6 Must-Haves for Preparing Your Chicken Coop
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATIONAs with any building, choose the best possible location. Build your coop on a high, well-drained area to prevent lingering dampness, because moisture can cause an array of problems, from parasites to mold and fungi, which will cause respiratory issues. Position the coop to face south, which will allow the sun to warm and dry the coop.
2. ADEQUATE SPACEAdequate space is determined by the size of your flock. Allow 2 to 4 square feet per bird, depending on the size of your chickens. Larger breeds, such as Cochins or Brahmas, will require the upper end of the scale; smaller breeds, such as Silkies or Ameraucana, require smaller space per bird. And keep in mind that the size of your flock is likely to grow – who can resist adding more chickens? – so it’s a good idea to build a little larger than you initially need.
3. GOOD VENTILATION (BUT NOT DRAFTY)Begin with a draft-free, dry henhouse. Chickens easily become ill from inclement weather, so their shelter must protect them from rain, cold, storms, and wind. That said, a henhouse also requires ventilation to let in fresh air and move out stale air and ammonia and fumes from their droppings. Without adequate ventilation, that ammonia may become concentrated and toxic to your birds, causing respiratory problems. Good ventilation also releases moist air that develops from chickens’ respiration. Constant exposure to moist air not only can result in respiratory distress, but moist air in the henhouse during harsh winters can cause frostbitten combs, wattles, and feet. Multiple windows located high up will create cross-ventilation while also protecting your birds from direct drafts. Windows also allow in light, which releases egg-making hormones so your hens maintain egg production.
4. PREDATOR-PROOF SECURITYYour henhouse should include a door that can close securely once they’re inside roosting for the night. It takes a bit of extra work to make your outside runs predator-proof, but you’ll be glad you did. After determining your coop borders, plan for fence walls from 5 to 6 feet tall so you can easily walk around. When you install the fence wire, bury it at least 12 inches deep and toe it out about 6 inches to deter predators from digging under the fence. As an extra layer of protection, consider running electric fencing around the outside of the pen. Place it about 12-18 inches from the fencing and about 4 inches off the ground to discourage predators from getting close enough to the fencing to dig.
5. ENOUGH NESTSProvide at least one nest for every four or five hens in your flock, which means the number of nests depends on the size of your flock. If you expect your flock to eventually increase, add extra nests now or make sure you have the room to add nests when the time comes. Hens prefer a little privacy when they’re laying eggs, so place the nests in a dark area away from the coop’s hubbub. Some chicken keepers place a curtain over the nest’s entrance to provide even more privacy. Creating an enticing place will encourage your hens to lay their eggs in the nest instead of around the coop, making you hunt for them.
6. ROOSTS FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEPThough chickens are domesticated, they still have instincts, and one of those is to seek a high place to roost – or sleep – to avoid predators. Sleeping on the henhouse floor also makes them vulnerable to bacteria, mites, and lice, which is another reason your henhouse should contain roosts, or elevated narrow planks, for your chickens to sleep. Chickens sleep with their feet flat, unlike wild birds that grip a perch, so a small, rounded roost doesn’t work for them. Instead, a flat wooden surface 2-4 inches wide creates the best roost for most chickens. This size allows their foot to remain flat, yet lets their toes grip the roosting bar as they sleep. Use wood, rather than plastic or metal, for your roosts. Not only are plastic and metal too slippery for hens to get a good grip, but plastic can crumble and metal gets cold in winter and could damage your hens’ feet. Construct roosts at varying heights, much like a ladder, so they can get up and down without injuring themselves. And be sure to stagger the space between roosts so hens higher up don’t defecate on those roosting below them.
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