Those fluffy chicks you brought home earlier are getting bigger. They have stirred up enough dust in your house or garage to keep you cleaning for months. You are ready to move them outdoors. But do you have a coop prepared? I’ve gathered a list of the things you need to be sure your chicken coop is ready for your pullets.
When planning your coop, I recommend keeping it simple. I tend to try to use things I already have on hand. My coop is definitely not the fanciest, but it is sturdy and well-built and very functional. I always recommend using things you can get for free or cheap versus spending money on some expensive gadget that some other chicken keepers recommend. I am frugal by nature and I promise you, the chickens don’t care whether all the nest boxes match!
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A Safe Place
The first thing you need to provide for your chickens is a safe place away from predators and the weather. This is THE most important thing and the most expensive part of keeping chickens. The chickens need to be sheltered from the weather in a building that raccoons, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and other wild animals can’t enter. There are many options on the internet, from fancy pre-fab coops to plain-jane plans.
Our first coop was a moveable ark, sometimes called a chicken tractor. We still use this coop today to grow out our pullets.
But our main coop is a 8′ x 8′ building we built. It is very simple but functional. It has 3 windows that we leave uncovered during the warm months, but cover during the colder months.
Let’s talk chicken wire
While we are on the subject of secure coops, let me tell you that chicken wire will NOT keep predators out. Raccoons can rip it apart and I’m not sure that dogs and coyotes couldn’t rip it apart either. If you use chicken wire, you need to add another layer of fencing behind it. You can also use hardware cloth. We chose to use a combination of chicken wire and 2″ x 4″ galvanized fencing when we built our coops because the combination of fencing was actually cheaper than the hardware cloth.
Another important aspect of coop design is ventilation. Chickens need air movement. Our coop has openings (covered by 1″ wire) along the front and back walls between the top of the wall and the roof. This allows air movement even in the winter when the windows are covered. Since the openings are at the top of the coop, the air movement doesn’t create a draft that would chill the chickens during the colder months.
Bedding in the Chicken Coop
Chickens also need something on the floor of the coop to collect their poop. I have found pine shavings to work the best. Some people use straw, but I always worry about sour crop, since chickens seem to eat almost anything. Just like for baby chicks, you should NOT use cedar shavings. They can be toxic to your birds.
You will also need nesting boxes for your chickens. These can be made out of almost anything. Even cardboard boxes can work in a pinch, though they will probably need to be replaced frequently. My father-in-law built me four wooden boxes (similar to these) out of scrap wood that I use. Farm stores also sell a variety of things you can purchase for nest boxes as well. I have even seen kitchen tubs and 5 gallon buckets used as nesting boxes!
You need about 1 nest box for every 4-5 hens, but mine tend to all lay in the same two boxes most of the time. I have even seen them lined up waiting on their favorite box. You will need to line the boxes with something soft to cushion the eggs when they are laid. I use more pine shavings. No need to buy something special.
Chickens prefer to lay their eggs in the dark. I fashioned nest box curtains out of scrap material given to me by my Mom. Chickens are nosy so they will have no problem poking their heads into the boxes to see what is behind the curtains. This gives them privacy while laying their eggs and can also help to deter chickens from eating their eggs since they can’t see them as well.
Chickens prefer to roost up high at night. A basic roost post can be a very simple 2″ x 2″ attached securely to the inside walls of the chicken coop.
Be sure not to place two roost post over top of each other or over the next boxes. Chickens poop all night and will soil each other or the nest boxes if a roost post goes over it.
Food & Water
If you purchased a small feeder and waterer when you brought the chicks home, you will need to buy a bigger one if you haven’t already. Chickens need a steady supply of clean water. There are all kinds of fancy waterers on the market, but I just use a couple of buckets. They are easy to clean and cheap to replace when they break. I keep my waterers outdoors so they don’t knock them over and wet the pine shavings.
I did purchase a large feeder. I can put about two days worth of feed in it so I don’t have to refill it as often. I hang it from a hook on the inside of my chicken coop. This keeps the feed dry when it rains. Chicken feed molds quickly if wet, and wet feed can be toxic to chickens.
A Way to Access the Outdoors
If you truly want your chickens to be healthy and happy, they need a way to access the outdoors. Many people let their chickens free range during the day and lock them in the coop at night. Unfortunately, we can’t do that. We have so many hawks that it wouldn’t be long before they got all the chickens.
Our solution is a run, covered in wire. Hawks can’t swoop down and get in and other critters can’t get in from the top. We have 1″ x 2″ wire around the entire run, and the lower 4 feet is also covered in chicken wire. This prevents the chickens from sticking their necks out to get food, and something grabbing them. We lost several chickens to raccoons one year because we didn’t have the extra layer of chicken wire around their enclosure. However, chicken wire alone is not enough to keep raccoons out. They can actually rip through chicken wire!
Chicken Coops Don’t Need to be Fancy
In summary, chickens don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to be healthy and happy and provide your family with fresh eggs. I always recommend using what you have to make your coop. Chickens don’t care what the coop looks like, as long as it is functional and keeps them safe. Look around and see what can be re-purposed to make a nice, secure coop. You may be surprised at what you can find. Happy chicken keeping!