A chicken coop is more than a shelter: it's a flock's home and can significantly impact on the health and happiness of chickens. Since chickens are more likely to lay more regularly when they're healthy and happy, it's in both their and your best interest to give them a great coop. Fortunately, chicken coops are easy to make for people with basic woodworking skills, and there are creative ideas for those who don't know their way around a hammer. With the right plan and some expert tips, you can build a coop that gives your chickens everything they need to thrive.
Make sure a chicken coop is allowed in your backyard. Local governments and homeowners' associations may restrict what you can build on your land, so check first to avoid disappointment. If you have the green light to build your coop, think about your planned flock. Good questions to ask include:
A coop doesn't need to be fancy to give chickens everything they need. A simple design is easier to build and maintain, while an overly complicated coop may never be finished. When looking at plans, choose something you have the skill to build. There are a few basic requirements to include in your design. A coop needs ventilation for fresh air and temperature control, along with the obvious features of doors and spots for nesting and roosting. Finally, if you have space, you may consider a storage area for their food.
If you're building a fixed coop, take some time to observe your yard at different times of the day to help determine the best spot. Look for somewhere with shade for the birds, such as underneath a tree. Deciduous trees give shade in summer, but the sun comes through in winter when chickens need extra warmth. There should be airflow, but your birds should still be protected from extreme weather, including strong winds. Lastly, build the coop on grass or dirt where birds can scratch for bugs.
Problems like stressed birds, pecking, and bad smells can be avoided if chickens have enough space. The amount of space you need depends on their size. If birds are free-range, smaller bantam breeds can cope with around 2 square feet per chicken, while larger breeds need 3 to 4 square feet per bird. Flocks that will be enclosed at all times should have around 10 square feet per chicken, including the chicken run, to ensure there's plenty of room for them to forage. In a portable coop, that can go down to 5 square feet, as they'll be moved to fresh ground regularly.
You need to be able to access the coop, both to clean it and to collect sick or injured chickens. For big coops, a human-sized door is perfect, giving you access to the whole area. Small coops often utilize hinged roofs to allow full access to the interior. You may also consider poop boards, which sit on the floors of the coop and collect the birds' dropping. They can be easily removed for quick cleaning and so droppings can be added to the compost.
Nesting and roosting spots are essential for a good coop. Flocks need one nesting box for every 3 to 4 chickens. Boxes are around a foot square, and it's good to have outside access, so you don't need to go into the coop to collect eggs. Roosting perches are where chickens sleep at night. Dowels or sturdy branches are perfect and should be situated around 2 feet off the ground. The birds tend to share a perch, so make sure it's long enough for the whole flock.
Healthy birds need access to outdoor space. If you can't allow them free rein of your backyard during the day, make sure you construct a run. Include a door and ramp so they can get outside. The run itself should have shade, so add some shelter if there are no trees. A wire or mesh run ensures plenty of fresh air, and some bare dirt gives chickens a place for a dust bath. If you're building a portable coop, add wheels to the design so it can easily be moved to fresh ground.
Once you have a good idea of the size and shape of your coop, it's time to sketch the plans. Measure your space to ensure the coop will fit, and make sure it has everything chickens need. Next, decide on your materials. Think about recycling something you already own; it's easy to find plans for coops made from recycled materials, including playhouses, dog kennels, water tanks, and even trampolines. If you're building from scratch, choose untreated wood that will cope with your climate.
Make sure your coop will keep your chickens protected from predators. There are many wild animals that can threaten a flock, including foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and feral cats. Strong walls and raccoon-proof latches on doors are essential. As some predators can climb, the coop must have a sturdy roof, even over the run. Also, ensure that doors open inwards so that the chickens can't find their way out.
The final step is to add accessories. Some are essential, including water containers, feeders, and a dust bath if the birds don't have access to dirt. You can also consider adding lights, which can help extend the laying season over winter. If there's space, grow plants that offer chickens additional food, such as amaranth, sunflowers, rosemary, and sage. You can also consider decorations, such as a wind vane or hand-painted signs if you want the coop to be visually appealing.