Keeping chickens for the first time involves a lot of research, paperwork and planning. It can be exciting when you reach one of the first areas for concrete action, building a chicken coop. First, however, this process requires a bit more planning and research. The silver lining is that planning and building your coop correctly the first time will save you a lot of time, money, and headaches down the line.
Here are five key things to consider when you are preparing to put hammer to nail on your first chicken coop.
Where to Place Your Chicken Coop
There are more factors that go into placing a chicken coop than you might think. The most obvious is that you should place it on level ground, in a place where it will not sink into the dirt over the years.
You should also avoid placing it in a hollow or depression, anywhere that water might accumulate and cause moisture problems.
Additionally, coops should be placed somewhere where they will get both sun and shade, so the hens can sun in the winter and avoid overheating in the warmer months. You should also consider where to place it in relation to your house – you want it close enough to be convenient, but not so close that you can smell it.
How To Pick a Chicken Coop Plan
There are hundreds of coop plans available online. This is convenient, but can also be overwhelming, especially for a first-time chicken keeper.
The important things to look for are elevation, hardiness, and ease of access.
Elevated coops are especially good for particularly wet regions, as they keep the hens off the ground, and for keepers who cannot provide much natural shade, since the coop does that itself. How hardy your coop will need to be will depend on the weather in your region.
The last criterion is ease of access for you, to clean the coop and collect eggs.
Flock Size and Coop Size
Perhaps the most important element when planning a coop is making sure it is the right size for your flock. How much space each hen will need will depend on the size and breed of your birds. Standard hens should have 4 square feet of floor space each; bantams can get by with 2 square feet apiece, but should have extra height as well.
Giant birds, such as Brahmas, may need as much as 8 square feet each. (If you plan on keeping a rooster, you will need to add extra space.) Remember to err on the side of too big, rather than too small, as hens will be happier and healthier with extra space — or you can always get more chickens!
Budgeting for Backyard Chickens
This is perhaps the scariest part of planning a chicken coop, and the one people least want to face. The important thing to know, though, is that even though chicken coops can be expensive, they do not have to be.
Buying a fancy pre-fabricated coop and run can come close to $1000, but you can also build your own from scrap materials for close to nothing.
It is important, however, to draw a distinction between cutting costs and cutting corners.
Know where you can safely save some money -repurposing an old shed or using milk crates as nesting boxes – and when a cost-cutting measure could be dangerous to your birds’ health – building smaller than you need or using flimsy materials.
Most people building their own chicken coop will be using wood, which is a good, sturdy, all-purpose choice. Would-be carpenters, though, should know that some types of wood are better for chicken coops than others.
Tropical hardwoods are ideal, but expensive, and a treated softwood will often work just as well. What you do not want is pressure-treated lumber, which can leach toxic copper compounds into the soil under your coop and endanger your chickens.
Having the proper coop for your hens is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure the health and safety of your flock.
A good coop will protect them against predators, disease, and the elements, while also making it easy for you to care for your girls and collect their eggs – and you are a lot closer to having one than you think!
David Woods is a carpenter, outdoorsman, and author with more than 30 years of professional woodworking experience. He is the author of best-seller How to Build a Log Home and has educated more than half a million people on how to build a log cabin via his blog, Log Cabin Hub. Connect with David on Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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