Building a Chicken Coop
What things do I need to consider when building a chicken coop?
Building a chicken coop can be one of the most rewarding things you can do for your family. Choosing the right chicken coop design for your needs can make a big difference whether or not your experience with backyard chickens is a positive one. I have seen many backyard chicken coops that look economical and are cost effective but end up being very hard to maintain and to clean. Many chicken coop plans are too small for the amount of chickens people put in them. There are some chicken coop plans that are so low to the ground, you would need to clean it out while kneeling down.
Doing research on chicken coop plans has helped me come up with our own chicken coop design to make poultry maintenance easier and also create an environment healthy for our chickens. Hens that have enough space and are comfortable lay more eggs! Backyard chicken coops that are easy to maintain will stay clean which reduces disease and improves overall health of your chickens. Here are a few things to think about when building a chicken coop. Decide what you are willing to put up with for your circumstances, always do what is best for your personal situation.
1. Height of the coop inside and out- Make sure there is enough room inside the chicken coop for the hens to roost and still have plenty of head space to the ceiling. (you have heard of the phrase "cooped up"...the hens feel this if they have no room.) Consider how you will clean the chicken coop, how tall is it from the ground? Imagine changing the water and food and having access to the door to replace shavings etc. The height can make all these things more challenging or easy.
2. Ventilation- Chicken coops need good ventilation without getting drafty. Proper air flow is essential to allow ammonia from the urine and feces to escape. Make sure both ends of the chicken coop have vents to keep air flowing. To make sure your hens are protected from the wind, position the vents of the chicken coop the opposite direction from direct wind flow. This way air can get in and out without blowing directly on the hens, especially at night. Nail predator proof screens inside the chicken coop so you can open the windows on hot summer nights. Open the doors occasionally during the day to increase air flow. Check the floor for any large cracks or places where draft can get in. I wanted my floor to be free from draft under the chicken coop, so I caulked any cracks all around the perimeter of the floor and nests with exterior grade waterproof caulk.
3. Size- Think about how many chickens will fit in the square footage provided. A chicken needs about 3-5 square feet each if they are to be in the chicken coop most of the time, (or if they stay inside for winter.) If you let the hens out every day, you can allow 1-2 square feet per chicken in the coop. Chicken runs are also 3-5 + square feet for each chicken. Our hens free range and enjoy getting out even on the coldest days. Our chicken coop plan is 32 square feet plus nests, so about 10-12 hens fit comfortably in the coop. If you plan on letting the hens out daily, you can add more roosting bars and fit up to 16 hens in a 32 square foot chicken coop. If hens are too crowded, you increase disease and cannibalism to your flock. The most space possible you can provide is the healthiest for your hens.
4. Floor- Sometimes we all can get a little carried away trying to make a chicken coop so easy to clean, that we forget what is good for the hens. Be careful using products that will make the floor slippery, hens will break or injure their legs! (Even newspaper for baby chicks is slippery and not recommended.) Certain waterproof floors make it hard for moisture to evaporate, hard for odors to escape and make the inside of the coop too hot in summer. Vinyl floors if not installed properly can actually rot the wood floor because moisture can get trapped underneath. A dirt floor or wood floor is the best in my experience. The wood can dry out easy and can be protected with a thick layer of shavings, which absorb the moisture from water spills, urine and feces. Wire floors can also be a little tricky to clean if the holes in the wire are not big enough for feces to pass through. (and believe me...some chicken feces can be quite large.) Chicken manure gets very hard and can stick to almost anything! Shavings have worked fantastic for our chicken coop plans and is what I prefer. (Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth keeps the chicken coop floor dry and easier to clean! In any coop, sprinkle a thin layer on the floor and in corners before and over freshly changed shavings. DE also keeps the mites under control within the coop.)
5. Light- I have found it to be important to have proper light in a chicken coop to encourage better laying. It also helps the hens not feel so closed in, if they can see outside. If you are able to position the windows toward the east, the light can enter the chicken coop first thing in the morning and wake the girls up! No matter what side the windows are facing, it still helps to have windows. Try to put the largest size windows you can in your chicken coop plans and as many that will look good with the design. Real windows can be used (ones that slide side ways is best for long term use) or to save more money, use plexiglass. We got our windows at a clearance window bone yard for $25 each. Real windows are better for insulation. (Do what is best for your area, we get very cold in winter so I decided to get the real double pane glass windows. We also like the option of opening the windows on hot summer days.)
6. Wood Type- There are a few different kinds of wood you can use. Decide what the exterior will look like, what kind of finishes you want and textures. Plywood comes in different thickness and is commonly used. There are exterior grades of plywood as well as finishes. OSB (Oriented Strand Board) is also used, which costs a little less. OSB is an engineered wood that is created by layering strands and flakes of wood together. Some wood sheets have a rough and smooth side. Position the smooth side on the outside if you want to paint your chicken coop. Any wood texture will work if you plan on covering it up with siding or paneling. Choose shingles, tin or metal for your roof. It is just like building a little house. If you want something just temporary, get creative! I have seen chicken coop plans made from an old school desk (which would work nicely for mini chickens like Bantams.) Use left over lumber from a project, look on your local classified ads for lumber or visit the scrap piles at Home Improvement stores.
7. Nest Boxes- Nest boxes can be made from a variety of materials. Wood works great because it is economical to build a nest from and stays dry if taken care of properly. We like to make it even easier to clean by using plastic storage bins and cutting out the front. This is an easy clean up if an egg breaks or if shavings need to be replaced. Eggs stay clean and nest area is private and dry. Shavings used to line the next box is best in my opinion. It cushions the eggs, absorbs moisture and is softer for the hens. Straw can also be used to line your nests but needs to be changed out more often because it can get moldy and dirty faster than Shavings.
Nests can be made from things your already have around the house or garage; like old drawers, storage bins and even 5 gallon buckets. Be sure to always cut out the front or side so hens do not perch and defecate into the nests or tip them over! Rubber liners are also available to purchase, just be careful how they are installed so moisture is not trapped underneath to rot your wood. (yes, a golf ball in the nest will encourage hens to lay in the right place!)
The number of nests will effect how your hens lay their eggs. If there are not enough nests, you will end up with eggs on the floor or around the yard. It is good to have 1 nest box for every 4-5 laying hens. This means you can have 12 chickens and only need 3-4 nest boxes. We like having extra nests in our chicken coop for hatching out chicks. Chickens like to take turns laying eggs throughout the day and quite often swich what nest they will lay in especially as seasons change. Some hens finish laying as late as 6pm so you only need to gather the eggs once in the evening, (with the exception of freezing temperatures, gather eggs as soon as you can after the chickens lay so the eggs won't crack.)
The height position of your nests is not as important as the area of the nests...although having nests off the ground will discourage predators an rodants! Make sure nests are in a clean, dry place and have enough room to go in and out without being too close to the roosting area. This way the chickens will not step into a pile of manure before entering the nests. Our chicken coop plans are designed with the nests away from the roosting bar and one step up from the main floor (like the Daisy and Bella) so manure cannot be tracked inside the nest area. Make sure nests are available no later that when hens are 15 weeks old so they have a place to lay their eggs...otherwise hens will lay anywhere on the ground. (Some hens, like a Sexlink, start laying as early as 16 weeks!)
Doing a little research on chicken coop plans and building materials will make your coop exactly what you need with budget, space in the yard, maintenance, cleaning, attractiveness and what is healthy for the hens. We hope these few suggestions helped! Happy building!