Chickens are an amazing addition to any household whether you live in the suburbs or in a rural community. They are fun, intelligent, and a wonderful way to live sustainably. But it is vital to house them properly in a chicken coop and run to ensure a happy, healthy flock.
Chickens are low maintenance pets that only need a few essential elements to thrive. Your chicken coop should have proper ventilation, and provide your pets with shelter, water, food, and warmth. Give your chickens a place to run and protection from predators, and they will be the happiest chickens on the block.
If you're in the market for a chicken coop kit, here are some factors you should consider before making a purchase. If you are looking for inspiration, a large selection of chicken coop kits can be found at Foter Magazine.
The first consideration to tackle is how big your coop needs to be, which will largely depend on how many chickens you have and how big they will get.
When chickens are housed together in a small space, they become irritable and could attack each other or engage in antisocial behavior like feather picking and comb pecking. It also increases the risk of your flock contracting avian diseases.
Conversely, if they have too much room, it could be challenging for your flock to stay warm on cold nights and provide more entry points for predators.
Having a run or letting the chickens have free range can keep them occupied and busy, and they'll be much more cooperative with one another in the coop.
If your chickens are going to be contained for most of their time, they will need at least 8-10 sq. ft. per bird in a chicken run and 3-5 sq. ft. of space inside their coop. If they are allowed free range of your property, they will require 2-4 sq. ft. per bird plus 6-8 sq. ft. in the enclosure around the chicken coop for recreation and protection.
The space you provide also depends on the breed. Bantam chickens are much smaller than other fowl, and can also fly, so you can build a coop with height for them to roost. Since they're small, they take up minimal space, so they only need 2 sq. ft. per bird and 4 sq. ft. in the run.
The location of your chicken coop is key. Keeping your chickens close to your house runs the risk of vermin infestations and bad odors infiltrating your home.
However, positioning the coop too far away from your home may encourage predators and make you less likely to perform the necessary daily care required to keep chickens.
A happy medium between too close and too far away is the best positioning for your coop. The chickens should also have ample sun, as this helps with egg production, and shade to stay cool in the heat of the day. Be wary of building your coop too close to trees and large bushes as some plants can be poisonous to chickens and the dense shrubbery provides cover for predators.
If your property is prone to flooding, build your coop on stilts, or at least a few inches off the ground, this can also help to protect your flock from predators.
Wood is the optimal choice for chicken coop construction, but you have to make sure the wood is untreated and non-toxic. Chickens like to peck, and you don't want them ingesting anything harmful by mistake.
If you live in an area where red mites are prevalent, the downside to wood is that you might get an outbreak. Untreated wood is also susceptible to swelling and rot.
Plastic chicken coop kits have risen in popularity in recent years. They are lightweight, durable, and easy to clean and disinfect. It's much easier to get red mites out of a plastic chicken coop than a wooden one.
Since plastic coops are so lightweight, it's essential to anchor them somehow so that your coop won't blow away in a strong gust.
Protection from Predators
Humans aren't the only ones who think that chickens are a delicious meal. There are quite a few predators that would like nothing more than to break into your coop and steal your chickens or eggs.
Predators will try and get at your chickens in a few different ways - some climb or jump, some dig under the coop, and some swoop from overhead. There are precautions you can take to thwart all three attack styles.
For diggers, you should fortify the coop floor and consider burying a predator apron, an extension of the fence under the ground. When the badger or raccoon tries to dig under the coop's fence, they encounter a barrier that keeps them from breaking in.
Locking your coop, covering the run with porous yet durable material, and covering the windows can keep the largest and most persistent predators at bay.
Another enemy you will have to face to ensure the safety of your flock is the weather. For wintertime, your coop should have extra bedding, heated waterer, a sealed floor, and insulation to keep your feathered friends cozy.
You also need to think about how hot your chickens get in the summer. To keep the coop cool for its inhabitants, ensure there is adequate shade, install a barn box fan in your coop for hot days, add ice to the water, and make sure your coop has the proper ventilation. You can also place a shallow kiddie pool or a dust bath in a shaded area of their run.
Ventilation in Your Coop
Your coop needs to have proper ventilation, so that heat and moisture don't build up inside and stifle your chickens. Improper ventilation can cause foul odors due to the ammonia in chicken waste which can cause respiratory issues and eye irritation in your flock.
If your coop has windows, keep them covered even when you have them cracked for ventilation as you don't want to invite predators into your coop. Vents at the top of the coop are also a great tool to keep your chickens cool and calm during the hot summer months.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Coop
To maintain a healthy environment for your flock, you have to be able to reach all parts of your coop with ease for daily cleaning. A cramped henhouse is no fun to clean out, especially if your coop needs a deep cleaning because of red mites.
Nest boxes are accessible from the outside for easy egg collection which makes changing over nest bedding a breeze.
Some coops can accommodate a human-sized door for comfortable entry. But if you have a smaller coop and the entrance is not quite as accessible, try and include a cleaning door so you can keep the chickens' environment as hygienic as possible.
How messy your coop gets is due to your chickens' habits, but it also depends on the type of bedding material you use in the nest boxes. The easiest option is pine shavings or straw, but you can also use sand, grass clippings, shredded paper, or hay.
Give Your Chickens a Place to Roost
Chickens perch on roosts to sleep and occasionally use them during the day. Instinctively, chickens prefer being up off the ground to avoid predators.
To give your feathered pets adequate sleeping areas, mount roosts 2-3 ft. off the ground and provide enough roosts for the whole flock, with additional roosts if you are breeding your hens.
Since chickens defecate even when they're asleep, avoid situating your roosts above their food or water or their nesting boxes. You can put down dropping boards to collect the refuse.
The Last Word
If you're considering adding some feathered companions to your family, you need to think about their comfort, safety, and health. When purchasing a chicken coop, you should evaluate the location, size, and fortifications of the coop, as well as how hot or cold it gets in the winter.
Giving them enough space in the coop and the run, and safe-guarding your coop against predators and foul weather is crucial to raising a healthy, happy brood.