Coop Elements to Keep Your Flock Safe
Reading Time: 5 minutes
We all know that predators are out there, but it’s not until you see one up close and personal trying to make a meal out of one of your chickens that you realize how vulnerable they are. That’s why it’s important to incorporate safety measures into your coop design that will keep your flock safe when you’re not there to watch out for them.
First and foremost, using sturdy building materials, securely fastened and tightly spaced, is of utmost importance for keeping your flock safe. Small predators such as weasels can slip through the tiniest of spaces. It’s okay to use repurposed building materials to save on costs or to give your coop a cute rustic look, but if the boards don’t fit tightly together, you’ll need to patch or cover any gaps that are an inch or larger. Rotten boards or gaps in your coop floor provide another potential entryway for predators or pesky rodents. Keep safety in mind down to the last details, such as locks and ventilation, when designing daytime accommodations for your flock.
We prioritized coop safety measures when building our back deck coop and attached secure run for our Bantams, knowing that they are small and especially vulnerable to predators. I’m sure glad we did because we have seen all types of predators here, including raccoon, weasel, coyote, and bobcat — all of them in broad daylight and all of them closer to the coop than I care to think about.
We used cement backer board as the flooring for our back deck coop. It’s a long-lasting material that is easy to clean and is rodent-proof. We built an earlier version of this coop on top of the existing wood deck boards, and over time I noticed that feed was falling through the cracks onto the ground below, attracting rodents. I also noticed that the spaces between the deck boards trapped dirt, debris, and poop, and it was hard to get the floor clean. Another downside to wood floors is that they can rot if they contact the ground or due to moisture from above (and we all know that droppings equal lots of moisture in the coop). When we expanded the back deck coop several years ago, we replaced the flooring with a cement backer board, and I’ve been delighted with its performance.
Our preferred coop design for both our bantam coop and our coop for our large-breed chickens is to build a secure connecting run screened entirely with ½-inch hardware cloth. This design allows us to leave a small pop door open to provide access from the coop into the secure run so that the chickens have 24-hour access to the run. I like this design because the chickens have a way to entertain themselves in the mornings without my having to go out to open the coop door to let them into the run.
Allowing the chickens to have constant access to the attached run means that the run truly needs to be secure. In addition to using hardware cloth to form the walls of the run to keep predators out, you also need to keep predators from digging under the secure run. There are two ways to do this. The first is to line the bottom of the run with hardware cloth and cover it with your preferred run material (gravel, sand, wood chips, etc.). The second option is to extend the run’s perimeter wall to form a skirt along the ground that extends at least a foot out from the walls. You can then cover the hardware cloth on the ground with your choice of material. Hardware cloth is necessary for this application instead of chicken wire (which is cheaper and more convenient to work with than hardware cloth) because raccoons can easily rip or reach through the chicken wire.
Coop doors and windows and any coop features that open to the outside, such as nest boxes, should be secured with a complex latch or locking mechanism. Raccoons easily open simple sliding or swing-type latches that you can open with one finger. You’ll want to use a type of lock that requires opposable thumbs to open so that raccoons won’t be able to gain access. We use carabiners on all of our doors, and we use snap hooks to secure the hinged roofs of our exterior nest boxes. We don’t have any windows that open in any of our coops, but we have ventilation openings under the roofline, all covered with hardware cloth.
Keeping your chickens safe also means having options to separate flock members for their safety if needed. Our secure run has an isolation area on one side that we use to provide a separate area to protect broody hens and little ones until they are ready to join the flock. We used hardware cloth to build a divider in one side of the run that allows everyone to see each other on both sides of the divider, which helps with integrating new members into the flock. The isolation area can also give a bossy chicken a time out or provide an isolation area if someone needs a few days of isolation from the flock to treat an injury.
I can’t help but wonder when I hear a rooster crowing in the middle of the night what may be prowling around outside. Our Bantam coop is right up against the house, which means that I can check on them by looking out the kitchen window. It can make for some loud early mornings having the coop close to the house, but for the most part, I enjoy hearing their sounds, and I appreciate the peace of mind that comes from having the coop close to the house. It wouldn’t be as practical to build a coop for a large flock as close to the house as our Bantam coop is, but it can be a good choice given the right circumstances. I hope these tips help you to provide a secure coop for your ladies!
Originally published in the August/September 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.