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    Chicken Coop Basics: What You Need to Keep Your Flock Cozy

    Authored by Gail Damerow

    A successful coop has certain features designed to keep your flock cozy. Chicken coop basics include roosts, litter, nesting boxes, light, air, feeders, and drinkers. Let’s take a look at each of these features.

    Chickens need a place to sleep

    Chickens like to roost off the floor when they sleep, because it makes them feel safe from predators. Allow at least 8 inches of roosting space per chicken, 10 inches for the large breeds.

    How to make coop roosts

    An old wooden ladder, or anything similar that’s strong enough to hold chickens, may be repurposed as a perch. If you make a perch using new lumber, round off the corners so your chickens can wrap their toes around it.

    Where floor space is limited and one roost isn’t enough, install the perches in stair-step fashion with rungs 12 inches apart both vertically and horizontally. The chickens then easily can hop from lower to higher rungs, and back down. If the roosts are readily removable, the coop floor will be easier to clean.

    Litter helps keep the coop clean

    Litter covering the coop floor offers numerous advantages. It absorbs moisture and manure, cushions the birds’ feet, controls temperature by insulating the floor, and provides opportunities for dust bathing. Good quality litter has these properties:

    • Durable, yet lightweight
    • Absorbent, but dries quickly
    • Doesn’t readily pack down
    • Isn’t prone to getting moldy or musty
    • Hasn’t been treated with harmful chemicals
    • Has mid-size particles that are easy to handle

    I have a big garden, so I'll mention another important quality: Good litter makes good compost. I’ve found that pine shavings and straw don’t compost well. Currently I use, and very much like, poplar shavings. In the past I have used well-dried grass clippings, although gathering enough for coop litter can be time consuming.

    To keep your chickens cozy, break up any packed litter with a hoe or rake. Remove wet patches of litter and add fresh dry litter (and fix leaks that cause litter to become wet). Add or replace litter as needed to keep the coop clean and fresh.

    Hens need a place to lay eggs

    Among chicken coop basics are nesting boxes. Hens like to lay eggs in dark, out-of-the-way places. Well-placed nesting boxes encourage them to lay their eggs where you can find them and where the eggs will stay clean and unbroken. For details on providing hen friendly nests, see: Chicken Nesting Boxes Know-How.

    Chickens need light and air

    Windows let in light and fresh air, and south-side windows capture the sun’s warmth. Windows should be able to open so you can adjust airflow with the changing weather. Fit windows with screens of 1⁄2-inch hardware cloth to keep out wild birds, as well as weasels, minks, and raccoons that could tear through standard window screening and poultry netting.

    In addition to windows, most coops also need auxiliary ventilation. The more time chickens spend indoors, the more important good ventilation becomes. Ventilation serves these essential functions:

    • Brings in oxygen-laden fresh air
    • Removes airborne dust, heat, and moisture
    • Removes carbon dioxide and ammonia gasses
    • Dilutes concentration of pathogens in the air

    Ventilation tips

    Ventilation openings near the ceiling on the south and north walls give warm, moist air a place to escape. Hardware cloth screens over the openings will keep out wild birds, which may carry parasites or disease.

    Drop-down covers, hinged at the bottom and latched at the top, let you open or close the vents as the weather dictates. If you are the forgetful type, use temperature-sensitive vents with slats that open and close automatically.

    During cold weather, not only does the coop need good ventilation, but also freedom from drafts. Close vents on the north side, but keep vents open on the south side, unless the weather turns bitter cold.

    In warm weather, cross-ventilation keeps chickens cool and removes moisture. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. During summer, open all the vents and windows on the north and south walls.

    Dining essentials for chickens

    Some chicken keepers prefer to situate feeders and drinkers outside the coop. Feeders must be undercover to prevent rain and snow from spoiling the feed. And they should be moved indoors at night to avoid attracting rodents. Drinkers must be placed in the shade and watched for algae growth.

    Outdoor feeders and drinkers have the advantage of encouraging chickens to spend more time outside, thus keeping the coop cleaner longer. However, I find it more convenient to provide feed and water inside the coop. The feed doesn’t attract wild birds and doesn’t have to be moved daily to discourage rodents. And indoor water tends to remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

    Do chickens need toys

    Toys are, strictly speaking, not among chicken coop basics. Without toys chickens, like children, will find things to do. However, toys keep chickens entertained, and watching a flock play with toys is entertaining for the human keeper and guests. So why not include a few fun toys for chickens.

    Does your coop need electricity

    No, you do not need electricity in your chicken coop. However, personally I wouldn’t be without it, so I consider electricity to be among the chicken coop basics.

    Why? Because electricity allows the use of an automatic pop hole door that opens and closes without my help. Electricity helps me to check the birds after dark, on days when evening chores are running late. Without electricity I couldn’t run a fan to improve summer ventilation. Electricity lets me use a heated drinker to keep water from freezing in winter. And electric light bulbs keep my chickens laying during winter.

    A security light outside the coop helps deter predators and thieves, and is handy during nighttime emergencies. Finally, electricity powers the electric fence that secures the chicken run from predators, day and night.

    I don’t, however, advocate running an extension cord to your coop. Highly dangerous! If on-grid electricity isn’t handily available at your coop location, consider solar power.

    Either way, all wiring must be properly installed to prevent chickens and rodents from causing damage, and to reduce the potential for stray voltage. Improper grounding, as well as undersized or overloaded circuits, increases the potential for stray voltage, which results in an unpleasant shock when you touch a metal object, light switch, or junction box. Only a trained and qualified person should install electric wiring.

    Want to learn how to clean your chicken coop? Follow our 6 steps for safely and effectively cleaning your coop to keep your chickens healthy and comfortable.
    Keep your flock safe and secure with chicken fencing. Learn about permanent options and moveable fencing.