I have used chicken coops to keep my own chickens for many years, so a reliable supply of fresh eggs is something that I take for granted. My kids also enjoy the company of these intriguing creatures, and have a fun time taking care of them. Chicken coops sometimes pose a bit of an obstacle to those who want to own a chicken flock. Many people wonder which pen they should purchase, or whether they should build one themselves. If they opt to do it themselves, they want to know whether to buy a kit, or whether to plan and build a pen from beginning to end. For me personally, whenever I move house and have to consider the environment I will accommodate my chickens in, I always start afresh.
Thankfully, my other half is practically minded and owns a garage that is packed with different equipment and tools. This means that it is simpler for us to build everything from scratch, as opposed to purchasing a ‘done for you’ chicken pen from a store. I just follow my other half’s lead, because this usually gets the job finished quicker. Another reason we opt to construct a chicken pen ourselves is to ensure that the area of the pen (along with the nesting/roosting area) is the right size.
I always check that our plan takes into account the light and ventilation within the chicken pen. You should include ventilation holes to halt the accumulation of any poisonous gases (which come from the chicken’s excrement). Position ventilation holes at the rear of the pen and close to the pop hole. You can put wire mesh on the holes to guard against predators.
Also, I make a point of ensuring that the chicken pen’s design enables easy access for cleaning and egg collection. Your door openings need to be sufficiently large, so that the inside is visible. You need to be able to clean out the mess easily as well.
All of my chicken pen plans have predator protection incorporated into them. If you are constructing the pen yourself, make sure that you use heavy duty mesh and strong materials, particularly if there are raccoons or foxes in your local area. If you are a city dweller, you still need to protect your poultry from dogs and cats. If you encounter eagles or hawks that attack your chickens from above, you will have to build a suitable chicken wire, or a full roof (if these types of predators are extremely prevalent). For creepers like snakes, there is not a lot you can do, apart from ensuring that your chicken pen is situated away from bush areas, or piles of rubbish etc. As is evident, familiarity with your environment is essential when constructing chicken coops.
We live in a country house, so the two issues that influence planning — the appearance and size of the pen — are not a factor. My modest flock of six chickens (frequently I have more chickens than this, along with other poultry) is satisfied, because they have more than enough room to forage without bumping into each other. Moreover, it means that they can stretch their legs, on the odd day that I do not let them out.
Essentially, when planning the design of a chicken pen, we take into account two primary areas – the shed/inside area and the outside area. For the under cover or inside area, we make room for some nesting boxes, as well as a few perches for the animals to sit on at nighttime. This ‘shed’ should be big enough to accommodate these features, however it needs to be affordable too. This is why it is vital to plan thoroughly at this point, if you are doing the building yourself.
We usually have a fairly big outside run area for our chicken coops. Ten feet by ten feet or bigger is the norm, based on the location. You can make your outside run area any size or shape you like. However, if it is extremely large, you will require more materials which makes it more excoopsive (unless you are lucky enough to obtain what you require from a rubbish dump, or from someone else’s backyard). Ultimately, your chickens will like every additional piece of space you can give them.
Typically, to accommodate a flock of about ten chickens (which provides enough eggs to feed our family), we use about three nesting boxes. The chickens retreat to these boxes once each day, to lay an egg. We determine the best location for these nesting boxes. If they are up high, the chickens need to be able to access them. Chickens prefer to lay eggs in an elevated, private space, so we normally secure the nest boxes approximately four feet above ground. Obviously, then we have to offer access using a ‘ladder’, or similar solid fixture, that the chickens can stand on to reach the boxes. The agility of chickens never ceases to amaze me.
When it comes to the perches, it is simple to reuse a few broom handles and position these in an elevated location, within your ‘shed’ area. All of your chickens will use these for roosting on, so allow sufficient room for your flock — maybe one broom handle for five or six chickens. Remember not to place water or food below the perch, because the animals will soon contaminate this with their excrement. Do not panic if your hens or chickens refrain from perching when they are young, because this is common. Usually, the chickens will start perching when they are six months old. However, no two chickens are the same, so they might begin at their own pace. Patience is the key as far as this goes.
Your next step should be to grab some paper and a pen, and start formulating your design. Be sure to include an outdoor and indoor area, and take appearance and budget into account. Constructing chicken coops is enjoyable and rewarding, and your entire family can get involved.
You can get more ideas in a couple good books here: