How to Choose a Chicken Coop

Chicken coops are far more complicated than you might think at first glance, especially for urban and suburban farmers. The coops need to do several things and do them all very well.

What Should a Chicken Coop Do?

  • Protect the chickens from predators.
  • Keep the flock collected in one place so that they do not run into danger.
  • Provide plenty of room for exercise.
  • Be easy to clean.
  • Have nest boxes for easy egg collection.
  • Allow human access to gather eggs, check on the health of chickens and take care of clean up.
  • Have good places for food and water.
  • Provide perches that promote good foot health.

Whew! That’s a lot of things for one simple object to handle.

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What is a Good Size for a Chicken Coop?

Chickens need about three square feet of space in their roosting area, and 8 to 10 square feet of exercise yard. Adequate space is important because chickens that are overcrowded will peck each other and even turn cannibal.

What Kind of Chicken Coops Make Gathering Eggs Easier?

Nest boxes that are accessible from the outside make gathering eggs easier. A well-designed chicken coop or house usually has a hinged access that will let owners open the back of the house and collect eggs, check on the nest of a hen that is setting on eggs or evaluate the health of a hen that has not emerged from the coop, without entering the chicken run through the main entrance. Some chickens become very tame and don’t mind having a human in their territory. However, the more tranquil the surroundings, the happier your flock will be.

Pro tip: nest boxes should be around 12" squared, and there should be 1 for every 3 laying hens.

Why Would Chickens in an Urban or Suburban Setting Need Protection from Predators?

Chickens are the ultimate prey animal. And our modern, over-bred and overfed domestic birds are not very good at defending themselves.

Unless you are breeding fighting roosters (which is illegal in many places), domestic chickens are usually bred for docility and easy handling. Dogs, coyotes, owls, ferrets, weasels, snakes, raccoons and opossums all find chicken dinner to be a tasty treat. If you have chicks, domestic cats will also try their hand at catching them.

Your chicken enclosure, therefore, needs a strong outer wire, such as welded wire, that’s capable of keeping out large predators. The house part needs to be tight enough to protect roosting chickens from smaller predators of the sort that like to slip in at night.

Why Do Chickens Need Pole Roosts?

There are several reasons why chickens need pole roosts, or at least a good, off-the-floor roost:

  • It’s instinctive with them to roost on a limb. In the wild, chickens fly up into trees for sleeping. This puts them above at least a portion of the predators who would like a nice, chicken dinner.

  • The litter on the floor of a chicken coop, even if you clean it out daily, is a good breeding place for germs and parasites that can make your flock sick.

  • A roost that is thick enough for a good grip, but not too wide, helps promote good foot health.

A two-inch by four-inch board turned on edge is just about right. It needs to be sturdily mounted and supported so that a load of plump hens will not cause it to fall down.

Why Do Chickens Need a Dust Bath Area?

Regular dust baths are an important part of many birds’ cleaning regimens. Arranging for an area filled with dust, dry soil or sand where the chickens can "dive" when they start to feel dirty is a way of ensuring that your flock will remain free of mites, lice, and other kinds of parasites.

Is There Any Benefit to Having a Coop That Can Be Moved from One Spot to Another?

Moveable coops are sometimes called chicken tractors because they can help till and fertilize a patch of ground.

Chickens on natural earth will scratch at the ground. They eat bugs and worms of all sorts, including ticks. (Take that, Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever! And Lyme’s disease!)

Poultry tend to eliminate wherever they are, so it doesn’t take long to give an area a good layer of droppings. By placing a coop over a future flower or garden bed, you can quickly add manure without the labor of shoveling and hauling.

However, do keep in mind that chicken manure tends to be “hot” when compared to cow manure. And all sorts of manure should age/compost before food crops are planted on it.

Can I Have Chickens in the City or Suburbs?

Before purchasing a coop or planning your flock, it’s a good idea to check local regulations. Some areas don’t allow chickens at all, while others might limit the number of chickens or the number of animals per household. Frequently, a householder might be allowed to have as many as five hens, but not be allowed to add a rooster to the flock.

I Live in a Suburban Area Where I Need to Keep Up a Good Appearance. What Kind of Chicken Coop Should I Get?

You are in luck because there are a number of commercial chicken coops that are attractive, easy to clean, and are pre-built to meet the needs of your average suburban chicken flock.

Since most urban or suburban areas limit the number of chickens/pets you have on your property for sanitation reasons, a “chicken tractor” coop might be a good choice for maintaining a pest-free, super-green lawn.

Some of the coops are structured to look like miniature barns, while others are similar in appearance to a large cat or dog kennel. If you have a permanent location for your chicken coop, it’s a good idea to have a compost facility as a companion piece.

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