Do you know what you need when building a chicken coop? Keep reading to find out what you must have in your chicken coop for happy, healthy hens.
Those fluffy chicks you brought home earlier are getting bigger. They have stirred up enough dust in your house or garage to keep you cleaning for months. You are ready to move them outdoors. But do you have a coop prepared? This list shares things you need to be sure you include when building your chicken coop.
When planning your coop, I recommend keeping it simple. I tend to try to use things I already have on hand. My coop is definitely not the fanciest, but it is sturdy and well-built and very functional.
I always recommend building your chicken coop with things you can get for free or cheap versus spending money on some expensive gadget that some other chicken keepers recommend. I am frugal by nature and I promise you, the chickens don’t care whether all the nest boxes match!
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When Building A Coop It Must Be Safe
The first thing you need to provide for your chickens is a safe place away from predators and the weather. This is THE most important thing and the most expensive part of keeping chickens.
The chickens need to be sheltered from the weather in a building that raccoons, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and other wild animals can’t enter. There are many options on the internet, from fancy pre-fab coops to plain-jane plans.
Our first coop was a moveable ark, sometimes called a chicken tractor. (See picture above.) We still use this coop today to grow out our pullets.
This type of coop provides the best of both worlds – access to bugs and grass, yet the chickens are still safe from predators.
But our main coop is an 8′ x 8′ permanent building we built. It is very simple but functional. It has 3 windows that we leave uncovered during the warm months but cover during the colder months. We had to build this coop when we discovered we wanted to keep more than just a few hens.
When building your coop, you need to be sure it is large enough for all your birds. I would build a bigger coop than you think you will need. Keeping chickens is a fun hobby and many times after getting just a few, you will end up wanting more. (This is how we ended up with two coops!)
However, I do urge you to consider your space. If you have a small backyard, you don’t need a huge chicken coop. A flock of 4-6 hens will supply more eggs than your family can eat. Read more about how to decide how many chickens you should get.
No matter how many chickens you keep, you need a minimum of 4 square feet per chicken inside your coop. Adding too many chickens to a small coop is a recipe for disaster. You will have more fighting and more illness among your flock if you don’t have adequate space for each chicken.
Let’s Talk About Chicken Wire
While we are on the subject of secure coops, let me tell you that chicken wire will NOT keep predators out. Raccoons can rip it apart and I’m not sure that dogs and coyotes couldn’t rip it apart either.
If you use chicken wire, you need to add another layer of fencing behind it. You can also use hardware cloth. We chose to use a combination of chicken wire and 2″ x 4″ galvanized fencing when we built our coops because the combination of fencing was actually cheaper than the hardware cloth.
Adequate Ventilation Inside the Coop
Another important aspect of coop design is ventilation. Chickens need air movement. An air-tight coop can lead to a buildup of ammonia in the coop (from the poop) and is dangerous to a chicken’s respiratory system.
Our coop has openings (covered by 1″ wire) along the front and back walls between the top of the wall and the roof. This allows air movement even in the winter when the windows are covered. Since the openings are at the top of the coop, the air movement doesn’t create a draft that would chill the chickens during the colder months.
If you are purchasing a pre-made coop, be sure that there is a way for air to move inside the coop without chilling your birds.
Bedding In The Chicken Coop
Chickens also need something on the floor of the coop to collect their poop. I have found pine shavings to work the best. Some people use straw, but I always worry about sour crop, since chickens seem to eat almost anything.
Others use sand in the coop and run, but I prefer the ease of pine shavings. You can add another layer when needed and in the spring, you can clean the coop and compost everything for your garden. You can’t do that with sand. And sand is not appropriate if you use the deep-litter method.
Just like for baby chicks, you should NOT use cedar shavings. They can be toxic to your birds.
You will also need nesting boxes for your chickens which is basically a place for your hens to lay their eggs. These can be made out of almost anything. Even cardboard boxes can work in a pinch, though they will need to be replaced frequently.
My father-in-law built me four wooden boxes (similar to these) out of scrap wood that I use. Farm stores also sell a variety of things you can purchase for nest boxes as well. I have even seen kitchen tubs and 5 gallon buckets used as nesting boxes!
You need about 1 nest box for every 4-5 hens, but mine tend to all lay in the same two boxes most of the time. I have even seen them lined up waiting on their favorite box. You will need to line the boxes with something soft to cushion the eggs when they are laid. I use more pine shavings. No need to buy something special.
Chickens prefer to lay their eggs in the dark. I fashioned nest box curtains out of scrap material given to me by my Mom. Chickens are nosy so they will have no problem poking their heads into the boxes to see what is behind the curtains. This gives them privacy while laying their eggs and can also help to deter chickens from eating their eggs since they can’t see them as well.
Chickens prefer to roost up high at night. A basic roost post can be a very simple 2″ x 4″ attached securely to the inside walls of the chicken coop.
Chickens actually prefer to roost on a flat board, rather than a round log. A flat board gives them space to “hunker down” when it is cold to help keep their feet warm.
Be sure not to place two roost post over top of each other or over the next boxes. Chickens poop all night and will soil each other or the nest boxes if a roost post goes over it.
Food & Water
If you purchased a small feeder and waterer when you brought the chicks home, you will need to buy bigger ones if you haven’t already. Chickens need a steady supply of clean water and a small feeder and waterer will mean you have to refill it multiple times a day.
There are all kinds of fancy waterers on the market, but I just use a couple of buckets. They are easy to clean and cheap to replace when they break.
I keep my waterers outdoors so the chickens don’t knock them over and wet the pine shavings. Keeping the waterers outside also keeps excess moisture out of the coop in the winter.
I like the large galvanized feeders to hang inside the permanent coop. The large ones hold several days’ worth of feed so they don’t have to be refilled as often. This type can be hung from a hook on the inside of the chicken coop.
For a smaller coop, a smaller feeder will take up less room. Whatever size and type of feeder you chose, your feed should always be kept dry. Chicken feed molds quickly if wet, and wet feed can be toxic to chickens.
Chickens Need A Way to Access the Outdoors
If you truly want your chickens to be healthy and happy, they need a way to access the outdoors. Some people let their chickens free range during the day and lock them in the coop at night. Unfortunately, we can’t do that. We have so many hawks, foxes, and coyotes that it wouldn’t be long before they got all the chickens.
Our solution was to build a chicken run, which is an outdoor enclosure totally covered in wire. Hawks can’t swoop down and get in and other critters can’t get in from the top.
We have 1″ x 2″ wire around the entire run, and the lower 4 feet is also covered in chicken wire. This prevents the chickens from sticking their necks out to get food, and something grabbing them.
We lost several chickens to raccoons one year because we didn’t have the extra layer of chicken wire around their enclosure. However, as I said above, chicken wire alone is not enough to keep raccoons out. They can actually rip through chicken wire!
When building an outdoor area for your birds, you should plan on a minimum of 10 square feet per chicken. However, the more space you can give them, the better off they will be.
There will be less fighting among your chickens because the ones that are lowest on the pecking order will have the space to get away from the others.
Chicken Coops Don’t Need To Be Fancy
In summary, chickens don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to be healthy and happy and provide your family with fresh eggs. I always recommend using what you have to make your coop.
Chickens don’t care what the coop looks like, as long as it is functional and keeps them safe. If you are handy, look around and see what can be re-purposed to build a nice, secure coop. You may be surprised at what you can find.
However, if you prefer to purchase a pre-made chicken coop, there is nothing wrong with doing that either. Just be sure it meets the above criteria. Happy chicken keeping!