Chickens are relatively easy going and do not require anything extravagant for their housing.
Basic Housing Should Include:
~Enclosed structure to protect from rain, snow, winds
~Ample perch space for roosting
~Ample floor space to prevent crowding
~Access to water
~Access to food
~Nesting boxes or areas
~Pine shavings for bedding
Factors to Consider When Selecting Housing
There are many factors to consider before beginning construction or purchasing a ready made coop.
~Consider the maximum number of birds you are ALLOWED to keep, not how many you may be starting with (trust me on this one)
~The location of your coop/building
~Will your birds be cooped, cooped within a small outside area, part time ranged, full time ranged
~Will you be employing the use of a "chicken tractor"
~Level of predation
Consider the maximum number of birds you are ALLOWED to keep, not how many you may be starting with-
More often than not, you will end up with many, many more birds than you anticipated. Poultry, especially chickens can be addictive. The variety of breeds available, the amazing personalities that you never knew chickens had, cute little bantams, colored eggs, and the incredible crow of a rooster will hook you on poultry for life. The 6-10 you may want to start out with quickly turns to just a few more. A few more often leads to ...just one more. The 6-10 chickens somehow turn to 50, 60, 75. Checking zoning laws, city ordinances, and HOA rules will help keep your chicken addiction in balance.
It is best to have your poultry housing in a location that is most convenient for you. Refilling waterers and feed troughs will need to be done several times a day. Having water close by is very efficient. Consider the possibility of needing the use of electricity. There may be times when your birds may need a heat lamp so the use of an extension cord connected to a source of electricity should be considered. Think of the area in a seasonal capacity. Is this an area that may get flooded in a particular season? Is this an area that may get "baked" in the extreme sunny/hot NC summers.
Will your birds be cooped, cooped within a small outside area, part time ranged, full time ranged-
*Cooped-Chicken that is confined to "indoor living" full time will need a great deal more space than birds that do not. Regardless of many "book recommendations" the health and welfare of permanently housed birds require much more space than suggested. The birds will peck, become bored and fight if not enough space. A 4x4 ft (that is 16sq ft) per layer is best.
*Cooped within a small outside area- Many of the "ready-made" coops suited for city environments generally house 4-6 birds, the outdoor coop area is usually very small. Outdoor areas on these prefabricated coops are generally 3x6 ft ranging up to 4x10. These coops are extremely expensive and most are very difficult to actually clean out. If purchasing one of these coops it is strongly recommended you see how easy/difficult it will be to clean out the bedding, the fenced area, and to gather eggs.
*Part time ranged- Often those in a suburban or city environment will allow their birds out of a cooped area for a little while each day, or on the weekends. This will be beneficial for the birds but will not have much impact on their housing needs. You may want to consider fencing for the areas they will be allowed to range. Neighborhood dogs are often the greatest threat to suburban/city chickens.
*Full time ranged- Chickens that are full time ranged, meaning they are left to forage and roam throughout the day, will need far less indoor space. These birds generally only use the coop/building for laying eggs and sleeping. Perch space is a major consideration. A standard size fowl will need approximately 15-18 inches. Adequately tiered perches or rafters are the key for nighttime housing of ranged birds. Often the instinctual nature is strongly developed in completely ranged birds; therefore they prefer perching as high as possible. It may be necessary Providing "ladders" to perches that are over 6 ft off the ground, although many can fly to those heights without difficulty. A good layer of bedding on the ground/floor is necessary to protect them from injury when flying down from the elevated heights.
Will you be employing the use of a "chicken tractor"-
Some prefer the use of chicken tractors so their chickens may enjoy the eating of grass and bugs and be able to move their birds daily to a fresh piece of land. The shaded areas still get extremely hot while in the NC summers and overheating is a great concern. Chicken tractors are not well suited for permanent housing, as they are lacking perch space and can easily be gotten into by night time predators. Tractors must be moved 1-2x daily so birds are not pecking the ground in their own poo.
Level of predation-
When building your coop it is wise to understand your predator threat and prepare for it. Common predators of chickens are dogs, fox, raccoons, possums, snakes, owls and coyotes. Digging down into the ground approximately 6-8 inches and putting concrete block or fencing around the building or perimeter will deter digging predators. Using 1/2 inch hardware cloth (wire) outside of windows, ventilation ducts and eaves will deter owls and snakes. Doors and windows should close tightly and be well secured.
A Word About Bedding
There are several types of "animal" bedding on the market. It is very important to understand cedar bedding is toxic to your poultry. Common horse bedding is also a poor choice as it expands when wet and will produce mold very quickly, as well as chickens tend to ingest this. Straw tends to mold very quickly when used in poultry buildings, although use of straw in nesting boxes is preferred by laying hens and works well, it should be avoided as a floor covering. The most common and reasonable priced bedding is pine shavings. Pine shaving can be found in a standard "med/large" flake or "fine".
We have used both and prefer the small flake as we have found it easier to "scoop" without the loss of a lot of bedding. We scoop our buildings every morning once the chickens are let out. This keeps our coops cleaner with less odor and allows us longer periods between having to remove all bedding for replacement. We have found that the fine bedding breaks down in the compost pile much faster.
Removal and replacement of bedding is required to keep your flock healthy. There are some that use the "deep litter method". The deep litter method is having a layer of bedding and continually adding more bedding over top regularly. The idea is that the bottom layer will continue to break down and by adding litter over top it will give the chickens a clean environment. The theory is the poultry house will only need cleaned out every 6 months, saving time and money.
We do not recommend the deep litter method for many reasons. Our main objection being, you are basically layering feces. Chicken droppings are high in ammonia. Ammonia burns the eyes and nostrils and can lead to respiratory issues. Piling clean fresh bedding on top of dirty, feces laden bedding will not change the fact that there is decaying feces and bedding material. This can result in an increase of microbial pathogens and parasites.
Spilled water seeps into the bedding which also causes mold build up; mold is very dangerous to your poultry. Consider the effects of feces, ammonia, mold spores and add to that, the fact that chickens scratch for kernels of food, which often get spilled into the bedding, and chickens love to dust bathe in bedding. Your healthy chickens are now eating rotten moldy feed and dust bathing in their own fecal matter. This is extremely unhealthy for your poultry. Decaying bedding can become mite infested causing an even greater risk to your poultry. Mites are very difficult to get rid of and are very difficult to detect. Usually chickens become emaciated before the mites are discovered, often it will take the loss of a bird or two before the mite issues are discovered. Sprinkling diatomaceous earth (DE) into the bedding will help keep your poultry mite free.
For the good of your poultry, please, change out your bedding!
Power washing the inside- The advantages of concrete!
Cleaning the rafters. These are the chickens perches.
Modern Game checking us out putting in the new bedding!
This hen watched us the whole time! Nosy chicken!
LOOK! No poop on the walls!
The climbing ladders are clean, as are the nesting boxes. We use fine bedding for the floor and hay for the nesting boxes.
We scoop our coop daily, clean out and change bedding monthly and power wash every 1-3 months.
Fall winter usually require us to have to do the power washing every 3 months.