We spent over a year designing and building the hen house and run! Yes, we know, we know, crazy! Construction was done mostly on weekends but not all weekends. And it's amazing how long it takes to attach hardware cloth to a wall panel! Oh, that should take like 10 minutes...nope that takes all afternoon.
- Design the coop for the chickens not the chicken keeper. Nest boxes in a quiet, dark corner. Roost bars in a high, safe location. Waterer(s) and feeder(s) at the proper heights. Plenty of air circulation. Plenty of space.
- Coop size. Build the coop as large as your local city ordinances will allow. If you are just starting out with a flock of three, deeply consider if you want to design the coop for three or if you are going to fall in love with keeping chickens. We designed our chicken coop for the maximum number of chickens we could house on our property. We are required to have a coop with 6 square feet per chicken! And an additional 10 square feet of run! Yes, that's 16 square feet per chicken to be 100% complaint in San Diego in terms of space! So, our coop is three levels to meet the requirements using a smaller footprint.
- Nest boxes. Adequate number of nest boxes. One nest box per 4-5 hens. Adequately sized nest boxes. We sized our nest boxes to accommodate large breeds so they are 15" x 15" which is also the perfect size to clean out with a metal dust pan.
- Roosting bar. Adequate amount of roosting space. 10" of roost bar per hen for large breeds.
- Easy feeding and watering systems. We use chicken nipple waterers gravity-fed by a 5-gallon bucket and rabbit dishes on a rail. Chicken nipple waterers can help you be sure that there is plenty of clean water available at all times. While many flocksters have strategies to keep the water from freezing in the winter, our concern is the water getting too warm: the 5-gallon bucket means that we can dump in a bunch of ice in the summer to keep the water cool. Bonus! And no negotiating who is going to take care of emptying the poopy waterer, cleaning it, and refilling it!
- Ease to collect eggs. Outside the coop access to nest boxes.
- Human-sized door. Makes chores quick and easy.
- Supplies. Have a place for extra feed, oyster shell, bedding material, first aid kit, etc. with easy access when it's chore time.
- Quality materials. Less expensive materials might mean a higher maintenance bill in the long run. Build with quality materials. Of course, reclaimed materials are a bonus.
- Easy to clean. Design the coop to be easy to clean. All of the windows on our coop are easy to remove so I can clean the two upper levels of the coop in less than 5 minutes. It's true! One of our WWOOFers didn't think it was possible to clean the coop in 5 minutes, it was the end of the day, we were tired, and the sun was quickly setting...ready, set, go: it was less than 5 minutes. We use the built-up litter method on the ground level which only requires an annual clean-out.
Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens is a great resource for coop requirements so check that book out if you need more information.
- Gail Damerow (2010). Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. Storey Publishing. ISBN: 9781603424691.
- Patricia Foreman (2010). City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Laying Hens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers, and Local Food Suppliers. Good Earth Publications, Inc. ISBN: 9780962464850.
- Harvey Ussery (2011). The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An all-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers. Chelsea Green Publishing Company. ISBN: 9781603582902.