Your Backyard Chicken Coop
Whether buying or building a coop, ensure your birds live in safety and comfort.
Chicks raised in a brooder are destined for a chicken coop, especially backyard chickens. Farm birds without a coop will adapt to the farm environment, roosting in trees and finding sheltered places to lay eggs. The farm birds face exposure to harsh weather and predation, however — and good luck finding all the eggs.
The best bet for securing the safety and contentment of chickens is to provide a coop. A good coop is one in which the birds can sleep, weather a storm, and stay protected from predators. A good coop also has a protected run where the chickens can walk around, peck for insects and tasty tidbits, and access feed and water.
For a chicken coop that fits your needs, you have choices: build your own coop, buy a kit, or purchase one pre-built.
Before deciding whether to build or buy, consider the four main parts to a successful chicken coop:
A coop is chicken’s home. The roof and walls provide shelter from a storm, protection from wild animals and feral pets, and where egg-laying occurs. While chickens are quite capable of living in close quarters, try to provide at least 2 or 3 square feet per chicken; hedge bigger if you can. Too little space can cause stress which leads to pecking and even cannibalism. However, if chickens roam free during the day, either in a spacious run or backyard, they’re less likely to stress out in a tight coop at night. A coop should contain enough nesting boxes for the number of chickens in your flock. It also needs ventilation to allow air to flow naturally.
A coop should have enough nesting boxes for two or three chickens per box. Laying times are naturally staggered by the laying cycle of each chicken, generally providing a bird the privacy to lay its egg. A nesting box should be accessible from the outside, especially for smaller coops that are built to accommodate just a few birds. Nesting boxes are integrated in the design of the coop or placed in a walk-in coop. Hens prefer to lay eggs away from well-lighted areas, so nesting boxes should be placed inside a coop.
Chickens need a place to roost at night. If you are familiar with chickens, you know that a roosting chicken is a content chicken. The roost can be a rod, shovel handle, or branch, each of a size that chickens can wrap their feet around. Position it a few inches or more off the floor and keep it away from a wall. Give them some space, although you may see them all snuggled at one end to keep warm. Options are good. If you have a walk-in coop, place a roost out of reach for any predator that, perish the thought, sneaks into a coop. Avoid placing a roost over feed or water sources or near nesting boxes.
A run is a penned area attached to or encompassing a coop. It’s where chickens get to “run” free (more or less), pecking and investigating the space without the threat of predators. A run is usually enclosed with chicken wire on the sides and top. How big should it be? That depends on how many chickens will use it. One good projection suggests that six chickens, at 15 square feet per chicken (minimum), will need a run sized at around 90 square feet
To Buy or Build
The purchase or construction of a chicken coop is a decision dependent on your time, will, ability, and budget. A coop built by you will cost about half of a new coop, and even less if you do not purchase all new materials. Kits are available online, but remember you still need to assemble it. Murdoch’s has options for chicken coops that range in design from simple to deluxe, priced respectively from $299-650.