How to Select the Best Chicken Coop
Features of a chicken coop
There are many important questions to answer before choosing a chicken coop. Your choice depends on your own situation. Below is a detailed checklist to help you select the best chicken coop for your pets.
- Chicken coop size (1)
The poultry house and the chicken run should be large enough to house the number of chickens you own.
Please note birds retain body heat by huddling together therefore the space they have available should not be to large or they will get sick.
There is a rough size guide for the number of chickens per coop from the UK Poultry society (based on the area of the coop footprint), usually about 1 m² of the chicken coop's floor for every 5 birds.
- Ventilation (2)
A light, airy chicken house is a much more pleasant and healthier environment for hens than a dark and stuffy one. Without adequate ventilation, a chicken coop will quickly become stuffy, unhygienic and damp, forming an ideal breeding ground for respiratory problems amongst the flock.
Ventilation can be in the form of a window covered in a wire mesh, or via specially designed grills and air holes. It should be located at the top of the chicken house to permit the stale warm air to escape.
A window will provide both light and air for them, as in the summer months temperatures can rise rapidly. Good hygiene is a must for the health of the birds (the most important thing to consider when choosing a chicken coop).
- Nest Box (3)
A nest box should be positioned toward the back of the chicken coop or away from the entrance. It should be the darkest place inside the coop. This will encourage the birds to use the box. The darkness helps to prevent egg eating.
Normally, the hens will quite happily share the nest boxes, they do not need one each. Usually the nest boxes measure 30 x 30 cm.
Often, they are situated so that egg collecting can be done from outside the hen house (opening nesting area lid for easy egg collection), so you want to be able to have easy access to collect your eggs each day. Ideally you should allow one nest box per 3-4 chickens, depending on size.
- Perches (4)
The chicken coop area should have perches which are raised off the floor. If there are more than one perch there should be enough space in between to let the hens get on and off. Perches should be removable for ease of cleaning. They should have rounded edges, with no sharp corners, to enable the birds to grip them easily.
The height of the perch from the ground will depend on the breed kept. Heavy breeds need lower perches, otherwise leg and foot injury may occur when they jump down in the morning.
Perches should be set higher than the nest boxes to encourage the birds to roost. There may be more than one perch in the chicken coop, but all perches should be set at the same height or there may very well be squabbles amongst the birds for access to the highest perch (around 20 cm of perch space for each bird). This gives them a chance to snuggle up close or move apart, depending on the temperature.
- Pull-out tray (5)
Pull-out tray or a dropping board covered with galvanised metal (or just with paper) is a very useful addition to a chicken coop. Birds produce most of their droppings at night whilst roosting and the dropping board or a pull-out tray under the perches makes cleaning out the hen house a much easier task.
A wooden floor underneath the pull-out tray is an important safety feature to protect your birds from falling through when you have the tray-out for cleaning, if the coop is raised up or elevated of the ground. A wooden floor under the pull-out tray makes is much warmer for the hens in winter, especially with a good bed of shavings. It is an additional protection against predators as well.
- Opening roof (6)
A chicken coop designed with fully-opening roof parts allows access to all internal parts of the coop so that you can check or treat it against lice, red mite, and other common parasites. An opening roof above the nesting areas helps for easy cleaning or other maintenance, but also to allow for easy egg collection.
Аdditional benefit is an asphalt layer on top of the roof. It protects the wood structure from rainwater and provides insulation and protection from the elements. The strong asphalt acts as an insulator, ensuring your coop stays cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
- Coop ramps (7)
Most chicken coop features a ridged ramp for your hens to access the hutch which is securely fastened to the framework. The hens need to be able to get into the chicken coop easily, and they need with ease to go out in the morning. Bare in mind, that if your hens have difficulty using it, you might need to buy a longer ramp.
An alternative is a chicken ladder. These were traditionally used because chickens are light and could hop up them but foxes and predators couldn’t use them so easily.
- Lockable pop-hole door (8)
Pop-hole is a small hen-sized door that allows the chickens access to the outside. Also, you should be able to access it, too, so that you can clean it out or catch any birds. This will usually mean a door wide enough to allow you to reach into the corners.
Also the predator-proof door should be able to lock and be secured at night. The size of the chicken coops door depends on the size of the breed of the hens. One important responsibility is remembering to shut the pop-hole of the chicken house each night so that the birds are safe and secure.
There are very modern devices on the market like electronics, that automatically shut the chicken coop's door for you. A timing device slowly lowers the door at night after the hens have gone to bed and opens it in the morning to let them out. Keep in mind you need to check everyday, if there is a hens left outside (after the pop is closed). Also, the closing time should be set up differently in the winter and in the summertime.
- Raised coop (9)
A raised chicken coop prevents from rotting by being in contact with the ground but it also prevents burrowing animals from digging underneath.
Raising the coop on legs (protected by rot-free adjustable plastic caps) might also make it easier for cleaning and egg-collection.
If your coop isn’t raised, or has very small legs, you might consider sitting it on a few concrete or cinder blocks or bricks to lift it up a little further. Bear in mind that the higher you lift it the steeper your ramp will become.
- Chicken run (10)
Chicken runs are caged areas that are connected to your coop or surround it. Even if you decide to free range your chickens, you may need to keep them enclosed.
The chicken run provides a place for your birds to roam around, sunbathe, dust bathe, forage on grass. It fits snuggly next to the chicken coop and provides some protection against foxes and other predators so that your birds are safe at night if you forget to lock them in.
- Periodic relocation of the chicken run keeps your grass healthier and provides your chickens with fresh scratching areas. Move it regularly to keep the ground in good condition.
- Always try to site the chicken coop with its back to the prevailing wind. This will prevent rain blowing in through the chicken house door or any front-facing windows.
- Include good bedding material, such as chopped straw and wood shavings.
- Chickens love the shade, so the chicken area outside should include shady spots (trees, repurposed small building, shade-cloth over the chicken run etc).
- A removable cover above the chicken run will provide some shade during hot weather and will keep out the rain.
- Chickens love the dust baths, which can help control parasites. Provide areas of dry soil or dirt where hens can do their dust bath.
References: Mini Encyclopedia of Chicken Breeds and Care - Expert practical guidance on keeping chickens plus profiles of all the major breeds - Frances Bassom