Chicken Coops Tips for buying or building













Whether you’re building your own coop or purchasing one from the many coop dealers from around the country, there are certain things to look for when choosing a coop design.

Predator proof

The first thing you want to make sure of is that the coop you are building or buying is as predator proof as possible. This includes making sure that hardware cloth is used (not chicken wire) behind any openings like windows and vents. Chicken wire may do a good job keeping chickens in, but it will not effectively keep most predators out.

Choose latches that would be difficult for predators with fingers and thumbs—like raccoons—to open. Utilizing a lock on the doors and nest box latches will eliminate the risk of predators entering your coop. If the coop does not have a permanent floor and just sits on the dirt, you may want to install hardware cloth to prevent rodents and small animals from digging and entering from under the coop walls.

Keep it clean

Another important factor to consider is how easy the coop can be cleaned. You need to be able to access all areas of the coop for frequent spot cleaning and seasonal cleaning and disinfecting. If your coop is not easy to clean, let’s face it, you won’t do it as often as you should.thinkstockphotos-478116919-300x225

Your coop should have one nesting box for every three to five hens. The nest box should be between twelve to fourteen inches square, regardless of what breed of chicken you keep. No matter what you might read on blogs and forums, a nesting box is not a place for your hens to get their nails done, spread gossip, read the latest novel, and sleep.

We want her to get in, lay her egg and get out. The longer she stays in there, the greater the chance she’ll defecate, which will result in more work for you. Dirty nest boxes cause more frequent cleanings and more time spent on washing soiled eggs.

Nesting boxes should be placed lower than the roost in the coop to deter chickens from sleeping in them instead of on the roost. Bedding choices for your nest box include pine shavings, hay, and straw, with pine shavings being the most popular. My personal choice is nesting box pads because they are easy to remove, clean, sanitize, and replace. In addition, they have a scratchy surface which discourages hens from hanging out in the nest box any longer than they need to for egg laying.

A recent popular fad is to make curtains for your nest boxes. While hens do like a dark and private area to lay, these cloth curtains can provide a breeding ground for mites and lice. If you are building your coop, please consider building rollaway nest boxes to prevent egg eating. The floor of the nest box is slanted to allow the egg to roll into an area where the hen can no longer access it, thus preventing her from eating it.

Rooting for the roost

More times than not, I see people discounting the value of the roost. If you think about it, chickens spend about half their life on the roost. For the most part, they enter the coop and jump on the roost at dusk and don’t leave the roost until dawn. This also means that half of their poop will be under the roost. Because of this, you may want to consider a drop board under the roost that will collect the poop and provide for easier cleaning.

Wood is the number one recommended material for making the roost. Metal isn’t a good material because it can be too cold in the winter. Plastic is also not recommended because it is too slick for the birds to grip.

The roost should be two and a half to three inches round in diameter and should be free of any splinters, cracks, frays, or gaps that could injure the chicken’s foot which could lead to an infection called bumblefoot. There should be one foot of roost space per bird, although you can probably get away with eight inches of roost space for bantam breeds.

Better bedding

There are several choices of coop bedding you can choose from. The most recommended coop bedding is pine shavings; however hay and straw can be used. According to USDA poultry veterinarians, sand should be avoided. Coop bedding should be soft and absorbent, and sand is neither soft nor absorbent, and may increase risk for coccidiosis and bumblefoot.

Many times, leg and foot injuries are traced back to not enough bedding on the coop floor to cushion the landing off the roost. Sand is very heavy, and will have to be removed on occasion. The only real advantage of using sand is you can scoop poop like cat litter. But, remember, these are chickens, not cats. Not to mention, I’ve never talked to a poultry professional, including scientists, veterinarians, or professors, who have recommended sand for coop bedding. In fact, many advise against it.

Final considerations

The coop should be well ventilated, but free from drafts. How do you tell the difference? Look into the coop after the chickens go to roost. If their feathers are moving there is a draft, and you should identify where it’s coming from and eliminate it. However, you want to maintain good ventilation and air exchange for optimum health.

Regardless if you build or buy your coop, most people end up wishing they had a bigger one. Since keeping chickens can become addictive, you may want to consider buying or building a larger coop than you need currently in case you decide to grow your flock at a later date.


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