Keeping a flock of chickens in your backyard will give you a ready supply of fresh, healthy eggs, add great fertilizer to your garden and give you endless hours of entertainment. If you want to join the thousands of others who have decided to keep chickens in their suburban backyards, you’ll need to create a home for your birds.
Your backyard chicken coop can be as basic or as fancy as you like, as long as you take your birds’ basic health needs into consideration in the original planning.
Creating the Floor Plan
Before beginning to draw up the plans for your chicken coop, you’ll need to know how many chickens you plan to keep and what breed of birds you want. Chickens are social animals and will do in best in flocks of at least six hens. Smaller birds naturally take up less room than larger ones.
In general, plan for about three square feet of floor space for each chicken in your flock. Add one nesting box for every two or three chickens, with the boxes about one square foot in area. A small flock of six chickens would need a henhouse of 18 square feet, plus two or three nesting boxes.
The Building Site
Choosing the area in the yard where you’ll place the chicken coop is a crucial step. After all, you’re picking the place where your birds will live hopefully healthy lives. If you’re planning to attach the coop to a garage or other building, place it on a southern exposure for the greatest exposure to sunlight and warmth. Whether you make a building one wall of your coop or not, always choose the highest point in the yard for your construction site. This will help to avoid mud and water problems with your birds.
Chicken coops aren’t just simple sheds where the birds can get out of the weather. In order to raise healthy birds, you need to create the right environment. Your chicken coop will need a floor and a door in its construction. While a dirt floor is perfectly adequate, you’ll keep your chickens cleaner by providing them with a wooden floor, six inches off the ground. Some other details can include:
• A door that needs to be large enough for you and an egg basket to fit through easily. It can be a simple plywood door on hinges with a latch.
• A series of openings near the ceiling to allow air to ventilate and circulate in and out. It’s more important to ventilate your coop than it is to insulate it.
• Install some 1 ½-inch dowels near the ceiling to allow chickens to roost up high if they choose.
• Electricity is optional in most chicken coops, but keep in mind that burning a low-watt bulb during the day in the winter months can keep your birds’ egg production up.
The Chicken Run
Chickens are happiest when they can get outside and scratch around in the dirt. Your small flock will be healthy and happy if you give them a caged run about 5 x 20 feet. Bury chicken wire at least six inches deep around the run to keep out dogs, raccoons, skunks and other predators. Invest in 1-inch chicken wire instead of the standard 2-inch variety to keep weasels from attacking your birds.
Once the chicken coop and run are built, your birds could use a few accessories for the best environment. Put up one waterer for every three chickens, to keep them from dirtying their water supply. Get one long or two shorter feed troughs so all of your chickens can eat at the same time. Finally, put a 6-inch layer of straw or pine shavings on the floor of the coop and toss a couple of handfuls in each nesting box to give your birds a comfortable home.