Chicken coops suddenly got fancy. They were basically a tin shed and a wire run when I was a kid. Nowadays they have cute cottages of their own, complete with window boxes of herbs to snack on.
Gorgeous for sure, but if you are spending hundreds (sometimes even THOUSANDS!) of dollars on a coop…well, they are some pretty expensive eggs you’re eating for your breakfast there missy. Really, there are only a few features that a coop can’t be without.
Your coop will need:
- a roost
- a laying box
- protection from the elements
- protection from predators
- dust bath
- easy access for cleaning and collecting egg (well, this one is for you and not the hens, but you will thank me later for including it 😉
Add some nesting material, food and water and VOILA! Hen house complete.
The roost is where the chickens will sleep. It’s just a horizontal piece of timber for the ladies to perch on. If possible, make sure you only have one level so your hens don’t fight for top position. This is where the term ‘pecking order’ comes from, and it can get nasty. Better to avoid the conflict if you can. If you are clipping your girls’ wings they will need a little ladder to be able to get up to their roost.
Roosting is natural chicken behaviour to protect themselves from predators and from germs on the ground. Because of this it’s best if you have the roost and nesting box separate. I forgot this when I gave my husband instructions for the coop. It isn’t a problem at the moment with only two chooks, and they are rather fastidious so cover their poo before sitting down to lay. We will probably need to make an alteration to the coop later when we have more chickens though. If you have the same situation, just be sure that there is adequate ventilation (we have little windows in the side of the coop at this end), and clean the poo out of the box daily.
The laying box itself just needs to be a clean area for the hens to lay their eggs. You want them laying off the ground to avoid being squashed (the chickens might eat them if this happens), to keep them safe from predators, and to keep them nice and clean. You can line their box with hay, sawdust or shredded paper for comfort. Some chook owners provide privacy curtains, but putting the box in a dark corner of the coop will satisfy the birds’ desire for privacy when laying. Make sure you clean the box out regularly. You’ll want a minimum of one box for every 3-5 chickens. That said, mine freerange and almost never use a box now. But when they did, they didn’t want to share 😉
Your coop should provide shade and shelter from wind and rain (and snow if you live in colder areas), so make sure there is a roof over the roost at the very least. Walls help keep out pesky sideways weather. Chicken wire will keep the girls safe from snakes and rodents. The Mister has heard a few stories of giant snakes getting into coops in our neck of the woods, so he wasn’t stingy with the wire 😉
A little hatch makes it easy to reach in for eggs, and to clean out the bedding.
If you have a fixed coop you will need a run so the girls have room to stretch their legs and scratch around.. If you do this you will want a door large enough for you to get inside to clean. Our girls are able to free range during the day in their own yard so they don’t need a large run. They do need room to move around in there though, especially on days when the weather isn’t nice enough for them to go outside
If you’ve never had chooks before, you may be surprised to know that they don’t clean themselves with water, they take a dust bath! It keeps their feathers clean and free of parasites. You can put a kitty litter tray of dirt in the coop if they don’t free range, or you can just make sure they have access to a nice patch of bare ground.
If your chickens are scratching around outside to take their dirtbath, you will need to ensure you protect the base of any young trees. They will destroy the roots if they are allowed to bath here. Established trees are generally fine.
That’s it! You’re all done. There are lots of beautiful coops on the market, but personally I think cheap and cheerful is the way to go, especially if you are keeping your chickens primarily to reduce your weekly grocery bill. Get creative with your materials. The Mister knocked up our coop in a weekend using timber from the tip shop, and bits and pieces from the kitchen we are pulling out. You may prefer to go with metal, at least for the roost, as this is easier to clean and less attractive to the dreaded red mite.
Take a look around your yard or shed and see what you can salvage. Look on Gumtree or at your local tip shop. Most of us keep hens, in part, to save money on eggs so it makes sense to be frugal when making your coop.
What are your cheap and cheerful must-haves for a backyard coop?
This was the first backyard coop my husband built almost 2 years ago when we only had 2 laying hens. We built an addition off the back and added a few bantams. But we had caught the chicken bug and couldn’t stop there!
Our hens now live in a converted garden shed that the Mister picked up from our local tip shop for $20. He added a roost and a wire door for better ventilation.
We think we may need to expand again soon…