Chicken Coop 101

Let me just say – although I love all things old, restoration, and fixer upper, my vision for the little woodshed behind our house was not always: fabulous shabby chic chicken coop…..but more like: how mad would Big John be on a scale of one to excommunication if I lit a match and burned her down?

She was in pretty sore shape if I must say…

But those little $2, future egg-laying fluff balls wouldn’t fit in a brooder box forever and we needed an outdoor shelter, a.k.a. coop.

Planning Location & Size

There are a few options here, but using an existing structure, or even part of an existing structure such as the corner of a shed, garage, or barn is far more practical and economical than building new or buying a prefab coop.  G.G. (Big John’s Grandma) used to have over 600 chickens and a gigantic poultry house, but that building was torn down quite some time ago so there wasn’t anything outfitted for this specific purpose on the property.

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The Wood Shed prior to starting our coop/garden project

However, not everyone has existing buildings to work with, and there are some pretty cute coops on prime that could be on your doorstep by Monday morning!! 😉 😉 Have I talked you into getting baby chicks yet this spring?

And then if you’re feeling super ambitious or have lots of scrap materials laying around or love the idea of DIY-ing – just look at these 34 Free Coop Plans on Morning Chores!

When scouting for locations or planning your coop, you’ll need to plan for about 2-3 sq. ft. per chicken.  So for our flock of then 12, now 15, the 8’x8′ area we had to work with was plenty of room, with room for more in case I black out and come home from town with new chicks again like I did last week!  But if we ever have more than a couple dozen we’ll have to have a bigger coop.

It was also important to me to have the coop close to the house because I am a giant wimp when it comes to cold weather and I don’t want to walk a mile in frigid temps to feed or do chores.  Plus, I don’t mind my backyard looking like a zoo.

The work to fix up the old shed was dirty, but worth it!

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Now let’s talk….

…Ventilation

Proper ventilation improves sanitary conditions in the coop.  Chicken poop and pee smell and buildup is not good without proper ventilation and can even contribute to respiratory issues for the birds – whose respiratory systems are far more complex than ours and are vulnerable to resp. related illnesses over all other types of diseases.  A window or vent high up in the coop is optional to insure good ventilation.  Lower openings and windows can make drafts an issue leaving them v cold in the winter months.  See these little holes in our wall?  They’ll need to be covered or filled in before winter.  Yay for more projects!

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This small window at the top of our coop is perfect for airflow

Flooring

A lot of people are proponents of dirt and sand floors.  The structure we used already had a concrete floor, so this was an easy one for us!  Concrete will keep them cool in the summer months but will also be very cold in the winter.  So I plan to add extra bedding to help retain heat.  Right now we are just using pine shaving from the feed store, but you can use straw as well.

I’ve found the concrete is easy to sweep and clean as it can be hosed down easily, so far I’m a fan!

Electricity

If you’ve already got electricity in your coop area, great!  If not, you may not need it.  If your winters are mild, you definitely won’t.  But if you have freezing temps frequently throughout winter, you may want to use a heater for your water so you don’t have to break up ice chunks.  And you may want to heat your coop.  You don’t have to do this, but it could prevent your birds from getting frostbite and also help them conserve energy which will keep their egg production higher than it would be without heat.

It’s not advisable to use brooder heat lamps to heat a coop.  This is a big fire risk which would be a gigantic bummer.

The choice to heat the coop will be different for everyone.  Read more about this here, and check out the whole site while you’re at it!  Lisa’s blog and book have been so helpful to me.

We do not have electricity in our coop, and won’t be wiring it. If need be, we can run an extension cord from the house or the closest shed.

Nesting Boxes

Once your hens start laying, you’ll need nesting boxes for them.  These don’t have to be actual prefab nesting boxes, but there are a lot of easy options you can prime!

Pinterest has lots of ideas for using 5 gallon buckets, plastic containers, empty drawers, etc. as well as plans for constructing your own.  You’ll need one nesting box for every 3-4 birds.

We have a row of 6 constructed out of solid oak.  These came out a friends old barn and were in pretty rough shape, but we removed the rotted bottom board and replaced them with scrap wood that was in good shape, painted them, and added a perching ledge.

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We placed ours up higher with a ladder to keep predators out of eggs and better use the space in our coop.  But you can place them closer to ground level as well.

It’s also not a bad idea to use curtains.  Hens egg production is increased when they have a private, clean place to lay.  Some people even put fresh herbs in the boxes to keep them fresh and stimulate laying.  I mean if you’re already growing your own you likely have an abundance, so why not share with the girls?!

The boxes will need bedding just like the floor.  Once again, you can use pine shavings, straw, or these handy nesting pads.

Our girls won’t be laying for another few months, but I plan to just start with pine shavings and herbs.

Note: If you plan on free ranging, your hens will lay in other places too around your yard.  So you’ll get to hunt for eggs too!

Roosting Bars

Chickens sleep on roosting bars so you’ll need to allow for about 10 inches of roosting space per chicken.  So, for example, our 15 will need about 12 feet.

Right now we just have a couple of larger old boards that were in the building staggered, but its really best to use either 2″x2″ boards or tree limbs that are about 2″ in diameter so they can balance properly.

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these boards are too wide and will be replaced with tree limbs

Using plastic materials is generally not a good idea because they can’t balance as well.

Roosts will need to be at least a couple feet off the floor, over a foot away from the nearest parallel wall, and at least 18″ high.

Food & Water

It’s best to keep food & water off the floor and as high as possible while allowing the birds to still be able to reach comfortable to prevent them from making a mess or other critters getting into the food.

We use this feeder and drinker which are hung about six inches from the floor right now as our chicks are still pretty little.  I plan to raise them as the flock grows.  These 5 gallon containers are plenty big for our small flock.  You can purchase larger if you plan on keeping more birds.

I bought an airtight storage bin for our feed as well.  Simply keeping open bags of feed laying in the coop will create a mess and attract critters.

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I found an old grain scoop that was handmade by John Henry – the kids’ great great grandfather.

Door

Since our chicks don’t currently have a run but are free ranged, we simply use the door to the building to let them out and in at dawn and dusk.

Since I’m home all day and can supervise, I leave the coop door open soothed can go in and out freely to get water or rest.

But if you have a run or can’t supervise, it’s probably best to get an automatic door which will make your life easier!

Happy coop planning!

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