Roots 'n' Shoots: The C Files: How to raise chickens – Housing and Coops

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The C Files: How to raise chickens – Housing and Coops

Confined chicken coop
Whether you provide a coop built from reclaimed materials or purchase a high-end fancy-schmancy chicken manor, all coops must fulfil a specific set of chicken requirements. Here I provide information on all requirements for any chicken housing, some additional optional(s) and provide basic designs to get you started.

Know what you need

There is no ‘perfect, one-size fits all chicken coop’. That is where your needs and limits determine the final design of your chicken coop. There are a few things you need to consider before jumping into building or purchasing a coop:

1)     Local bylaws. Municipal by-laws exist in every town/city and may entail a detailed plan for coop construction. The coop design and construction may be limited by the number of chickens or possible locations (such as, not close to your neighbour’s bedroom!). Here is the pdf for the local by-laws of Johannesburg (and the surrounding area), chickens are on pages 60-62.

2)     Location. Where would you like to have your chicken coop? Against a wall, which may provide one of the walls of the coop? Or out in the open, which requires a sturdy foundation. The amount space available in the yard may limit the amount of chickens you can keep and the final size of the coop.

3)     Weather. You need to build a coop that can withstand your climatic conditions. If you live in areas with cold winters or hot summers it may require some insulation to limit the effects of temperature on your chickens inside. Heavy wind and rains will require sturdy and rot-proof construction.

4)     Mobile or stationary. Mobile chicken coops (known as tractors) assist with confining chickens for protection or for pasture management. Stationary coops remain in place as permanent shelter for chickens and are sturdier than mobile coops.

Mobile chicken coop

5)     Predators. Identifying possible chicken predators will also assist with designing a safe chicken coop. Animals such as birds of prey, foxes, mongoose, baboons, monkeys and large wild/feral cats each require certain alterations to the coop in order to keep them out.

6)     Chickens. The amount and breed of chicken is directly correlated to the size and space needed in the coop. More chickens or larger breeds necessitate larger coops.

7)     Purpose. Chickens acquired for egg purposes (layers) will have different needs and different coop designs than chickens kept for meat (broilers). Hens are smaller and require nesting boxes, whereas cocks are larger and noisier (might affect where you are allowed to construct your coop according to by-laws). If you want to breed and raise chicks, additional housing needs to be provided for broody chickens, incubators, chick raising houses and hens with chicks need to be separated from the rest of the flock for safety.

Coop Necessities

All chicken coops must have the following in order to have happy healthy chickens:

1)      Enough space for each chicken

The space needed for each chicken depends on their age and breed. The more space your chickens have, the happier and healthier they will be. Space allows members in the low ranking of the pecking order to escape bullies and hide. If you have several cocks, large coops allow each of them to have their own space and boss around their hens without being it one another’s faces and less fighting will occur. Additional space allows chickens to scratch and be occupied until they are let out for the day to minimise pecking.

                         Coop dimensions
Breed
Coop with run/yard*
Confined coop*

m2 per bird
Birds per m2
m2 per bird
Birds per m2
Heavy
0.37
3
0.92
1>
Light
0.27
3
0.70
1.5
Bantam
0.19
5
0.46
2
                         * Measurements based on fully grown chickens (21 weeks +)
                            Based on Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow (2010).

2)      Good ventilation

Chickens have a higher respiration rate than most other animals and good ventilation is important. Doors and windows provide ventilation for the coop. This limits the build-up of disease organisms, ammonia and/or dust from the litter, skin and feathers of the chickens. Good ventilation prevents respiratory problems. Ventilation also helps to regulate the coop temperature and windows allow light into the coop. Doors can also be fitted with mesh wire or window screens to increase ventilation during the summer months. Windows can be made to slide or tilt to open and close during bad weather.

3)      Free from drafts

Drafts inside the coop will affect chicken health, especially if the chickens have gotten wet during rain. Drafts blowing onto wet chickens will make them ill. So limit drafts in your coop design or adjust your coop with panelling to minimise drafts.

4)      Stable and comfortable temperature to shelters chickens from wind and sun

This goes hand in hand with good ventilation, extreme cold or hot weather will have adverse effects on chickens. Chickens prefer temperatures between 20-25oC (70-75oF) and casualties may occur when their bodies exceed temperatures of 35oC (95oF). The coop temperature range should preferably stay between 5-28oC (41-82oF).  Additional shade can be provided by free-standing shelters on the property (known as range shelter and can be a roof on posts with a water fountain.) Chickens should be able to shelter from rain as well, especially in the afternoon. Chickens should not be allowed to go to bed wet, else they become ill.

Note: Body temperature and ambient temperature are not equal (i.e. 35oC outside does not mean your chickens’ bodies are at 35oC).


5)      Protects chickens from predators

Chicken coops can be raised 0.5-1 meters from the ground to limit access by predators. Raised coops also prevent rodents from nesting under the coop. Chicken runs or confinement with fencing allows additional protection of birds from daytime predators. Flying predators or those with opposable thumbs (monkeys, baboons and some unsavoury Homo sapiens) will need to be kept out by fencing the roof of the run as well and the doors/windows need to be secured with locks. Posts and fencing can be buried to limit predators from digging underneath the fence.

Permanent chicken coop
6)      Allows light in during the day

Chicken maturity; the amount, size, age and production capacity of egg laying pullets is affected by the amount of total daytime light they receive. Eight to ten hours of daylight is sufficient for healthy chickens.

7)      Provides adequate roosting space

Chickens roots naturally at night on tree branches. Roosting maintains correct body posture and keeps chickens away from droppings. Light breeds will be able to fly up and reach high roosting perches whereas heavier breed will require roosts lower to the ground. Chickens should have adequate roosting space to rest peacefully. Perches can be 5-6 cm in diameter (2-2.5 inches) for regular chicken breeds and 2 -3 cm (0.8-1.2 inch) for bantams. Each chicken should have 25 cm (10 inches) of perching space. Larger breeds do well with 30 cm (12 inches).

8)      Enough clean nesting space for chickens to lay eggs

Nest boxes should be darker than the surrounding coop where hens feel safe and away from prying eyes. Nests allow for easy collection and straw or pet bedding reduces the chance of eggs being broken. You should supply one nest for every four hens. (Although there are two nest boxes, our chickens all prefer to lay in the same nest and will queue to do so J). Nest boxes should be higher than the surrounding coop and make sure that they are waterproof. Special nest-boxes can be designed with a double floor. The top one has nesting material and a grate, the bottom floor is slanted and directs the eggs away from the chicken when they are laid to keep them clean.

  Nest box dimensions
Breed
Width, cm (inch)
Height, cm (inch)
Depth, cm (inch)
Heavy
40 (16)
40 (16)
35 (14)
Light
35 (14)
40 (16)
35 (14)
Bantam
30 (12)
35 (14)
30 (12)


9)      Clean feeders and water fountains

Clean feed and water is essential to all animals. Please refer to my Feed & Water article for complete information.

Basic chicken coop

10)  Easy to access and clean

Coops should preferably be a comfortable human height. This makes access to eggs, feed, water, chickens (for health checks) and easier cleaning… something we didn’t do, I always end up with a kink in my back after cleaning.

11)  Will not flood or become mucky when it rains

You don’t want your chickens to wash away neither should mud be tread into the coop by humans or chickens. It makes for unsanitary conditions.

12)  Litter/bedding

Pet bedding, chopped straw and wood shavings are placed on the floor of the coop and under perches. This helps to keep coops clean, as they stick to manure and are easier to sweep. Bedding, or litter, also absorbs excess moisture, provides some insulation and cushions chicken feet. A good source of coop litter is well-dried, untreated (by chemicals) lawn clippings. A good layer of litter (5 cm or 2 inches) can be added under perches to compensate for the increased droppings. If you like; you can install a tray system to collect droppings under the roosts (which take the most hammering as chickens do most of their dropping-business at night) and this will make for easy clean up.



Optionals

Pop hole/chicken door

A wide chicken-sized door can be added to the coop for chicken-friendly access and to keep out larger animals (dogs or goats). It also reduces drafts and can be easily automated.

Confined chicken coop with pop hole

Automations (doors, windows, fans, lights, electric fencing)

With the advent of modern technology; windows, doors and lights can be set to automatically open or turn on depending on the amount of light captured by their sensors (or “eyes”). Doors will open at dawn and close at dusk after chickens have entered the coop to roost for the night. Windows can open and close when temperatures fluctuate to control the coop environment. Fans can be installed for additional ventilation and temperature control, whereas electrical fencing can scare off potential predators.

Rain water collection

If you design your coop with a slanted roof (to prevent pooling and direct water away from the doors) you can add a gutter and water collection tank to catch any rain from the roof. The water, which is clean and fresh, can be used to supplement the chickens’ water need or used in the garden.

Edible bedding

Some of the litter in the coop can be substituted with edible straw (such as wheat, rye, oat, buckwheat or even alfalfa). This provides additional nutrition to the birds (green manures can be dried for fodder) and gives chickens something to do till the coop door opens.

Compost

Droppings and litter can be added to the compost heap. After it has decomposed, chicken manure is invaluable as fertiliser for vegetable gardens.

Basic Coop Designs

Here are some illustrations and brief explanations to some basic designs for your chicken coop. Alternatively pre-made coops can be purchased or Wendy-houses/sheds can be re-purposed to house chickens.

Below is a design for a stationary chicken coop. It provides permanent shelter and can be outfitted with a rain water harvesting tank.

Basic Stationary Chicken Coop

Here is another stationary coop design, known as a chicken tractor. It is more suited to a small garden or a small flock.

Stationary Chicken Tractor
The stationary chicken tractor can be modified to sport wheels or skids and can be moved manually or by draft animals. This system allows limited chicken grazing, to prevent them scratching a garden to dusts and forms part of a farm’s pasture management.

Mobile Chicken Tractor
Henmobile or Eggmobile or EggCart

A pre-made coop from the Omlet range (www.omlet.co.uk). They have all-kinds of shapes, sizes, stationary and mobile coops is bright colours. Omlet also provides housing for other pets (hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits) and other animals (bees).

The Omlet Eglu range of pre-made chicken coops


Last Notes

No chicken coop need be plain, boring or an eye-sore. A little bit of paint and some creative thinking can turn a coop into a garden show piece. The Internet is bursting with all kinds of coop designs; from simple ones like I have here to brightly coloured, massive mansions with pillars and terraces! One of the blogs I am following: The Garden Roof Coop, and the Backyard Chickens website is a good place to start looking for some cool and practical coop designs.


Large chicken coop with run


Additional measurements and a similar 'basic stationary coop' design can be found in Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow (2010).


Previous articles in this series

Food & Water


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the information and links you shared this is so should be a useful and quite informative!
    urban chicken keeping

    ReplyDelete

I appreciate any ideas & input! Sharing is caring :) ... Any questions are welcome too!

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