Are you planning for chickens this spring, or do you already have some fowl and they want a housing upgrade? The biggest mistake people make when considering a coop is – size. There really is no such thing as too big! Anyone who has bought a small coop regrets it within a few months…if not sooner. The minimum size coop you should ever contemplate designing is 6x6. This will comfortably house a few birds and allow you access for daily chores. It will also give you some wiggle room should you fall for adding a few more of those irresistible feathered faces.
Your Coop Checklist
The single largest expense you will need to budget for BEFORE you pick out your poultry is their house. Always check zoning regulations to be sure about laws regarding coop siting. Many keepers “get around” tax issues by building a raised coop. Place your structure on a raised cement foundation – something like a house’s porch. Just remember to securely fence off the open area around the base to deter unwanted critters from setting up their homes under your coop.
Building a “real” coop is necessary. And should you move, new owners can use your coop to store yard equipment or enjoy a ready-made potting shed. A nice coop raises property values. Keeping poultry is not an inexpensive venture – it will cost thousands – and that is just at the start (with your barn and fencing). This is why poultry keepers call your own eggs the most expensive you will ever buy!
These are the features that all chicken houses must have:
- 1.The coop must be tall enough for you to enter and walk around comfortably –just like any garden shed.
- 2.Every coop must have windows that are operational to allow for light and ventilation. Each window needs mosquito screen and a heavy-duty mesh cover. Mosquito screen keeps out disease causing insects – but it is no barrier to predators. Place a tightly secured frame of hardware cloth over each window. Coyotes can chew through heavy-duty metal mesh but few will be able to reach windows that are set high enough from the ground (4 feet). If bears or coyotes are a serious threat in your area place a grill (manufactured for horse stall windows) or window security bars over the frames.
- 3.Birds require a certain amount of room and personal space. Always overestimate space requirements. Crowded coops are difficult to keep clean, encourage chronic stress, reduced performance (for show or egg-laying) and are hotbeds for rodent infestation and disease outbreaks. Small, crowded and soiled coops spell sickness for the birds and their keepers. Never crowd birds. Chickens are very active and industrious animals that require quite a bit of space. Our grandparents knew this! Your chickens need a big, old-fashioned coop.
- 4.Ventilation is critical to bird health. Poultry produce a lot of moisture and dust. Crowding birds in tiny spaces is very dangerous to air quality and bird health. Small coops will not ventilate properly – they will become too hot in the summer and far too cold in the winter. Hot coops kill birds. If you live in a region with winter chills or long spells of rain – your birds will be spending more of their time indoors. Build your coop with extra floor and roost space.
Bird Floor Space
Both bantam and standard chickens require lots of legroom (leghorns require even more “ leghorn room”). Most people keep a mix of breeds so always choose the space requirements for your largest breed. More bantams can fit per square foot - but they are very feisty birds, and many can fly well, so be sure to provide these little guys plenty of party room. The spaces recommended include “levels” and outdoor, or run, space.
- Plan 2-3 square feet of space for true, “tiny” bantams. These are the smallest chicken breeds including the Belgian d’Anvers, d’Uccles, Sebright, Japanese and Bantam Games. Ensure a minimum of 8-10 inches of floor space per bird.
- Standard and bantam breeds require 3-4 square feet of space. These are your Ameracaunas, Salmon Faverolles, Hamburgs, Leghorns, Polish and the larger bantams such as the Silkie, Cochin, Bantam Easter-egger, Bantam Rhode Island Red and Bantam Brahma.
- Heavy breeds will need 4-5 square feet for Wyandottes, Brahma, Cochin, White Giants, Jersey Giants and Malay.
- Poultry keepers in cold or wet winter regions need to plan on additional indoor space, as birds will be spending quite a bit of time indoors.
Start thinking above the floor when outfitting a house for birds! Chickens want to go up high. This is an instinctual need - they are birds! You can increase indoor “floor” space by installing levels to your coop. This is important, as birds feel secure and happy when they have access to a variety of heights to live on. Place shelves under windows for the birds and provide bench areas for them to walk along. These areas are also great for storing your grain and coop needs…especially those bags and tubs of Chubby Mealworms!
Chickens need roosts to sleep on. Choose wooden poles, natural tree limbs are the best (poles or branches should be around 2” in diameter). Even natural limbs get worn smooth by perching feet. Wrap the roosts in rubber drawer liners for extra comfort! Use ladders for birds to access the roost and be sure to build a sturdy droppings board that you set under each roost area. Do not build ladder roosts as this encourages squabbling over choice spots and these roosts get soiled. Build several roost/dropping shelves to keep everyone happy.
Tip: Roosts need to be cleaned regularly (remove any droppings as soon as possible). Use soap or cleaners made specifically for agriculture – such as Oxine. Never use household cleaners. A great old-fashioned scrub can be made with diluted lemon juice and good ol’ garden lime. This oldy is still a goody and it leaves your coop smelling great!
Putting serious thought into your chicken coop is one of the most important aspects of poultry keeping. Build your coop BIG, build it tough and don’t spare any details. Never go cheap on a chicken coop. Materials must be sturdy and rugged – the chickens will thank you and the predators will head off to easier pickings – just like the wolf in the Three Little Pigs! You won’t need to stack brick, but a well-built coop means your little chickens won’t be letting anyone in!
Share your coop ideas and pictures!