A well-designed and constructed coop is key to maintaining a healthy, productive flock of layer hens. If your housing isn’t up to snuff, you risk bullying and cannibalism, disease and pests, injury or death due to predators and a host of other challenges that farmers really don’t have the time for. Prevention is the best cure. Here are 10 tips to providing top-notch housing for your hens:
1: Location, location, location
If building a permanent or somewhat-permanent coop (rather than a chicken tractor), location is key. The coop should allow your chickens easy access to their run, and ideally permit rotation among two or more runs. Choose a site close to a water source, electricity (if using lighting or heat), your feed storage area and wherever you wash and package the eggs. The coop and run area should be on a high, well-drained spot, to avoid puddles.
2: Size matters
The traditional rule of thumb is to allow 1.5 (45.72 cm) to 2 (60.96 cm) square feet of floor space per hen, but allow for more if possible. If it snows and your birds are cooped up for longer than usual, will they have enough room to move around and be comfortable? Or will they get cranky, which can impact egg production and lead to bullying or cannibalism?
3: The structure
Your coop will need to withstand snow, rain, extreme temperatures, wind or whatever climatic conditions are possible in your region. In extreme cold coops may need to be insulated. The roof (and ideally walls as well) should be waterproof, and provide shade for your chickens on sunny, hot days. If possible, slope the roof to prevent rain from running off directly over the chicken’s entrance to the coop.
When choosing your floor, think ahead to when you’ll have to clean it. Manure, bedding, spilled feed, etc. can be easily shovelled off a concrete floor, which can be hosed off and sanitized. Sloping the floor towards the door will make it easier to wash and dry out the building.
Doors, opening windows and vents are best placed on the lee side, away from wind, usually the south or east side. Windows provide ventilation in the summer and sunlight and warmth in the winter.
Remember that you will need to be able to enter the coop too, to clean, refill the water/feed and collect eggs. Include a human-sized door and aim for a ceiling height that allows you to stand comfortably.
One more note: if you build with screws instead of nails you will be able to tweek the design more easily.