With plenty of buzz about how much healthier and more humane "free-range" poultry can be, it may seem better to forget about a chicken coop for your flock. But a well-designed coop is not a cruel way to house chickens – instead, it is a way to keep your chickens safe and comfortable, which will increase your flock's productivity and profitability.
Why You Need a Coop
A chicken coop is essential for many reasons, including…
A strong, sturdy coop will be designed to keep predators such as foxes, snakes, rats, raccoons, hawks, owls and cats away from your chickens. Furthermore, a safe coop also ensures your chickens do not wander into unsafe areas, particularly in urban or suburban areas where nearby streets or traffic can be hazardous for your poultry.
While chickens are easily adaptable to different climates and weather conditions, they still need comfortable shelter from the worst weather, including thunderstorms, drenching rain, strong winds, extreme heat and bitter cold. Your coop will help keep your flock more comfortable and safe from dangerous weather.
Chickens need a familiar, safe space to roost at night, and your coop will be just that. A good coop also allows chickens to roost while maintaining their social hierarchy, which will help minimize territorial behavior which can lead to fighting or bullying in the flock. This will also ensure you have well-rested, healthy chickens.
If you keep chickens for their egg production, your coop is critical for proper laying space so hens will produce more eggs. Properly sized and spaced laying boxes will not only keep your hens more at ease for better laying, but it will also be easier for you to collect the eggs with less stress and disturbance to the birds.
Chickens get very used to habits and routines, and using your coop as a proper feeding space will teach your chickens to return to the area when it is time to be fed. This will help you monitor and maintain your flock better, ensuring each bird gets fed appropriately and giving you the opportunity to observe your chickens to watch for potential health problems.
There are times when it will be necessary to confine your chickens to a smaller area or to keep them away from parts of your property where they aren't welcome. For example, if you must exercise dogs, chickens can be put in the coop so the dogs can run freely without bothering the flock. Your coop can also keep the birds away from garden areas or tender landscaping so new plants will not be disturbed.
Features of a Great Chicken Coop
There are many styles, sizes and designs for effective chicken coops, whether you plan to build your own structure or would rather purchase a ready-made coop. Before you start, check with your city or other local authorities about restrictions on chicken coops, and when choosing or designing a coop, keep these key features in mind to be sure it meets all your chickens' needs.
An elevated coop will be less vulnerable to small predators, and all cracks, holes and crevices should be tightly sealed to keep out any predators looking to make a meal of your chickens. Windows should have sturdy mesh so no predators can enter.
Your coop will need to be the right size to suit your flock and provide enough space for all your birds to be comfortable. The exact right size of your coop will depend on the number of chickens you keep, their mature size and whether you plan to expand your flock.
Fumes from chicken feces, decaying bedding and shed feathers can lead to respiratory problems in your flock, so good ventilation is essential for your coop. Windows are ideal, and you can also install vents or vent fans along the eaves or peak of the roof to ensure good air circulation.
Your coop will need suitable roosting space for every chicken, and several levels of elevated roosts are best to meet the flock's hierarchy. An old wooden ladder or thick dowels can be great options for easy roosts in a homemade coop.
Choose nest boxes that are the appropriate size for your laying hens, and be sure they are filled with safe, comfortable bedding to cushion eggs. Check boxes regularly for hidden eggs or eggs that have gotten pushed to the sides and missed with regular collection.
Coops need to be cleaned regularly to remove parasites, debris buildup and other hazards to your chickens. Installing dropping boards or choosing bedding that will be easy to change can help make cleaning your coop more convenient.
Chickens need time outdoors to have a healthy, stimulating lifestyle, and an attached run to your coop can still keep the birds safe while permitting them more freedom. Be sure the run's fencing is secure and that it includes protection from aerial attacks as well.
A lot more goes into a good chicken coop than just basic shelter, but with all the benefits a coop provides, you won't want your flock to be without one.