So you’ve decided to take the plunge into the whole urban farming movement and raise your own backyard chickens. We recommend you first check out this guide to building chicken coops. You may have started out with a simple vegetable garden and now you’ve decided that you like your protein to be 100% organic, antibiotic, and hormone free as well. That is a good choice, and we applaud you for it: we don’t exaggerate when we say that the world would probably be a much better place if everybody got up close and intimate with their food sources.
Raising backyard chickens means you’re going to need to build them some shelter and a kennel simply won’t do. You’re going to need to build a chicken coop, and if you have no idea where to start, well this article is a good place! Today, we will show you the four main functions of a chicken coop as well as the basic design of a chicken coop. Let’s begin with the four functions.
Function #1: Shelter
Your chicken coop will need to provide your chickens with shelter from all the elements: rain, sun, snow, and wind. You need to make sure that your chicken coop will be able to provide adequate shelter for all your chickens to be protected from rain and snow. Additionally, if you know which way the wind blows in your area, you want to close off the coop on the cold and windy side. Since chicken feathers provide good insulation, you want to focus more on providing shade from the sun. Further, if you live in a US Hardiness Zone 3 or above, then supplemental heat or insulation isn’t necessary, especially if you decide to rear a winter hardy breed. You don’t want too much heat; remember that heat means moisture and moisture is a host for mold and disease.
Function #2: Adequate Sunlight
To do this, make sure the opening of your chicken coop faces east for maximum sun exposure. Depending on the climate in your area, up to 25% of your roof can be left open as long as the remaining covered area is sufficient to accommodate all of your chickens during rain or snow. Of course, this also means that your coop will be more vulnerable to flying predators as well, so keep this in mind. Also, consider keeping the entrance side of your coop, which is facing the sun, as open as possible. There are many chicken coop designs that are completely open in the front, with nothing but hardware cloth or chicken wire on that side.
Function #3: Proper Ventilation
Ventilation should be positioned directly above the chickens’ roosting perches. Also make sure to install ventilation panels on each wall; there’s no such thing as too much ventilation! Even during winter months, the cold moving air is good because it helps draw moisture out and prevent frostbite. Do not however that cold moving air is very different from high speed winds.
Function #4: Predator Protection
Remember, you’re not the only want that finds chickens delicious! Foxes, coyotes, weasels, minks, skunks, dogs, and raptors are common predators of backyard chickens. The rule when it comes to protection is that all gaps must be less than one inch. Chicken wire or chicken mesh are the most common choice however we prefer hardware cloth instead as determined predators can tear through the former. Don’t forget to bury the chicken wire or hardware cloth to prevent those burrowing predators. Also, keep your coop door closed at night unless you have a reliable fencing system that can keep predators out.
Now that we’ve covered the main functions of a chicken coop, let’s look at some basic design principles to keep in mind:
- 2 to 4 square feet of coop space and 8 to 12 square feet of outdoor space per chicken.
- Start with a small flock but start with a large coop so that you are prepared for future growth.
- The door should be a minimum of nine inches tall and nine inches wide.
- Use at least 8 inches of deep bedding; common choices are straw and leaves but we prefer pine chips or pine shavings for absorbing moisture as well. It’s also cleaner.
- If you live in a warm climate, place the coop in the shade or shadow of your house, if possible.
- Convenience is also important, make sure that your coop design is not just coop-friendly but human-friendly as well; chickens aren’t going to clean up after themselves nor will they just walk over to you and hand over their eggs.
- Food storage is important; use airtight metal bins to ensure rats and mice don’t get their paws in them.