The biggest investment in keeping chickens is their housing. Chickens are remarkably hardy birds, but they need some sort of shelter to make it though a Colorado winter. They also need protection from raccoons, possums, foxes, owls, coyotes, hawks, weasels, and neighborhood dogs.
Of course, the chickens don’t care what their coop looks like, just as long as it keeps them sheltered and safe. From our human perspective, appearance matters. So does convenience.
What should you consider when designing a coop (or choosing a plan)? Today and next week I’ll share what I’ve learned about housing chickens.
Before you get started, consider where to build your coop. Many areas have code restrictions on where it can go—so many feet from the house or property line, for instance.
Chickens are pretty dirty and dusty birds, so you don’t want them right outside your windows. On the other hand, trudging a long distance to the coop, especially in wet or freezing weather, isn’t much fun. I think the far side of a garage would be ideal—the birds would be near by, and a winter-proof source of water would be available.
You’ll want to build your coop out of easy-to-get, inexpensive materials. Just make sure it’s sturdy enough to keep out the varmints and stand up to whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Recycled lumber and other building supplies are a great idea.
How big should your coop be? Each mature hen needs about two square feet of floor space, plus an additional eight square feet outside in the run. Bantams, being smaller, can get by with a bit less. If you’ve have to go inside, make the building taller than you are. Our first coop (an outgrown playhouse modified for chicken use), wasn’t quite high enough inside for me to stand fully erect. Let’s just say that cleaning that coop was a miserable chore!
You will have to remove all the straw mixed with dropping, clean the coop, and lay down fresh straw several times a year. Think through how you will do this. Using a rake or shovel in a small space is difficult. Having doors that open widely will make it much easier to scoop the used bedding out into a wheelbarrow for use in your compost pile.
Choose flooring that won’t rot, that rodents (or predators) can’t chew through, and that is easy to clean. Ours is painted particle board, but I’d much rather have cement.
While chickens need shelter from wind, good air circulation is equally essential. Their droppings contain a lot of ammonia, and the fumes quickly become overpowering in a closed space. Include a window or vent as part of your design.
Of course, your chickens need a way to get in and out of the coop. They will spend the majority of their waking hours in their attached yard, providing the weather is nice enough. We leaned a piece of corrugated plastic over the doorway to keep the snow and rain outside.
While not essential, it is helpful to include a spot where you can store chicken feed, extra straw, etc. Make sure rodents can’t get into your storage area.
To be continued next Monday….