If you’re thinking of jumping on the chicken coop train, it’s not a bad train to be on. Not only do you get your personal source of organic eggs and save money on the grocery bill, but, believe it or not, chickens make good pets. They teach kids responsibilities, and also exhibit their own personalities. And their happy clucking is charming.
Before you begin building your own chicken coop, do your research on which breeds are right for you (there are 62 breeds!) and your local laws and ordinances. Some cities don’t allow chickens while others allow them as long as you don’t have a rooster. Taking care of chickens also requires a little bit of knowledge before you begin, so be sure to do your homework since we’re only covering the coop. These tips for a successful backyard chicken coop will also help you to raise a healthy brood.
1. Scout Your Location
Chickens like to catch some rays, but too much and they’ll roast and get sick. Ideally, you’ll want to find about 4–8 square feet under a shady tree for the run and 4 feet by 4 feet for the actual coop. This is enough space for up to three hens, so plan for more space if you’re going to get more hens. If this is your first time building a coop or raising chickens, we recommend buying building plans or a ready-made coop to assemble to ensure everything is just right.
2. Make a Perfect Nest
The nesting area should be about 2–3 feet off of the ground to keep out pests and predators, and to keep it dry. Add a narrow ramp so the hens can enter and exit. You also may want to consider adding a door to access the nesting area from the outside. You’ll be able to collect the eggs more easily as well as clean the nests. Just be sure to add a lip so the eggs don’t roll out.
3. Sleeping and Laying Etiquette
Contrary to popular thought, chickens don’t sleep in their nests. They like cozy little nooks filled with lots of cushy straw to lay their eggs in (sometimes multiple eggs, especially if you’re not collecting them every day), and a good old closet rod to sleep on.
4. Consider Lighting
Like we mentioned before, hens like light and they’ll lay more eggs with more rays. Consider putting in lights that cast a warm glow (not blue-white light) to extend “daylight” hours during the winter and encourage the hens to keep laying.
5. Protect Your Flock
An unprotected coop is an easy dinner for chicken-eating predators. Use metal latches that they can’t flip open (yes, they’ve learned how!) and lock your hens up snuggly at night. Use sturdy screening or chicken wire to keep them safe inside and critters out, and be sure to install it from the inside so animals can’t pull at a corner and make a hole. You’ll also want to protect your chickens from the weather with the proper insulation for your climate.
6. Don’t Eat Where You…
We keep our kitchens and bathrooms separate to prevent contamination. The same goes for chickens! Keep their food and litter in separate areas so they don’t get sick. You can also create a droppings drawer that slides out to make cleaning the roosting area easier. Because trust us, you don’t want to be leaning in there for very long.
Ventilating your coop will keep your chickens happy and make you happier when you clean it. This can be as simple as screening in a raised roof to let hot air escape, creating a screened window or even little screened portholes in the roosting area.
8. Easy Access
In addition to adding doors to access the nests and roosting areas, make the run tall enough for you to stand comfortable. No sense hunching over to care for your chickens.
9. Personalize It
Don’t let your coop stand out like a free-standing eyesore. Have a little fun with the design. Just a coat of lead-free paint, a cute scalloped roof or some flowers or bushes in front of the run (to hide the floor) gives it a little personality that goes a long way.
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