I love chickens. I love watching them chase each other for treats. I love watching them catch June bugs in the summer. I love what their manure does for my garden. My kids love chickens too. They love their old hens as much as they love the cute, fluffy chicks.
But if you are just getting started with chickens and are beginning to plan your chicken coop, there are a few chicken coop necessities you will need to remember.
You also have to make sure that your coop has a few certain elements to ensure that your hens stay happy and healthy. When building your coop you should ask yourself the following questions:
Is the coop:
- Ventilated enough?
- Secure against predators and rodents?
- Protected from moisture?
Your Chicken Coop Necessities:
Size it up!
When building your chicken coop, size is one of the first things you should consider. And how much space do chickens need?
For your standard breeds you want a minimum of 4 sq. ft. per bird. If you can do more- I am sure they will appreciate the extra room! Keep in mind that you will also be adding in nest boxes and roosting areas, so don’t cut corners when it comes to space.
A place to lay!
Nest boxes are a must inside the chicken coop! Your hens will push and shove each other daily to get their preferred laying spot. But in general you want your nest boxes to be approximately 12’x12′ and you want enough boxes so that there is 1 for every 3 laying hens. You can be as creative as you wish for your nest boxes.
I have seen 5 gallon buckets on their sides, milk crates, re-purposed shelves or dressers. But to warn you, and this is especially true if your chickens free range, chickens will lay where they want.
They may decide they don’t like your nest boxes and find one they like better-like the goats’ hay or under the tiller in the storage shed. I have found that the more private you make the nest boxes the better they like them.
A place to sleep!
Roosts are another chicken coop must have. Chickens don’t sleep on the ground. They like to be up in the air, so you will need to provide a space for them to roost when they go to bed each night. When adding your roosts you want to keep a couple things in mind:
- Roosts should be at least 12 inches away from the wall. This provides them space for their head or tail to hang off comfortably.
- Give at least a couple of feet between the uppermost roost and they ceiling so that your birds don’t chance hitting the ceiling when jumping up to their roosts.
- When calculating how much roosting room you need, estimate at least 12 inches of space per bird.
Roosts can be made out of just about anything- but stay away from slippery plastic like PVC pipe and if you go for a square board you will want to round the corners a bit so the chickens can wrap their feet around them comfortably.
Air to breathe!
Ventilation is an often overlooked part of coop design, but also a very important thing to remember. Chickens make a lot of dust and between their manure, the bedding, the feathers, and all the scratching they do fresh air is a necessity to protect their lungs. There is a difference between having a well ventilated coop and a drafty coop.
Ventilation is important to create air flow and allow the “soiled air” out and fresh air in. Remember to leave some openings around the coop- windows or along the eaves of the roof. Just be sure to secure the openings with chicken wire or hardware cloth so that predators can’t make their way inside.
Once your coop is complete, check it for any areas that may allow other animals in. This means gaps or holes that are big enough for small animals such as snakes or rats as well as larger predators such as opossums or raccoons. Make sure all large openings are covered with some sort of wire and that small areas are either covered or blocked.
A good rule of thumb is that if a 3-yr old can open it, so can a raccoon. So make sure all door latches are “child-proof”! Your feed storage area can also be a target for unwanted guests.
Don’t leave feed bags open, store your feed in a covered container. We store all of ours in metal trash cans with very tight fitting lids. Not only does this prevent rodents from invading, it also prevents moisture from reaching the food.
This is also a good time to make sure your coop is water-tight. Make sure the roof is good, the floors won’t leak and that heavy wind won’t cause rain to drip through your ventilation holes.
Room to Run!
The final part of coop planning is outside of the actual coop. How your chickens spend their time outside will depend greatly on where you live and how many predators are in your area. Your options include:
Our current chickens are free-range. They don’t have a fence and are free to roam our entire property…and sometimes the neighbor’s too….Back in TN, we had over an acre of land, but in a subdivision. There our chickens were pastured in our back yard. They were contained in our fenced back-yard with our dogs..and eventually the goats too.
Related Reading: The Pros and Cons of Free Range Chickens
If you live in the city or have a big problem with predators a covered run might be a better fit for you. If you are planning a run, make it big enough to give each bird a minimum of 10 sq. ft each.
Again, this is a minimum, and more room is always better! Especially if there is a chance you will add more chickens later. And if there’s one thing I have learned- there is always a chance of adding more birds later!
So there you have it- 6 chicken coop must haves to keep your birds happy, healthy and laying lots of yummy eggs!