So, you want to raise chickens? The first step in this fun adventure is having shelter ready and prepared before you get them. It’s easy to rush out and buy those cute little balls of fluff at the feed store and think- they can live in a box while the coop is built. Been there done that and the end result was very sad. Many of you faithful readers will remember the dog attack-large box was on the porch. Only one of the 8 survived. We still have her. Lucy the Lucky. she used to love hanging out on my shoulder. i had to put an end to that. click here to see why.
First you need to decide how many chickens you want; be sure to think of the future in case you want to expand your flock. Find a nice shady spot to build your coop. Chickens do not do well in the heat. Shade is a must! The coop includes the chicken yard and the hen house.
Lets start with the chicken yard or run. It’s important to fence your chicken yard in due to predators-wild and domestic. The idea of free-range chickens is wonderful and great for your birds but the reality of where we live is another story. Stray dogs and wild animals are a constant threat. We free-ranged in the beginning but couldn’t keep a constant eye on them and neighboring dogs were always showing up and coyotes would appear at all times of the day. We had one come up to our front porch at noon while the girls were out-luckily we scared him off before damage was done.
Chickens love to run around, stretch their wings and dig in the dirt. A good rule of thumb is giving your girls at least 4 sq. ft. each in the yard area. I know fencing is a pain but done right will help keep those predators out. Bury the bottom of fence line 8 or more inches to keep diggers out. A six-foot high fence should be tall enough. Lucy is the only one that can fly over-we let her have a little freedom when she does this. Bantams need a taller fence as they are lighter and can fly better. Covering your yard is up to you. It will keep your chickens safer and healthier. Wild birds carry parasites and disease. My yard is not covered. It’s too big and I guess I’m just too lazy to do it. Wild turkeys and neighboring peacocks find their way in occasionally, wanting that delicious organic chicken feed.
The hen house is for shelter, safe sleeping and egg laying. There are many ways to build a hen house. Get creative. There are plans on the web and many books that can be checked out of the public library to assist you. Hen houses that you can stand up in are easier to clean. Here’s the basics: Plan on no less than 2 sq. ft. per chicken-more is better! Not enough space stresses the flock out. Bad habits can form: pecking, biting, feather pulling, egg eating and cannibalism. Bantams need half the measurements.
the photo above is a picture of the building of our bantam coop.
Chickens like to roost at night. It keeps them warm and makes them feel safe. Roosts should be at least 2 feet off the ground. I use 1X2 wood - seems a little easier for them to grip than the rounded wooden rods. Be sure to paint or linseed oil the roosts as this helps with mites/lice that like to live on the roosts during the day then climb on board the chickens at night for a tasty dinner. The egg boxes should also be at least 2 feet off the ground. I make mine about a foot square. One nesting box per 3 birds is sufficient. They all seem to want to lay eggs in the same box. I have 2 nesting boxes that never get used. I do not have tall hen houses that you can walk into; our nesting boxes protrude outside the house and you lift the lid for easy egg gathering and cleaning. see the girls trying to lay in same box! there were open boxes to use but they have their favorite.
here you can see how i built the nesting boxes so i can easily gather eggs and clean the boxes from the outside.
When designing your hen house keep these things in mind as well. Make sure your design is set up for ease of cleaning or you will not want to clean your hen house. I have plywood floors covered with linoleum for easy cleaning. You will need a little pop hole for the hens to come and go as they please during the day but will lock at night. The structure should be weather tight and draft free. Damp conditions are dangerous for your chickens’ health. Ventilation is important as well, especially in the hot summer months. We are fortunate to have mild winters that require no heat source. Chickens actually tolerate the cold better than the heat. Elevated houses keep moisture out. If you have space under your hen house be sure to attach hardware cloth so the space under the house does not become a breeding ground for rodents and skunks- also, you may find that the hens want to their lay under the house and that makes for difficult egg collecting.
We keep the food and water in the yard not the house. This will keep the hen house drier and keeps rodents out. I built a little feeding shelter so the food stays dry when it’s raining. If you choose to keep it inside be sure and take the food out every night. Often it is the chicken feed that attracts predators in the first place. Hanging food and waterers should be at least 6 inches off the ground.I think that about covers shelter for your chickens. If you start planning and building now you will be all set for baby chicks this spring. Good luck and happy building!