If you’re thinking about rearing chickens in your backyard, the first thing that you need to do (even before you buy chickens to lay the eggs or to breed) is to build a good, roomy chicken coop. Below are a few sources of chicken coop plans which we suggest that you take a look at if you want to do it right the first time around. Before you do that though, you might want to take a look at some of these useful tips and pointers for building a coop of your own.
In terms of the size of your coop, you should ideally build a coop that is as large as you possibly can. Even if you’re thinking of rearing only 3-4 chickens, try to make space for 6 or more. Once you have seen some success in raising chickens, you will likely want to add more to your current flock and you’ll be glad you started off with a larger coop in the first place. Here are some of the most important factors to consider when you’re building a chicken house:
1. Make Sure There’s Ample Space
If your coop is overcrowded, soon your chickens will start fighting with one another for more space and end up hurting or killing each other in the process. So, how much space is sufficient for your chickens? As a general rule, try to keep a minimum of 3 square feet of space for every chicken you have inside the coop for them to sleep and move about in. For your chicken run (the outdoor area where your chickens are free to roam about for exercise and sunlight), double that amount of space for every chicken and you should do just fine. It is thus recommended that you build a coop based on ready-made plans (more on that below) since the ideal dimensions would have been laid out for you already.
2. Bedding Materials
Straw is often thought to be the best material to be used as bedding on the floor of the coop as they’re cheap and can easily be acquired.
We personally do not recommend using straw because they do not absorb the moist from the poop or water very well, which will simply cause a mess.
The smell that emanates from your coop will also be much worse if the moist doesn’t dry up properly.
A superior alternative to straw would be pine shavings (we personally use this) or pine chips thanks to their greater absorbent capabilities and they also dry up much quicker.
A huge batch of pine shavings/chips should only cost you about $8 at most and can be acquired from Tractor Supply Company, Wal-Mart or any pet/feed store near your area.
Pet stores tend to sell these in small bags though (for hamsters) so you might have to tell them that you’re looking for larger quantities for rearing chickens and the employees should be able to get the bigger bags from their storage.
It’ll also be of great help if you could lay some newspapers underneath the straw/pine bedding so that when it comes to cleaning the coop, you can simply roll everything up and replace it with a fresh set of bedding.
3. Predator Protection
To protect against predators, chicken wire is one of the most widely used materials but some of the larger animals like dogs and the like can chew through it and attack your chickens. You would do better with hardware cloth since it is extremely tough and can last for a much longer period of time.
The cheaper hardware cloth tends to rust within as short as a month though, so try not to skimp on this. Invest in better quality ones that are coated with zinc for extra resistance against rust.
4. Food & Water
You should leave the water container and feed outside the coop (but in the chicken run) so that you can monitor and replace them easily. There are a few ways in which you can set up an automatic water feeder here. The first would be by manually adding the water via a hose to a small barrel or container from time to time.
If you’re feeling a little more inventive though, you could also consider building a PVC pipe that runs along the side of the coop with little holes cut into it and a tiny cup attached to the bottom of each of these holes, to allow water to flow out into them. To prevent overflowing, you’ll also need to craft your own float balls and attach them to these holes so that the water level can be maintained automatically (much like how toilet float balls work).
Make sure that your chickens have sufficient space to feed themselves instead of crowding around the feed in the confines of the coop. Otherwise, they may start fighting over both the feed and the water. This can be avoided by allocating multiple feeding areas in the chicken run. This will also compel your chickens to hang about in the chicken run inside of hiding in the coop all the time. A little more exercise and sunlight for them wouldn’t hurt!
5. Building Plans
For first timers, building a chicken coop can be a rather daunting experience without any proper guidance. Building a coop from ground up without referring to any designs or planned out dimensions will more than likely turn out to be a total disaster, which will cause you even more time and money than you would require in order to hunt down a good set of coop designs.
Having a proper layout that has been tested for its effectiveness would be extremely advantageous so you might want to invest in a good set of chicken coop plans first. Since you’re likely a beginner in building coops, we recommend these 2 downloadable guides (which come with their own set of chicken coop designs) to kick start your project:
(i) Building Plans 1
This guide is hands-down the best for beginners since it comes packed with step-by-step instructions and, most importantly, colored illustrations to ensure that you’re on the right track as you progress. Multiple angles of the pictures are occasionally provided for easier referencing.
An entire list of the required materials and tools, along with the specific dimensions, have been provided for each of the designs so if you’re really feeling lazy, you could hand this over to your local hardware store and have them cut them up for you before you assemble them yourself.
The coop plans featured here are pretty simple and would be perfect for a quick and low-cost setup so that you can see actual results from rearing chickens before you expand your venture further. Ideas on using recycled materials are additionally provided, which could be useful in you’re on a budget.
You’ll also learn how to pick the right breed that’s suitable based on the climate of your location as well as the main purpose of your project (egg vs meat production etc). Additional learning materials include raising baby chicks from ground up and the more complicated topics on breeding chickens on your own.
(ii) Building Plans 2
This is more like a community that you need to join before you can get access to the plans in it. The last I checked, there were 19 different plans featured here and the design and layout of each of these are a lot more varied compared to the first one above, which consists of more conventional, but easy-to-follow builds. Diagrams from both side and aerial views are given so that you can envision what the structure should look like as you build your coop.