Finally, our homesteading dreams became a reality when my husband and I purchased a beautiful log home in the small Wisconsin town of Palmyra in 2013. We began with a blank piece of land and quickly started dreaming of ways to make it our own.
With our two young children we decided to head to a local feed store and purchase the very first animals for our new farm. We came home with seven chickens not realizing these seven chickens would be the gateway to a future hobby farm. Years later and too many chickens to count, we have successfully raised cows, goats, rabbits, honeybees, ducks and more. But many, many chickens.
This chicken addiction has blossomed into a small business of our own that I now run full time. I make soaps using our goat’s milk and eggs from the farm and also enjoy teaching beginners soap classes. But before this farm-business success, there were many lessons learned for how to grow a flock of chickens responsibly.
Planning a Coop for the Birds You Want
When we started with our seven birds, we were lucky enough to have an old treehouse converted into a chicken coop when we bought our new home. We raised our birds in this coop for the first year, but it didn’t take long to realize we needed more for our growing flock.
My husband being a carpenter by trade put all our coop dreams down on paper. But how do you plan for your future coop? There are so many things to consider. We decided to do some chicken math to figure out what size we needed our coop to be. After some Google searching, we found BackyardChickens.com and read that 2 to 3 square feet per bird was the standard. Lucky for us, we had a newly built shed that was over 160 square feet and perfect for converting into a chicken coop. We also came up with a list of things we needed to consider.
Nest boxes, where and how many
Flooring. Now that we had this perfect shed, we had some choices to make. We already knew that our shed would not have a dirt floor so instead of leaving exposed wood, we decided to cover it with leftover vinyl flooring. This has made coop cleanup days a breeze!
Insulation. Our next thing to take into consideration was insulation. Being in the Midwest where temperatures often dip below freezing during winter, we wanted to make sure our flock was warm. We chose to insulate our coop with fiberglass convention insulation, which was a sufficient choice for the bitter winter weather.
Ventilation. Another really important thing to plan for is proper ventilation. During winter the chickens tend to spend a bit more time in their coop and the combination of dry, cold weather is a recipe for condensation. We knew that condensation and cold weather caused things like frostbite so choosing proper ventilation was important. We placed a few wire mesh vents to allow for proper airflow. Wire was to keep the unwanted critters out.
Nest box planning is the part that gets you excited because it’s where the eggs will be collected! So how many, how big, what color curtains (kidding, but totally doable). You should have one nest box for every 2 to 3 birds. We also have larger chicken breeds, so we made our nest boxes on the bigger side. I couldn’t wait to paint our boxes and put curtains on them. Sadly, I’ll say the curtains didn’t last long as I quickly figured out how dusty chickens can be and how dirty that makes the curtains.
Perches were the next step, and you can really get creative with this part. There are a variety of materials you can use as perches. Even tree branches! We decided to use untreated 2-by-4s and laid them with the flat portion facing up. Making sure that you have enough perch space is important. Some of our smaller flightier breeds even use the rafters in our coop to perch in. Even though the rafters were unplanned, it’s given us double the perch space, so I can’t complain.
Bedding was something that was a fun decision for us. Something about opening up a big bag of fresh smelling pine shavings, you just can’t help but be happy. There are a variety of bedding options to choose from. You can use things like sand, pine shavings, deep litter method and more. We have experimented with a few options and found that the deep litter method is best for our large size coop. This requires us to gut out and clean our coop twice a year. We follow this method and learned about it from Lisa Steele from Fresh Eggs Daily.
Power is an optional decision but was definitely something we are happy that we decided to go with. We find it convenient to have power for our heated waterers and fans that we run depending on the weather. We also have the ability to turn lights on when necessary to do nighttime inspections. After having power, I now know it’s something I can’t be without for our chicken-keeping adventure.
The last and also the best thing we got to do after we finished our chicken coop was fill it with chickens! Don’t forget your seven chickens can turn into so much more like ours did so planning ahead is helpful. (I’ve heard the term many times that chickens are like potato chips and you can’t just have one.)
Photos by Jessica Grey Photography
Ashley Sinkula is a soap maker, beekeeper, and owner of ABCDfarmhouse in Wisconsin, where she produces homemade mead and raises cows and goats for milk. A proponent of sustainable meat production, she tans rabbit hides to utilize the whole animal. Follow Ashley’s homesteading adventures on Facebook and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.