Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
You have discovered those fluffy little farm creatures that lay a delicious breakfast for you daily and provide hours of funny sounds and entertainment. Now what? They need a home, of course.
Building a chicken coop is a big deal. It is something that will remain on your property for years to come. It is the beginning of turning your yard into your own “starter homestead.” But wait — there are a few things you should take into consideration before you break ground on your new friends’ home.
Plan for the Flock You Hope for, Not the Flock You Have
I wish someone had written this article before I built my coop years ago. This is the biggest point to take in before breaking ground on your coop. When we first got chickens, we started out with four hens and a rooster. The next thing you know, my husband decided he wanted a variety of chickens in his flock. Then he wanted a variety of different-colored eggs.
I turned around twice, and we had gone from 5 chickens to 25 chickens. That is a big difference.
We built this monstrosity of a coop when we first got started. Everyone laughed at us. We were told we gave our chickens a mansion.
Thankfully, when my husband builds, he builds large even when neither one of us ever dreamed we would have ever had 25 chickens! We wanted to give our chickens lots of choices for nesting, so we were covered there.
One thing you need to let sink in now is that chickens are the gateway farm animal. So go ahead and build your feathered friends a home. But be sure to plan for the inevitable sized flock that is bound to join them.
If you need some ideas, here are a collection of 34 DIY free chicken coop plans for any size.
The Bigger the Better
This point goes right along with the first one. When building a chicken coop, the bigger you build it, the better off you’re going to be. Each of your chickens will need at least 4 square feet. This doesn’t sound like much, but if you plan for the flock of the future, you’ll soon realize you need plenty of space.
If you are planning on keeping your chickens cooped at all times, they will need upwards of 10 square feet of coop space per chicken.
Space is one of the most important aspect to consider in raising chickens. Overcrowding can lead to illness and poor egg production. Neither of these things adds to a positive chicken keeping experience. It is practice to look at whatever coop you had originally thought of and double it.
When we were going to get our first chickens I couldn’t help but browse through Tractor Supply and look at their cute little coops that looked like this one. My husband told me that it wasn’t big enough, but I just couldn’t imagine it was not being.
When we first built our coop, I have to admit I wasn’t happy with how much space it took up in our backyard. I was disappointed that I didn’t have this cute little barn taking up less than half of the space of the one he’d built. I laugh about that now because our original five chickens would not have fit in the little barn coop I thought I wanted to begin with.
Location, Location, Location
Real estate matters — even to the birds. Well, not really. Your chickens would be happy in the prettiest of coops or a little shack, as long as it met their needs. The location of the coop does matter, though.
Chickens get really hot in the summer. Some breeds handle the heat better than others, but you will notice that they will constantly be on the lookout for shade during the summer months. This was something we actually had to ‘do over’ with our chicken coop. We put our coop in our backyard.
We put our coop in our backyard. You’d think that was okay but our poor chickens just about cooked their first summer. It was terrible.
You see all of these pictures on the internet of chickens laying out in the sun on the grass, and you think, “Chickens must like it.” They do. But what the pictures don’t show is that they were probably taken in early spring. When it comes to those blistery summer days, your chickens want shade!
My point here is that, if you have a place to put their coop where your chickens can have adequate shade, go for it. If not, be sure to give places of shade within the coop.
Our original coop was so well vented that it left very little space within the coop that the sun didn’t shine through. This is a good thing but was miserable for our chickens simultaneously. We went back and put a different type of roof on and opened spaces in different places that allowed our chickens some reprieve from the blistery southern summers we have.
Okay, so chickens don’t have bedrooms. They do have roosts, though. Each chicken will need 8 to 10 inches of roosting space.
There are multiple things to consider when preparing roost space. The first is to realize that your birds need this space in case they need to spread out for some reason.
Our chickens apply the pecking order with the roosts. The higher up the pecking order, the higher the roosts. On the top roost, you know who is in good with the rooster by how he arranges his favorite hens next to him.
The second thing to consider is that roosts don’t have to be fancy. They really are just flat pieces of wood that the chickens sit on to sleep. If you want to make it a little easier for your chickens to roost, try rounding the wood a little at the top, so it is more comfortable for them.
A 2-by-4 is big enough for them. It just needs to be where they can hunker down on it and cover their feet during cold winter months so they won’t develop frostbite.
The third point to consider, is yet again, don’t make my mistake. Prepare for your future flock. I know some of you are thinking, “I won’t get any more chickens.” And you might not. But I promise you, it is so much better to have extra space and not need it than (be like us) have to renovate a coop with all of those chickens living in it. It was entertaining for onlookers but far from fun for us.
Chickens Like a View
No, your chickens aren’t secretly hoping for an ocean view. They don’t even care about the windows. But their health depends on it. This was something I wasn’t aware of at the beginning of raising chickens.
We ventilated their coop thinking it had more to do with keeping odors down than anything. It does help, but the reason coops need proper ventilation is to give airflow so the chickens’ delicate respiratory systems won’t be negatively impacted.
A chicken has an extremely delicate respiratory system. When they develop a respiratory issue, it can literally kill them in a matter of days. Sometimes hours. So you want windows.
You can achieve proper ventilation in multiple ways. The first is by adding windows and then placing mesh wire over the holes for protection. The second way is by putting some holes in the roof. Be sure to position the holes in places that it won’t rain right on top of the chickens during inclement weather.
It is a personal preference in design. As long as around one fifth of your coop is vented then you should have happy chickens. Try not to go over one-fifth because too much of a draft can cause your chickens to develop frostbite during colder months.
If by some chance you get a little carried away with ventilation, you can always add plastic or even feed bags to cover some of the holes during winter.
This is only the beginning. There are still a few more things to think over when building your chickens the perfect home. Stick around for Part Two of things to consider when building your chicken coop.Jennifer Poindexter and her husband raise most of their food and a variety of animals in the foothills of North Carolina, where they built a small homestead on very little money. She writes about all of her adventures at Morning Chores, where she shares the knowledge she has gained with others that might want to take the full plunge into homesteading.
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