Chicken Coops

Chicken Coop / Chicken Run

A chicken coop is a nice warm place with nesting boxes where the chickens you raise can lay their eggs. It’s a literal roof over their heads during bad weather and a safe place to sleep at night. Chickens don’t like to be cooped up all day, though. In order to let them stretch their legs, most chicken coops are attached to a chicken run. This can be as minimal as some chicken wire staked to the ground or as fancy as you want to make it. Think of it as building your chickens their own house with their own little yard. During the day, they’ll hang out in the chicken run. At night, you shoo them back into their house and lock it up to keep the predators out. The biggest disadvantage of a chicken coop is it can get kind of smelly.

What Should Be Inside Your Chicken Coop

Chicken Coops

In this section, we look at the options you have in providing amenities for your chickens that will let them live a long, healthy, productive and happy life.

Perches

During the dark it is a natural for your chickens to perch and roost as high above ground as possible.  This gives them a feeling of safety from predators and they will consider the coop a safe place.  It is important that you build the perches as high above the floor of the coop as possible.  The perches should be in wood, as chickens cannot grip metal or plastic.  Make the wood perch as flat as possible with curved edges, this way their feet will be protected as they grip onto the perch.  It also gives them additional warmth as the chickens sit on their feet.  When you make the perches inside the coop, try and provide some type of ladder system so that they can move from one perch to another without jumping and injuring themselves.  Why not consider tree branches for your perches?  You need to take any rough edges off them and make sure that there are no worms or other types of bacteria inside the branch that could pass an infection onto your poultry.

So in summary, your perches should be off the ground, at least one or two feet higher.  Preferably not one underneath the other otherwise the chickens on the top perch may poop on the lower ones!  The wooden poles should be at least 2 inches wide and try to allocate between 5 to 10 inches of perch space per bird so that they feel comfortable.  It is also worth remembering that chickens create over 60% of their daily droppings whilst they are on their perches.  If there is room, put a droppings tray under the perches so clean up is easy for you and keep the perches well away from the nesting boxes so droppings do not go near the eggs.  Plastic sheeting is also an option and works fairly well if you are short of space to replace a dropping trays under the perches.   If you are able to remove your perches to clean them, this is even better as they will last longer and reduces the risk of any poultry infections or disease.

Bedding of Chicken Coop

You need to spread bedding inside the chicken coop floor to absorb moisture, droppings and odour.  It is also a nice soft layer for your chickens to walk on and keep warm.  A good layer of bedding, about 2 inches thick should suffice.  It is a good idea to also place some bedding in the nesting boxes so that your poultry have some comfort and protection when laying eggs.

Bedding

There are many different types of material that you can use for bedding.  Wood chips, bark and shavings, straw and clean shredded paper will all do the trick. 

Wood shaving is probably the most popular type of bedding as it is highly absorbent, a great insulator, easy to find and use.  It can be expensive in some parts of the world so check this aspect out before you decide on wood shavings as bedding.  However, one of the financial and time efficiencies of shavings is that you only need to replace all the bedding every second time you clean as you simply need to turn the shavings with a fork to expose the dry bottom layer.  Shavings also keep odours down and reduce the amount of ammonia in the air from the droppings to maintain the health of your coop and its occupants.  Finally, make sure that your shavings are not from any hardwoods that can contain fungus and moulds that will bring sanitation and health issues into your coop.

Straw is a very popular bedding option as it is relatively cheap, easy to get hold of and smells great when you first lay it into the coop and nesting boxes.  Your chickens will also love foraging for the grains of barley, wheat and oats from the straw plus it has excellent drainage.  You can also rot the old straw for garden manure so it is easy to dispose.

Hay is not a great bedding option simply because it has poor drainage, gets damp really quickly and is an excellent breeding ground for fungus and mould.  The fungal spores when inhaled by the chickens cause health problems.

Shredded paper is a good bedding option but can be quite difficult and expensive to obtain unless you have a local business that is willing to let you have theirs.  Paper provides good quality insulation and the soiled bedding can be burnt, the potash from the burnt remains will be an excellent for your garden.  Avoid heavily printed-paper such as newspaper and magazine brochures even if shredded. 

Remember that it is important that the bedding inside your coop is ALWAYS dry as wet bedding very quickly breeds parasites, bacteria and mould which will harm the health of your chickens.

Nesting boxes

It is essential that you have nesting boxes inside your coop, otherwise your chickens will lay their eggs all over the coop and collecting them will be like a “Easter egg hunt” plus you will have a higher rate of breakages if they walk all over them!  By instinct, chickens like a warm, safe, undisturbed and cosy place to lay their eggs. 

Your nesting boxes need to be well clear of the roosting perches with plenty of clean bedding inside.  The boxes need to be off ground level and secured well enough to hold the weight of several hens as sometimes, the more social ones do tend to nest together in one box to lay their eggs.  For an average sized bird, the nesting box needs to be 12 inches wide by 12 inches high.  If you have the room, make the boxes a little larger with a little lip on the front of each to give your chicken something to grip onto when she enters the box and also to keep the eggs secure inside without rolling out. 

Chickens don’t tend to put droppings in their nesting boxes, but change the bedding regularly and check for any broken eggs which will attract rodents into the coop.

Most nesting boxes are made of wood but you can buy some old vintage ones which are made of metal.  These tend to come as a row of nesting boxes that is attached to your coop.  Remember that if you do use metal, put in plenty of bedding inside the nesting box to keep it soft and warm.  It’s also not a bad idea to allow yourself access to the nesting boxes from the outside of the chicken coop so that you can collect the eggs easily.  To enable this type of convenience for yourself, you need to be clear on your design before you start the project of building/sourcing a coop, although some coops that you can buy off the shelf and DIY kits have this option.

Feeders for chicken coop

Feeders are essential things that you need to consider when setting up your coop for your chickens.  If you are allowing your chickens to roam freely, then the chances are that they will find their own food.  However, if you are building a coop with a run and your chickens will not be allowed to run free (due to predators), then you cannot go ahead with your project without feeders. 

The type of feeder you install depends on how old your chickens will be when you get them.  If they are chicks under six weeks old, then you need a feeder that is made exclusively for them.  These feeders can accommodate up to ten chicks per feeder and are designed for food such as sand.  The construction of the feeder is that it prevents spillage and they tend to be made from plastic. 

Once your chickens are over six weeks, there are different types of feeders that you can select.  Most feeders are made either of plastic or metal.  The most commonly used feeder is made out of plastic, cone shaped and can be hung anywhere inside the coop or the run.  The feed is placed on top of the cone then it fills up the tray that is under the cone.

Treadle feeders are made of metal and when the chicken goes to the treadle, it opens and feed comes out.  When the chicken leaves the treadle, it closes automatically.  Grit hoppers are also made of metal with a sloping lid that opens like a door.  The feeder opens and closes automatically when the chicken enters and leaves.  These feeders that open and close are a great way of keeping out bugs and rodents that eat the feed inside.