The My Pet Chicken Guide to Chicken Care

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Table of Contents >> Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Chicken Coop Requirements

A hen's coop is her castle! Proper housing is the key to happy, healthy birds, but building a chicken coop to the proper specifications is not as simple as it might seem. An adequate chicken coop design must:

  • Be predator-proof, not just from the sides, but from above and below as well. Predators that would love chicken wings for dinner include but are not limited to raccoons, foxes, wolves, coyotes and hawks. (Tip from a fellow chicken owner: be sure to select the right wire mesh. The holes in standard "chicken wire" are actually quite large. Yes, it will keep the chickens in, but raccoons can reach through those holes and do some nasty things... Not a pretty sight. We recommend one-half inch square "hardware cloth".)
  • Be secure from nasty rodents (yes, rats!) that will be attracted to the feed and droppings. Rodents are burrowing creatures, so you need to block them from slipping into the coop from below.If you coop doesn't have a floor, you need to bury small-mesh fencing down into the ground about 12" all around the coop.
  • Be breezy enough to prevent respiratory diseases, to which chickens are especially prone, but not so drafty during winter that they freeze their tushes off. Chickens can withstand the cold so long as it's not drafty!
  • Be easy to clean so bugs and bacteria don't fester.
  • Provide "roosting poles" for your girls to sleep on (2" wide; rounded edges; allot 5-10" of space per bird side to side and 10" between poles if more than one is necessary; plus ladder-like grading so the pole furthest away is several inches higher than the closest).
  • Encourage egg-laying with 1 nest box for every four or five chickens. Nest boxes should be raised off the ground at least a few inches, but lower than the lowest roosting pole. They should also be dark and "out of the way" to cater to the hen's instinct to lay her eggs in a safe place.
  • Be roomy: at least 4 square feet per bird if birds are able to roam freely during the day, and at least 10 square feet per bird if they are permanently confined. Please note: coop manufacturers determine how many birds their coop can comfortably hold, but coop size regulations vary by area, and local requirements may require a larger coop. Before making a coop purchase, it is a good idea to consider local laws, your personal situation, and how much room you feel your flock needs for your management style. Chickens generally use very little indoor space, preferring to be outdoors except when sleeping.
  • Accommodate a feeder and waterer, which should hang 6-8" off the ground.
  • Include a removable "droppings tray" under roosting poles for capture and easy disposal of droppings. (Or should we say for easy access to your lawn fertilizer?)
  • Similar to the coop, the sides of the attached chicken run, if you have one, should be buried 12" into the soil to keep predators and rodents from digging their way in. Once again, we recommend chicken wire fencing or half-inch hardware cloth. It's also our strong recommendation that you secure the top of the run with aviary netting or deer netting. This will keep wild birds (which can carry communicable diseases) out and provide further defense against sly predators.

If your carpentry skills are up to par and you want to build your own, we offer several lovely chicken coop building plans. Each offer blueprints, materials lists, cut lists and either building notes or complete "how-to" instructions. Alternately, if you don't have the right tool set or just don't want to take the time, you can purchase a chicken coop - and this is where we can be really helpful! We founded My Pet Chicken with the goal of making it easy and fun for people to own chickens, and our line of coops include everything you'll need to get started.

Chapter 4: Caring for Baby ChicksChapter 6: Getting geared up