A chicken coop isn’t just a housing unit, it is a home. The coop and run are where your flock will spend all of their time, so it’s important that they feel comfortable and secure in it. There are plenty of nice chicken coops available for purchase, but you may want to consider building your own.
Step 1: Determining Your Flock’s Needs
Differently sized flocks will have different space needs. Whether it’s the number of chickens you have or the physical size of each bird, a bigger flock requires a bigger coop. There are a couple things that can happen if your flock does not have enough room to roam. Number one, tight quarters can make a chicken feel stressed, and in turn that stress can lead to aggressive behavior towards other members of the flock. This aggression can start as bullying and domineering behavior, and can evolve into more violent actions like pecking. While more docile breeds may behave better with less space, it is best to be proactive and avoid any potential space issues.
Number two, chickens can experience health issues if they don’t have enough space. Diseases and parasites spread much faster when chickens are in closer contact, and smaller coops will become dirtier faster. Allowing some extra room for the birds will greatly reduce the chance of illness, and will keep the coop tidy.
Step 2: Determining the Coop Size
Coop size is dependent on the flock size, and the flock size is dependent on the breed of chickens you own.
Bantam breeds are the smallest, and as such require the least amount of space. Plan for 2 square feet of space in the coop, and six inches of roosting space per bird. Standard breeds need at least three square feet in the coop, and eight inches of roosting space. Giant breeds will need much, much more space. Plan for 6 square feet in the coop and one foot of roosting space per bird.
The Run. Every coop should have a run attached. Bantams will need at least 5 square feet of space each, standard hens will need 8, and giants will need 15. If you are raising free-range chickens and want to give them even more space in the run, that is fine too! Just make sure there are enough distractions so that the chickens don’t try wandering too far, there are spots for dust bathing, and there are some hiding spots.
Step 3: Choosing the Design and Materials
Once you’ve considered the needs of your individual flock, you need to choose the design and materials. The only thing that will limit your artistic freedom is the building material. Here are some options to consider, and some of their pros and cons:
- Plastic is easy to work with, and relatively inexpensive. However, plastic is not a good option for hotter climates, as it will heat up and degrade must faster than other materials.
- Wood is a very popular option for chicken coops, and for good reason. Wood doesn’t get as hot as plastic, and it is more attractive. The downsides are that wood is heavy, which can make for difficult assembly, and it is hard to disinfect. If you decide to use wood for your coop, make sure it is sealed and treated properly. Properly sealed wood is much easier to clean, and won’t be toxic to your chickens if they are pecking at it.
- Aluminum is light, easy to assemble, and easy to clean. However, aluminum alone isn’t sturdy enough without wooden or plastic support beams.
Step 4: Building the Coop
Make sure you include all of the following components:
- Windows/Lighting. Windows are an easy way to provide light and ventilation. If you put a window in your coop, try facing it towards the sunrise so the hens get lots of natural light. Otherwise, artificial light is a great option and can be used in combination with natural light. The key is to have enough lighting to illuminate the entire coop for at least 14 hours of the day.
- Perches. The best material for perches, or roosting poles, is wood. Perches can be as small as two inches around, and should be no more than two feet off the ground. You don’t want your birds to take a tumble and hurt themselves!
- Nesting boxes. Bantams can have 10×10 nesting boxes, and standard birds can have 12×12. Typically extra large birds will fit in a standard-size nesting box, but you could consider a 14×14 box. These should be away from the windows.
- Predator Control. Fencing is critical to keep predators out. Bury the fence at least one foot into the ground, and angle it outwards by six inches. An elevated coop will also help keep ground predators out, otherwise you can lay a concrete base to prevent predators from digging their way in. Cover any windows with wire, and consider covering the entire run with netting to prevent owls or hawks from getting in.
- Room for dust-bathing and hiding. The best way to provide this room is to elevate the coop by a few feet. This way, the chickens can spend time in the shade underneath the structure. Plus, this will make it easier on your back when you are trying to collect eggs!
Automated options are also available for your coop, namely doors, feeders, and waterers. Extensive work has been done by universities and engineers to design the safest, cleanest, and most efficient automated options for backyard coops. Not only do they work well, but they will make it easier for you to balance caring for your flock with your busy schedule!
Step 5: Maintaining the Coop
Once the coop is finished, you still need to maintain proper upkeep. Clean the coop weekly so that your birds stay healthy, and regularly inspect the coop or fence for any damage. You could also consider cleaning when designing the coop. For example, slanted floors and elevated coops will allow for better water drainage. Proper cleaning will also keep pests like flies away. Remove old manure from the coop and stir up the bedding on a regular basis.
Some coops are easier to build than others, but all coops are worth the labor. Putting in the work to build your own coop will guarantee that you have enough space for your specific flock, the coop will look exactly how you want it to look, and you won’t be missing any essential components. By following these five steps, you won’t just have a great coop for your flock–you’ll have a home!
Free chicken coop plans: