Chicken Coop Design Considerations: Rules for a Happy Hen House
It is exciting to prepare for new chickens or to set up a fresh house for your flock. With so many styles, designs and ideas to swim through – you can always count on having a few “musts” that are standard gear for the chickens’ house. Even if you always wanted a painted lady Victorian coop, your birds have only two things in mind … their comfort and their special living needs.
The Critical Design Elements: Size, Nesting Boxes & Food Areas
Chickens need a house that provides protection from cold weather, warm weather, windy drafts, and predators. Their house must be a clean and comfortable place for them to relax in and engage in other behaviors. A coop holds the water and food bowls, their sleeping roosts and their nesting areas.
• Always purchase a coop that is large enough for the birds to move about in. This is particularly imperative in areas with long winters or spells of rainy weather. Provide at least 3 square feet per bird (for birds that range outside). This space should be added to by providing the birds a variety of levels and ramps. Shelving and raised walking levels to add interest and places for the birds to climb and relax on.
• Refrain from buying the tiny rabbit hutch or doghouse sized coops. These are only practical for short-term or moveable housing for temporary needs. Chickens are very active animals that need room to move and forage.
• Allow enough headroom for you to comfortably enter the coop. Never build a coop so tight that you need to bend or crouch to get into the building. This will get “old” very quickly. Use these closets to house your lawnmower or shovels! Building a coop less than 5 feet square (minimum) will not provide the birds, or you, enough space to move about and good luck trying to do chores.
• Don’t forget the space under the roost! For ease of clean up, build a shelf under the roosting area for collecting the droppings that will accumulate overnight. Remove these every day. Set roosts at least 4 feet off the ground (birds instinctually want to be up high), and lean a ramp/ladder up to the roosts. Jumping from distances causes injuries and increases the possibility of foot infections.
• Place food and water dishes away from the roost and nest areas. Locate them against walls to prevent bird antics from spilling the food and water, tossing bedding (the birds scratch and toss bedding), and …well, pooping into them while perching.
• Nest boxes should be set away from roost areas to prevent perching and soiling. The box size depends on the breed of bird – and you will find that empty shavings bags are the preferred laying area! Set boxes in dark areas of the coop. You will find the hens will want to use one, choice nest box.
Don’t set up too many, as most boxes will go unused. The common thinking is one box for every 4 hens – but the hens have not read this. Your birds will tell you what they want.
Should you Install an Automatic Chicken Coop Door?
If you choose to install an automatic chicken door, there are a few issues to be aware of. While this pop door seems like a great idea, it really isn’t.
1. You want to check your birds before they go to bed every night. You want to be sure they are all THERE. You want to be sure everyone is roosting.
2. Chickens do not show injury or illness until it is advanced. Any birds not roosting need to be checked for illness or injury (unless they are brooding).
3. How do you know the door hasn’t locked a predator or rodent in?!
4. What if the door malfunctions?
Since you need to check your birds and be sure everything is secure and “well” why pay for an extra thing that you will have to do yourself anyway? Automatic chicken doors are not worth it.
Lighting, Ventilation and Heat
Windows provide light and airiness to the building. Install security wire mesh to the outside of the windows to allow for the windows to be safely left open in hot weather. Install an insect screen as well, since mosquitoes carry poultry diseases.
You may also want to provide a screen door. Again, only use sturdy construction and heavy gauge wire mesh. Do not use the screen door for overnight protection.
If you want to provide equipment such as fans or heating devices, you will need electricity. Depending on your area and budget either hire an electrician or solar installation company. Unless you are a licensed electrician NEVER do your own wiring, as this will negate any insurance collection in the event of a disaster.
Do NOT underestimate the danger of electric wiring or electric devices. Many a tragedy has occurred from extension cords, rodent chewing, faulty/frayed wiring and malfunctioning fans and other appliances.
When using fans or heating devices always securely mount them and set them in areas where the chickens cannot knock them over. Be especially careful of heat lamps or any heating equipment. Bucket heaters are extremely dangerous as well. Never place space heaters in a coop. Never buy heaters that have “hot” elements exposed.
Follow these general guidelines when putting your chicken coop designs into motion and you should have some pretty happy hens. And be sure to visit our home page if you haven’t picked out the type of coop you want for your flock – there are plenty of options.
Setting up your coop is as much common sense as artistic sense – enjoy the process, but the chickens will always have the final say!