There are so many things to think about when starting your small backyard flock. Or even your large backyard flock. You get the chicks, the heat lamps, the different feeds. But one of the most important considerations is the coop. What kind should you get? Should you buy pre-made? Or should you build it yourself? And there’s a ton of info on the types of chicken coops out there.
I already mentioned in a previous post that when we had our broilers we only had a temporary shelter. Very temporary, because they were thrust upon us, and we had nothing to work with. We just moved into our house, so we were tight with our money. Buying a pre-made coop wasn’t an option. However, when our daughters brought home 7 chicks from East Texas that summer, my husband had to come up with something better.
Building Your Own Coop
If you have a small flock and don’t have time to build something, buying a pre-fabricated shelter is a great option. Although, if you have a bigger flock, you’ll need to either build the coop yourself or hire someone to build it. Most pre-made shelters are designed with smaller flocks in mind. Think under 7 birds.
My husband has been involved with art, design, and different stages of construction most of his life. He enjoys it, so it was a no brainer for him, deciding to build the coop. The hard part was finding time and coming up with a suitable design. He checked out some books at the library for different designs and got a basic idea before gathering supplies.
Coops Out of Re-Purposed Materials
There are so many different ways to make a chicken coop. All you really need is creativity; you don’t even need money in some cases. Although, you need to make sure predators can’t get into it.
When we were thinking about a chicken coop, there had been a tornado that touched down less than a couple minutes away from us. So there were a lot of fences down. A friend of mine went through her neighborhood and constructed her coop out of old fence.
My husband didn’t want to do that. He said it’s more difficult to use wood that’s already been used. But 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 if we could take 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. 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. He 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. That’s what the coop stands on.
If you plan on starting small or have a small flock, you can find manufactured coops on Amazon. You can also go to your local feed store. One year we even saw some at our Sam’s Warehouse.
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 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. At that point we could bring the new chicks to the first coop we built; it was the perfect size for bite size birds.
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.
Whether you purchase a prefabricated coop or build your own, make sure it’s the right size for your flock. The coop is where the birds rest at night, the hens lay their eggs, and where they run to when there’s danger.
Chickens don’t necessarily need an abundance of nesting boxes, unless you have a very large flock. We currently have 29 chickens, 1 guinea, and 4 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. He 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.
Our big coop only has 12 boxes. 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.
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. This can be beneficial, because it can be moved around the yard due to its light weight. Also, 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 are purchasing/building one that’s attached, it’s not that big of a deal; it’s just another area to clean.
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 gets 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. 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. 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 or 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 wire mesh is it.
The last thing to take into account when deciding on a chicken coop is the size of your flock. There’s a lot of different material online on how to figure out the size of your coop based on the size of your flock. Are your birds free-range? Or are they going to be in the run all day? When we first built our big coop, we only had 8 birds. Then we expanded to 20 for a long time. And now we have 29, plus ducks, and chicks. But not all the chicks will stay. However we still have our small coop, that we use for broody hens.
A good rule of thumb is 2-4 square feet bird, unless your birds will be confined all day; then more space is better. Since our birds stay out all day until they put themselves in at night, they have enough space. Although, if we ever increase our flock, we’ll need to build an addition.
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.