Have you always dreamed of living off the land? Since you’re moving or just settling in, it’s a great time to revisit the idea. While many communities — for good reason — only allow certain pets and livestock on residential land, raising chickens in your backyard may be an option — especially if you have acreage to spare. Of course, you need to check your town’s regulations before diving in.
Before those fluffy feathered friends start clucking around your yard, you also need to build them a proper home. A coop is essential for keeping your chickens sheltered, fed and protected from predators.
Fortunately, building a coop isn’t as difficult as you might think. With some basic carpentry skills and the right materials, you can construct a coop in a weekend. From selecting the right spot to installing nesting boxes and perches, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know to build a cozy coop your chickens will love. Before you know it, you’ll be gathering fresh eggs from your happy, healthy flock.
Chicken Coop Basics: Size, Location and Design
For a small flock of three- to-five chickens, a coop at least 4’ x 6’ feet is ideal. Bigger is always better, so go as large as you can. Chickens need space to roam, nest and get away from each other.
Place the coop in a spot that gets plenty of sun and shade, as well as protection from harsh weather. Easy access to the coop is important for cleaning and collecting eggs. Remember that you’ll want to bury protective wire fencing two feet into the ground around the outside to prevent predators from digging in.
Design-wise, a coop should have nesting boxes for the chickens to lay eggs, roosting bars or platforms to sleep on, ventilation and windows, and an easy-to-clean floor like wire mesh or slatted wood.
Plan to add 2”-3” of bedding, such as pine shavings, straw or sand, to the floor and nesting boxes. Change it every month or so to keep the coop clean and dry.
Once you’ve constructed your chicken palace, you’ll need to “furnish” it with feeders, waterers, nesting boxes, roosting bars and bedding. Make sure to place the feeders and waterers at opposite ends of the coop to prevent contamination. Nesting boxes should have fresh bedding and be off the ground. Roosting bars should be higher up and in spots the chickens naturally perch.
Setting Up Your Coop: Bedding, Roosts and Nesting Boxes
To keep your feathered friends happy and healthy, it’s important to properly set up their coop.
Roosting bars give your chickens spots to sleep. Place at least one roosting bar higher up, around 1’-3’ off the ground and a lower one around 6”-18” up for younger chicks. The bars should be at least two inches in diameter so the chickens can grip them.
Chickens also need nesting boxes for laying eggs. Provide one box for every three- to-four chickens. The boxes should be at least 12” square, filled with nesting material like wood shavings, straw, or shredded paper and placed off the ground. You’ll also want to place a deep, absorbent bedding material like pine shavings, straw or shredded paper on the coop floor. Plan to spot-clean wet areas daily and do a full replacement every week or two.
Managing Your Flock
Feeding your flock the right diet is essential to keeping your chickens happy and healthy.
To keep your chickens nourished, always have clean, fresh water available in a gravity feeder or automatic waterer. For food, offer a quality layer ration along with grit to help with digestion. Allow your chickens to feed freely, filling feeders 2/3 full and checking them daily to ensure freshness. In addition to layer feed, supplement your chickens’ diet with:
- Calcium, such as oyster shells, to support eggshell production
- Grit or crushed oyster shells to help chickens digest feed
- Fresh, clean water daily
- Kitchen scraps like leafy greens, vegetables, fruits in moderation
- Mealworms or scratch grains as an occasional treat
Fresh, clean water should always be available. Change water daily and scrub waterers weekly to prevent buildup of algae and bacteria. In sizzling summer months, you may need to change the water a few times each day to ensure it stays cool and palatable for your flock.
Check nesting boxes at least once per day to collect eggs. Collect them promptly to minimize the chance of chickens developing a habit of egg-eating. Discard any dirty, cracked or misshapen eggs. Then, wash eggs before storing them. Use an egg carton, basket or crate and keep eggs in a cool spot. For the best quality, use eggs within three- to-five weeks.
Following these best practices for feeding, watering and collecting eggs will help keep your feathered ladies happy, healthy and continually laying those delicious fresh eggs you’ve come to enjoy! Spending time with your flock each day will allow you to notice quickly if anything seems amiss.
Chicken Health and Safety
Keeping your chickens safe and healthy requires vigilance against predators, extreme weather, and disease. As their caretaker, it’s up to you to protect your flock.
Predators like foxes, coyotes, hawks and neighborhood dogs pose a serious threat to your chickens. Secure their coop with sturdy wire mesh and locks to prevent predators from getting in. Bury the wire several inches into the ground to prevent digging.
You’ll also want to provide your chickens with places to take cover from aerial predators. Plant thorny bushes around the perimeter of the enclosure or drape netting over the top. Give your chickens obstacles like branches or boards to hide under.
At night when chickens are most vulnerable, do a final check that all doors and access points to the coop are securely fastened. Motion-activated lights, noisemakers or a guard animal like a farm-friendly pet dog can also deter nighttime predators.
In extreme heat, chickens can overheat and die from hyperthermia or dehydration. Ensure they have shade, fans, misters and plenty of clean, fresh water. In winter, a heat lamp and draft-free coop will prevent frostbite and death from hypothermia.
High winds can blow debris into the coop, damage the structure, and stress your chickens. Plan windbreaks and secure the coop, especially the roof. Heavy rain and snow should not be able to get into the coop. Clear the area around the coop of anything that could turn into flying debris.
Regularly check your chickens for signs of disease or parasites like mites, lice, worms or respiratory infections. Quarantine any new chickens for two- to-four weeks before introducing them to the flock. Practice good hygiene, like cleaning waterers and feeders regularly and removing droppings to avoid disease.
If you do notice lethargy, decreased egg laying, weight loss, respiratory distress, diarrhea or neurological symptoms in your chickens, speak to a veterinarian. They can diagnose the problem and recommend treatment to avoid infecting the whole flock.
By safeguarding your chickens from harm and keeping a close watch on their health and wellbeing, you’ll have a happy, productive flock for years to come. Staying one step ahead of potential threats is the key to successful flock management.
Maintaining a clean and properly ventilated coop is essential to the health and productivity of your chickens. Perform regular coop maintenance to ensure your flock stays happy and healthy.
Clean your coop at least once a week by removing soiled bedding and droppings. Replace it with fresh bedding, such as wood shavings, straw or shredded paper. Scrub waterers and feeders with a diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) to prevent disease.
It’s also important to inspect your coop regularly for any damage or holes and to repair them at once. Fix or replace any loose wires, loose boards, damaged mesh or broken latches as soon as you notice there’s a problem. And don’t forget to check that all doors and windows close securely to keep predators out.
Proper ventilation is also vital, especially in scorching summer months. Your coop should have windows, mesh panels or openings on at least two sides to allow for cross-ventilation. Use fans to keep the air circulating and prevent heat stress in extremely hot weather. In colder months, ventilation is still important but you may need to cover some openings to protect them from wind and drafts.
The best way to control pests is through prevention. Remove standing water, spilled feed and coop waste that can attract flies, rodents and parasites. Apply diatomaceous earth — a natural powder — in nesting boxes and coop corners where pests may hide. As a last resort, you may need to use appropriate pesticides, but do so carefully and according to instructions to avoid poisoning your flock.
Following these important maintenance steps will help ensure your coop is clean, safe and comfortable for your feathered friends. Performing routine coop care and being attentive to potential issues will support the health and productivity of your happy little flock so you can enjoy their bounty for years to come.