Designing Your Perfect Coop

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The chicken’s coop & run are by far the biggest investment you will make as a backyard chicken keeper so you will want to give it some thought before purchasing or building one.  Chicken coops can come in all shapes & sizes and all budgets.   Hundreds of coop plans and ideas can be found online, so let me share with you what I have learned from building ours.

1) Chickens are addictive – Go bigger if possible.  Originally, we bought 4 baby chicks.  We figured that was plenty.  We had read online about chicken math, that youIscha should get a coop bigger than what you think you will need because you will buy more chickens.  We didn’t listen.  We just went to the feed store, picked out four different chicks, and went home happy with our purchase.

We built our coop – perfect for 4 birds with a little extra room.  Two months later, on another trip to the feed store, we saw they had Easter Egg chicks.  Chickens that lay blue eggs?  Yes please!  So we thought just one more couldn’t hurt.  For  the first year, we were happy with our flock of 5.  Then the hatchery catalog comes in the mail (who put us on that mailing list??).  There are hundreds of breeds of chickens – some of them so amazing and unique you just want to collect them all!  So for year two we ordered some fancy breeds from the hatchery – two Silkies, a Polish and another Easter Egger.  Shortly after the new chicks arrived, we had our very first broody hen.  She looked so sad there, wanting to be a mom.  Who was I to deny her?  Since we don’t have a rooster, we went to Ebay and ordered some fertilized eggs.  She hatched out four adorable fuzzy babies.  We were good and only kept one – but still that was 10 chickens.  So only one year in,  we had gone from 4 birds to 10 and we were already adding on to our coop.  Do yourself a favor and go bigger.  You won’t regret it.  Chickens need about 4 square feet of inside space per bird, and 10-20 square feet of outside run space per bird.  You can read more about space requirements here

2) Chicken coops need a lot of ventilation.  Chickens produce a lot of moisture, ammonia, and body heat and if your coop isn’t properly vented your chickens could get very sick or even die.  When chickens breath they expel a lot of moisture, they also do not urinate, so all of the liquid they would pass is contained in their poop.  All that moisture can make the coop very humid.  If that humidity can’t escape through vents, you leave your flock open to respiratory disease & frostbite in the winter.   Their poop contains a large amount of ammonia.  As it builds up, it can really irritate their lungs.

In the summertime your chickens are stuck sweating it out in their warm downy coats.  Imagine being stuck sleeping in a tiny room with several of your friends, all dressed in winter jackets, in the middle of August.  All that body heat can cause the temperature to rise to dangerous levels, and your chickens could die from heat stroke.  How much ventilation is enough?  It will vary in different climates and seasons.  In hot summer weather a good rule of thumb is about 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of floor space.  If it is really hot, you might want to consider a barn fan.  Even during the winter, even in the north, even when its 20 degrees below zero, they still need ventilation.  Too much moisture coupled with cold temperatures is a recipe for frostbite.  You can close up some of the summer vents, and partially close others.  You need to provide air exchange without allowing wind & drafts in, so a panel with a hinge that can close part way is perfect.  Be sure all vents are covered in wire so predators can’t access the coop.  A good investment for the coop is a humidity & temperature gauge.  Try to keep the humidity between 40%-70% and the temperature below 90 degrees.  Having a reliable gauge will help you determine if you have enough ventilation.
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3) Think about roost placement.  Chickens poop a lot while they sleep, so a lot of the mess in the coop is going to be located under the roosts.  Some chicken  owners have “poop boards” under their roosts.  The chicken poop falls on the board while the chickens sleep, and can be easily dumped or scooped off, leaving the coop floor much cleaner.   Before you begin construction, I highly recommend you finding the room for poop boards!  The other thing to consider is that you want to locate the roosts away from drafts so the chickens are not shivering all night long.  You should plan on about 1 foot of roost space per chicken.

4) Think about cleaning when designing your set up.  Having a coop & run you can walk into will make cleaning time much easier, but a large set up isn’t practical for everyone.  If you don’t have space or money for this, be sure you have large access doors to make cleaning time quick & easy.  My first coop was 4 ft x 8 ft and not tall enough for me to walk into, but both 4 ft ends opened almost completely so I could just push the shavings from one end out the other.Chicken Coop

5) Food & Water – Be sure you have easy access to their food & water so you can easily fill them.  Having them raised off the floor will keep shavings and poop out of the water.  If you live in a climate where the weather regularly drops below freezing you need to have a plan for keeping your chickens in fresh water.  You can either purchase a chicken water heater (a base that you put your water on and it will keep it just above freezing), a heated pet bowl, or you can change out the water a few times a day to keep it from freezing. click here to learn more about keeping chicken water from freezing

click here to read about ways to keep rodents out of your coop

 6) Nest boxes – You don’t need to have a nest box for every chicken.  You should plan on 1 box for every 4-5 hens, they don’t mind sharing.  A nest box should be a quiet, safe place where the hens can retreat to.  Some people even hang curtains over the boxes to give the hens some peace.  Nest boxes that are 16 inches x 16 inches are nice & roomy for when two birds decide they need to be in the same box at the same time.   Having convenient access from the outside of the coop to the nest boxes makes collecting eggs quick & easy.  Click here to read more about building nest boxes. IMG_2061

 7) Don’t rely on chicken wire for keeping out predators.  Use hardware cloth on at least the bottom portion of your run and to cover the windows/vents in your coop.  The wire is stronger and the holes smaller, so predators can not bend it to gain access.  It is also a lot more expensive than chicken wire.  If you can not afford to do the entire run in hardware cloth, at least do the lower 2 feet.  You should also dig a trench 2 feet down all the way around the run and bury hardware cloth.  This will prevent animals from digging in, or chickens from digging out.IMG_2990


5 comments

  1. Robin says:

    Hi I was wondering if you could give me some advice? We live in Pahoa, Hawaii and are thinking of building or buying a coop, it rains a lot here and is very humid, the temperature rarely ever gets below 65 and pretty much stays at 75-85 most of the time. My question is will I need to build a certain type of coop in order to keep the chickens happy?

    • Liz says:

      You will want a lot of ventilation. I have seen lots of people in warm humid climates like yours actually just use hardware cloth for walls and then have awnings to keep out the rain

  2. Erika Luke says:

    I would love some advise! I’m all over the go big thing! We started with 8 chicks from TSC (we knew one wasn’t gonna make it but I couldn’t leave him to die alone in the store all alone at night). I then went about researching chickens a little more, and happened upon Cackel Hatcheries mini surprise box and I currently have 10 awkward teenage chicks, 2 ducks, and my surprise box got here last week which included 25 surprise breed chicks, 2 ducks and a turkey! We are almost done with our run/coop but before we finish im thinking about coop size! Our run is 12’x24′(6+ feet tall) my calculations from reading up on it say thats enough room for my 40 birds. My coop was slated to be 4’x8 feet (5 feet tall) with nesting boxes on the outside, is this big enough? I live in the foothills of the Central Valley of California our winter Temps are around 40-50 degrees with freezing tems only at night, I figured they would be in the run most of the day in the winter too? So the coop is just for sleeping? Before we finished this coop do I need to.make it bigger? Or am I on the right track and the chicks will be outside in the winter and summer only sleeping in the coop at night?

    • Liz says:

      Wow! You went big really fast lol! So if I have this right, you have 35 chickens, 4 ducks and 1 turkey? That is a lot of birds for that size run/coop. I don’t know much about turkeys, but what I normally recommend for chickens & ducks is least 10 square feet per bird outside run space IF they are also allowed to free range occasionally and 20 square feet per bird if they are not allowed to free range. Your current run is 288 square feet, with the 10 square feet recommendation you are looking at needing 400 square feet for 40 birds. If these birds are not ever going to be out free ranging, 20 sq feet is really better for the run – at which case you are are looking at a 800 square foot run (so almost three of the current run you have). Can you go smaller? Yes you can, but when birds are kept in too close quarters it can lead to fighting. It will also make the manure harder to manage when it’s concentrated in a too small area. You will want a decent size area where they can eat & drink, dust bathing areas. Will you have a little pool for the ducks? Indoors I recommend 4 square feet per bird, which would mean 160 square foot coop and your current coop is only 32 square feet. I don’t see how 40 full grown birds could even physically fit in there all at once. You will be locking all the birds up in the coop each night to keep them safe from predators, so they will need to all be able to fit in there at once with the door closed. You will need roost space of about a foot for each of the chickens (and turkeys i believe also roost) and a space where the ducks can nest on the ground (not under the roosts so they don’t get pooped on all night). I know you don’t get harsh winters there, but they will still go in the coop during the day to escape rain & wind and to lay their eggs. For 40 birds you are looking at needing a good sized structure – something like a 10×16 shed. I think unfortunately, you might need to really rethink your coop & run area. You might also like these articles for planning your flock: https://thecapecoop.com/how-much-space-do-chickens-need/ and this one on keeping chickens & ducks together https://thecapecoop.com/raising-chickens-ducks-together/

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