Guide to Designing the Perfect Chicken Coop

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I’ve been told that as long as you provide food and water, chickens will be happy in tight confinement, because “they don’t know what they’re missing”. It’s a popular rationalization. But depriving an animal of the opportunity to express its normal behaviors, like running, flapping, foraging, and exploring, is not like depriving a human of a flat screen TV. It’s more like living in a closet with nothing to do, and nothing to eat but Balanced Human Glop. So I’m passionate about providing a quality living space for animals, and here’s my guide to designing the ultimate chicken coop.

Designing the perfect chicken coop

We purchased a 10 x 16 ft shed, and fashioned half of it as a chicken coop. We built 2 enclosed runs (one in back and one in front), and the front run opens into a 1/3 acre fenced yard.

Designing the Perfect Chicken Coop: 15 Tips in Detail

Our first coop was an assemble yourself kit that was advertized as spacious enough for 12 chickens. We used it for 8 hens, but now that I’m more knowledgeable about chickens, I wouldn’t recommend it for more than three. It was also flimsy and inconvenient. So when we decided to expand our flock, we discarded that piece of junk and purchased a 10 x 16 foot shed. My husband put a wall down the middle, and fashioned one of the 10 x 8 foot rooms into a chicken coop. He divided the other half of the shed into 2 smaller rooms, one of which was for storage, and the other for our 2 rabbits. Finally, he built 2 runs for the chickens, and 1 for the rabbits. It works extremely well, though it’s not perfect, and the following is based on what we’ve learned along the way, from undersized, inconvenient piece of junk, to spacious, sturdy, easy-to-clean housing.


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1. Local regulations

Before you even dream about building the perfect chicken coop and populating it with a flock of feathered beauties, check the laws and regulations in your town for restrictions on types of livestock, limitations on number of animals, distance from property lines, etc. Also be aware of your state and local wetland laws, for activity may be limited or prohibited within a certain distance of streams, swamps, vernal pools, etc. Ignorance is no excuse for a violation, and you may be required to relocate your set-up or remove it entirely, even if you were unaware of restrictions.

2. The site

The next thing to think about is where you might put the chicken coop. Here are some things to consider:

  • Shade – Extreme heat is a bigger problem than extreme cold (except for birds that are not cold hardy), and a shady spot for the birds is absolutely essential. Our chicken coop is under a large deciduous tree, which I consider ideal for our Massachusetts climate of moderately hot summers and cold winters. It’s shaded in summer and exposed to sunlight in winter.
  • Drainage – Mud is not a healthy substrate for chickens, so be sure that they will never be forced to stand in it. Choose your site accordingly.
  • Space – Chickens do best with plenty of indoor space and outdoor space, so choose a site where you can fit a spacious coop and run. More on that below.
  • Convenience – You will have to tend to your birds all year round, no matter how rainy, cold, windy, or snowy. You won’t want to shovel a 100 foot path to the coop. With the coop conveniently located, the daily care can be a pleasure rather than a chore.

3. Size

A larger coop is better than a smaller one. You will see various numbers bandied about for minimum square footage per bird, such as 10 sq ft per full sized bird in constant confinement. But in my opinion, more space is always better. Here are some considerations:

  • Designing the perfect chicken coop

    Side view of our coop and runs (1 in front and 1 in back). We get a lot of snow, and a small, short coop could be completely covered.

    Most chickens don’t enjoy snow, ice, high winds, or extreme heat, and often choose to stay indoors in such conditions. Plan their indoor space accordingly. They may have to endure several months of confinement, and that can be a set up for boredom related problems like feather picking.

  • Some sources advise a tighter coop, to hold body heat when chickens huddle together to keep warm during winter. That’s a poor strategy. As long as your coop is not drafty, and you keep winter hardy breeds with small, thick combs, they will have no trouble keeping warm and will be at minimal risk for frostbite. It’s not a good idea to keep less hardy breeds and rely on huddling for warmth. Read here about how much space wild jungle fowl, the chicken’s wild relative, prefer.
  • Factor in space for a feeder, waterer, dust bath, and nest boxes.
  • The coop should be tall enough to not become buried in snow.
  • I highly recommend a coop that is tall enough for YOU to enter. That way, you can experience the conditions as the chickens experience them. Is the coop so dusty that it’s hard to breathe? Does it smell of ammonia? Is it drafty? If you can stand inside the coop, you will know what can be done to make their home more healthful.
  • Make it large enough for flock expansion if there is any chance of that. Egg production gradually diminishes with the hen’s age, so you may want a few new hens every few years.

4. Sturdiness

Be sure that whatever you buy or build can stand up to severe storms. Those cheap little chicken coop kits are awfully cute, but rather flimsy. Let’s put it this way: The corrugated plastic roof of our first coop blew off in a storm.

5. Storage space

Think about where you might store the feed, the bucket and poop scooper, etc. The little storage room off our coop is a tremendous convenience.

6. Electricity

Designing the perfect chicken coop

Electricity for a water heater is a great convenience. Windows for natural lighting are also a plus.

After one winter of toting water out to our flimsy little “starter” coop, I knew I wanted an electric water heater in our new one. A light is also helpful, whether or not you plan to artificially extend day length to induce winter laying.

I don’t use the light to extend day length, but I do appreciate it when I need to handle a flighty bird that I can’t catch during the day. It’s convenient to be able to flick on a light so I can get her off the roost at night.

7. Windows

I mentioned the usefulness of artificial lighting above, but natural lighting is also a huge plus. It makes clean-up a more pleasant and easier task for you. And, even if your birds typically spend the day outside, they may spend entire days indoors during harsh weather. In fact, I consider natural lighting essential, and three walls of our coop have windows.

8. Insulation

To insulate or not has been debated numerous times, and everyone has their own preference. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think insulation is a good idea. We insulated ours, and it was a mistake. It has created space for rodents, and there really is no advantage to it, unless your coop is heated. But do you really need a heated coop? I think it’s better to keep breeds that can thrive in your climate without added heat.

9. Ventilation

I found this one to be a no brainer, but it seems to be an issue for a lot of people, so it’s worth mentioning. Chickens have a high respiratory rate, which can quickly increase the humidity in a tight coop. And they poop a lot, which can create an ammonia build up. Excess moisture and excess ammonia are both health hazards, so adequate ventilation is a must. I almost always leave one of the pop doors open all night, because it leads into a totally enclosed, predator proof run. I close all the doors on extremely windy nights, but there’s a vent near the ceiling that’s always open.

10. Flooring

Dirt flooring is an option, but I highly recommend an elevated coop to deter rats. One foot off the ground is said to be sufficient. Wood flooring is fine, since the thick layer of litter needed for hygiene will also protect the floor.

Designing the perfect chicken coop

Two hens resting on rustic roost. We’ve since switched to 2 x 4 boards, to make for easier gripping, to reduce hiding spaces for mites and to reduce risk of bumblefoot.

11. Roosts

  • Length – A minimum of 8 inches per full sized chicken (less for bantams) is often recommended. However, it’s wise to be much more generous with roosting space, so bottom of peck order chickens can avoid bullies. Further, chickens like to spread themselves out on hot summer nights. Once again, more space is always better.
  • Designing the perfect chicken coop

    Our new roost, made of 2 x 4 boards. It’s much easier for our older hens to mount and grip.

    Width – An oft quoted rule of thumb is that roosting bars should be no less than 2 inches wide for full-sized chickens. Tree branches make a beautiful roost, but when fresh, the rough edges can predispose to bumblefoot and provide hiding spots for mites. When smooth and worn, chickens may have difficult gripping branches. Flat boards reduce the chances of all of those problems, as long as they’re sanded to eliminate sharp edges.

  • Location – Make the lowest roosting bar no more than 18 inches off the ground for heavy breeds which cannot fly well. They will hop-fly up to the higher bars. Make sure there is plenty of horizontal space between the bars, so chickens won’t be pooping on the birds beneath them.

12. Droppings board

Many people keep a droppings board or poop hammock under the roost, for easy clean up. We don’t have one, but it’s on our to-do list.

13. Nesting boxes

Hens will lay their eggs on the floor if you do not provide nesting boxes, but the eggs may become soiled, buried in the litter, or trampled (which can lead to egg eating). Hens prefer properly placed, comfortable nest boxes to the floor. Here are some considerations:

  • Designing the perfect chicken coop

    Note the lip which keeps nest material inside, and the perch which makes it easy for hens to mount.

    Number – Many sources suggest 1 nest box for every 4-5 hens, but I suggest at least one for every 3 hens. It’s nice if the bottom of peck order birds can avoid aggressive individuals.

  • Location – Place the nest boxes in the darkest part of the coop, for hens instinctively seek a quiet location with good cover for laying.
  • Size – This will depend on the breeds you keep. For full sized, dual purpose breeds like Wyandottes, a typical size would be 12-14 x 12-14 x 12-14 inches. Smaller is okay for bantams, and larger is necessary for huge breeds, like brahmas. Smaller birds will use nesting boxes designed for larger birds as long as they are in dark area. Mine are sized for full sized birds, but my bantams use them.
  • Roof – This should have a steep pitch, to discourage birds from resting and pooping on top.
  • Lip – A lip on the lower part of the nest box entry will keep the eggs and litter from falling out. Ours have a 4 inch lip, as you can see in the photo.
  • Designing the perfect chicken coop

    Sometimes hens fight over nest boxes, and sometimes they share one amicably.

    Perch – It’s nice if there’s an easy landing/grabbing spot for hens.

  • Curtains – Some people place burlap (or fancier) curtains in front of the nesting boxes to create a sense of safety for the hens. But if your boxes are well designed and well placed, the hens will use them without curtains. Another use for a curtain is to close off the nestboxes just before the hens go to roost. That way, they won’t sleep and poop inside the boxes. But I let them sleep there if and when they want to. Bottom of peck order birds sometimes sleep in the box to avoid bullies. To keep boxes clean, I scoop poop from the boxes once a day. The minute it takes is time well spent, I believe, to allow the birds the choice.

14. Dust bath

Chickens will create dust bathing areas wherever they have access to the ground, but it’s a good idea to provide a box of sandy soil for dust bathing inside the coop. They will appreciate it when they cannot go outdoors, and when the ground is covered with snow.

15. Chicken runs, pens, and yards

Chickens are curious, active creatures which enjoy a varied diet of plants, insects, and small animals. They just love to find their own food, even if commercial feed is always available (as it should be). But on the other hand, true free ranging is a set up for predator problems. A safer approach is to compromise and provide an enclosed run or fenced yard.

  • Enclosed runs should be predator proofed with, for example, 1/2-inch hardware cloth. To exclude digging predators, extend fencing 18-24  inches underground, or place an 18-24 inch skirt of hardware cloth on the ground all around the run. To exclude climbing and aerial predators, the run needs hardware cloth (or other protection) on the top, as well. You might also consider a roof that keeps out rain and snow. If you have bears in the area, run electric wires around the runs to deter them. We have electric wires around the entire set-up. I have two runs, and the chickens get much more use out of the one covered with corrugated plastic, because they can use it during rainy or snowy conditions. For details on predator proofing your coop and run, read here.
  • Fenced yards large enough to provide a diversity of plant life make for happy chickens (read here about creating an excellent chicken habitat). Choose fencing based on your needs. Our 4 ft fence contains our chickens, but they have plenty of space. Birds kept at higher density may fly a 4 ft fence for greener pastures, so a height of 5 ft is recommended. Chickens in a fenced yard will be particularly vulnerable to birds of prey, so you should provide trees or shrubs for cover, and some sort of deterrence. A guard dog may help. Our chicken yard is near the vegetable garden where we work, and it’s visible from the house. So, we almost always see predators and call the chickens to safety before its too late.
Designing the perfect chicken coop

This run in the rear of our coop, is totally enclosed and virtually predator proof. A corrugated plastic roof keeps rain and snow out, but lets light in.

Sources:

  1. Damerow, G. 1995. A Guide to Raising Chickens. Storey Communications, Inc. Pownal, VT.
  2. How to Design Your Chicken Run
  3. Rossier, J. 2002. Living with Chickens. The Lyons Press. Guilford, CT.

What do you think are the most important elements in a chicken coop? Share your ideas and ask your questions in the comment section below!


Comments

Guide to Designing the Perfect Chicken Coop — 54 Comments

  1. This is a well thought out post on chicken care! I like how you added the parts where you do your own thing despite the known “rule” being somewhat different. Well done and thanks!

  2. I get so frustrated with people selling new coops to unknown starting chicken owners while telling them it will fit a crazy amount of chickens. Chickens do so much better with a lot of space (and the owners do too, less mess, less fighting, less sickness…). Good advice on the egg boxes and roosts too. I always read opposite, one box for an entire flock because “everybody uses the same one anyway”. I actually found mine did that most of the time, but occasionally they needed their space. Better to have it for them then regret it later.

    • Exactly, Heidi, that is one of my pet peeves, too: when they say a coop will house 2 or 3 times more than it should. I feel stupid for having fallen for it, but everyone wants to think that keeping animals is easier, less expensive, and less demanding of space than it really is (assuming one wants them to be happy). Well, we had one bad year with that POS of a coop, and now have a very happy flock in a great set-up.

    • I was in Tractor Supply just last weekend and saw a family buying 6 chicks and one of those cheap coops. I had to nearly bite my tongue off not to say anything! These people were also SHOCKED to find out that they would have to keep the chicks inside under heat for 2 months. Articles like this are what people need to read BEFORE getting chickens!!

  3. Thanks for the great info! We are newbie homesteaders and are just about to place our first order for day old chicks. Our late winter project will be building a coop and having no construction/carpentry skills to speak of, we have been doing a lot of research about coop building and this is one of the most helpful posts i’ve seen. Would you mind sharing your source for the 10×16 shed? It seems like there’s a lot of options out there and some are probably better than others. Also, how big is your flock that you keep in the shed?

  4. also, do you have any instructions for how to build the elevated coop you describe? like i said, totale newbies here, so any specific how-tos are appreciated!

    • Hi Elisabeth, we bought our 10×16 ft shed from a local company called Circle B Barn. That doesn’t help you, but I’m sure you can find sheds in your area of various sizes. The thing that was perfect about it for our plans, was that it has 2 separate doors, so we could divide the shed in half, and use only one half for the chickens.

      To elevate the shed, my husband made 4 concrete piles, one for each corner. He had the piles ready and in place before the shed was delivered, so that it could be placed right on the piles at delivery.

      The chickens have half the shed, an 8×10 ft area. We keep 10-20 chickens in it at any given time (15 at present, a mix of bantams and full sized birds). In a warm climate with frequent free ranging, you could house more in there and the birds would still be comfortable. But we get lots of snow, so they are confined for a few months of the year, with only one of their runs, the covered one. We do shovel the snow out of the uncovered run, but they just don’t like it as much as the covered run in winter, so it really reduces their useful space.

      You’ll need to think about what works best for your climate. If it’s warm all year round, it will be much easier to keep your birds happy, I think.

      Congrats on your 1st chick order! I’m getting a few more this spring, but the first batch was really special. I’ll never forget it, mainly because my kids were so excited!

      • Thanks Janet! We are in Michigan so we will likely be going a similar route with a covered run for the snowy months. Cheers to chicks/chickens!

        • We (myself, nephews and daughter in law) built our chicken coop. It’s a 10×10 building with a high ceiling – vented at the top (covered with hardware cloth of course!). I couldn’t even tell you what we spent on it, but it is well worth it and will last for YEARS to come. Its weather tight – no drafts, but properly vented. I have 22 hens, 3 roosters, 3 guineas and 5 ducks living in there (thankfully without any problems). I don’t put my water or food in there – don’t want to risk moisture issues and mice/rats. I have a carport type shelter (12’x20′) over 2/3 of their 30′ run. I put the sides down (one side partially open – closed when it’s extremely windy) My chickens are grateful for the extra room to be outside during the cold – to get some sunshine (when there IS some!). We feed them outside and water them there as well. Last year there were 3 of us making sure their water was refilled several times a day. This year there are only 2 of us working full time jobs, so I invested in a heated hose, a refillable water dish wrapped in heat tape! Thank goodness I did that. I’ve only had to briefly thaw a couple of frozen spots twice this winter. Not bad! I just hope these items last for a few winters. I lost the canopy top of the run just recently and had to bungee a large tarp over it to last through the rest of the winter. I think this year we will be building something more permanent as replacement canopies are over $100!

          BTW, GREAT article. Good to know I’m doing the right thing. I liked your part about letting the one girl roost in the nesting box. I go in there nightly and transfer her to the roosts, but each night she’s back in the nesting boxes. I think I’m just gonna let her go – maybe she IS being pecked on the roosts! Not hard to clean out a little poop (especially now when it’s frozen!).

          • Sounds excellent, Donna, like a good sturdy coop with proper ventilation. I love the carport shelter over the run!! A covered run is definitely worth it. This year has been the coldest, snowiest winter we’ve seen in Mass., and our hens are using the covered run exclusively. I keep the uncovered run shoveled out and add fresh hay on the ground, but in winter they really prefer the extra shelter and avoid the uncovered run altogether. You’re right – poopsicles are quite easy to scoop out of the nest boxes! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience.

  5. Such an informative article. We have 4 hens with a shed style coop & outdoor run. I have 4 very happy girls. They have 2 nesting boxes but only use one. I too made the mistake of purchasing the cute small coop on wheels. I now use it for temporary rabbit housing when I have an overflow til butchering or a sick bunny.

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  7. So glad I came across this article! I’ve been reading various articles on chickens lately as my boyfriend and I are looking into getting a flock. I’ve had chickens before in a previous relationship, but the exsisting coop was poor quality. We gave an unused cement slab that’s pretty big and fairly thick, would that be a good place to set our chicken coop when we get to the building process? There are 2 trees there and it’s only a few hundred feet from our back door for quick easy access. Thanks again for sharing!!

    • I think a concrete slab would be a great floor for a chicken coop. Just be sure to give them a thick layer of dry, absorbent litter (such as pine shavings), especially if you live in a cold winter climate. Concrete is cold to touch in cold weather. A big plus is that concrete is easy to clean. However, a few hundred feet from the back door sounds kind of far away, if you get a lot of snow wherever you live, because you will have to shovel a very long path.

  8. I WOULD LIKE TO SAVE THIS ARTICLE. WOULD YOU SEND IT TO MY EMAIL PLEASE! ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT CHICKENS & INFORMATION. I HAVE A ACRE OF LAND. THANKYOU

  9. Thanks for this article. I have referred to it multiple times as I have been building a new coop for our new chicks. On our first go around, we bought full grown (already laying) hens from craigslist because we were buying someone else’s coop and he had nowhere to keep them so he gave them to us with the coop. That was a good learning experience, but it’s very exciting to be starting over from scratch now that we know what we’re doing a little bit more.

    This article has so many good and well thought out ideas. I can’t say I copied them all, but you influenced my thinking in very helpful ways. I definitely went bigger! And a great idea creating room for storage! So good! I chose to insulate it and wire it for electricity (We live in Alaska) but in our last (smaller) coop, we just used a little terrarium heater to give off just enough heat to keep things above freezing and we use a light in winter to give them enough daylight to keep them laying consistently.

    I’m curious about how a droppings board or poop hammock would actually function… it sounds like it might be just as much work to deal with as just shoveling out the waste. As far as flooring, I just laid down some cheap linoleum on top of the plywood floor and will throw down wood shavings or straw on top, but I’m hoping that if we ever move, I could easily pull up the floor and have a functioning “shed” for the new homeowners.

    • Hi Phil, so nice to hear you found it useful! A poop hammock or droppings board enables you to quickly and easily remove most of the poop daily, keeping the coop very clean. I do scoop under the roost daily, but since I don’t have a poop hammock, it’s hard on the back. It’s not a big deal for someone with 3 hens, but I have 15 hens (and 5 more pullets in the brooder), which makes my daily attempt at coop hygiene onerous.

      Many people do not scoop at all, though. They just keep piling fresh litter on top of the old, and clean out the whole thing once a year. I don’t want the litter that deep because it creates attractive bedding for rodents. Also, I find the coop is smellier and dustier that way, but there are many enthusiastic proponents of such “deep litter management”. Google that, and you’ll find lots of discussion.

  10. We enclose our run every fall due to winters in SD. Most years we have used heavy clear painters plastic and lath to keep it tight. The run has a regular roof on it. Last winter, we used parts if the plastic shower wall we took out and the old glass shower doors. Throw in a couple of recycled windows and pieces of corrugated plastic and we had one warm chicken run. Lots of light and passive solar gain. The chickens were out all but three days . Those days the wind chill was minus 40 or more. We did insulate our coop due to the extreme windchill we get here. However, since we built the coop; we stuffed the walls will bubble wrap we had stock piled. We have a dirt floor and just use lots of stall bedding. We clean out twice a year. By adding bedding on top, the stuff on the bottom starts to compost. This generates some heat in the winter time so the floor is warmer. We use 5 gallon buckets on their side for nesting boxes. We screwdriver dow. A small board in front of them to keep them in place. We have full size hens. This is just a different way to do it. We will change a few design elements when we move as we will have more space. Most of what will change is size of coop and run plus the additional space for feed inside the coop compared to what we have now.

    • All excellent ways to reuse materials, Carrie, thanks for sharing! As long as it satisfies the needs of your birds, it’s great. I like your plan for more space for the birds, and a storage space for the feed inside the coop is a nice convenience.

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  13. Hi, one of the best things I have read yet on recommendations – great article!!
    We’re in year 6 with a solidly built coop, off the ground with secure, enclosed and covered run under and beside the coop. The space underneath is used winter and fall and easily added desirable sq footage. We also have big doors for cleaning on the opposite side of the enclosed run that opens in to a larger fenced day area as well. We recently added short (2″x4) raised beds covered with wire mesh for always growing and available grass.

    Two things I’d like to hear others experiences on
    1. I’ve been considering taking food and water out of the coop as Donna does ( thanks for sharing that Donna). Is this a common practice with others?
    As it is, they rarely eat in the coop. And we have waterers in the enclosed run and the outside run that are used meow as well.
    Water inside the coop is easist for us to keep from freezing in winter with electric source. So may leave water there for winter….

    2. Bedding. Seems to always be in great debate. Is anyone using a wood floor with an absorbent dirt mixture under straw? Trying to find the perfect stuff, to go under straw, without chemicals as are often found in similar products made for stalls for other animals. Any recommendations?

  14. Hi Judi, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I hope other people chime in, but for now I’ll give my $.02 on your questions.

    1. I know a lot of people put the food outside the coop, but I also know that many of them have trouble with that attracting wild birds and mammals, which is not a good thing. It’s not good to have wild and domestic animals sharing the same feeder because it facilitates spread of disease between them. Also, bringing wild animals closer in is one more step towards them getting into the coop and stealing eggs. I’ve read more than one story of crows or jays moving along that pathway. So in my opinion, it’s best to keep the food in the coop, out of sight of wildlife.

    2. Bedding is definitely a controversial topic, as you say. I’ve never done what you mention, as I use shavings in the coop. But in both my covered and uncovered runs, I use hay over bare dirt, and I like that a lot. I sort of use the “deep litter” method for the runs (but not for the coop – I hate deep litter method for inside the coop). The hay decomposes pretty quickly, as I imagine straw would, yielding wonderful, nutritious mulch for the veg. garden.

    Sounds like you have an excellent set up. Enjoy your birds!

  15. This article was very useful! Now if I can get my better half to listen to me on fixing the chickens a weather proof dwelling. It gets pretty cold here and snows a little in TN. We had flurries here today and it was in the sixties and seventies last week. BRRR! Very diverse weather! Hard on my poor chickens.

  16. Great information!! We are preparing to be first time chicken owners so I’m doing as much homework as possible so that hopefully I can get it right the first time! I found your information to more helpful than anything else I’ve read. You included so many details explaining why you should do things a certain way. I love it! Thanks for sharing.

  17. we’re having to start over. We came home to find that something bit through the chicken wire and destroyed all our chickens. We also had boxes inside the pen that housed quails that we had wire in the bottom that you use for rabbits. whatever got our chickens chewed though this wire also. I like the idea of using a Shed to house chickens. We live in NC, so my climate is much warmer. I plan to rebuild as soon as I can come up with a better plan to keep predators out. Like your ideas also on using the tilted top of the laying boxes.

    • Hi Anitha, so sorry to hear that something got your chickens and quail! I hope your next attempt goes much better. Check out my post on Predator Proofing Your Chicken Coop and Run. PVC coated hardware cloth is best. Predators like raccoons can easily tear through chicken wire. Plain hardware cloth actually breaks down quickly if it has contact with the ground.

  18. We have a chicken yard with 5 foot fencing and the birds fly out. It’s quite large 19×25 feet but they want to go into the adjacent woods and forage. Those belong to a neighbor who is not chicken friendly. I understand they don’t want to be on the area they have made bare and input dandelions and other forage in daily. But I have to deal with keeping them in. I am going to cover with some intermittent poultry net I think as covering the entire affair is out of budget . I looked at omlet fence to give them some outdoor area. I thought of using a camping screen tent it could be moved about. Ideas?

    • Hi Susan, if resources are limited, maybe I’d put a cover of hardware cloth around inner periphery to prevent them from flying out. However, if they spend a lot of time in their run unattended by you and with no guard animal, they are vulnerable to hawks, so I’d find a way to cover the whole thing.

  19. Hi. I am just starting a coop and this is the best advice that I have found on any sites. Thank you so much for the information. My husband and I are building a 20×20 coop half for chickens and half for ducks. We are planing to keep them separate because I have read that they will fight. The run size is 20×20 on each side for each of them. I was really nervous to start this project because of all of the crazy advice some sites gave but the information you have given has put me at ease. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

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  21. Thank you for the informative post. We inherited 3 chickens and a duck when we bought our home in Virginia recently and are learning “on the fly” so to speak. 🙂 The “coop” that was left on the property is a very small shed that is more the size of an old fashioned outhouse, maybe 4 feet square. We’re trying to figure out how to expand it without starting from scratch. Also their only fenced-in run is mostly uncovered, so it gets really muddy when it rains (which is quite often). We’re in the process of adding roofing to that area. We’ve found that having the duck makes things a little more tricky since she tends to splash in her tub a lot and is just more messy than the chickens.

    I would love to see a post on recommendations for bedding inside the coop and how you scoop it. The previous owners recommended hay. We’ve tried hay, straw and some shavings under the roosts. I’ve also read about people who use sand throughout which I believe would make scooping much easier. Also, can you provide a photo of a “poop hammock”? I can’t quite picture it. Thanks again for your information posts.

  22. hello janet, have a question on, how much up top ventilation is good for an enclosed 10’x8’x8’coop/run. i’m going to use 4’x8’clear acrylic panels for 2 sides of run,if i shorten the height of panels about 6inches each, would that be sufficient? i live in western mass.
    thankyou,nancy b.
    eagerly waiting for reply

    • I’m not really sure what you mean. A 6 inch space all around the top? That is way more than enough. The exact amount of ventilation needed depends on how many chickens are in the coop. If you’re cramming 50 in there, you need more than if you’re keeping 10. Also be sure to make the vent as predator proof as possible.

  23. Pingback: Hens On The Homestead: 6 Questions You Need To Answer Before You Get Chickens | Little Farm in the Alberta Foothills

  24. Lots of great information; thanks for sharing. I do have a question though. You mentioned making the coop tall enough so you could be inside the coop and experience what the chickens do, but also mention raising it off the ground to deter rats, etc. This feels like an either/or situation…or one that requires an exceptional amount of stability to hold a person’s weight elevated off the ground with steps to get inside. Can you clarify this for me? Thanks!

    • Yes, it needs to be stable and you would probably want a step or two for a person to get inside. Our coop is a prefab garden shed set on concrete pillars, and we have one step at the people door. The chicken doors have ramps.

  25. Ok so I’ve been reading and bookmarked a ludicrous amount of your articles and am so thankful for all this smart information! Experience is clearly key as we all can attest to. I’d like some guidance on a few things if possible and hopefully this will help others as well. We live in Nebraska so our climate is pretty much 4 seasons. Cold winters, hot summers, rainy springs and cozy autumns is probably the best way to explain our climate. I’m concerned about the breeds I’ve chosen somewhat due to their combs and would love your guidance here.

    1. We have 1 Barred Rock, 1 Red Sex Link and 1 Buff Orpington. I was planning on also getting 2 Ameraucanas (I do know there are some discrepancies around this breed and I’m hopeful I’ve found the right one through our local feed store) and 1-2 Easter Eggers. I’ve done so much research and was certain all these breeds would do well in our climate. But I’m a little concerned about frostbite.

    2. This brings me to my next question…space for our chickens and whether or not we should add the Ameraucanas and Easter Eggers. I have chosen to buy the plans for the Chez Poulet coop that is found all over Pinterest. I love how cute it is for one and that it will be an addition to our yard. We live on .3 acres which is roughly 13,200 square feet. The coop including the run is 11 ft long by 7 ft tall by 4 ft wide. We will also be adding fencing around that so they can come out into the yard while still being protected. Our yard itself currently does not have a fence but we will be adding a 6′ wood fence hopefully this summer. So, I absolutely do not want my hens to be unhappy. I love my animals almost as much as my kids! (Let’s be honest here…they’re a close second because they’re not mouthy! Ha!) We also back up to a wooded area and live in a culdesac. So I was thinking 6-7 chickens but now I’m thinking we should stick with 3-5. I was wanting more colored eggs but I won’t put my wants before my hens needs. I know the coop is fancy and over the top and I know backyard chicken raising is trending. I’ve been researching like crazy and have seen others do this job poorly due to too many chickens and not enough space, lack of discipline to keep the coop clean, etc. I won’t be that chicken mom. It’s disturbing to witness others behave in such a manner.

    3. I’m nervous about the hot summers and cold winters. Our home faces east which means our backyard faces west. Our plan is to have our coop in the backyard near our deck and basement sliding glass door for easy access to eggs. If you’ve seen the coop, the nesting boxes for us to reach into will face north and their cute little run door to come out from the coop will face south. I feel comfortable with this position since the woods are behind our house. In the summer, the backyard is shaded til about 12-1pm or so and then again from the trees around 5pm or later. So technically they will get the heat for about 5 hours in the summer. Might be more even depending on the month or less.

    I realize this is an extremely long, type A written post. 🙂 Thank you in advance for your time and advice!!

    • Hi Beka, thanks for trying so hard to ensure happy hens! Frostbite probably won’t be a significant problem unless your single comb hens have really big combs. My climate is very similar to yours (Mass., zone 5-6) and I have 3 single comb birds at the moment.They don’t get frostbite, but all of them have smallish combs. I have definitely seen hens with unusually large combs get frostbite in this climate, though, and certainly single comb roosters. If you have a hen with a really big comb, you might want a heat source in winter.

      As for number of hens, I think 6-7 would be fine during the warmer months, as long as they get to run around the fenced yard for part of the day. The problem is during winter. During really cold, windy weather, or when there is snow on the ground, they will probably spend most of the day huddling together in the coop, not even using the run much. It looks like that coop/run has only about 20-25 sq ft of indoor space, which is iffy for 6-7 full sized hens in winter. I’ve seen some nasty feather picking during winter in coops that crowded, so beware of that. You can maximize usage of the run during winter by shoveling out the snow and spreading fresh hay (or some other litter) on the ground (they don’t like to step on ice/snow).

      It sounds like their coop will get the sun during the afternoon heat, which is not so great in summer. If they are able to run around the yard for at least part of that time, so they can seek shady spots under trees or shrubs, that would make them very happy. I don’t know if there’s enough room for this in your run, but a friend of mine made a little shady shelter out of old Christmas trees and branches in her run. Her birds live to sit under it in summer. I realize there’s a roof over that run, but since it faces the south, part of it will probably be sunny during part of the day.

      I hope that helps, and good luck!

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