Chickens are creatures of habit. You’ll notice that they follow the same path after leaving the coop each morning. They migrate around your property during the day following the same patterns day after day. When I get home from work each day, I have two areas where I look for them. They will be to the right, under and around a ragusa rose, or straight ahead on the bank above the chicken coop.
They wander around scratching and pecking until just before dusk. Then they all head for the coop at just about the same time. The chicken coop is arguably the most important tool that you have in your chicken raising toolkit. So what makes a good chicken coop?
Chickens need a certain amount of space to be happy and healthy. Full-size birds need more space than bantams do while Jersey Giants need more than most. The rule of thumb for normal size chickens is 3-4 square feet per bird in the coop. If a coop is too big, there will be too much space for your chickens to keep it warm with their body heat during colder months. …too small and there won’t be enough space for the birds to be comfortable, which can lead to injuries, aggression, and even cannibalism.
A chicken coop should be small enough to keep your chickens thermally comfortable, while large enough to house necessary internal components, and large enough to enter for cleaning.
For the hobby chicken farmer, a structure that is 8feet x8feet would be good for a flock of 16-20 standard birds. But you can’t just nail-up an eight-by-eight box, throw in some chickens, and tell them to go lay an egg. No, there are several components that go inside the hen house that are essential to provide optimum conditions for egg laying.
Proper bedding is important. The type of bedding you use will determine the amount of housekeeping needed. While straw, hay, or wood chips can be used, I prefer course pine shavings. They are absorbent, easily obtained, and are large enough so chicks don’t mistake them for food. There is a method of layering shavings that goes something like this – start with a couple of inches of shavings on the floor of the coop. Let the birds use it for a week, then sprinkle a couple of cups of diatomaceous earth on top, and add another layer of shavings. You can do this for several layers. The diatomaceous earth will kill mites and other tiny critters while adding another absorbency factor.
Feeders and watering feeders are important. Both components should be suspended seven or eight inches, or placed atop a block so that the chickens can reach the food and beverage, but they won’t be able to fill the feeders with shavings or poop. A good alternative to the common open water feeder are nipple feeders that have a spring-loaded pin that allows droplets of water to flow when pecked by the chickens. Baby chicks learn very quickly where their water comes from, and how to get it.
Nesting Boxes – A Safe Haven
If you’ve ever been to a farm where there are chickens, but no area designated for laying, then you know that eggs can be found almost anywhere as long as that place is secure, relatively dark, and quiet. Nesting boxes provide such a haven, and you don’t have to play hide-and-seek to find your eggs every day. There are basically two types of nesting boxes. The first is an individual box tat is roughly one square foot in size, and is meant to house one bird at a time, although when a chicken’s gotta lay, sharing can be, and is, done. The second type is a community box. This structure is four feet wide and two feet deep and a foot high. Your entire flock of up to 35 hens will share this box. You would probably want to put a hinged top on the community box for easy access to the eggs and for spot cleaning. Put a layer of bedding in your nesting box(es) to keep the hens comfortable, and to keep the eggs from rolling around. Broken eggs are no fun to carry.
Windows And Ventillation
Windows are optional. Chickens respond to the length of daylight by laying fewer eggs during the darker months. Fourteen hours a day of light will yield consistent production, and the light doesn’t have to be sunlight. You can put a light on a timer to turn on in the morning, and off fourteen hours later. You can do the same thing manually to keep yields steady. I prefer windows anyway. A stiff screen over the window keeps the chickens from breaking the glass.
Ventilation is not optional for two reasons. Firstly, chickens give off quite a bit of heat. In the summer, ventilation helps keep the hens cool. Coops should also be properly insulated to provide warmth in the winter and cool in the summer. Secondly, the buildup of manure gives off ammonia gas that needs to be removed on an ongoing basis. Regular cleaning of the hen house helps keep this in check.
Built with Love
If you don’t have a structure on your property already, a hen house can be purchased. There are small backyard units that come all set up to put some bedding into and house half-a-dozen hens. There are wooden sheds at the DIY mega stores that could be retrofitted quite easily to make a perfectly fine chicken coop. If you’re moderately handy, you can build your own.
Chickens know what makes a good chicken coop – it’s built with love.
Okay, maybe love is a little strong. Maybe I’m not in love with my chickens, but I do like them a lot, and I do appreciate what they give to me every day. Every evening when I close the coop door, I thank my hens for the day’s eggs. They haven’t said you’re welcome yet, and when they do, I will probably need to seek professional help.
Thanks a lot for reading. Let me know if you have any questions.