Raising backyard chickens is so much fun! Before you get started with raising backyard chickens, there are a few backyard chicken coop essentials that you will want to make sure you have on hand.
If you are planning to raise backyard chickens, it’s really important to have a chicken coop ready to go. There are certain things that you need to think about providing your chickens to keep them healthy, happy and safe. Here are the backyard chicken coop essentials that you need to make sure your chickens are comfortable in their coop.
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What is a chicken coop?
A chicken coop is a house that your chickens will sleep in at night. It is a place where they can lay eggs during the day. You may also put up a chicken run around the coop where your chickens will hang out during the day, unless you are planning on letting them free range all day. A chicken run is simply a fenced in area that keeps the chickens safe during the day.
A chicken coop and run will keep your chickens safe from weather and predators. They will eat and drink in the run and coop. They will also scratch around and dust bathe.
There are a lot of options that you have for the type of coop you choose. You can buy something pre-made or you can build something from scratch. You can also buy a shed or structure that can be used as a coop. The possibilities for your chicken coop design and build are endless.
Some backyard chicken coop considerations:
You can buy very inexpensive chicken coops from farm stores or online. You can also find coops that are high quality and cost a lot more.
Building a coop from scratch can save you money and allows you to find a plan that is perfect for your situation. You will just have to buy or find the materials.
You could also design your own coop and use materials you have on-hand for a low-cost option.
Do you want something that matches your house or garage? Or do you just want something practical? Figure out how much aesthetics matters to you as you choose your coop.
Stationary verses Mobile
You can build a coop and a run that are permanent. This is perfect if you don’t have a lot of space in your yard or if you are going to let your chickens out to free-range.
If you want to be able to get your backyard chickens from place to place easily, a mobile coop or a chicken tractor would be ideal. Mobile coops are great if you want to be able to move your birds throughout your yard or pasture. It allows them to have fresh grass and bugs and also provides fertilizer to your yard.
How much time do you want to spend on this? Maybe you have a lot of other obligations in your life. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have chickens. They really don’t take too much time to care for. But it may be easier to buy something to use as a coop if you are running short on time.
Essentials of the Backyard Chicken Coop
No matter what type of coop you choose, there a few essential things that all chickens coops should have to make sure that your chickens are healthy, happy and safe.
Space in the coop and in the run
Make sure that you are allowing enough space both inside and outside of the coop for the number of chickens you are planning on having. It’s also important to think about space for you. You will have to have enough room to get in there and clean out the coop, so crawling around may not be ideal.
When determining how much space you need inside the coop for your chickens and outside for the run, think about not only how many chickens you are getting now, but also how many chickens you might have in the future. It’s easy to say you will only keep six backyard chickens. Once you have those six, I promise you, without a doubt, you will want to get more if the laws in your area allow it. Once you have everything set up, it’s easy to add a few more chickens to your flock.
My advice, from my own experience, is to overestimate the space you will need and the number of chickens you will end up with.
As far as space goes inside the coop, ideally you would allow for about two to three feet per bird. So, let’s say you get six laying hens. You would want to have 12 – 18 square feet in your coop. Chickens spend most of their time in the run during the day. They may go in and out of the coop periodically throughout the day, but they don’t generally hang out in there unless they are laying an egg or sleeping.
As far as the run goes, each chicken needs about 8 – 10 square feet of space. So, for your six laying hens, you would want an area of about 48 – 60 square feet. The more space you can give them, the better. If you are going to let them out in the yard to free-range frequently, you can go with the smaller amount of space.
Security is one of the essentials I scoffed at. I thought my chickens would be safe and predators wouldn’t mess with them. I was wrong! No matter where you live, there will be predators. Even in the city, there are raccoons, cats, dogs and plenty of other predators that will smell your backyard chickens and want to get a taste. The more security you can put in place, the better.
A few things to consider when designing your coop and run for security are:
- Make sure you have chicken wire or hardware cloth over the windows in the coop.
- Have a latch on the door that a raccoon cannot figure out. I have locks on my coop doors because raccoons are much smarter than you would think. If you live somewhere that someone might steal your chickens, locks are also a good idea.
- Predators may try to dig under a floor, so use hardware cloth or wire under the floor. Another solution is to build the coop off the ground or use concrete as the base.
- The run also needs to be secure. A fence or chicken wire all around the run is a necessity. It’s best to bury the wire at least 18 to 24 inches deep.
- A roof or wire on top is also something to consider. This will keep your chickens safe from aerial predators such as hawks.
Always keep an eye on your coop and run. I lost four chickens when I didn’t notice that a raccoon was working on making a hole in the chicken wire of the chicken run. It then opened the coop’s latch and got all four of the chickens. This was a sad lesson to learn, but it has made me much more aware of the amount of security that needs to be in place.
Another essential thing in the coop is ventilation. Make sure the coop you have has windows. They don't have to be big. You can also install vents in your coop. Air ventilation is really important for your chickens’ health. Chickens manure builds up, even with a thick layer of bedding. As it builds up, ammonia is created. The ammonia can harm your chickens’ lungs if there is not enough ventilation. Keeping the coop clean and well-ventilated will prevent any issues for your chickens.
There are some different options for the floor of your coop. As mentioned before, there are safety considerations to take into account when it comes to flooring. Another consideration is cleaning. You want to make sure that the floor is easy to clean. Options for flooring include permanent (think concrete), wire, wood or dirt.
One of my coops is a shed with a wood floor. I cover the floor with straw as bedding. Under the roosts where the chickens spend most of the time they are in the coop, I have a removable metal liner. When I clean the coop, I pull out the metal and wash it off. Then I rake and sweep the rest of the floor.
If you have a concrete floor, you will have to scoop out the manure and bedding, but then you can hose it down and let it dry.
No matter what type of floor you end up with, a benefit of cleaning out the coop is saving the manure and bedding for your compost pile. Make sure that you let the manure sit for a while before adding it to your garden so you don’t burn your plants.
Coop Nesting Boxes
Nesting boxes are essential if you have laying hens. The nesting box is where your chickens will lay their eggs. Chickens usually start laying eggs right around four months, so make sure that you have some kind of nesting box prepared for them.
Chickens will make their own nest in the coop, run or yard if a good option isn't provided for them. Sometimes, even if you provide a nesting box, the chickens will choose not to use it and lay somewhere else. If this is the case, place golf balls, ceramic or wooden eggs in the nesting boxes. They will be much more likely to lay where there are "eggs" already.
Ideally, you would have one nesting boxes for every 3 – 5 hens. Nesting boxes can be made of wood, metal or plastic. You can make them or buy them. As long as they are at least 12 inches x 12 inches x 12 inches, you should be good.
Nesting boxes can be stacked on top of each other or placed on the ground or on the wall. I keep my nesting boxes a couple of feet off the ground.
Make sure that you keep the nesting boxes clean. You can put down some straw or wood chips in the bottom of the nesting boxes so the eggs don’t break as the chickens lay them.
Roosting Bars in your Chicken Coop
Chickens are like other birds in that they like to get up high at night and perch or roost somewhere for safety. Roosting bars or poles are something you will definitely need to have in your coop.
There are some breeds of chicken that do not roost, such as silkies, but it is still a good idea to offer them a low perch so that they are not sitting on the ground in bedding and manure.
You will want to provide at least 8-12 inches per bird on the roosting bar. The roost should be at least 2 feet off the floor. If you need multiple roosting bars, space them at least two feet apart. They should be at the same level or tiered. Make sure that they are not one on top of the other as chickens poop during the night. You don’t want the chickens on the bottom roost to get pooped on.
Roosting bars can be round or square. The keys for a successful roost are that they are at least two inches wide. This is important because chickens should be flat-footed. They don’t need to wrap their feet around a pole or bar. Having wide enough roosts will keep the chickens from getting frost-bitten toes during the winter because they will be sitting on their feet keeping them warm.
Wood is the best material to use. You don’t want splintery wood, but you also don’t want something too slippery. Metal and plastic can be slippery. Metal will get too cold in the winter. Again, you don’t want your chickens getting frost bite.
You can use a 2x4 or even a tree branch for the ideal roosting bar. An old ladder could also work well.
Food and Water for the Coop
Fresh food and water is a definite essential for your chickens. If you have a covered run, you can keep the food and water outside during the day. Make sure to put food inside at night so other animals are not attracted by the scent. If your run isn’t covered, it is best to keep the food and water inside the coop to keep it protected from the weather.
There are so many types of feeders that you can find at your local farm store. It’s best to get the biggest one you can. It’s even better if you can find a spot to hang it so your chickens don’t spread the food around.
The same thing applies for waterers. The more chickens you have, the larger-sized waterer you will want to buy. It’s best to keep the waterer up off the ground to keep it clean. I use patio bricks for one of my waterers and a tree stump that’s at a perfect height for the other waterer.
Just make sure that your chickens always have access to fresh food and water throughout the day. Also provide grit if there isn’t any gravel around. The grit helps your birds digest their food. You can also feed them additional calcium supplements such as oyster shells or egg shells.
Having backyard chickens will not disappoint. They are fun and entertaining, not to mention all of the healthy eggs you will get! As a chicken-keeper, it is up to you to do your best to keep your chickens healthy, safe and happy. Hopefully, these backyard chicken coop essentials will help you to get a good start on your flock!
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10 pound chicken feeder This ten pound plastic feeder can be hung. It will hold enough food so you don't have to keep refilling it constantly.
Galvanized feeder This feeder is galvanized and can also be hung up.
Chicken waterer Here is a plastic waterer that has special nipples so debris can't get in the water. This is the one I am going to try when I need a new one.
Galvanized waterer Right now, I have a galvanized waterer that I like. It's similar to this one. I have a five gallon that is great for my flock.
Chicken coop with run attached This chicken coop with the run attached looks like it could work really well for a small flock.
Nesting box I have a couple of nesting boxes like this, and the girls love them. They prefer these over the ones without the top.
Nesting pads These nesting pads can be used in place of straw or wood chips inside the nesting boxes.
Nesting box herbs These are good for keeping the coop and nesting boxes smelling fresh.
Oyster shell This is good for making sure your chickens have enough calcium for hard shells.
Poultry grit It's important to make sure your chickens have grit for good digestion.
Feed pans These feed pans can be used for free choice oyster shell, grit or even food.