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Building a chicken coop is an important undertaking, as it will determine how safe and healthy your hens will be for years to come.
Keeping this in mind will help you focus on the important elements—size, ventilation, placement, etc. —rather than the window dressings of appearance and decoration. If you set out with the following points in mind, you should be well on your way to having a sturdy coop and happy hens.
1. Coop Plans
Choosing a chicken coop plan should be fairly straightforward. There are hundreds of high-quality coop blueprints available to download for free online, and if you can’t find one that perfectly meets your needs, you can always edit or make additions until you come to the perfect coop for you and your flock.
Some things to consider when choosing a coop plan are materials, climate, predators, and local ordinances. Make sure you have easy access to the materials you will need for the coop plan you choose, and also check to see if the plan you like is right for your climate. For instance, anyone expecting wintery weather and heavy snows should make sure their plan doesn’t feature a flat roof.
Be sure you choose a coop design that keeps the local predators in mind. For example, if you have hawks, owls or other birds of prey, you will need to build aerial protection for your hens. If you have snakes, racoons, or opossums, choose an elevated, off-the-ground coop design with latched nesting box hatches. If you have coyotes, you might want electric fencing on your run.
Lastly, is your coop plan too big or otherwise in violation of your local bylaws for backyard structures? Double-check this before you get asked to take it down.
2. Time and Effort
It should not be a surprise that building a chicken coop from the ground up will require a fair amount of both time and effort. After all, building your chickens a home for hopefully many years to come is not a task to be taken on lightly or completed carelessly.
There are ways to cut corners, but if you want a happy, healthy, protected flock, you will have to do more than the bare minimum. How much time and effort that will take, however, will depend at least in part on your carpentry skills, the size and complexity of your coop, and the space you are working with.
Even if you are a carpentry newbie who hasn’t held a drill since shop class, you should be able to build a chicken coop after dedicating a weekend or two to it.
3. Coop Size
How big your chicken coop will be will depend on your plans for your flock. One thing to keep in mind is that you should build not just for the flock you have, but for the flock you expect to have five years down the line. After all, a well-built coop can easily last that long, if not longer, and there’s no reason to build another one if you don’t have to.
How much space your birds need will depend on their breed and sex, and your plans for their lifestyle. If they are going to free-range or have access to a run, standard hens can get by with four square feet of floor space each. Bantam hens will usually be happy with two, although they will need more vertical space, and giant hens, like Brahmas or Jersey giants, will likely need at least eight.
For an enclosed run (or the coop, if that’s their only space), standard breeds will need at least 10 square feet apiece. Roosters or more active breeds will need more space.
4. Coop Ventilation
Ventilation is key to any healthy chicken coop. Chickens are subject to a number of respiratory diseases, including coryza, fowl cholera, Newcastle disease, and, of course, avian flu. These diseases can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including lethargy, foul discharge from the head, faster breathing, reduced productivity, dehydration, and even sudden death without any symptoms.
Avian flu can also be a major hazard to humans and may require serious precautions and quarantine efforts. Clearly, it would be preferable to avoid all of this.
One of the most important steps in disease prevention is providing adequate ventilation in the coop, and the easiest way to do this is with vents. Vents should be large and placed high up in the coop, far enough above any perches to prevent your hens from sitting in the draft.
Depending on your climate, you will likely need to add more vents in the summer to keep your birds cool. You can also use fans and air exchangers to increase the air flow in your coop and help protect your hens.
5. Indoor Necessities
The major indoor necessities to consider when building are nesting boxes and perches. You will also need a feeder and a waterer. If you have an outdoor run, those can be placed outside where they will make less of a mess and be easier for you to access and refill.
For perches, the easiest solution is to nail a 2×4 up near the top of your coop, below your vents but above your nesting boxes. Your hens will sleep on the highest surface available, and you don’t want them sleeping (and pooping) in the nesting boxes.
Your nesting boxes can be specially constructed boxes, old milk crates, or simply a shelf with a lip. You should plan for one box for every three hens, and about one foot of perch space apiece.
Depending on your climate and design, other indoor features might include fans, air exchangers, or heaters.
6. Coop Placement
Choosing where to place your coop depends on a variety of factors, most importantly shade, elevation, and safety.
Hens love sun, but they do much better in cold weather than warm, so placing your coop in a shady area will do a lot to prevent them from overheating in the summer. If natural shade isn’t an option, you can construct your own by hanging a tarp or shade cloth over your run, or by building a wooden shelter with an overhang, which will also help protect them from predatory birds.
For elevation, even if you’re building an elevated coop, you should place it on raised or at least level ground. Building in a depression or hollow where water can accumulate will make it much harder to keep your hens dry and healthy.
In terms of safety, the key thing is not to build near any thick, low shrubs, woodpiles, or other dark crevices that can easily hide snakes, rodents, and other predators who would like to get close to your coop to nab a tasty snack.
Budgeting for a chicken coop can be stressful, but there’s no reason for it to break the bank. You’re already saving money by building your own coop; you can save even more by using secondhand materials, like old pallets, leftover wood, or old furniture. These things can be found on a lot of online marketplaces, scrounged from free piles by the road, or bargained from nearby businesses. You can even repurpose an old shed or other outbuilding.
Avoid buying a secondhand coop, however, as it is almost impossible to ensure they are clean and free of disease.
Clearly, many elements go into building the perfect chicken coop, but focusing on these seven factors should ensure you have a happy, healthy flock in a sturdy, safe coop.