Having chickens on the homestead can be a rewarding and fun venture! There’s nothing worse than buying a group of cute little chickens then realizing you have no place to put them. Trust me, this woman has done that and it’s stressful! I impulse shopped at the loyal feed store and came home with a box of baby chicks. Everyone thought they were so cute, and they were! They lived in a big box in my kitchen. I had a great plan to build chicken housing as soon as possible. I was ready! Not!
I diligently assembled what I thought was great coop. Twenty-two chickens were jumping out of the box regularly all over the kitchen floor before it was built. We won’t even talk about the mess they made, aka. poop! Needless to say, my advice is simple. Do not get chickens until you prepare the coop.
The Purpose of the Coop
Chicken’s housing provides two things. One is protection from wildlife, children, and pets. The other is to provide a comfortable environment. The possibilities are endless in having a coop. People use everything from abandoned cars, old dog houses and sheds just to name a few. As long as the chickens are safe inside from possible predators and they have a few necessities, you should be good to go.
Before you jump in and start building your chicken housing, think about these things.
- Chickens need light. Layers won’t lay in the dark.
- Circulation is important to keep the coop clean and dry.
- They need protection from predators and weather.
- It should be big enough for you to walk into to clean and collect eggs.
- The chicken coop should allow you to separate new additions to the flock, or isolate sick chickens.
Where to Locate It
The location of your chicken coop is another aspect to think about. Always situate any windows and runs on the south side of the chicken coop. This is to allow the sun to keep the chicken housing warmer in winter and drier during rainy times. Make sure the area within and around the coop does not allow for standing water and has good drainage. It is no fun to collect eggs in an area that is like a swamp, and your chickens will not like it either.
Size of Your Chicken Housing
Determining the size of your chicken housing depends on a few factors. One consideration is whether they will be allowed to roam during the day. Chickens kept inside need more room than if they were released to a run each day. If they are released daily, allow two to four square foot per bird. It is far better to have more than enough room than too little. If you don’t have the room for them to roam I would recommend about 5-10 square foot per bird.
Free Range vs Having a Run
Free range chickens are free to run and play wherever they want. You have to be careful with this option for various reasons. For one, when your chickens are free to run, they are also free game to wildlife. You have to be cautious and watch that it is safe for them to venture out. The good news is that chickens don’t tend to go far from the coop.
A run is a good option. It can be as big or as small as you want. It will provide protection yet allow them to run and play and explore safely. You simply let them out in the morning and return them to the coop in the evening. With this option, that nice grassy spot for the run will soon be dirt. (More on that in a bit.)
A nice solution is a chicken tractor. It is a portable cage on wheels or skids. You simply load the chickens up and place them wherever you want. This allows them to have grass and insects, and you to keep your grass growing. Chickens that are repeatedly in the same spot will eventually pull up all the vegetation and you will end up with a run of nothing but dirt.
Build the walls of a coop with 2 by 4 studs and plywood. Remember to use pressure treated wood for the exterior walls. You can also treat the walls with a sealant if you choose not to use pressure treated. The floor can be dirt, wood or concrete, with concrete being the easiest to clean. Doors should be big enough for the average person to walk through comfortably, with a smaller door for the chickens to go out of. Place a ramp if the floor is higher than the ground outside, which allows the chickens to enter and exit more safely. Install a latch to keep the door shut securely.
Windows are important to allow light and heat in. Ventilation is critical to the health of a chicken. Poor ventilation results in more moisture and higher levels of ammonia in the soiled litter, which can cause the chickens to become sick or even die. Place holes or slots 6 inches in diameter or 6 inches wide at the top of the north and south-facing walls, which provides for cross-ventilation without drafts.
Give your chickens a safe place to roost at night. Install dowel rods, a tree branch, or a ladder to each side of the coop and off the ground. Keep the area under the roosts open to allow for easy cleaning of their droppings. Keep the diameter of the dowels at 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, which is optimal for chickens.
Lay 5 to 10 inches of wood cedar chips or shavings to the floor and allow the chickens full access to it. Add more litter as necessary. This building up of litter allows the composting of droppings to begin, as well as providing a thick layer of bedding preventing strain on the chicken’s legs and feet. This is called the deep litter method.
Nesting boxes provide a safe and private place for hens to lay eggs, and an easy place for you to retrieve the eggs. A nesting box is basically a box, open in the front and big enough to fit a chicken. Make your nesting box about 12 to 16 inches deep and 12 to 16 inches wide with a steeped roof so chickens can’t lay on top, this keeps droppings from falling into the box. Install a lip on the front of the box to prevent litter and eggs from falling out when the hen leaves the box. Make the lip about 4 inches high. Place 1 nesting box per every 2 to 4 chickens.
When chickens seem to be ignoring the box you can place a plastic egg inside. This helps convince the chicken that it is a good place to lay. Fill the plastic eggs with sand for a more realistic feel.
Water and Electric
Installing optional utilities like water and electricity will make tending to your chickens easier. Run electric to the interior of your chicken housing so that if you ever need to run out in the middle of the night, you can simply flip a switch and investigate. Set the light on a timer if you want your chickens to lay longer through the fall and winter. Chickens stop or slow down laying as the days get shorter. Having a light on a timer prolongs their laying. Install electric heaters for their waterers, this saves you many trips because of frozen drinking water. For more information about waterers and feeders see Feeding Chickens on Your Homestead.
Run water lines to an access point near or in the coop, it makes it easy when you need to fill large waterers or clean out an area of the coop with a hose and sprayer, and you will, often.
The run allows for safe outdoor activities for your chickens. Make the run out of chicken wire and posts. Build the run at any height you wish to build it, most runs are tall enough for humans to get inside and clean or retrieve a chicken or two, if necessary. Use 1″ galvanized poultry netting, it will rot more slowly. Wrap the poles with netting or a type of wildlife wire for safety. Start it a few inches below ground level, which keeps chickens from scratching out and predators from digging in.
Install a roof of the same fencing to keep overhead predators out, like owls and eagles. Staple all fencing to your posts to secure it. Wrap the first foot or two with a smaller mesh fencing, this prevents the chicks from jumping through the holes in the fence when they are still small.
Congratulations! You are now a chicken housing expert!
Do you have a chicken coop built? Send me pictures and tell me all about it! I love hearing from my readers and seeing what they did! You never know when your picture could make it to my site!
Read next: Hatching Chicken Eggs on the Homestead