Above: our current chicken coop in the process of construction. As we ran out of chicken wire, the spaces at the top were temporarily covered using an old plastic tablecloth cut to pieces and stapled to the wooden frame.
A reliable chicken coop is a must if you don’t want your chickens to end up as the dinner of some fox, stray dog or whatever local predator you have in the area. Do yourself a favor and make an initial investment in a chicken house, a real sturdy shed you wouldn’t mind taking shelter in for the night. As we’ve moved house several times, we’ve had to make do with some makeshift coops that caused us a lot of alarm and frustration. We lost a lot of chickens to predators, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn from our experience.
Don’t leave any cracks bigger than the width of your little finger – not between the floor and the sides of the coop, not between the walls and the roof and not under the door. At the approach of a predator, chickens can and will panic and squeeze out of openings you would think are too small to even poke their heads through. Cover windows with close-fitting steel wire.
Naturally, there are some considerations beyond safety: your coop must be big enough for your intended flock. I suggest building big but starting with a small flock, so you can expand it later on without the coop becoming crowded. Your chickens will also need a roost and nesting boxes.
A roost doesn’t have to be more than a simple wooden plank, but make the extra effort of sanding it down really finely to prevent your chickens from getting wood splinters in their feet – this can result in Bumble foot, a nasty ailment that can make birds limp and isn’t very pleasant to treat.
Nesting boxes should be welcoming in order to encourage your hens to lay in them – chickens like to feel snug and safe, so make the boxes just large enough for the hens to be able to get inside and settle down comfortably. Pad the boxes with straw or wood shavings and make sure they are made in a way that would prevent eggs from rolling out.
A ratio of one nesting box per three hens is a good one – that is, if you have a dozen chickens, you’d need four nesting boxes. However, chickens will often all favor one box, displaying a very human trait of believing that if someone else prefers this, it must be good.
Your chicken coop can be built out of recycled lumber to reduce costs. There are countless coop plans and building instructions out there, from the simplest sheds to the most luxurious chicken villas.
When we built our chicken coop we had very limited budget, so we sought to cut costs wherever possible. We had a large storage shed already standing, so we built the coop against one of the walls of the shed (this meaning we only had to build three walls instead of four). We also went for dirt floor, which isn’t at all ideal as far as I’m concerned – it’s easy enough to maintain; all we need is to scrape it once a week and throw all the debris into the compost pile. It is possible to spread a layer of wood shavings, sand or grit over the dirt floor to make it neater. However, ideally I would recommend not cutting corners with a dirt floor and build a genuine chicken house – floor, walls, roof, door and windows – because a dirt floor means that the coop is a lot harder to make truly impenetrable to predators. It can also get very mucky and smelly during the rainy season.
At this point we make do with the chicken coop we have, as we are facing the prospect of another house move in the near future, but once we are properly settled I’d like to have a nice, properly built chicken cabin that is easy to maintain.
The post above was an excerpt from my book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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