Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware of the latest trend in the urban farming movement: the rearing of backyard chickens. Of course this is an offshoot or rather progression from the age old tradition of having your own vegetable or herb garden, with more and more people wanting to get in back in touch with their food. Another example of this is the ‘eat what you kill’ movement whereby the only meats these advocates consume are those from animals that they kill or hunt themselves.
Of course, rearing your own backyard chickens is probably much simpler than having to go out and hunt elk or deer every time you’re hungry plus you don’t have to eat these chickens; you can simply use them for eggs. And, if you combine a chicken coop with a vegetable garden, you’ve basically turned your backyard into a productive, food-generating space for you and your family without having any worry about modern agricultural practices such as pesticides in plants and growth hormones in livestock.
If you are convinced and are looking to rear your own chickens and build your own chicken coop, then we have prepared a handy checklist you can use to make sure that the chicken coop you build goes according to plan. You can also refer to this checklist to construct a coop to make sure you’re following all the right steps to building a chicken coop. I followed it closely when I started building my own coops and it has served me well!
Step 1: Flock Size
Failing to plan is planning to fail as the saying goes and this is the first and most crucial step. In general, one hen lays one egg per day and the size of the egg depends on the size of the hens. Chickens range from small to large and each chicken will need 2 to 4 square feet of space in the coop and 8 to 12 square feet of space in the run. Our suggestion is to start with a small flock of under 5 chickens but build a coop that can hold more; planning for future expansion.
Step 2: Obtain Coop Plans
Next you want to obtain a good set of coop plans. Unless you are highly skilled in carpentry and the like, we do not recommend a blind construction of a chicken coop as this would be unproductive and whatever little cost you would save from purchasing the plans you would likely overspend from various missteps and errors. That said, not all coop plans are created equal so when reviewing coop plans, make sure that it covers these fundamentals thoroughly.
- Protection – Many people recommend chicken wire for protection from predators, however we prefer hardware cloth. You see, chicken wire is not as secure as it seems; dogs, foxes, and raccoons can, with some effort, chew through or tear them apart. Don’t cut corners on the hardware cloth and get the highest quality ones possible, which will usually be zinc-coated for rust prevention as well.
- Bedding – Not just for comfort, appropriate bedding material is important to absorb droppings, odor, or moisture. Hence, do not use straw as it is messy and does not absorb moisture very well; we recommend pine shavings or pine chips. Make sure you lay it at least 4 inches deep.
- Nesting Boxes – Important so your hens will lay their eggs. Each nesting box should be an open cube measuring at least one foot on all sides. The ratio is one nesting box for every two or three hens.
- Perching Area / Roosting Bar –Little known fact: chickens prefer to sleep perched above the ground. Install a hanging perch in your coop for their comfort and make sure it’s not positioned above nesting boxes, feeders, or waterers. Let’s just say chickens don’t exactly walk to the toilet in the middle of the night.
- Food and Water – For maximum convenience, we recommend using a hanging feeder and automatic waterer. If you have many chickens, you can have more than one designated feeding area.
- Insulation – This is dependent on your local climate. If it gets very hot or very cold, proper insulation would be necessary.
- Ventilation – Chickens need fresh air. Make sure there’s a ventilation panel on each wall of the coop as well as one on the roof.
Step 3: Obtain the Necessary Tools and Materials
Now that you’ve chosen the right plan, it’s time to take the trip down to your local hardware store and lumber yard. Don’t forget your protective gear as well. FYI, good coop plans will provide you with a handy materials and supplies checklist.
Step 4: Build the Coop
The last but hardest step: actual construction. With your handy plans and step-by-step guide at your side, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Make sure you start from the bottom with the foundation and then work your way up from there. Roof, doors, and windows installation will be the second last step, while the last step is finishing off your coop with a nice coat of your favorite colored paint.