Wouldn’t it be nice to have direct access to healthy, nutritious eggs whenever you want?
Having your own chickens is the way to go.
Keeping chickens, though, means you’ll have to think about a coop to house them in. Coops can be bought ready to use, or you can build your own from scratch. Building a chicken coop can be a very rewarding experience, but there are many things you’ll need to take into consideration first.
Why Are Coops Important?
Not everyone who has chickens has a coop. Chickens can sleep in trees or shrubs and spend the day roaming around, scratching and pecking wherever they see fit. There are two very important reasons to have a coop, however:
- Hen safety
- Finding eggs
Chickens are vulnerable to predators day and night, from the sky and the ground (Thesing, 2017). Hawks and owls can swoop down and attack chickens without notice. Foxes, dogs, and especially raccoons love to feast on chickens too.
Predators are a big threat to chickens’ safety and the main reason to house them in a coop. Coops also help keep chickens safe from other dangers, like cars. Plus, living in a coop can keep chickens from accidentally eating something poisonous or tiny pieces of glass that could cut them on the inside.
Another reason to keep your chickens in a coop is so you know where to find the eggs! Save the egg hunt for Easter and check a nesting box instead of your entire property each morning. This also means you can prevent other animals from finding the eggs before you do.
Zoning laws are regulations that limit how the land can be used in certain areas. You’ll need to look into your local laws about chickens and chicken coops (Guardino, 2019). Some cities ban chickens in residential neighborhoods altogether, while others limit how many chickens you can have or require you to get a special permit.
Other zoning laws apply specifically to coops. Even if you’d rather not keep your chickens in a coop, you might be required to. You’ll also have to keep your local laws in mind when deciding on the size of the coop and where you want to put it. In some places, chicken coops have to be a certain distance from your neighbors’ property.
What Do Chickens Need in a Coop?
There are lots of factors that make up a great coop. Certain design features can maximize the safety, health, and comfort of your chickens. There’s a different coop model for every taste and budget.
There are two main parts of a chicken coop, and indoor area and an outdoor area (called a “run”). Inside, chickens need individual-sized nesting boxes with cushy paddings, like pine shavings or hay. This is where they’ll lay their eggs. You only really need one nesting box for every three hens (Loe, 2013).
Chickens have an instinct to sleep on tree branches, so you’ll need to create a “roost” up high for them to spend the night on. This can be made of a simple wooden board, at least 8 inches long for each chicken (Barth, 2016). Just make sure it’s up higher than the nesting boxes, or else your birds might want to sleep in there instead—and that means LOTS of cleaning those boxes!
Not all coops have floors. Without floors, though, pests and predators can dig under your coop’s walls and attack your flock. This is especially dangerous at night when you and your chickens are both sleeping soundly.
Some flooring materials are hard to clean and can even rot, like wood. Concrete is a very sturdy and easy-to-clean option, but it can be really expensive, and of course, you can’t move it if you want to change where your coop is located.
One affordable and secure option is to have a floor made of strong wire. This will keep predators out, but you’ll need to have a thick layer of bedding (like wood shavings) on top so the chickens don’t catch their claws on the wire.
Light and Ventilation
Windows are a very important part of your coop design! They let in sunlight and ventilate the coop. Chickens poop a ton, which can quickly pose risks to their health (not to mention, risks to your nose) if the coop isn’t ventilated properly. Airflow is also really important to keep your birds from overheating during really hot summers.
You can improve ventilation by having windows located up high. Cover them with a strong wire so predators can’t climb in, and add shutters you can close when it’s raining or on extremely cold nights.
Hot air and ammonia, a gas released by chicken feces, both rise, so windows closer to the ceiling will let them out (Hyman, 2017). Making sure your windows are well above the roost will help keep the coop from getting cold and drafty in the winter too.
Some chicken owners put a heater in their coop during the winter. This may surprise you, but chickens can survive and thrive in very cold temperatures without one. Their feathers keep their bodies nice and warm, and the combined body heat of the flock keeps the inside of the coop warmer than the outside (Hyman, 2017).
Plus, heaters can easily lead to tragic coop fires. Better ways to keep the coop warm are:
- Get insulation for the walls, which will also help keep the coop cool in summer.
- Put down a thick layer of warm bedding on the ground.
- Patch any small holes you find on the lower level of the coop.
If you’re still worried about your chickens being too cold, you can raise the coop’s temperature a few degrees with a low-watt light bulb. This is also convenient for those early-morning feedings, but it means you’ll have to run electricity to your coop.
Food and Water
Unlike a dog or cat, it’s not wise to put your chickens’ food and water directly on the ground. Chickens naturally scratch while they eat, so they can waste a lot of feed on the floor. Scratching also drags bedding into food and water, and worst of all, they can contaminate the supply by pooping in it.
There are two better options (Garman, 2019). One is to hang food and water containers from the ceiling, right at the beak-level. The second is to raise the containers up on cinderblocks or another platform. Having multiple food containers can really help prevent mealtime aggression as chickens fight with each other for better access to the food.
Be sure to store the feed in metal containers with a tight lid. Otherwise, you might end up sharing with a family of mice. Not only does this waste your chicken’s food, but mice droppings can cause disease. Better safe than sorry!
Combine your chicken coup with an at home vegetable garden and you can practically live off-grid.
The Rundown on the Run
The purpose of an outdoor run is to give the chickens access to sunlight, fresh air, and more space for their natural scratching behavior (Smith, 2019). Like people, chickens need Vitamin D from the sun. They also need shade for hot days, though—a benefit of planting some shrubs or trees nearby.
Shrubs, flowers, or herbs can also attract nutritious insects (yum!), and some even have nutritional benefits themselves (Smith, 2019). Garlic helps keep fungus at bay, basil is antibacterial, and thyme helps fight parasites.
Choosing a Coop Model
The possibilities of coop design are endless. There are many different sizes, shapes, and material compositions, and some are even portable!
The first thing you’ll want to think about is how much space you need in the coop. If you might want more chickens in the future, make room for them, because cramped chickens are unhealthy, unhappy, and often bullied by other chickens.
How much space each chicken needs depends on whether you let them out to roam during the day or keep them in the coop 24/7 (Loe, 2013).
- Chickens who go outside need 3 or 4 ft2 each.
- Chickens who stay in need more like 10 ft2 each.
For people with just a few birds, chicken tractors are a great option (Barth, 2016). No, this doesn’t mean chickens dressed in overalls and a straw hat driving a tractor over your lawn. “Chicken tractor” is another name for portable coops.
In a mobile coop, the run has no floor. As you move the coop to a new spot each day, the chickens will have fresh grass, bugs, worms, and seeds to munch on, and their feces will fertilize your lawn. Having a new source of food every day makes your chickens healthier, and you’ll have less cleaning to do.
Mobile coops are the best of both worlds—your chickens will get fresh grass like their free-range sisters, but they’ll be safe from predators both day and night. You won’t have to choose a place for a permanent coop, and if you happen to move to a new house, you can take a mobile coop with you.
Mobile coops are best for a smaller number of chickens because large coops are unwieldy and hard to move around. Putting wheels on one end of the chicken tractor can make it easier to move from place to place.
The Plans for an Easy DIY Small Chicken Coop and Run
Since there is so much variety in chicken coop style, there are many different materials and price ranges possible. It’s a good idea to research blueprints for a few styles to get ideas.
There are some basic materials you will likely use (Brock et al., n.d.):
- Lumber to build the frame
- Plywood or particle board for the walls, roof, and possibly floor
- Shingles or metal roofing panels
- Hardware cloth (also called wire mesh) for the run and possibly floor
- U-shaped nails to staple down the hardware cloth
- Hinges for the door and possibly window shutters
- Nails and screws
- Wheels, if building a mobile coop
Lots of people use kitty litter boxes or something similar for nesting boxes, but you can also build your own.
If you don’t do much construction, you might want to get familiar with your toolkit before starting to build. You’ll need the following (Brock et al., n.d.):
- Safety gear (goggles, gloves, and a hearing protection device)
- Electric saw
- Wire cutters
- Measuring tape
Due to the wide variation in coop designs, DIY chicken coops can cost anywhere from under $100 to several thousands of dollars (White, 2013). Very small, basic coops can be fairly cheap to build, especially if you already have some of the supplies or can be creative with wooden pallets and other inexpensive materials. Most people, though, will spend at least $300 to build a quality coop. If you have lots of chickens and need a big coop, the cost of materials can quickly creep up.
The cost of tools can also add up if you don’t already have them. If you don’t have the tools yourself, though, you might know someone who could lend or rent them to you.
Is It Cheaper to Build or Buy a Coop?
Premade chicken coops tend to “run” (get it?) about $500 -$600. There are small models available in the $200-$300 range, but these coops generally use poor quality materials and don’t last nearly as long as you’d like. There are also large, deluxe coops available for $2,000-$5,000, geared towards people with expansive flocks.
So while it’s possible to buy a relatively inexpensive coop, you can save a lot of money by building it yourself. That way you can also customize it to your own needs. Most importantly, you know the quality of the materials and construction, so a homemade coop will last much longer and probably keep your chickens safer. When you consider these advantages, building your own coop is even more worth it.
The Bottom Line
Building a coop takes time and effort, and you have to plan carefully to avoid any costly mistakes. There are a lot of factors that go into creating a coop you can be proud to call your own.
Chances are, though, that if you’re raising chickens, you have the kind of can-do, DIY attitude that’s perfect for a project like this. By taking advantage of the guidance and expertise of those who have built before you, you’ll be able to construct a coop and that will keep your chickens safe, healthy, and happy.
Ready For the Next Step?
Yeah? That’s great.
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