls. They can stand cold weather well, if they are kept dry and active. A run, a shed, or letting your chickens free-range during the day provides sun and exercise. 

Scratching for food in mulch, grass, and leaf litter keeps your hens moving. They get very athletic they more you let them out, jumping up to reach high insects and bugs. They’re much faster than you think when they’re huntin something, and they love hunting! They’re omnivorous, but they adore meat. Worms, bugs, lizards, even small snakes.

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Grain self-feeder for fowls

Other Chicken Furniture

Some other necessities for a chicken coop are a roost, nesting boxes, a place to have a dust bath, and containers to hold their food, grit, and water. Always ask yourself, before buying a certain piece equipment, whether it’ll be easy to clean. A beautiful feeder that you can’t clean is kinda useless. 

The Roost

Roosts should be in the corner that’s furthest away from doors and windows, away from wind drafts. There should be enough roosts to give each chicken 6 to 8″ of room. If you have more than 1 roost, they should be at least a foot apart.
Have your roosts at the same heights. Hens will fight for the highest spot, so they’ll crowd and bother each other if there’s a higher roost. A simple roost can be made from a piece of 2 by 2 with a rounded upper edge.

 

Nesting Boxes

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Nesting boxes can be anything from baskets to buckets to square wooden boxes. A search on Pinterest will show you lots of creative nesting boxes of all forms and shapes. I’m lucky enough to have a carpenter for a dad and he’s built me a gorgeous nesting box out of plywood. It’s a prototype he says, because plywood doesn’t last the longest, and next year he’ll build another from… I don’t know what yet.

Recommended: Raising Backyard Ducks, the pros and cons

You can also buy nesting boxes, which is your easiest way out. They come in all sorts of materials, including wood and plastic. Here’s some of my favorites:

Sale
Little Giant Single Plastic Nesting Box Chicken...
  • QUALITY MATERIALS - This nesting box is made of high...
  • EASY-TO-CLEAN - This smooth plastic surface is easy to keep...
  • INCLUDES PERCH - This plastic nesting unit features an...
  • WALL MOUNTS - This box mounts to 16” on-center studs. If...
  • PLASTIC PREFERRED - When compared to wood tables or metal...
Brower 406B 6-Hole Poultry Nest
  • 6 holes in 2 tiers; 30 hen capacity
  • Nest bottoms removable for easy cleaning and litter...
  • Easy to assemble with a screwdriver and wrench - no rivet...
  • High quality galvanized steel construction; All exposed...
  • Ventilation holes in partitions for fresh air flow
Precision Pet 7029288 Triple Nesting Box
  • For Use In or Out of Coops
  • Helps Eliminate Nest Sharing
  • Single, Double, & Triple nesting boxes are available

You can also get roll-away nesting boxes that make it easy to gather your eggs. Outside access to the nesting boxes makes it even easier to collect eggs, so you don’t need to get right into the coop to get the eggs. If your chickens are like mine, they’ll line up at the door and push to get out!

Homestead Essentials Roll Out Nesting Box for...
  • QUICK ASSEMBLY: All you need is a flat-head screwdriver and...
  • NO PERCH ROOF: The slanted roof design prevents the hens...
  • KEEP YOUR EGGS SAFE: The laying trays slant forward slightly...
  • EASY TO CLEAN trays and metal designs makes this nesting box...
  • MATERIALS: Rust-resistant galvanized metal with plastic...

Aim for nests that are about  14″ wide and 14″ deep. Add nesting material for comfort and to protect your eggs. Short straw is a great nesting material as are wood shavings.

Petmate Precision Pet Excelsior Nesting Pads...
  • EGGS STAY CLEAN AND DRY: Thin wood shavings draw moisture to...
  • NESTING BOX-COMPATIBLE: Soft yet sturdy nesting box pads...
  • FLEXIBLE NESTING MATERIAL: Wood shavings on the surface of...
  • LESS BREAKAGE: Cushioned surface ensures comfortable chicken...
  • 100% COMPOSTABLE: Made from 100% biodegradable materials,...

Dust Bath

Your hens need a dust bath. Chickens are dry cleaners. The dust bath has to be dry to be of use, and the lighter, finer, and dryer the dust is, the better. A sunny corner in the yard is a good place, but many chickens will choose their own dust bath spot. You can also use tires full of fine sand or other containers, rock barriers, or logs.

Lixit Chicken Dust Bath 5.5 lb
  • Every chicken pen should have a dust bath if dry soil is not...
  • Provide a low sided box that is easy for them to get into....
  • Can also dig out A 2 ft by 2 ft hole and fill with powder...
  • Country of Origin: UNITED STATES

The Run

Make the run as big as you can afford. A good fence is necessary, especially if you have predators like eagles and foxes that’ll prey on your hens. If possible, divide your run in two. That way, you can keep one seeded and one for the chickens to play in.

I use half to plant out things like Comfrey, Arrowroot, clover, lucerne, oats, wheat, and Lotodonis. My aim is to establish some plants that are hardy enough to withstand the chicken’s pecking at it all day. So far, I haven’t been successful with chicken edibles inside the run. Outside the run and coop works great. Plant them close enough so they can peck at it, but not close enough so they can demolish it completely.

Recommended: Best Perennial Vegetables for Your Homestead Garden

Now, chickens will fly. If you want to keep them truly contained, you’ll need a roof or a very high fence. Some people clip chicken’s wings to make them unbalanced but I’ve never done this. A roof is kinder I think!

Large Metal Chicken Coop Walk-in Poultry Cage Hen...
  • 【Durable Steel Construction】Manufactured with high...
  • 【Great for Outdoor Use】A durable UV and water-resistant...
  • 【PVC Coated Hexagonal Wire Mesh】The wall of the chicken...
  • 【Safety Lockable Steel Door Design】Lockable steel door...
  • 【Easy to Clean】The tube of the coop is galvanized so...

The orchard makes a great run for chickens. I’m building a permaculture food forests at the moment, and the chickens will be my pest control. Fruit trees are generally big enough to withstand the scratching and mulch relocating that chickens do. They cause too much damage in the veggie patch. Lettuce is one of my favorite vegetables, but it is theirs too…

Covered-dust-bath-in-sun-for-chickens
Covered dust bath in sunny corner

Tell me about your chickens! Are you raising chickens? How many chickens do you have and what’s your coop like?

The next installment of the Raising Chickens 101 will be about feeding chickens, don’t miss it! I’ll do another installment on preserving chicken eggs, including waterglass, and we’ll dive into raising baby chickens too.

Last update on 2020-07-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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