6 Basics for Chicken Coop Design
How Big Should a Chicken Coop Be and Other Details to Design Your First Coop
When thinking about basic chicken coop design, you need to consider six main things. Whether you plan to construct a high-end, designer chicken coop or something basic, you’ll need to keep your birds safe from predators. You must give them enough room inside the coop. You’ll need to provide a place for the hens to lay their eggs and for all the birds to roost at night. The chickens must be protected from cool winds and precipitation, but you also need to allow for ventilation in the coop. Finally, you have to be able to keep it all clean. Let’s look at each of these pieces of basic chicken coop design a little more closely.
1. Protection from Predators
Just about every predator out there likes to eat chickens: coyotes, fox, raccoons, opossums, hawks. One of your biggest and most important tasks as a chicken keeper will be to keep your birds safe from predators. Before you even get birds, consider the predators that live in your area. Keep that in mind as you put together your chicken coop design.
The materials for constructing your coop should be sturdy. If you are purchasing a pre-made coop, inspect all the parts and don’t buy anything that’s flimsy. Instead of chicken wire, use hardware cloth for your runs and window openings. Hardware cloth is stronger than chicken wire and when held in place with heavy-duty wire staples provides good resistance to the most determined creatures. Every opening should be covered, even small spots up by the ceiling; any opening is a possible entrance for a predator.
Additionally, you can run hardware cloth around the perimeter to prevent digging. Personally, we ran it almost two feet around the whole perimeter to make a skirt. To do this, cut a piece of hardware cloth the length of the side of the coop and about three feet wide. Using a 2 x 4, bend it into an “L” with a short side (less than a foot) and a long side (less than two feet). Staple the shorter side to the bottom of the coop and the long side lay on the ground. We lined ours with landscape cloth to prevent weeds then used timbers to create a rock bed around the edge of the coop. Any digging predator would have to dig more than two feet to get into our coop.
When picking a lock for your door, get one that even a raccoon can’t open. We’ve had good luck with gate latches. My husband rigged ours so we can open them from the inside with a wire in case the door swings shut while we’re inside.
Part of predator-proofing your coop is making sure you lock the door too! A great lock will do you no good if you don’t shut the doors. Think about how you will keep a regular schedule to get your girls locked up and who will do it for you when you’re not home. You may consider an automatic chicken coop door, which can be built at home or purchased pre-constructed.
If your birds are going to free-range, predator protection goes to a new level. For this, it’s good to always be thinking, “What may try to get my birds in this situation and how can I prevent it?” Don’t assume that predators only lurk at night; we have seen firsthand that especially brazen coyotes have come into our yard during the day.
2. Square Footage
You may be wondering: How much room do chickens need? The answer to that question depends on how much time your birds will be inside. If they will graze outside, they’ll require less room in the coop (two to three square feet per bird) but if they’ll be cooped up all the time, you need to provide a lot more room per bird (three to four times the room). Overcrowding can lead to negative behavior and health problems so make sure you have the square footage to support the number of birds you intend to get.
3. Nesting Boxes
Your hens will need a comfortable spot to lay their eggs in the coop. This can be as basic as a bucket filled with straw. Our neighbors’ 10 chickens all share one five-gallon bucket filled with straw. Sometimes two chickens stuff themselves in it at the same time! We generally aim for about five birds per nesting box in our coop. It is funny though; they will have their favorites. When we collect eggs, some nests will have 10 eggs in them and some will have two. The nesting box should be about a foot square and have plenty of soft bedding in the bottom to protect the eggs from getting crushed, especially if you have multiple birds using the same nest. For ease of collection, it is tremendously helpful for your nesting boxes to be accessible from the outside of the coop. My husband built ours in a fairly traditional design with a heavy hinged door on top. We used to have a coop where you had to hold the nesting box lid open while you collected the eggs, which was surprisingly difficult if you were also holding a heavy basket of eggs. Consider the angle of your door so that it can rest in an open state, leaning against the coop, instead of being held open by you. You’ll appreciate this small detail every time you collect eggs.
When you are thinking about what does a chicken coop need, roosts are certainly one of the essentials. Chickens have an instinct to perch up high at night. Before they were domesticated, they perched high up in trees at night. One of my neighbors tells a story about how his birds long ago got locked out of the coop for some reason one evening and, desperate to get up high, they perched in the trees nearby. From that night on, they always went up into the trees at night. Though this is a fun story, it is certainly safer for your chickens to be inside a locked coop (raccoons can climb those trees, too).
Inside your coop, you’ll need to provide at least one square foot of perch for each chicken. In cool climates and winter, they’ll use less because they all scoot together for warmth but in summer they’ll need the space to stay cool. We have tried round roosting bars (think reclaimed tree limbs) and 2 x 4’s on their narrow sides and other scrap wood about that size. Whatever you use, make sure it is sturdy enough to support the weight of all the birds that will sit on it at once. Secure it so it won’t spin when weight is applied because chickens move a fair amount and will knock each other off if the roosts are moving around a lot. Each roost should be just wide enough for them to wrap their feet around it. We’ve tried two styles: “stadium seating” and straight across. The girls seem to prefer stadium seating; we assume this is because it allows for the hierarchy that is so important in a flock.
5. Wind Protection/Ventilation
Your coop will need to keep your birds protected from precipitation, and more importantly during the winter, from the wind. Interestingly, though, it must also provide adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup that can lead to disease. Birds produce a lot of humidity and moisture with their body heat and their waste. We left the top few feet of our henhouse open, covering it with hardware cloth. This allows for a lot of airflow but it is mostly above the chickens so they aren’t getting directly hit with big gusts of wind. When it gets very cold (-15°F or lower), we staple heavy plastic up over most of this to provide further protection, but otherwise, it remains open all year round. Another option might be to reuse some old windows, which could be easily opened or closed. If you do this, make sure to line the inside with hardware cloth so even when the window is “open” it is still predator-proof.
6. How You Will Clean It
Finally, all chicken coops require regular cleaning. Learning how to clean a chicken coop is part of every chicken keeper’s initiation into raising birds. When thinking up your chicken coop design, consider how you will get inside to clean. Do you want it to be tall enough for you to walk inside? If it’s small, will the roof come off to let you scoop out the dirty bedding? Make cleaning a part of your design and you’ll be thankful as long as you keep chickens!
Chicken Coop Design: Endless Possibilities
Whatever the chicken coop design you have dreamed, make sure to consider these six elements and your chickens will have a safe and healthy home. The details from here are what will make your coop fun and personal. Will you add nesting box curtains? A chicken swing could be fun! You could choose a theme … the possibilities are endless.