Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

What to Consider When Building a Chicken Coop: Maintenance and Predator Control

By Jennifer Poindexter, Morning Chores

Tags: chickens, poultry, raising livestock, predator control, Jennifer Poindexter, North Carolina,

I gave you five things you should consider when building your chicken coop in the first part of this series. Here are the remaining few points that you should take into consideration when building your fluffy chicken friends their perfect home.

The Ladies Need a Place to Lay

Hens need a place to lay their eggs, and you want them to have a place. Nothing is harder than when you have hens laying everywhere. Every day is like a scavenger hunt trying to locate where that day’s eggs are. It gets interesting---and old. The rule of thumb is you need one nesting box for every 4 to 5 hens. I recommend sticking to the rule just for egg production reasons. In reality, though, all of your hens are going to try and lay in the same nesting box. It is just what they do.

The nesting boxes should be around 12 inches square (like this one from Amazon) and lower than the roosting bar. Keeping the nesting boxes lower than the roosting bar is supposed to discourage the hens from roosting in them. Our chickens have ample of roosting space, and yet some will still always roost in the nesting boxes at night. They are much lower than the roosts as well. If you chickens do this, don’t be alarmed. Just know that you’ve done everything you can to discourage this habit. Some chickens just have a mind of their own.

ADT for Chickens: Think Like a Toddler

Chickens don’t literally have alarm systems. I’m not sure if they’d be glad to have them or fall over of a heart attack. Either way, chickens need security. They are a heavily preyed upon animal. If one of their predators finds a way in the coop, then your whole flock is gone.

Be sure to use mesh wire or chicken wire over all of the windows, doors, and any opening that is larger than a half inch wide. If you choose to keep a dirt floor in your coop, it is wise to have chicken wire buried under the perimeter of your coop. This way, if any predator tries to dig in they will be met with chicken wire that will cut their paws and deter them from digging any deeper into your coop.

Raccoons are a huge predator of chickens. These little boogers are smart! Anything a toddler can open, a raccoon can. It is important to use latches that pull apart to open instead of latches than can be turned. Raccoons can open anything that twists or turns without a problem. When purchasing latches, try to think like a toddler. If you have a toddler, you can take them shopping with you — even better.

What Are You Going to Do with Your Chickens?

Some chicken keepers allow their chickens to free range. Others allow their chickens to roam inside a fenced area. Some chicken keepers keep their chickens cooped.

There are benefits and downfalls to each choice. However, it is something that should be decided upon before building your coop. If your chickens are going to be free ranged, you can get away with a coop that is half the size of a coop for the bird that will live in it at all times. The downside is that, if your birds free range, they are much more susceptible to predators.

If you keep your birds cooped all of the time, they are much more protected. However, you need a much larger coop. It would also be wise to give your chickens a run if they are cooped all of the time. This gives them an opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and outdoors with a lot of protection.

We actually choose the “in-between” method: Our birds have a chicken yard attached to their coop. They are double-fenced as we have a fenced-in yard, and then our chickens’ yard is fenced within it. I highly recommend this option. It gives the chickens freedom, protection, and it also keeps them from digging in your flowers.

Chickens Need a Floor

What? Flooring for chickens? Yes, your chickens need a floor. You can choose to leave your floors dirt. The chickens won’t mind. However, it does leave them more susceptible to predators. Predators can dig through those as we discussed earlier.

I also gave you a solution to deter them. So dirt floors are still a good option for your chicken coop. Some people choose to go with concrete, because no predator is going to get through that bad boy. However, a concrete floor can be costly. Another great option for a chicken floor is to lay plywood over the dirt and then lay linoleum. It is easy to clean and is predator-proof without the added costs.

You can also choose to lay river rock on the floor of your chicken coop. This option is easy to maintain, isn’t easy for a predator to dig through, and is easy on the chickens’ feet since the rocks are smooth.

Fire the Maintenance Man

This is another huge point to consider when building your chicken coop: Is it easy to maintain? You don’t want a coop that is going to be difficult to clean. You will have to go in about once a week and clean the roosts, nesting boxes, and floors.

You have to. Cleaning is what keeps your birds healthy and their eggs flowing. If your birds feel cramped, are living in unclean quarters, or are not satisfied with the cleanliness of their nesting materials you’ll know right away because the eggs will stop.

Choose wisely as you build your chickens’ new home. Be sure it will suit all of their needs; be a place that they will enjoy, and also be a structure that you will be proud of and happy to maintain.

Now that you’ve read all of my tips on things to consider when building your chicken coop, check out this collection of 34 chicken coop plans for some ideas that will meet the needs of you and your chickens.

Top photo by Morguefile/TheBrassGlass; Bottom photo by Jennifer Poindexter

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. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.