Interest in keeping backyard chickens has risen during the past several years. Pandemic-related lockdowns have led even more people to think about raising chickens to provide eggs. All chicken coops share certain features. Before you order chicks or hens, learn the necessary parts of a chicken coop.
The Hen House
Chickens need a safe, enclosed place to stay at night. A hen house or other fully enclosed area protects the birds from weather and predators. Your hen house should have roosts, or bars where the birds can stand and hold on with their feet; these can be two-by-fours or cut tree limbs. Chickens drop their waste when roosting, so don’t position roosting bars over food and water.
The hen house should be elevated to discourage predators and rodents. It should also have a door and plank leading out to a larger open area (a chicken run). Chickens will naturally retreat to roost at dusk, and they’ll want to come out again in the morning. Automatic chicken coop doors can close them in and let them out at the right time so that you don’t have to get out of bed at the crack of dawn and do it manually.
Hens like a little privacy when they lay their eggs. Nesting boxes of at least a square foot each are necessary parts of a chicken coop. One box can serve three or four birds, but if you have room, providing more will reduce the hens’ tendency to fight over eggs and laying space. Usually, nesting boxes extend off the back or side of the hen house. They have a door or lid you can open to retrieve the eggs.
Both the hen house and the nesting boxes need bedding to keep the birds warm and to enable easier cleanup. Bedding—either pine shavings or straw—also absorbs waste and odors and makes cleaning the hen house easier.
Chickens like to scratch, run, and play. They need several square feet each to move around during the day. If allowing your birds to wander around your yard isn’t safe because of predators or the risk they’ll wander off (remember, chickens can fly), then enclose your run with metal mesh. To protect the birds from predators, it’s wise to dig down at least a foot so that the mesh is buried beneath the surface of the yard. Enclose the top of the run, too, to keep the birds in and flying predators such as hawks out.
It’s possible to build your own chicken coop from any of the many plans available online. Take a tip from professional farmers and use a staple gun to affix steel mesh to the framing of the chicken run. You can also use a stapler to add roofing to the hen house and build fencing for your yard. With the basic components of a chicken coop in place, you’ll be ready to bring home your birds.