As I mentioned in my article, Chicks – What You REALLY Need to Get Started, it’s always good to have a chicken coop (or at least a plan for one) when you get your babies. There are many types of coops out there, but whether you design your own or buy a prefabricated one, there are several features you’ll want to consider when choosing the right coop for you.
Chickens need about 2-3 square feet inside the coop and 8-10 square feet in the run. I would say this is the absolute minimum. Cramped chickens mean pecking and disease. Many of the prefabricated chicken runs list the recommended number of chickens in the description. But if you’re making your own coop or getting one second-hand you can easily measure it, do a little math, and figure out the maximum number of chickens it should house.
If you live in a climate with cold winters, like Minnesota, you also want to avoid too much space. The right number of chickens can help keep the coop warm in winter. A coop that’s too large is difficult to keep warm in without additional help.
Ventilation doesn’t mean drafts of air, it means controlled circulation of air. Chickens create moisture from their droppings and breathing. Too much moisture in summer means a breeding ground for bacteria. Too much moisture in winter means an increased risk of frostbite. There are many ways you can vent a coop from planned gaps in the coop structure to built-in vents. Regardless of how you achieve this, proper venting keeps your chickens healthy year round.
Whether you’re raising your chickens as family pets or utilizing them for meat and eggs, losing a chicken to predators is frustrating. Make sure your coop adequately protects your flock from predators, both large and small. This will seriously reduce the stress of managing your flock. To prevent intruders secure doors with two-step latches or locks that can’t be easily opened (do not use hook and eye latches) and cover all openings, including windows with screens, with a wire mesh (chicken wire and window screens aren’t strong enough to keep out predators).
These boxes are where your hens will lay their eggs. I recommend 1 nesting box for every 3-4 hens. You can buy coops with boxes installed, buy nesting boxes at your local feed or farm store, or repurpose items. Hello, Pinterest! Just don’t be alarmed if you find your girls all prefer one or two of the boxes to the rest!
Although it seems strange to us, chickens actually sleep on roosting bars (not the comfy, lined nesting boxes). Your coop should have a variety of bars up off the floor for your chickens to sit on. You also want to make sure they’re wide enough your chickens are able to cover their feet with their bodies in winter; this helps prevent frostbite on their toes. Your roosting bars should also be placed higher than your nesting boxes or your chickens will try to roost on top of your boxes or inside.
Keep in mind each of these features could be a whole article of it’s own focusing on the particulars like height, (I’m seeing several posts in my future) but today I’ll just give you the basics.
If you’d like to see the progress on our new coop check out Our New Chicken Coop – In Progress!