You’ve made the decision, checked the ordinances, chosen your hatchery and what breed(s) you want, so now it’s time to start looking at building their home.
Chicken coops and the accompanying chicken runs are as varied as your imagination, so when you look at building (or buying) yours, just keep some simple thoughts in mind.
In the last article, I talked about the basic guidelines for space you should allow 4 square feet per bird in a coop and 10 square feet per bird in a run. If you were to use this and you were thinking of 6 hens, your total required space could be as small as 84 square feet, which would be a space 6 X 14. But if you were to build your coop off of the ground, you could use the same space and offer either 24 square feet of extra space under the coop, or shorten the length to 10 feet. I think it’s a balance between the space you have available, the resources available, and the cost allowed. You are always better to err on the side of more space for the birds. The saying I try to follow is “comfortable chickens are productive chickens.”
Here is a nice coop idea from the Backyard Chickens site. This person had 5 chicks, but you can see the basic layout.
Here’s a shot of the inside of the same coop. Nest boxes on the left, feeder and waterer hanging, and roosts at the top on the right. With this design, you will not be walking into it to clean, etc, so you would want to make sure anything you need to access is within reach. If you make the coop tall enough, I suppose you could climb in, but let’s assume that’s not going to happen.
The first picture shows a window and a drop down door below it. This drop down door would be to access eggs from the nest, which is much easier than climbing in to this design. You can see that they have built two nest boxes for the 5 hens. This is consistent with general minimums at 3 hens per nesting box. Again, look at your space and build accordingly.
This is the unfinished inside of my coop. I added a roll vinyl floor for easier cleanup, and you can see that I have six nesting boxes. I built a roost on the wall opposite the nest box from materials left when I removed some trees from my yard. I cut a drop down door on the far wall and removed the cross brace, then I cut a window at each end of the coop and covered the opening on the inside with chicken wire to prevent escape or intruders. My coop is a walk in coop, so there is no egg hatch door.
We debated having the ground be the floor for this coop, but ultimately decided that the floor created a solid stabilizer for the structure and eliminated the possibility of flood issues in the rare even that it rains here in the valley of no rain.
Your coop is not just where the chickens will most likely sleep, but they will also think of it as their safety bunker. Therefore, it needs to provide adequate protection against that which would scare or threaten your birds. If I am working outside the run and make too much noise, the hens instinctively run into the coop and peek out the door at me until they deem it safe to come back out.
Make sure your roof will allow rain to run off, not pool up. Make sure you have adequate ventilation but no ability to exit or for predators to enter.
If you lock the chickens in the coop at night, make sure they have adequate access to food and water. At the time of this post, my hens are at 12 weeks, and once the sun starts to set, they are in the coop with no desire to go back out, so I leave the drop down door open all night.
I built the door for this coop out of 2x4s and added the skin to match the coop. It is fastened with a standard barrel bolt appropriate for the size of door. Ultimately, I will add trim casing around the door and the windows before I paint the coop.
Depending on the region you live in, you will have to deal with some levels of extreme temperatures, whether it is heat or cold, and your coop/run will have to be able to provide protection for the birds.
In my climate, summer heat is the main concern. In the photo above, you can see that I have cut windows for ventilation in the coop. I cut one at each end for pass through ventilation, then where the roof joists met the walls, we left space for air flow.
In the run itself, I used cedar fence pickets as roof slats, providing shade but still allowing airflow. Since we only get about 3″ of rain a year, the hens can hide in the coop for those days.
One of my mistakes was leaving too much of a gap between the slats. It was allowing entirely too much sun in, so I filled the space between the slats with cleat material instead of having to remove the nails and move the slats. Worked out great in the end.
I also added construction sand and peat moss in one end of the run, and I soak it down each morning so the hens have an area they can scratch in and lay down in the cool earth.
You can see the darker, richer looking ground where the hens are standing. It manages to stay cool through most of the day.
Thus far we have topped out at I believe 109 degrees once, and we have been running 104 – 106 pretty steadily now. They are doing really well, and don’t seem exceedingly stressed when I come home. Next week we are expecting our first days at 112 or above, so I may add a fan or one of those home made evap coolers to add some air. We’ll see.
Two things necessary for hens to be healthy and content aside from the obvious food & water are space and activity. Bored chickens will pick fights or pick at themselves, creating issues you really don’t want to deal with.
That being said, they are simple creatures, so it doesn’t take much to entertain them. I took branches and stumps from the trees I removed and placed them in the run, the stumps on the ground and the branches screwed to the frame of the run to create roosts for them to climb on and perch. I hadn’t added the cross branches when I snapped the photo above.
Keeping these basic things in mind when you build your coop/run will ensure your chickens will have the best environment to live and thrive.
Next we’ll talk about feeding and watering……..
If you’ve been gardening for awhile and having some success, you might consider the next option, livestock. Raising cows or pigs in most suburban neighborhoods is simply not a viable option.
Many people are finding that chickens are not only a viable option, but they can be fun as well.
There are several things you should consider before making the commitment to raise chickens in your backyard.
Each city will have their own specific laws or ordinances regarding the keeping and/or raising of livestock. A simple internet search for “Raising livestock in (City Name)” will generally point you in the right direction.
Ordinances can have simple limitations such as the number or type of livestock you can raise, or they may be difficult, such as how far you must be from another dwelling, how they must be kept, etc.
If allowed, most municipalities will limit the raising of chickens to hens only, as roosters are much louder, thus more likely to disturb neighbors.
Many people living in suburban neighborhoods are also governed by a homeowner association, which themselves have developed by-laws, etc. regarding things from structure additions/modifications to the type of animals you can raise in the community.
Most suburban backyards don’t have the ability to just allow the chickens to free range, so you need to be able to create some form of enclosure that might serve as both a play area (chicken run) and a housing/nesting area (coop).
General rules of thumb are a minimum of 10 square feet per bird in a run, and 4 square feet per bird in the coop. Many people will elevate their coop, allowing the chickens to have both a run area and the area under the coop for shade and/or shelter.
Unless you live in an area that has a moderate climate year round, you need to prepare for the extremes of your area. From the heat of the desert southwest to the blizzard like conditions in the east coast, your accommodations will need to provide protection for your birds.
What are your chickens going to be for? Some people just want to have eggs, while others want the meat. Depending on which you are looking for, you may want to see what breed(s) make the most sense, as well as how you want to feed them to best suit your purposes.
Chickens raised for eggs will require more calcium in their diet to ensure strong, healthy eggs, while chickens raised for meat will need more protein to bulk up, in a natural way. The important thing is that you can do either in a healthy, organic way.
Babies or Grown
Chickens go from birth to relative adulthood in just four months, and can begin laying eggs anywhere between 4 and 6 months. The benefit to buying babies is you will know exactly how they were raised for their entire life, and they will be able to become used to you from a very young age.
The advantage to buying older chickens is that you will know for sure you did not buy roosters by accident. It is not nearly as simple as flipping chickens over to determine their gender. You may not know until they are 8-10 weeks old if you have a rooster in your hen house.
Cost will definitely vary by age, so just do some research. If you choose babies, just know that by the 8 week mark you will want to be able to move them from the brooder to a coop area. Their growth rate will be such that by that age, they will need much more space than a brooder box can provide. This means you will want to have your coop/run plans in mind when you buy them, so that you can have the structure complete by the time they reach that age.
There are loads of resources online that can help you make the best decisions. Some of the top websites for raising chickens in your backyard are Backyard Chickens, My Pet Chicken & The City Chicken. On these sites you will find helpful links, informative forums and articles to help make sure you have the best chance for success.
Once I started focusing my efforts at home on sustainability, the idea of raising chickens was curious to me. As I spent a couple of years establishing my organic gardening, the appeal of the idea began to grow. I spent lots of time on sites like the ones I linked above, learning as much as I could and making sure this was something I could be successful with.
As you go through the process, you find yourself saying “okay, if I were doing that again, I would do this differently.” The first thing I would change is where I got my chicks. There is a “Natural Pet Food” store in my area that was carrying them, and they were extremely convenient to me. This store has been nothing but a headache since, so I certainly would have considered a different retailer or even a hatchery. My hens have turned out lovely, but take the time and find yourself a really good source for your chicks as well as your supplies.
Here are my six hens the day we brought them home. I shred all the usable paper in my office for my compost, so I simply mixed it with some bedding to get them started. I bought a small feeder and a small water dispenser, along with a heat lamp to keep them warm at night.
In the Phoenix suburb where we live, it was still getting down into the low 60′s and even upper 50′s when we bought them, so we wanted to keep them warm. We draped a light blanket over the brooder box, away from the heat lamp, but designed to trap most of the warmth in, leaving a small area open for ventilation and temperature balance.
Here you can see some of the girls just a few weeks later sitting on the brooder box. I made the box from leftover lumber I had laying around (reuse, repurpose, recycle, right?). The lid was a gate we weren’t using covered with plastic poultry netting I had at the house as well. No cost for the brooder box. I would completely clean out the brooder box twice a week, and by the time we moved them to the coop, that was getting to be a stretch. To grow that fast, they ate constantly, which meant they pooped constantly.
Each day we would let the chicks out to roam the yard, helping them get used to us, their environment and their watchdog, who did a nice job of standing guard for predators. As they got closer to the eight week mark, catching them to put them back in the brooder became an interesting adventure, but we found that as the sun started going down, they wanted their home immediately and they welcomed being placed back in their comfort zone.
In the next article, we’ll get into the construction of our coop and more of the things I would change If I were doing it again.
When this site was created, my hope was to be able to have civil but challenging discussions about the issues that face our nation and our world today. Politics is a topic that most consider to be taboo because of the polarizing nature of the issues. I had hoped that simply sharing data, illustrating the inconsistencies in the rhetoric and focusing on how we could improve things for the many versus the few would be able to overcome that concern.
Over time the site evolved to add sports topics, and then again to add organic gardening and the idea of Going Green At Home.
A couple of interesting things occurred as the site expanded it’s discussion. The first was it got many more hits. The second was helping me realize how many people would rather talk about growing pineapple from scraps than whose economic policy best impacts the average person.
During this time, I’ve also come to a sad realization that our two party system ultimately work for the same people, and it isn’t for you and I. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, in the end when it comes to politics the people with the largest pocketbook get their way, and the rest of us get what’s left.
I’ve realized that until money no longer equals political capital, trying to debate policy or politics is equal to peeing into the wind, you end up wet and smelly. The negativity surrounding any topic political is a disease that rots you from the inside out. It’s not that the issues don’t merit monitoring, and active participation is still the only way for a true representative government to work, but I believe we each have the best chance to impact the system by disconnecting it from the shackles of it.
This concept is Sustainability, the idea that I can provide for myself, by myself, with minimal connection to the monopolistic, greed based capitalism passing itself off as Free Enterprise these days. In addition, by focusing on sustainability, you reduce your waste, by looking to buy raw materials and recycling, repurposing or reusing the packaging you do buy. You impact the environment by returning material to the soil instead of simply extracting from it, and you produce food that is free from a list of chemicals and genetic modifications that we may never see the totality of.
But most importantly, you impact your own health by moving away from the chemical laden stuff we call food these days and return to a time when we ate real food. You want to reduce your grocery bill? Grow your own food. You want to reduce your healthcare costs? Eat healthy food that you’ve grown. You want to help reduce our dependence on foreign fossil fuels? Stop buying over packaged products and make things yourself.
It won’t happen overnight. Some of the ideas will require a complete rethinking of how you currently live. Some of the ideas will require you to modify your schedule. But in the end, all of the ideas will improve your health, our environment and maybe even our society. Seem like a stretch? Well, stay tuned and we’ll see if I can show you how it’s possible.
I still have all the passion, and I still want to help change the world in some small way, but now I want to do it one backyard at a time instead of one vote at a time.
Thanks for your patience and for your feedback!!