Henhouse Tips- Keeping Backyard Chickens
As the popularity of backyard chickens continues to grow nationwide, many first time owners are making their own hen house/chicken coop on their own. This can be an exciting project that must be handled with detail and care, as there are so many different chicken coop plans available online, you might be asking yourself where to start, which chicken coop plans are the best to meet your needs, how expensive is building a chicken coop on your own, what additional supplies do you need for your henhouse, how big does your henhouse need to be for all of your backyard chickens, which henhouse features will work best for you? All of these questions depend on the number of chickens your own and the state that you live, as weather will be a factor in selecting the type and style of your backyard henhouse. 

Essential Henhouse Features

As you build your backyard henhouse, you will need to choose the type of henhouse flooring. While many chicken coop plans suggest using wire coop flooring for ventilation and ease of passing through chicken droppings, we strongly discourage chicken wire flooring for several reasons: 1) If a predator is able to break-in beneath the floor in your chickens, they can easily reach through the wiring on create a hole in the wiring and grab a chicken leg. Chicken wire flooring doesn't keep your chickens safe from predators 2) If you have a heavy chicken breed in your coop, chicken wire flooring is hard on your chicken's feet. 3) If a younger chicken or baby chick enters your coop, they might slip a foot through the chicken wire if the holes are too large. We recommend using wooden pine shavings or straw on a wooden floor to ensure your chickens will maintain healthy feet and stay safe from predators. Also, cleaning on the pine shavings is relatively easy, and worth your time to ensure that your chickens are safe with healthy feet. Additionally, make sure your henhouse is designed to provide plenty of ventilation and shaded areas.

Roosting Bar

Some other essential henhouse features include nest boxes, a roosting bar, and chicken waterer, all of which can be uniquely placed inside your coop. What is a roosting bar? Chickens naturally seek to find higher elevation at night to stay safe from predators when they sleep. A roosting bar allows your chickens to perch higher off the ground, providing your chickens with a feeling of safety. When selecting your roosting bar, make sure the width is at least three (3) inches wide, ideally four (4) inches wide. Ideally, your roosting bar should provide a minimum of ten inches per adult chicken and should be placed about two feet above the coop flooring, at least one and a half ft (18 inches) from the coop wall and coop ceiling. Additionally, you can offer several roosting bars to allow your chickens to spread out during hot summer months, but also be able to huddle together for warmth during the wintertime. Chickens have a natural pecking order, so having several roosting bars with different height levels will accommodate their natural behaviors, taking care to set up some stairs for your chickens to reach rooster bars at higher elevations. 

Nest Box

What about egg laying chickens and how should you plan to collect their eggs? A chicken nest box is designed to provide your egg laying chickens with a secure and private area to lay their eggs. Most nest boxes will also allow your to gather their eggs in the morning. Chickens will start to lay eggs at five (5) months of age, so it is essential that you have a nesting box to gather their eggs, and it is equally essential that your train your chickens to lay their eggs for collection in the nesting box, otherwise you may end up with random eggs throughout your coop and yard. Generally, this is accomplished by laying decoy eggs at the entrance to your nest box, which will give your chickens an idea of where to lay their eggs. Additionally, make sure your nest box is always clean as your chickens may choose to lay elsewhere should your nest box appear unusable. Once your chickens become familiar with laying in your nest box it will be second nature. 

Feeder and Waterer

Depending on the number and age of your chickens, you will need to select or build a chicken feeder. We highly recommend using a gravity based feeder to ensure that your chickens will always have access to feed, and this will also make your feeding process cleaner and easy to maintain. For young chicks, the baby chick bulk feeder is an excellent option as this feeder is gravity based and designed to prevent your chicks for stepping into the feeder. For young chickens, we recommend building a high capacity poultry feeder that holds at least 25 lbs of feed. Building or purchasing a chicken feeder that can handle large quantities of feed is optimal when your have more than 3 chickens. In order to prevent predators or other animals from using your chicken feeder, make sure you place the feeder in an enclosed location that only your chickens can access. Additionally, it is essential that your provide an optimal sized waterer for your chickens, keeping in mind that you may want to purchase a heated poultry waterer for cold months to prevent freezing. For day old chicks, use of a bucket waterer is not a good choice for chicks. Instead, we recommend a smaller base waterer (baby chick waterer) to ensure your chicks have easy access and cannot accidentally fall into their waterer. 

Additional Coop Features

The following henhouse features we recommend to ensure optimal living for your backyard chickens include:

Chicken Ladder- With six (6) inch spacing between ladder steps, this will allow your chickens to access different features within their coop with ease. 

Predator Proof Windows- Use of strong mesh material 

Metal Frame Roofing- To ensure your coop can ensure a variety of harsh weather conditions and protect your coop from rain and hail

Common Chicken Coop Questions

How big should my chicken coop be?
Depending on your property size, we recommend allowing three (3) square feet per chicken for free range chickens. However, if your chickens will spend a majority of their time inside your coop we recommend at least eight (8) square feet per chicken. It is generally better to plan for more space as you may choose to add chickens to your flock in the future. Additionally, chickens will demonstrate aggressive behavior when there isn't enough space, so providing them with more than enough space will help to keep them friendly with one another. 

Should my chicken coop be insulated?
Depending on the weather in your state, your may want to insulate your chicken coop walls, flooring, and ceiling. Generally, if you live in a climate with colder winters and humid summers, it is recommended to insulate your chicken coop walls, flooring, and ceiling which will keep your chickens warmer during the cold winter months, and cooler during the hot humid months. However, if you live in a warm non-humid climate this additional step may not be necessary. In order to avoid problems associated with commercial insulation such as styrofoam, which is not safe for chickens, we recommend using non-commercial insulation for your chicken coop walls such as blankets, hay/straw, or sawdust. 

How often should I clean my chicken coop?
This depends on the number of chickens living in your coop and the type of cleaning. Generally, if you have five or more chickens you may need to clean their shavings once a month and change their bedding two (2) times per year, however, this will depend on your personal preference for cleanliness. 

Should my chicken coop have a window?
Your coop should have clear visibility for your chickens depending on the run materials used. However, if your coop is solid wood and does not provide a window, you should create an area within their coop for outside visibility. Additionally, it is absolutely essential that your chicken coop has adequate ventilation which can be accomplished with mesh windows. Some backyard owners choose to create a ventilation system with fans, making sure that air is not blowing on the chickens which may create a dust buildup within the coop. Generally, a cool fan breeze may be helpful during the summer months, but is not recommended during the cold winter months as the coop fan will create a draft. Therefore, it is important to design your coop with ventilation based on seasonality.