So, you’ve chosen to get some chickens, and now you need to decide how you are going to house them. In terms of coops and accessories, there is a near-endless variety of choices available. So, selecting the best ones to suit your needs might end up being trickier than you think.
Here we will take a look at some of the basic things you need to consider when buying and setting up your chicken coop:
What are the primary considerations when selecting a chicken coop?
Before any major purchase, especially one involving animals, you need to carefully think through all the practicalities. A few questions that you may want to ask yourself before purchasing your coop are:
How many chickens do I want?
Chickens are quite sociable creatures, so you will definitely want to buy more than one. A good general rule is that two to three hens per family member will cover your egg needs.
Yet, as the number of chickens will factor highly in the size of the coop, you need to buy, it’s best to ensure you have enough space to accommodate them comfortably (see below for further details on sizing the coop).
What kind of predators are there in the local area?
The sturdiness of the coop and the materials used in its construction will depend on the nearby predators. Aim for a wire mesh over plastic or chicken wire to reduce the risk of dogs, cats, and foxes getting into your coop.
How easy is the coop to clean?
This is an important consideration, but one very quickly forgotten about when the time comes to purchase a coop. Make the wrong selection, and you could have hours of laborious scrubbing ahead of you.
As the most important thing to keep clean in the coop is the floor, you should focus on this over and above everything else. A coop without a floor could be a great option as you could simply move it around.
An alternative to this is a removable floor tray that can be cleaned separately. Solid floors are the least desirable option as scrubbing them thoroughly in a small coop can be very tricky.
Will the chickens be in the coop all the time?
As long as you have factored in enough space for it, keeping the chickens in the coop all the time is a valid choice. This is particularly true if they are at risk from predators or could easily escape from your garden.
A useful alternative to this is to opt for a chicken run. This is a fenced or enclosed outdoor space when the chickens can spend time away from the coop, having a dust bath or foraging in the grass
What size coop should I opt for?
The size of your chicken coop should be based around the number of chickens you plan to house there, the breed of the chickens, as well as how many hours of the day they will be spending in the coop.
If they have space to roam
As a general rule, for average-sized chickens who have outdoor space in which to forage, and will only be in the coop overnight, then three square feet of space is sufficient per chicken. Bigger breeds though will need four or even five square feet.
If they will be confined full time
Average-sized chickens that are constantly confined to their coop will require an extra eight square feet on top of that number, and larger ones an additional ten.
Do keep in mind though that these numbers are only the minimum requirements. The more space they have, the healthier and happier the chickens will be.
Overcrowding your birds keep lead on to a whole host of problems from fighting and pecking to the quick spreading of diseases.
Consider also that certain breeds do naturally need more space than others. So, ensure that you are well informed on the particular breed that you will be acquiring.
What do chickens need in their coop?
Alongside ensuring that your coop is the right size and a secure place to house your chickens, certain things will need to be added to the coop for the health and benefit of the birds. At the bare minimum, a coop should contain:
- A feeder and water containers
They both should be kept clean, with fresh water being used each day.
These should be around 12 inches squared, and there should be one for every three laying hens.
As chickens don’t like to sleep on the ground, you will need to provide them with a space up in the air to do this. The roosts should be a suitable distance away from the wall and the ceiling to allow the bird to get comfortable and not hit their heads when jumping up to their beds.
Areas of dry soil or dirt allow the hens to dust bathe. This will help to control the spread of parasites.
How often should you clean a chicken coop?
As with people, chickens appreciate a clean coop. A good rule of thumb is to do a quick clean once a week and a deep clean every six months.
For the weekly clean, you will need to rinse out the waterers and feeders with a 5% bleach solution, scrape the roosting bars to prevent manure from piling up, remove any soiled and damp bedding, and add clean bedding to the nesting boxes and the floor of the coop.
With the deep clean, everything should be removed from the coop and thoroughly washed and sanitized. The coop itself should also be scrubbed from top to bottom. Just make sure that everything is thoroughly dry before you put it back in and lay fresh bedding down.
What bedding is best for chickens?
When it comes to bedding, there are a variety of options from which to choose. Here we will cover the pros and cons of some of the more popular choices:
Wood shavings are a very good option for chicken coop bedding. Although you must make sure to pick up pine wood shavings and not cedar shavings as the latter can be toxic to chickens.
Shavings make the bedding very easy to both fluff and to clean. Opt for the larger shavings, though, over the smaller ones or sawdust as these can be very dusty and damp.
The downsides of this type of bedding are to do with the cost, potential for the birds to pick up splinters, and dust, which can contribute to respiratory issues.
Straw is an excellent choice for chicken coop bedding. It is warm, soft, and proves interesting for the chickens to pick through.
Straw does, however, also have its own disadvantages. It can be quite expensive to buy, it’s not easy to clean, and damp straw could potentially lead to aspergillosis – an infection that is caused by a type of mold.
Shredded paper is good as bedding due to the fact that it is inexpensive. It can also be soft, very warm, and highly absorbent.
However, while the paper is fine, any ink printed on the paper or dye used in the construction of the paper may be toxic to the animals. Thermal paper, as used for store receipts, should also be avoided for a similar reason.
Hay and grass clippings do not make good bedding material given their high nitrogen content. Combined with the nitrogen from the droppings, the result is a very stinky coop.
Sand is certainly a popular option as bedding because it is very easy to clean up any mess with a litter scoop, and it allows the chickens to take dust baths anywhere in the coop.
However, a significant drawback of using sand is that it is a lot germier than other types of bedding, and a lot less warm.
Furthermore, sand makes for a much harder bed than other types of materials. It can also be pretty dusty, potentially leading to respiratory issues.
- Pine needles or pine straw
Dry pine needles are also a good bedding material. In essence, they have many of the same benefits of straw but, in some locations, are likelier to be more readily available and so cost far less.
Dried leaves make for excellent bedding. If they are thoroughly dried, they don’t mat together, and they provide a soft place for the chickens to lie down or dig around in.
Yet, while dried leaves may be ubiquitous in the fall, they are likely to be much harder to source at other times of the year, as they are not sold in stores as other materials are.
Wood chips, like shredded paper and wood shavings, make for good bedding as they are easy to fluff and clean. If you have a woodpile, then you already have a ready supply. If not, they can easily be sourced at the store. Just keep an eye out for splitters that could lead to bumblefoot in chickens.