Do Chickens Need a Coop?
In the quest for a healthier lifestyle and cutting back on household costs, most people now keep backyard chickens.
With chickens, you will also benefit from a healthier garden as the birds’ muck serves as fertilizer, and the animals turn your soil around when looking for insects and bugs. With the recent buzz around the more humane and healthier free-range chickens, you might assume your flock does not need a coop.
Every flock needs a chicken coop. This is a house with the right amenities to keep your birds safe from nocturnal predators and harsh weather.
It is usually confused with a run, a fenced-in area where your flock can forage and dust bathe while protecting the birds from daytime predators. While runs are optional for poultry keeping, chicken coops are not.
Here are tidbits on why you need a chicken coop and a guideline on how to design the best.
Importance of a Chicken Coop
The best possible coop is vital in poultry keeping for the reasons below:
A sturdy, strong chicken coop is designed to keep out foxes, rats, raccoons, snakes, cats, owls, and hawks that can snatch your birds. It also ensures that the chickens do not wander into hazardous places, more so when raising them in suburban and urban areas where they can run into traffic from nearby streets.
Your chickens need a safe and familiar space on which to roost at night. A coop will allow your chickens to roost without disrupting their pecking order to minimize territorial behaviors that can lead to bullying and fighting. A good roost also ensures your chickens are well-rested.
Most chicken breeds easily adapt to changes in climatic and weather conditions. Even so, you need a comfortable shelter for them in adverse conditions like strong winds, drenching rain, extreme temperatures, and thunderstorms. The coop keeps your flock safe and comfortable in dangerous weather.
Running a successful poultry-keeping operation requires routines and habits. You can use your coop as the best feeding place for teaching your birds to return to their feeding area at specified times. This helps you monitor and maintain them while ensuring all birds are fed appropriately and in the best health.
If you keep chickens for egg production, the coop is the best place for them to lay their eggs. You need properly spaced and sized laying boxes to keep your chickens at ease so that they can lay more eggs. This also makes it easy for you to gather the eggs laid with minimal disturbance and stress to your birds.
At times, you need to confine your chickens in a coop so that they do not wander into prohibited sections of your property. For instance, if you want to exercise your dogs, the chickens should be confined so that they are in no harm and the dogs can move around freely. The coop can also keep your chickens away from the plants in your landscaping and garden.
Benefits of a Chicken Coop
Though farmers have raised chickens for the last 3000 years, poultry keeping is now an accessible venture for almost anyone.
By investing in poultry farming, you can raise your chickens free of antibiotics and hormones to get the highest quality eggs and meat. Below are the benefits of having a chicken coop for your venture.
- The happy surroundings in a chicken coop for your birds make them healthier, tastier, and more nutritious compared to factory-farmed birds reared in stressful, cramped environments.
- The eggs laid in the boxes in your coop are nutritious and tasty. This is because they are not left exposed to air that will seep through the porous shell to affect their consistency, taste, and nutritional value, like grocery store eggs.
- You can harvest the chicken poop and eggshells from the coop for your compost. The poop is high in nitrogen and will significantly improve your compost bin.
- Your chicken coop can be a great place to impart some lessons to your children. The kids will understand the farm-to-plate food chain and can help you collect the eggs and feed the chickens, chores that will teach them how to be responsible.
Considerations before Buying or Building a Coop
Getting the perfect chicken coop might initially seem daunting, but it is easy when you know the design considerations that should guide you.
Here are these guiding elements:
An ideal chicken coop should allow your birds to move around freely. The enclosure should have not less than three square feet of space for every bird if you have a run. If you have standard chicken breeds, aim for at least four square feet per bird.
If you do not have enough outdoor space for the chickens or experience harsh weather conditions that need the birds confined for some time, allow 8-10 square feet per bird so the chickens can freely move around.
The vertical space should be at least five square feet so that you and the birds have enough space to move around. The roosts can be not less than four feet above the ground with a ladder or ramp to protect the chickens from getting injured when jumping down.
Chickens are easy prey for predators, so your coop should have a secure design to guarantee their safety. You can use a wire mesh to reinforce the enclosure but ensure it is strong enough that a predator cannot rip it apart and not too wide that small predators like mice can squeeze through the spaces.
The floors should be made of solid wood that keeps out predators and does not snag the chickens’ feet. Have bolts on the doors and solar predator lights around the coop for extra security.
Your chicken coop should have 3-4 square feet of ventilation, plus the pop door, for the cold weather and even more than this in hot weather. The extra ventilation comes from open doors, vents, and windows when necessary.
Factors like litter type and the frequency of changing beddings affect your coop ventilation requirements. For instance, the organic litter will need more ventilation than sand, while you need less ventilation if you change the bedding in your coop more than twice weekly.
Easy Cleaning Capabilities
A dirty coop predisposes your chickens to several diseases and raises the cost of poultry farming. The material you choose for a coop’s floor should be generously absorbent and easy to clean poop off of.
The best bedding materials for chicken coops are chopped straw, wood shaving, and untreated wood sawdust. You can also have a litter tray that you can easily clean to ease the overall cleanup of your coop.
Location and Accessibility
The ideal chicken coop should be built on high ground to protect it from mud, flooding, and moisture buildup. Alternatively, you can elevate the enclosure to keep it dry. It is also advisable to build your coop somewhat close to your house or a highly trafficked yard section to keep away predators.
The coop’s location should also be leveled since a sloped site makes caring for your birds challenging and places the enclosure at risk of tipping over.
Climate and Temperature
Sunlight encourages chickens to lay eggs, so ensure the coop is not in a shaded section. Southern exposure guarantees more sunlight and warmth. Although chickens are hardy and will tolerate below-freezing temperatures, they thrive in warmer climates.
The ideal temperature for your chicken coop is 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, you can maintain a comfortable temperature for your birds with heat lamps, water heaters, heated pads, and ceramic heaters.
Predetermined Budget Range
There is no specific amount you can spend on a chicken coop. However, if you want to build a chicken coop, you can spend $100 to $4000 on labor and materials depending on the materials you use and the amenities you will include in it.
For instance, while plywood for your floor, framing, and walls will cost $10-$20 per sheet on average, you can spend $2-$3 on softwood per board foot. Building your coop is generally the cheaper option, but you can opt to buy one for $300-$2000.
Local Zoning Laws and Regulations
Before getting a coop, check whether your local laws allow you to keep chickens and whether breed restrictions exist. Some local zoning laws and regulations dictate how you should build your chicken coop, whether you need registration, and where to place it.
Some jurisdictions also require periodic coop inspection and dictate the materials you should use for the enclosure.
With the above information, getting the perfect coop for your flock will be a breeze. Before you start building the coop or head out to buy one, take your time and carefully think everything out to ensure you get it right.
You can also use the free online plans for chicken coops to help you visualize the enclosure. Remember to include a water bottle, feeder, roosting bar, and nesting box in your chicken coop, irrespective of its style and size, to keep your flock happy and healthy.