The Best Shelters for Your Flock

Big Chicken Coop

CHICKEN COOPS

I already mentioned in a previous post that when we had our broilers we only had a temporary shelter, however when our daughters brought home 8 chicks from East Texas, my husband had to come up with something better.

He checked out some books at the library for different designs and got a basic idea before gathering supplies. There are so many different ways to make a chicken coop; all you really need is creativity, although you need to make sure predators can’t get into it.

When we were in the process of thinking about a chicken coop there had been a tornado that had touched down less than a couple of minutes away from us, so there were a lot of fences down, and a friend of mine went through her neighborhood and constructed her chicken coop out of old fence.

small chicken coop
Construction of our first coop.

My husband didn’t want to do that, because he said it’s more difficult to use wood that’s already been used, yet due to our budget we couldn’t afford to get what we wanted, so he went to the new home subdivision near us and asked the builders there if we could take away their ‘trash’. They said we could have it, which consisted of the wood we would use to build our first chicken coop. The only reason they threw it out was because they made a mistake with it, so instead of trying to fix their mistakes, they would just throw out the wood and start with new.

We got the shingles from someone else my husband worked with who just re-roofed his house, and all we had left to do was paint it. I think the hardest part of building that chicken coop was my husband getting the telephone poles into the ground, onto which the coop stands.

Completion of the first coop with a ramp for the birds.

There are also prefabricated or manufactured chicken coops for sale. You can find some on Amazon or go to your local feed store. One year we even saw some at our Sam’s Warehouse. Manufactured coops aren’t typically very large, so if you have a lot of birds those won’t work, but for first-timers or if you have a small flock, they will work great.

The chickens helping to dig the foundation for our second chicken coop.

When our first batch of incubated eggs started hatching, we didn’t have a coop big enough for 20-something birds. It only had 9 nesting boxes but no run. It was basically just a small shelter from the elements and a place for the birds to lay their eggs, however with the certainty that we were indeed going to have more birds, we needed a new place for all of them.

Temporarily we placed the chicks in a big Rubbermaid box with a heat lamp, pine shavings, plastic waterer, and chick-starter. We left them in this setting until the adult chickens had a new home, because at that point we could bring the new chicks to the first coop we built; it was the perfect size for bite size birds.

Our chicks.

It took my husband and son in law 4 or 5 days to build the new coop from start to finish, and when it was completed it was like a penthouse compared to what the birds had before.

The new coop only has 12 boxes, although in our experience the hens usually like to lay their eggs in the same nesting box, so we didn’t figure that would be an issue, and it generally isn’t. They always have plenty of space; they just choose not to use it, preferring the space someone else is occupying instead.

Whether you purchase a prefabricated coop or decide to make your own, you need to make sure it’s the right size for your flock. The coop is generally where the birds rest at night, the hens lay their eggs, and where they run to when there’s danger.

NESTING BOXES

They don’t necessarily need an abundance of nesting boxes unless you have a very large flock. We currently have 20 chickens, 2 guineas, and 3 ducks, and only 2 or at most 3 boxes get used. Ever. They sleep on a roost, so installing some roosting poles is also important. You would be surprised at how some birds want the whole roost to themselves. Our first roo was like that and would peck the claws of whoever was next to him, making them jump off. We currently have a hen that’s like that; she doesn’t want anyone next to her on the roost.

birds roosting
The guinea pair, roo, and a couple of hens.

THE RUN

We have a run attached to our big coop, but we didn’t with the first one. I have seen some that are detachable; I’ve also seen coops that are mobile, and this can be beneficial, because it can be moved around the yard due to its light weight, and the birds won’t denude the grass in just one area. It also means less clean up for you, equating to fresh air for the birds and less disease, but if you have one that’s attached or purchasing/building one that’s attached, it’s not that big of a deal; it’s just another area to clean. In addition to cleaning the coop, my husband usually turns the dirt/earth in the run after clearing out all the straw and food.

There are pros and cons to having either a permanent or mobile coop and run, though probably one of the biggest arguments against the tractor design would be dependent on where one lives. If, like me, you live somewhere where it tends to get super windy or experience frigid winters, including ice and snow some years, this option wouldn’t be ideal.

Once September rolls around we can get gusts of up to 40 mph or more, not to mention the threat of tornadoes in the Spring, so the last thing you want is the hen house being knocked over. A few weeks ago we had an early Winter storm which downed power lines. Ours didn’t go out, because ours are buried thankfully, but people were without power in several areas of our state for weeks. And then two weeks ago we had one of those terribly windy days that we have, and power went out again. What makes the tractor design ideal is also what makes them unsuitable in contrary weather.

Something else to consider when designing on buying a coop and run is how to predator proof it. I have had friends that never locked their birds up at night, just letting the chickens fend for themselves. I’ve also had a friend who had a window on their coop for their birds. One friend just had a coop and no run made entirely out of fencing material. In all three instances the birds were killed by predators. Rather than placing chicken wire on the run, my husband placed hardware cloth or wire mesh which is extremely strong and durable. The only things that can get through, besides bugs, are mice. A lot of people think chicken wire is a good option but it is very malleable and snakes can fit through the holes. You need something tough and mesh wire is it.

Their bedding in the nesting boxes is made up of straw, but in seasons when that has not been available we have used pine shavings or hay, though I have heard that pine shavings and straw are the best to keep out mold and bugs. Our birds seem to prefer straw but that could be because they are used to it.

Do you have a preference for your coop and run? Do you live somewhere that isn’t as windy? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Published by KS

I'm sharing my stories from a small town in Oklahoma: Chickens and other birds, cats, bees, a bunny, and art.

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