Chicken Coop Basics [Q & A]
Almost 6 years ago, in February of 2012, the Hunky Foreman and I decided we wanted chickens. Well, he'd wanted chickens for a really long time, and I finally buckled under. We didn't know anything about raising chickens — like, nothing — and what we knew about building a chicken coop was even less. So we went to school of our own making, to bone up on Chicken Coops 101. This is what we came up with:
Our coop isn't huge — about 6' x 8', big enough for the amount of chickens we wanted. I'd had a stained glass window and antique door on hand from a barter I'd done a few years ago, so I knew I wanted to incorporate them into the design, but beyond knowing that I wanted the coop to be pretty (I'm a designer, what can I say?), we didn't know what we were doing. It had to also be functional, well built and predator-proof. Enter The Hunky Foreman (aka Brett, my foreman by day and husband after hours), builder of all over-engineered things on our property. I say that lovingly.
So after much googling and advice-gathering from friends who were experienced in chickens and their coops, and help from our friend Jim (carpenter extraordinaire), we came up with our design. It's smallish with a tin shed roof (7' at its peak) and attached run. We've made some changes along the way to improve it, but if you are interested in raising chickens, here's what you need to know about chicken coops, in FAQ form.
Q: How big does a chicken coop need to be?
A: Depends on how many chickens you want to have, and if you plan to keep them in the coop or allow them out into a run or in your yard. If they will always remain in the coop, 5-10 square feet per chicken is advised (the more, the better), but if they will be allowed out of the coop, then 2-3 square feet per chicken is okay. If you plan to have large meat birds, you will want to opt for more space.
Q: Do I need nesting boxes? How many?
A: Yes, you'll need nesting boxes unless you want chicken eggs being laid on the ground (yeah, that would be a NO.) Plan for 1 box per 4-5 hens. We have 6 nesting boxes for 19 hens — way too many. Know that chickens will prefer the same 2 or 3 boxes over and over; they definitely have their favorite spots. Our box dimensions are about 12" x 12" x 12" because we have some larger breeds. Make the tops of the boxes angled to prevent chickens from roosting and pooping on the top — we didn't do that, and now we have to use a paint scraper constantly to remove the poop. So not fun, and ruins my manicure.
Q: Do I need roosting rods?
A: Yes. Chickens like to sit and sleep on them. We made ours too high — they are overhead when you walk in — so there is always a chance of getting pooped on (wear your hoodie!), but we didn't know that when we were building our coop. Avoid placing your roosting rods above where your chickens lay eggs or eat; poop will go there, too. Place your rods lower if you have a smaller coop with lots of features, otherwise they won't be able to easy fly off of them without hitting other things.
Q: Do I need a door?
A: Yes, a door is imperative so you can enter your coop for cleaning.
Q: Which direction should a coop be situated?
A: That kind of depends upon where you live and your year round weather conditions. Situate your coop away from the direction in which you typically receive strong winds or rain, strong sun, etc. Ours is also built under a tree for shade since we live in Austin, Texas and receive lots of strong sun and heat.
Q: What kind of ventilation should it have?
A: Ours has one solid wood wall and three other walls that are a combination of wood siding and hardware cloth for ventilation. You want a nice breeze coming through the coop, not just into it, because chickens are prone to respiratory diseases. Also, chicken poop stinks, so there's that.
Q: How do you keep predators out of a coop?
A: If you have a concrete floor, predators (raccoons, foxes, possums, etc.) can't dig underneath the walls and get into your coop. Ours has a dirt floor, so we dug a trench all the way around our coop and installed hardware cloth in an "L" shape curving away from the base of the coop. When anything tries to dig under the walls, they encounter the hardware cloth and it stops them in their tracks. We also use a latch on our door as well as the trap door going out into the run so raccoons can't open them.
There are a ton of other features you can add to a chicken coop, but these are the basics. Really, chickens are pretty low maintenance, and don't require too much. You'll see a lot of chicken coops on Pinterest that are super fancy, like these hens are the heir to the throne or something — and while that's fun to do if you want to (I'm not knocking anything that you love to create if it makes you happy), just know that you are doing it for your own happiness and not necessarily for the chickens' sakes. They really don't care if they have a chandelier in their coop. They are equal opportunity poopers and will mess up the prettiest of coops in no time, so just be aware.