So, I posted my coop here yesterday and had some feedback from folks. I am still working on it–building a pallet fence for the hens so they can have a little more play space (will blog on that one when it’s done). I thought I might note a few tips and tricks when thinking about designing, purchasing, or building a coop. I spent many nights eagerly looking at designs, photos, and books as well as working with a carpenter on my coop. I’ve learned a thing or two that may help you out in the search or save you time in the process.
1. This coop is something you will live with on your property. It needs to be a safe structure for your chickens but also should be aesthetically pleasing to you. I concentrated on the safety aspect then found creative ways to make it suit our family’s personality afterwards. (A daughter who loves bright colors will quickly help you “make it your own.”)
2. Along with safety, think about predators common to your area and consider their methods for obtaining their prey. It may impact decisions you make about the materials you use, where you put the coop, and what kind of structure you build. We have raccoons and opossums with sharp teeth and little hands which meant no chicken wire. We used “hardware fabric” instead–it has a smaller hole and stronger wire.
3. If you will have laying hens, consider how you will access their eggs (especially when it’s cold or rainy, and you are trying to make a quick trip out and back). I had designed 2 laying boxes inside of mine, but the carpenter made a drawer instead. Very cool, huh?! I just pull it out, clean it, etc. The girls have not started laying yet so I’ll have to let you know how it goes, but for now, they like it.
4. Make sure there are roosting bars in and out of the roosting/sleeping area. I used small branches when they were in the pallet playpen. The carpenter included a large dowel rod.
5. Remember, you will be cleaning out the coop so make sure you can access sleeping, eating, and playing areas. I’ve put a plastic bin top under the roosting dowel so that I can remove it, wash it, and replace.
6. Have enough room for all of your chickens to fit in the space as well as have a place to play and run (that area is actually called the chicken “run”).
7. Use pea gravel, shavings, or other materials that do not hold a lot of water and stay damp. You don’t want them to be playing around all day on mildewy substances. I’ve put our coop in part sun/part shade so that the ground cover dries out after rain.
8. Consider weather–chickens don’t like heat so think about position or place when you consider where the coop will go. In our yard, I put it under a tree. In the summer, it gets cooler morning sun then shade from mid-day on. In winter, the leaves will be gone so it will get warm winter sun to keep the roosting box warm.
9. Also when thinking about heat, make sure there is enough ventilation in a closed area both in summer and winter, but especially in summer. (Want to know how to keep chickens cool in heat? Check out my blog post in the chicken category.)
10. Don’t forget a roof or at least a space they can escape to in case inclement weather arrives, and you’re not around. Make sure you roof is on a slant so that water doesn’t pool on it. We have a tin roof and added another piece of tin gutter so we can capture the rain in a rain barrel.
11. If you have any doors, you might want to consider a lock system so that clever predators can’t break into the coop.
12. Consider using reclaimed or upcycled materials. We used old fence posts and wood from a fence that was being removed at my new office, and the carpenter donated lumber and other wood he had from his work. Although I only built a “play pen” out of pallets (how-to blog post in chicken category), I’ve seen full coops built from them too.
Most importantly, be creative! I had more fun perusing different coop images on Pinterest and Google. Who knew my teen daughter could get so excited about going to a hardware store on a Friday night and picking out paint colors?! We have had more fun working on this project together (and are so grateful for the carpenter, his assistant, and two very dear friends who graciously contributed time, materials and ideas in the process). Needless to say, the Sisters have gladly graduated from their play pen into their new little home.