A chicken coop is probably the most expensive item you will buy for your hens.
With coops costing anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars there is a great variety of quality out there.
So spending your money wisely is very important.
Recently chicken keeping has been increasing in popularity, so manufacturers are churning out coops as fast as they can.
With so many coops to choose from it can be hard to make a good decision.
How do you know what to look for and what exactly do your chickens need in a coop?
This article will cover everything you need to know before buying a chicken coop.
Contents and Quick Navigation
- What Makes The Perfect Chicken Coop?
- What To Know Before Buying A Manufactured Chicken Coop
- Should You Build Your Own Coop
- FAQs about Chicken Coops
What Makes The Perfect Chicken Coop?
Before buying your coop you need to know what makes a good coop.
The perfect chicken coop will have plenty of space.
Each of your chickens will need four square feet of space inside the coop and eight square feet in the run.
Overcrowding is the main cause of antisocial behaviors such as feather picking and bullying which can be devastating in a small area. It is also a breeding ground for disease unless the coop is kept scrupulously clean.
Your coop will also need to be secure.
Chickens can not see very well at night so a safe secure place for them to roost is essential. Your coop needs to be sturdy enough to resist attacks from foxes, raccoons and several other determined predators. Any openings in the coop should be suitably protected.
Next up on the list is warmth.
To keep the coop warm it will need to be dry and draft free. Drafts can significantly lower the temperature in a coop and any poor hen standing or sitting in such a draft can freeze to death if it is cold enough. You should also consider a chicken coop heater.
Now let’s look at coop furniture.
Your coop should have at least one nesting box for every 2-3 hens – this prevents disagreement if a hen decides she wants to keep a box to herself. Read our article on chicken nesting boxes for more advice. Your chickens will also need a roosting bar to sit on overnight. The perch should be smooth and wide allowing them to hunker down and cover their toes with their chest feathers at night.
Finally, your coop will need to be clean.
This means it needs to be easy for you to clean out. I can guarantee that if it is difficult to clean then it will be a source of frustration and you may skip cleaning it altogether! Not a good idea.
What To Know Before Buying A Manufactured Chicken Coop
In general you get what you pay for so expect to pay a bit more for a quality product that fits your needs.
Coop kits that you can get from big box stores are very affordable.
They do however have some problems with them.
The cheaper kits that are available are usually imported from China. This does not automatically mean they are poor quality, but be cautious.
First of all you should read how much space they allow for the hens.
Manufacturers are often wildly optimistic about how many hens you can fit into their coop. Sometimes they do not even mention how much space there is and simply describe it as spacious – be suspicious! Remember that each chicken will need four square feet of space. So if you have four hens you will need 16 square feet of floor space to accommodate them.
Can you fit more birds in?
But remember that crowding can lead to problematic behaviors including: egg eating and pecking at each other.
These types of behavior do have a real cost to you. Decreased egg laying is the first, and the second is unhappy hens. While you may not think an unhappy hen is much to worry about, it will affect her laying ability. Do everything you can to keep your hens happy and healthy and they will repay you in delicious eggs.
Next you should look at how well made the chicken coop is and what it is made of.
Does it look like it will stand up to wind, rain and anything the elements can throw at it?
If the coop panels are thinner than a quarter inch, they are prone to warping in the sun and rain. This type of coop may last a couple of years but a well-built coop will last you much, much longer. Spend a little more upfront and you will save a lot of money over time.
Also look at the wood closely.
Has the wood been treated in any way?
You need durable wood that has been treated with a non-toxic preservative or heat. If it is not mentioned on the box then ask the store person, if they do not know then look for another coop. The reason to be concerned about this, is that many chemicals continue to give off gas long after the wood has been treated. This means your coop could be poisoning your birds slowly.
Just a quick word here on plastic.
Some coops are made of plastic and while this is easy to clean, it really is not a great deterrent to a hungry predator. Rats and other chewing creatures will make holes in plastic in a very short space of time. Rats, weasels and minks can all squeeze through a small hole and kill your flock in one night.
If you are buying a kit build then look at the instructions before you buy the coop.
Are they understandable and easy to follow?
Just remember that if you are buying your coop online then carefully read the description. If the wording is clunky or does not make sense be cautious.
Also make sure to read the reviews – if there are no negative reviews then be suspicious.
Should You Build Your Own Coop
The first and biggest reason why you should build your own coop is cost.
If you can access free wood then your homemade coop is going to cost you pennies instead of dollars.
You can often find pallet wood for free by the roadside or behind factories (make sure you ask first). Always choose heat treated wood (HT stamped) as other wood may be treated with chemicals that slowly leach out. Some timber yards give away offcut wood for greatly reduced prices too. Look around and you will find a lot of what you need in this way. Occasionally you can find great discounts on the screws, hinges and other hardware you need too.
Every once in a while, something comes along that is a coop in waiting. Large wooden boxes that have been discarded can be used as small coops! This saves a lot of work and they are pretty easy to alter.
The second reason is that a homemade coop will better suit the needs of your flock and yard.
For example, if you do not have a lot of floor space but want to keep chickens, then you can build upwards. Bantams love to fly a bit, so providing a coop that has space on several levels really opens up the possibilities.
Also when you buy a ready-made coop you are limited to a certain size.
By building your own coop you can anticipate your future needs. You can plan for the number of hens you currently have and then add some extra space for those you will inevitably get further down the line – chicken math at work!
Just remember you do not have to be a master carpenter – Lord knows I am not, but I have built eight coops in my yard.
As long as your coop is water tight, draft free and predator proof then your chickens will love it.
If you do not know one end of a hammer from another, do you have a useful friend who would be willing to help you out? It may cost you a dinner or two, but it will be well worth it.
FAQs about Chicken Coops
Is it cheaper to build your own chicken coop?
Building your own chicken coop will definitely be cheaper than buying one.
If you can use heat treated pallet wood then you can build a good and strong coop for pennies. Your main costs will be the screws, nails and hardware. You can buy plans on the internet or make your own.
Providing you have access to free wood, it is well worth the time and effort.
How big should a coop be for chickens?
Four standard chickens will need a sixteen square feet coop.
Remember each standard chicken will need four square feet and bantams need two square feet each.
Just try to add some extra room for the time when chicken math kicks in! What is chicken math? It is the overwhelming urge to get more chickens.
Do chickens really need a coop?
The safest and most secure place for your chickens will always be a coop.
And even tough some of your more agile and flighty breeds can roost in trees it is still not ideal.
Where should you place a chicken coop?
You should avoid putting the coop on high or exposed ground (especially if you live in a windy area).
Muddy or waterlogged ground is to be avoided too because it can cause foot problems and your eggs are likely to be filthy all the time. Not to mention the smell from the mud and wet poop!
An even and well drained area with some shade is ideal.
A tree partially overhanging is good as long as it is healthy and not prone to losing limbs here and there. Dense trees should be avoided as they are a good hiding place for winged predators. Planting some shrubs can also help the hens beat the heat by providing shade for them.
Finally make sure to put the coop close enough to your house that you can keep an eye on them and enjoy their company!
Building your own chicken coop is not for everyone.
Certain folks will feel overwhelmed at the thought of it, but if you can do it yourself then you will save yourself some serious money!
Some of the cheapest coops I saw ($150-200) looked like they would fall apart in a good storm.
If you have to buy a coop then try going with a reputable company that has some sort of quality guarantee and customer service behind their product.
However if money is tight then I urge you to consider building your own.
If you can get a friend to help and scrounge up the materials then you are going to be happier than buying a cheap, wobbly cut rate coop. Building it yourself means you will end up with a good coop that is large enough for you and your flock.
Let us know in the comments section below about your coop…