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©2011 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)
As more people strive to be self-reliant, they are choosing to raise chickens in their backyards. Choosing the right chicken coop is essential to keeping your flock healthy and happy.
Backyard chickens are becoming popular today in many cities, including Albuquerque, Seattle and New York. Cities across the nation are revising their local zoning and land-use laws to include backyard chickens in the regulations.
Before bringing new chickens home to your backyard though, you need to carefully choose the right chicken coop for your situation. Be sure to check your local city regulations before buying your chickens.
Tips for Choosing the Right Chicken Coop
- Talk to city officials. How many chickens are you allowed in your yard? What is the distance they need to be kept from dwellings? Any other special regulations?
- Choose the site best for your coop. The site needs to be well drained—you don’t want your chickens standing in mud! Expose the coop to the south to provide good sun. Keep in mind the prevailing weather patterns in your area. Face the door so the coop is protected from the rain and wind.
- Complement your home and yard with the right chicken coop design. Matching the design of the coop to your house or neighborhood makes it pleasing to look at and promotes backyard chickens to your neighbors.
- Remodel an existing structure into a coop. You can turn a garden shed, a playhouse the kids outgrew or another outdoor structure into a chicken coop with a little creativity, tools and materials. You can even turn a corner of your garage into a chicken house and build a run outside
- Pre-fab coops are more expensive, but easier and quicker to get up and going with your chickens. Just order and the coop will arrive ready to be moved into your yard. You can also order “some-assembly required” kits.
- Build it yourself. If you love woodworking or want to learn, building your own chicken coop can be a great project to hone your skills. You can purchase chicken coop plans and blueprints online. Once your neighbors see your hand-built coop, they may set you up with woodworking projects for them!
- Chicken Tractor—No, you’re not hitching your chicken up to a plow, but the concept of working the soil is the same. A chicken tractor is a movable coop that allows you to move your chickens over fresh grass in your yard every day. They eat the bugs and weed seeds, scratch at the soil and fertilize it. And they give you omega-3 rich eggs to boot. It’s a win-win situation.
- How big? You need to plan ahead for the size of your coop. Each hen needs a minimum of 4 square feet, inside and outside the coop. If you get Bantams, figure about 3 square feet per hen, since they are smaller. Overcrowded chickens tend to peck at each other, which can start a host of problems. For cold weather, you want the spacing to be adequate so the chickens can stay warm.
- Have a quarantine area. A separate area to keep new birds for a week or two allows you to keep your flock healthy. It’s also a good area to separate a hen if she becomes ill, until she recovers. You can also separate the occasional over-aggressive hen that is pestering the other birds.
- Make sure the coop is wind and water tight. Your chickens need protection from the elements to stay healthy. They like shade during the heat of the day, but also need protection from cold drafts. Use closeable windows for ventilation or a line of screened vents built into the top of north and south facing walls.
- Use appropriate building materials. Wood on the bottom of the coop that is in contact with the soil will eventually rot. Redwood and cedar are rot-resistant and excellent choices. Pine is cheaper and may need replacing in the future or require treatment. Be aware that preservatives put on wood might be poisonous to chickens. Use metal, fiberglass or wood shingles for the roof.
- Perches. Chickens need to perch off the ground at night. You can be creative making perches from broom handles, natural branches or 2×2’s rounded and sanded (1×2 for bantams). Figure 6-10 inches of perching space per hen or 6-8 inches for bantams.
- Nesting boxes. Provide 1 nesting box for every 4-5 hens. They will often share a nest. Build the boxes where you can reach in through a hinged door for easy access to collect the eggs.
- Predators. Raccoons, dogs, skunks, owls and hawks—all love a good chicken dinner or a pre-dawn egg breakfast. Dig a trench 1 foot around the perimeter of the coop, lay in chicken wire and cover with dirt to keep predators from digging under your coop. Make latches secure from nimble raccoon fingers. And protect chickens overhead with chicken wire, away from the hawks and owls.
- Keep it clean. Plan your coop for easy to clean maintenance. Use the manure in your compost pile for valuable nutrients for your garden. Clean your chicken coop frequently to keep smells, bugs and neighbor complaints to a minimum.
- Pre-plan how you are going to get inside the coop. If it’s hard to get into, you’ll avoid cleaning it, which will result in a buildup of manure. Use leaf litter, pine shavings or chopped corn cobs for bedding.
Your chicken coop design can elaborate and grand, simple and plain or anything in between to complement your home and neighborhood. The main point to remember is that the coop needs to protect your flock, keeping them dry, secure and comfortable. Following the tips on choosing the right chicken coop will ensure that backyard chickens continue to be accepted in more cities, bringing self-reliance back to the individual.
Click here to learn about the Best Chicken Breeds for Egg Production
The following books can get you started in the right direction for raising chickens in your backyard:
Backyard Chicken Coop Kits