The most important step in building a chicken coop is, unfortunately, also one of the least fun ones.
Planning may be a drag, involving a lot of time sitting in front of a computer doing research and crunching numbers.
What are the best designs to help prevent disease?
Which material is best and easiest to use?
However, it is well worth the work as doing it right the first time will save you a lot of time and trouble in trying to get it right the second time.
- What kind of chickens are you planning to keep? Knowing what kind of chickens you want – in terms of size, breed, and sex – will determine many of the specifications for your coop. How much floor and roost space your birds will need will very depending on their size. Bantam hens will need two square feet apiece, while standard breeds should have at least four. Giant breeds like Brahmas will want at least eight square feet each. The ideal amount of vertical space will depend largely on your breed, although in general, bantam breeds want more vertical space than their larger counterparts. If you want to keep a rooster, you will need to budget for even more space.
- What kind of plan do you want to use? Choosing the right chicken coop plan is crucial to building a coop that will be best suited to your flock and their needs. Fortunately, many chicken coop plans are readily available to download for free online, so it shouldn’t be hard to find the right plan for your plans, though it may take a little bit of sifting and searching. Some things to consider when choosing a chicken coop plan include the weather in your region and the space you have available to build. For example, you may be more inclined to choose an elevated coop plan if you know you will be unable to build on raised ground that will keep your hens away from puddles and accumulated moisture. You should also consider which materials you have on hand and what you will need for the coop, especially if you are looking to save money by relying on second-hand materials.
- What are your plans for ranging and runs? Do you want to let your hens free-range? Do you want to let them outside at all, and for how long? Answering these questions for your flock will help you plan your coop and your run. If, for whatever reason, you cannot have a run or let your flock outside – you may be one of the growing number of urban chicken keepers – know that they will require significantly more indoor space – up from four to 10 square feet each for standard hens. If you are building a run, plan for 15 square feet per bird, though again, this can vary by breed. Consider investing in hardware cloth for your fencing, rather than chicken wire, which is pretty good at keeping chickens in, but not very good at keeping predators out.
- What kinds of predators should you be worried about? Knowing what kind of predators are common in your area will help you best protect your flock. If your main concern is birds, like hawks and owls, consider putting a roof on your run, or cutting down any large branches that overhang the coop or run. If you’re worried about rodents, snakes, and other burrowers, sink the walls of your coop or sturdy hardware cloth at least a foot into the ground around the coop. Periodically check your coop for leaks and gaps that might let a predator in, particularly after rough weather or a long winter may have caused damage.
- What are your long-term plans for your flock? When you plan your coop, keep in mind that the first few hens you purchase are unlikely to be the last or only iteration of your flock over the years. Consider the maximum number of chickens you might someday like to own. Will you want to eventually try larger breeds? Would you ever get a rooster, or other birds like guinea fowl? After taking all of these things into account, build a coop that will satisfy the most possible imaginable versions of your future flock. Building for the long term will save you a lot of time, energy, and money on rebuilds and renovations in the future.
Starting your first flock of chickens should be an exciting enterprise, not one filled with stress and anxiety. That does not mean that there is not a level of work and planning that goes into doing it correctly, however.
Fortunately, undertaking these steps makes the whole adventure a lot more fun and fulfilling in the long run.