Essential Equipment for a Chicken Coop
If you've decided to start keeping chickens, one of the most important things you need to do is create a suitable home for your new feathery family members. There are a lot of decisions to make regarding your chicken coop, but the necessities remain the same. Here is the essential equipment for a chicken coop you need to buy to ensure your chickens stay safe, happy, and healthy.
Water is an essential resource for all living things. Be sure to outfit your coop with a suitable waterer. You want a waterer that's both durable and secure. If you have an open pan or trough, keep it elevated on a stand so that your chickens can't accidentally knock bedding in it. You can also use a fount or an automatic waterer to ensure your birds always have access to fresh water. No matter what kind of waterer you use, the most important thing is to always keep it clean. You might also want to invest in multiple waterers so that your chickens have a backup in the event of a spill or malfunction. Additionally, if your coop isn't heated, you can purchase heated waterers so that the water supply doesn't freeze during cold weather.
As with waterers, there are many different types of feeders you can purchase for your coop. It's important to keep your chickens' feed free of contamination, so placing an open feeder on bricks or some other type of stand is a good idea. You can also get hanging feeders, which keep the food safe and prevent your birds from roosting on the feeder. If the feeder is close to the ground, make sure your birds can't accidentally spill their food onto the ground. You should also make sure your chickens don't get their water into the feeder. Excess moisture can lead to mold and other issues with the feed. Finally, make sure all your chickens have equal access to the food. A flock's pecking order means a lot of squabbling can occur around the feeder. Avoid bullying and potential injury by always having enough food available for everyone.
You want your birds to stay clean and free of disease, and bedding plays a huge role in this. Straw and wood shavings are common bedding options. A good amount of clean, dry bedding helps soak up moisture and odors, making cleaning the coop easier. Bedding also works to insulate the coop during winter. Plus, your chickens will get some entertainment out of scratching and pecking at it throughout the day.
Laying hens need a safe and secluded place to lay their eggs. It's important to accommodate them with enough nest boxes. These boxes encourage your hens to lay in designated places, making it easier for you to collect your eggs in the morning. Nesting boxes don't have to be complicated. They simply need to provide your hens with a covered and comfortable area. Keep the boxes clean, and line them with dry bedding--or, if you really want to provide for your birds, you can use chicken nesting pads. Providing enough nesting boxes for your flock is important--a general rule is to have one box per five hens, but you should keep an eye on the flock to make sure everyone has enough room. Overcrowding and squabbling can lead to issues with laying, which means fewer healthy eggs and an unhappy flock.
Many chicken breeds like to sleep up high. This instinct helps protect them from predators, and it makes them less prone to diseases than if they were to sleep on the floor with their litter and dirty bedding. Get a roosting bar or other perch for your chickens to keep them comfortable at night. Make sure you provide enough perching spots for everyone in the flock--roosts are another thing that chickens will squabble over, and you want all your birds to have a safe place to sleep. Once again, you want to keep the roosting bars clean. It's also a good idea to smooth the top of the bars so that your chickens have a more comfortable spot to rest.
Chickens are extremely hardy creatures, and they have good natural temperature control. However, you should still keep an eye on the temperature in your coop. A well-insulated coop is vital for keeping out bitter winter winds and other extreme elements. Additionally, if you have or plan to have chicks, you'll want to have some sort of heating element. Chicks can't regulate their own temperatures, so placing a heat lamp and a thermometer in their brooder is essential for proper care.
Chickens are clever birds, and they love to play as much as we do. Toys might not seem like necessities for chicken coops, but they're great ways to entertain your birds throughout the day. Chicken swings are popular options, since they satisfy the chickens' playful nature as well as their desire to be up high. Another idea is to give them balls or plastic kids' toys, which give your birds something to peck at. Treats are also great for entertaining your birds. You can hang a head of cabbage or lettuce in the coop to act as a piñata.
A run isn't technically essential equipment for a chicken coop, but if your birds can't free range, having one is a good idea. A run gives your chickens a place to move around, scratch, and play, even when you're not around to keep an eye on them. Make sure your run is large enough for all your chickens to spend time there without getting into fights. You should also ensure that the run is predator-proof. Your fence should be sturdy enough to keep out dogs and other large predators. It's also a good idea to bury the fence posts at least a few inches into the ground so that predators can't dig underneath and get to your chickens. As an added precaution, you can put up mesh or fencing overhead to keep out hawks and other aviary predators.
What kind of equipment have you found to work best for your coop? Let us know in the comments!