So you've talked it over with your family and you've worked out that you are ready to take the plunge and start your backyard flock. The next step I recommend would be to make your home and yard ready to receive your chicks. I wanted to make sure we had our coop built before we even bought our chicks so that when to time came to transition them to the outdoors, everything would be ready.
Choosing the right kind of coop is no easy task if you have NO IDEA what you are doing.
As I mentioned previously, we had never owned any sort of livestock or spent any time around live chickens. We knew we wanted to get 3 egg laying hens so we knew we wouldn't need a huge barn or anything.
I wanted a cute hen house with an area for the chickens to roam underneath. I wanted it to be on wheels so we could move it around the yard and contain the birds to one spot of grass at a time. I wanted nesting boxes that were accessible from the outside for easy egg recovery.
I showed my husband pictures of what I wanted and he delivered exactly that. It was perfect. . . in my mind. For the chickens though? Not so much.
Chickens will get bigger than you expect. They need a lot of space to forage, scratch, burrow, play and rest. They are extremely destructive eating machines and will destroy your patch of lawn in about a day or two.
Learn from my mistakes and go bigger than you think you need for your coop. After all, these animals will be providing you with delicious, fresh eggs in a few months and you want to provide them a good quality of life.
Once our chickens were about 4 months old, they were much too big for my cute little coop. Also, it was just not feasible for me to be moving the coop around the yard every day.
We had to go back to the drawing board and design a coop and hen house that was nearly four times larger than the first. This won't be an instructional on coop building, but I can say that we probably spent about $150 on lumber and parts for The Coop 2.0. Coop 2.0 is 7.5' long by 4' wide by 7' tall. There is a 4'x4' hen house with three nesting boxes and 2 roosting polls at different heights inside.
Here is a list of things that I think make a our Coop 2.0 a great coop:
- Tall enough to walk into to clean
- Sand or gravel floor for easy "litter box" style maintenance
- Wide door to the hen house for ease of cleaning
- Linoleum floor in hen house, also for ease of cleaning
- Slanted roof for water run off in rainy weather
- Access hatch to nesting boxes is at a good height to comfortably reach inside
- Nesting boxes are plastic dish bins that can easily be removed and cleaned
- PVC food and watering system
Our hens really only go into our coop at night to sleep. They free range in our yard all day, but they can comfortable be contained in the coop to keep them safe from predators if need be.
If predators are a big concern and you are going to be keeping your hens inside a coop for most of the day, I would recommend creating a run area for them to get out and scratch and play a bit. Look into chicken tunnels, sometimes called Chunnels. We have been very lucky so far and have not had any predator worries, so we actually leave the coop door open so the chickens can come and go as they please.
Once you have your coop purchased or built, it will be time to source your chicks, pullets or hens. Look for Part 3, Choosing Your Chicks, coming up soon!