The beginners complete guide to chicken coops.

A simple shed chicken coop
Here’s some basic but essential advice on housing chickens, based on the mistakes I've made and the things I have learned over the years, for those of you who are considering keeping chickens for the first time.

The chicken coop:

Once you are ready to install the coop, make sure that it is set up in a way that will make cleaning and disinfecting more efficient. For instance, a floor that is slightly sloped downwards towards the door can make it easier for water to flow outside when you hose down the coop.

Below: Chicken scoops are designed to make the most of the flocks natural behaviours.

Before you start to build or buy your chicken coop and run, you need to consider how many chickens you want to keep. Three good laying hens will lay 800 – 900 eggs a year: enough for a family of four to have around four eggs a week each.

Once you have decided on the number, you’ll then have a good idea of the size of coop and run that your chickens will need. The suggestion is that the coop should have at least a square yard floor space for each chicken plus adequate outdoor space to roam. The coup can also be raised off the ground; this will extend the life of the coup but will also allow for healthier living conditions for your animals.

Coop rules:

  1. Make it big enough to start with.
  2. Do your research and check what predators you need to keep out.
  3. Make it vermin proof from minute one.
  4. Get or build a coop that you can clean easily.
  5. Plan for waste disposal.
  6. Have an exit strategy.

Do chickens need a coop?

Chickens need to live somewhere that is safe, warm and dry and that has perches and nesting boxes for laying eggs in. It does not have to be a chicken coop but that is by far the easiest way to keep chickens as hen houses are designed around chickens behaviour.

A chicken coop should be very effective in protecting your chickens from outside elements. It needs to safe from cold drafts, but also well ventilated. Too much moisture can cause ammonia to build up and cause diseases. To prevent this, set up the door so it opens inwards letting air freely enter the shelter.

Another technique is to position the coop in an area where it faces the sun. This allows the sun’s heat to dry the ground and prevent too much moisture.

Are chickens happy in a coop?

They should be. Chicken coops are designed to pander to chicken behaviours with nest boxes and perches to keep them happy

Where should you put a chicken coop?

Chicken coops should be sited on a sheltered part of your land where your flock won't be able to disturb the neighbours and far enough away from your property that your chickens will not be able to bother you.

Chickens also need access to sunshine and shade if the weather is hot so the space you choose for you coop should have both. This will be somewhere in your garden with space where the chickens can be left relatively in peace. As a beginner, you will also need to ensure that you have enough space in your backyard and that the space you use is not going to be needed for other things.

What should be inside a chicken coop?

A chicken coop needs only roosts and nesting boxes inside. The more time the chickens spend outside the coop the better.

How much does it cost to build a chicken coop?

It costs on average $650 to build a quality, secure chicken coop from wood. You may be able to build one from as little as $150 if you recycle or use pallet wood and if you decide to build a palace for your flock it cost you as much as $3k.

Location and materials also affect the cost. You can save money doing the job yourself but it will eat into your time.

I use converted sheds as chicken coops and a 6 foot X 4 foot basic garden shed costs me about $300.

Does a chicken coop need insulation?

Having proper wall insulation also helps the chickens keep warm in winter and cool during summer. This minimizes the risk of your chickens getting ill and is especially important when you are using their eggs for eating or selling.

Insulation requires double walls and this increase the chance of mites and lice becoming a problem so it is only worth it if you experience very hot summers or very cold winters.

How do you know when a chicken is happy?

Happy chickens are active and mobile with clean eyes and bright clean feathers. Happy chickens will also produce eggs whereas unhappy birds will slow down and stop laying.

Happy chickens indulge in all the natural behaviours of chickens like roosting, preening and scratching in the dirt.

Can chickens stay in the coop all day?

No, and you should not plan to keep them in for long periods of time as their health will suffer. After the first 3 days, for which all chickens must be kept inside, they should be allowed out into the fresh air for the hours of daylight.

An exception for this is places that experience heavy prolonged snow fall like some parts of Canada where you will likely need a covered and lit run.

How often should you clean a chicken coop?

Coop cleaning should happen at least once a month. More regularly if you have a small space or more chickens.

Wear gloves and a mask to protect you from bugs like e-coli and breathing in the dust from chickens feathers.

Do you put food and water in chicken coop at night?

Chickens do not eat and drink during the hours of darkness so do not need food and water in the coop. This also helps to keep the hen house cleaner as the flock spends more time outside rather than pooping or spilling feed or water inside.

What do you put on the bottom of a chicken coop?

Chickens need a few inches of bedding material in the bottom of the coop.

How often should you change the bedding in a chicken coop?

It depends how many chickens you have, how big your coop is and whether you are using the deep litter method for bedding chickens but you should clean the chicken coop at least once a month.

What is the best bedding for chickens?

For the beginner I always suggest they use dust extracted wood shavings or sand. Both are cheap and easy to get hold off.

Do backyard chickens smell?

Chickens themselves have very little in the way of smell. Their poop however does smell but it only becomes a problem for confined chickens or those kept in too small a space or in coops with not enough ventilation.

How do I stop my chicken run from smelling?

A smelly chicken run can be avoided by:

1. Giving your chickens more space.
2. Making the coop moveable, like an ark.
3. Covering the run and improving drainage.
4. Adding 6 inches of hardwood chips to cover the floor of the run.

Are chickens high maintenance?

I don't find that mine are. If you are unsure about how much effort and time is involved in chicken keeping then arrange to look after a fellow keepers hens for a day to get an idea.

Should a chicken run be covered?

Hawks and birds of prey need to be kept out with mesh and weather can be kept off the chickens with a sheet based solution. I am lucky to be able to free range my chickens in over 4 acres but I do have covered areas and raised coops with shelter underneath.

What do you do with chicken poop?

I compost it. It can be disposed of in the normal waste or by buring if that is allowed in your area. Make sure you are using poop boards.

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