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
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.
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).
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.
Chicken Coop Flooring
DIY Cement Chicken Coop Floor
- 1 part Portland cement
- 3 parts clean sand
- 5 parts gravel
Chicken Coop Doors and Windows
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.
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.
Other Chicken Furniture
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:Amazon product
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!
- PROTECT YOUR EGGS: This rollaway metal nesting box has a unique design which encourages...
- DESIGNED TO LAST: The side and roof are made with galvanized steel with ventilation holes...
- HAPPY HENS: Each box provides a private nesting area for your hens with plenty of room for...
- QUICK ASSEMBLY: All of the nuts and bolts required for assembly are included along with...
- BACKYARD HOMESTEADER: These rollout nesting boxes for chickens are a must-have for all...
- MEASUREMENTS: Each box measures 10.5 in. long x 15 in. wide x 20 in. high at its highest...
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.
Revitalize your nesting box with Petmate Excelsior Nesting Pads, designed to keep hens cozy and laying healthy eggs.
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.
- Every chicken pen should have a dust bath if dry soil is not available
- Provide a low sided box that is easy for them to get into. Should be large enough to allow...
- Can also dig out A 2 ft by 2 ft hole and fill with powder 2"-3" Deep
- Country of Origin: UNITED STATES
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!
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…
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.