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    Build A Chicken Coop | Spring 2008 Out Here Magazine

    By Carol Davis
    Illustrations by Tom Milner

    Those new to rural living who want to raise livestock might find that chickens are the most manageable animals to begin with.

    They're small, relatively inexpensive to house and feed, a good first 4-H project for youngsters, and there's a wealth of information available on how to raise them.

    But before you start your flock, you must have a safe, accommodating place for them to live. Roosts, nests, adequate space, predator protection, a comfortable henhouse — these are all important to raise healthy, productive chickens.

    Begin with a draft-free, dry henhouse. Chickens easily become ill from inclement weather, so their shelter must protect them from rain, cold, storms, and wind.

    Build your coop on a high, well-drained area to prevent lingering dampness and position the coop to face south, allowing the sun to warm and dry the coop, the Virginia Cooperative Extension service recommends.

    Plan for adequate space, which is determined by the size of your flock. Allow 2 to 4 square feet per bird, depending on the size of your chickens. Larger breeds, such as Cochins or Brahmas, will require the upper end of the scale; smaller breeds, such as Silkies or Ameraucana, require smaller space per bird. Remember, more space translates to healthier birds.

    A henhouse should include a door that can close, for their safety from predators, and windows, for both good ventilation and light. Look around your place; chances are, you can reuse scrap material, mismatched siding, or an old screen door for your coop.

    Add nests, roosts, and secure fencing to create a place for 4-H projects, enjoy barnyard politics, gather fresh eggs, or just take pleasure in raising animals.

    Easy Access

     

    Your chicken coop should be as useful to you as it is to your chickens. Make the coop and henhouse high enough for you to walk around so you can feed, water, clean, and gather eggs with ease.

     

    Spread about 4 inches or so of litter — wood shavings, straw, shredded paper, or any kind of absorbent material — throughout the coop to keep your chickens clean and, therefore, healthy. Replace litter if it gets damp or begins to smell pungent.

     

    Predator Protection

     

    Keep digging predators at bay by burying the fencing wire along the pen border at least 12 inches deep. Add extra protection by toeing the wire outward about 6-8 inches, so that a digger will be deterred by more fencing. Running electric fencing around the outside the pen about 3-6 inches off the ground will further discourage predators. Don't forget to look up; keep hawks from raiding your pen by running chicken wire across the top.

    Ventilation and Light

     

    Chickens need fresh air to stay healthy and light to lay eggs, so it's imperative to include doors and windows to allow cross-ventilation to remove stale air, ammonia, and excess moisture from the henhouse and let in sunshine.

     

    Light releases egg-laying hormones in hens, so for maximum benefit, install henhouse windows facing south so they'll receive direct sunlight all day.

     

    To keep chickens producing eggs during the short days of winter, consider installing an electric light in the henhouse.

    Perches for Roosting

     

    As a bird, a chicken's natural instinct is to roost in a tree at night for safety's sake. Encourage your chickens to roost indoors by building adequate perches inside the henhouse. An unused, wooden ladder will do, as will stripping tree branches and nailing them to lumber to create a rustic, ladder-style perch, or dowels 1-2 inches thick. The size of your flock determines how large the perch must be; provide 6 to 10 inches of perch space per bird.

    Feeding and Watering 

    A hanging tube-type feeder with raised sides that roll inward prevents billing out, in which chickens use their beaks to scoop food out onto the ground, wasting a good portion of it. Place the top lip of the feeders at your birds' back height. Hanging feeders are beneficial because their height can be adjusted as your chickens grow. 

     

     

    Always keep fresh, clean water on hand because chickens drink often during the day; indeed, each may drink as much as 2 cups daily. The best kind of waterer is one that contains enough so that your flock won't run out of water, and that is designed to keep chickens from stepping into it. Automatic waterers are among the best options.

    Nests

     

    Provide at least one nest for every 4-5 females in the flock. To encourage your hens to lay eggs in their nests instead of on the floor or outside, situate the nests in an area away from the general activity of the henhouse. Some people further entice their hens by hanging a flap of burlap or thin plastic over the entrance of the nest.