Chicken Coop Plans: Creating a Delightful Chicken Home

Fall is the best season for a family to prepare for the delightful experience of welcoming a small flock of chickens to the backyard. For poultry newcomers, fall gives them plenty of time to research the breeds they’d like to welcome, acquire, design or create and research chicken coop plans or build a coop, and read up on chicken care.

Perhaps there’s even time to visit other families who already have chickens or take a beginning chicken class at a nearby farm store or nature center.

This is the first in a series of blogs that will detail the construction of a sturdy, attractive coop. It’s not always necessary to build a coop, but construction is a fun family learning experience.

Characteristics of an ideal coop

Whether a coop is made by a family from scratch, purchased as a kit, or crafted from an existing building, these characteristics are necessary for chickens to be comfortable, safe, and productive.

  • Sized right: Be sure to have at least four-square feet of coop floor space per hen. More is even better and attaching an outdoor run to the coop adds living space. Coops can be as small as eight or ten square feet, suitable for two hens. More common backyard coops are 20 to 30 square feet and designed for four to six hens. If space is tight, consider bantam chickens. They only need half to a third as much space as full sized birds.
  • Comfort: Coops should provide plenty of ventilation, yet thwart chilly drafts come winter. Hens enjoy a cool breeze on sultry summer evenings and need to be protected from winter’s harsh winds. Great coops allow opening windows or vents when the weather is warm yet closing them down when frost arrives.
  • Protection: Raccoons, opossums, mink, and a host of other furry predators love eating fresh chicken. Mosquitoes and gnats enjoy a meal of blood. Good coops have heavy duty wire mesh on the outside and mosquito netting on the inside stretched over windows to keep predators at bay. A sturdy door, locked each evening after the chickens go to bed, keeps nocturnal predators out.
  • Furniture: Chickens sleep while standing on a perch. A pole or 2×4 with rounded off corners a couple of feet above the floor, makes a comfortable sleeping structure. Hens prefer to lay in nest boxes, which also keep eggs clean. Coops should have at least one nest per four birds. Many small coops have a hinged door that allows for egg collection without entering the coop.
  • Feeders and waterers: These should be easy for hens to reach and humans to clean and fill.
  • Light: Chickens need light. Windows should be positioned to gather as much natural daylight as possible. In the northern regions, positioning a coop so windows are on the south side helps gather the most sunshine and warmth on cold winter days.
  • The weather: Chickens love frequent drinks of clean fresh water, but a wet coop is an invitation to disease and foul odors. The coop must have a good roof that will always protect the interior from rain and snow.
  • Electricity: It’s not necessary to have electricity to the coop, but it makes care of chickens easier, especially in cold climates. Having electricity allows adding artificial light on dark winter days. That increases egg production. Also, a great convenience is a waterer with an electric heating unit inside it. This eliminates the need to keep replacing frozen waterers with fresh water.

Ideal coops should look great in the yard and be part of a backyard decor.  Access should be easy, so hens can be examined, feeders and waterers filled, and cleaning a snap.

Four ways to acquire a coop

  1. Modify an existing building: Often one of the easiest and least expensive ways of creating a backyard coop is to modify an existing building. A large corner of a garage or storage building may work well. Modification may be as simple as making a frame of 2×4 lumber, framing in a door, and covering the interior with chicken wire. Add a feeder, waterer, nests and roost and, bingo, it’s ready to house the flock. Cut a pop hole door in the exterior, create a fenced outdoor run, and the chickens have a snug home to sleep in and escape foul weather and a pleasant outdoor place to loiter and search for tasty insects and seeds. Many home stores sell pre-built or kit garden sheds. These can be modified into a coop.
  2. Buy a pre-built kit: Most places that sell chicks and chicken supplies sell coop kits, and they are also available from chick hatcheries and online. Most kits are small and lightweight. Many allow the purchase of an attached outdoor run. Some kits seem quite frail and may be best suited for people trying chickens for the first time. If they grow to love their hens, they may graduate to a larger or more elaborate coop. Some coop kits are high quality and durable. Take a close look at materials before buying.
  3. Buy a custom-made coop: Many garden and farm stores sell custom made coops. These are often high quality. They look great and are durable but may be relatively expensive. Well-made coops are heavy, so make sure the seller is willing to deliver it.
  4. Building a coop: This is an ideal way to enter the backyard chicken hobby. Later blogs featured on Scoop from the Coop will detail why and how to build a coop perfect for any yard.

Storing Chicken Feed: Chicken Feed Storage Must-Dos

The area where feed is stored can quickly turn into chaos if you’re not paying attention, especially with a flock that seems to grow daily (chicken math, anyone?).

Failure to store feed and equipment properly can be a headache for you and your flock.

Feed storage areas should have the following characteristics:

  1. No direct access by birds (or other pets!) – While keeping sealed bins of feed inside the coop is convenient, other equipment that’s not currently being used can quickly pile up next to the feed – making them at risk for collecting droppings and even worse, becoming a home for a feed-loving pest. Store feed separate from your flock and if that’s not feasible, think of ways to contain it all. We like this idea. Securing your feed isn’t just to keep it from your flock or pests. Some types of poultry feed can pose a serious health risk to horses.

  2. Dry and well ventilated – Feed must be protected from moisture. Feed bags should not be stacked directly on the floor as moisture may be absorbed in the bottom bags and the feed may mold in the bag. Any feed storage containers (bins, garbage cans, etc.) should be water and pest resistant.  Also, you should completely empty and clean out the feed storage container on a regular basis.  If you store feed in bags, make sure old feed is not allowed to accumulate by stacking new feed on top of the old bags.
  3. Well lit  – It is important that you can clearly see the condition of any feed you have stored. Once the feed has left a feed mill, it may be exposed to other conditions in storage, so it is wise to be able to see clearly what the feed looks like every time you feed your flock.
  4. Clean – It is important to keep the feed room/storage area free of spilled feed, dust and potential sources of contamination.
  5. Pest free – Feed tends to attract rodents, birds and insects. Spilled feed should be cleaned up.  If pest control is required, make sure any pesticides or rodenticides cannot contaminate the feed and that animals cannot access the pest control material.

Isolation Helps Keep Small Flocks Healthy

Many people dread taking an airplane trip to a distant city.  It’s not the flying they’re afraid of. It’s sitting in an enclosed metal fuselage filled with coughing and sneezing fellow passengers. Sure enough, healthy passengers often come down with a cold a few days after being cooped up in an airplane. Here’s how to help keep small flocks healthy.

Microbes have many techniques to move from a sick individual to a healthy one but most require close proximity. The closer people are crammed together the more likely a disease will spread.

The same goes for chickens. When crowded together, as sometimes tens of thousands of layers or broilers are in commercial operations, a sickness can quickly spread from just one ill bird and infect the entire flock. Commercial growers are well aware of the threat and practice careful biosecurity to keep disease away.

Small flock owners tend to be less aware of biosecurity. In many ways the keepers of backyard chicken flocks are fortunate. Their birds are protected by isolation.

Even though thousands of families have started raising chickens in recent years they still are a tiny minority of households. Typically, a family flock lives in a small coop miles from the next chicken. Given nutritious food, a clean place to live, plenty of space for exercise and privacy, and protection from predators, backyard chickens live healthy lives.

Many families have kept flocks for decades without ever experiencing a sick bird.

Isolated flocks make it hard for a germ to spread – as long as chicken owners exercise caution. Recently growing interest in backyard chickens may be a disease’s best friend.

People love their chickens and often enjoy keeping several breeds in a small flock.

There’s always the temptation to add a new bird or two to the flock.

Swapping chickens is common and sometimes a family needs to disband their flock and is happy to give the birds away.

That’s a concern. A new bird may bring hitchhiking microbes that could quickly infect an otherwise healthy flock.

Here are some ways to reduce the odds that newcomers will bring a disease with them:

  • Before accepting a new bird ask the owner if the flock has had any evidence of disease or if any birds have died or gotten sick recently. If so avoid taking a bird.
  • Inspect the living conditions of the donor’s flock. It should be clean, tidy, and have good ventilation. All the birds should look healthy.
  • Carefully examine the new bird to be added to a flock. Does she look healthy. Some signs of a healthy hen include clean feathers, an alert and active temperament that resists being captured, and no sign of discharge from the eyes, nostrils, or vent.

Even the healthiest appearing hen can carry a disease. Most poultry experts recommend keeping a new bird or birds in isolation from the flock for about a month.  If no sign of disease appears the bird probably is healthy enough to integrate into the flock.

Unfortunately, quarantine isn’t feasible for most backyard flock owners since isolation requires keeping the new birds in a separate coop a distance from the original flock. Few people have two coops. Still, it’s good advice.

Diseases don’t always move from chicken to chicken. Germs can hitchhike on the clothing or shoes of a coop visitor who inadvertently delivers them to his healthy flock.  After visiting a distant flock change into clean clothes and disinfect shoes before entering the backyard coop.

As a general rule here are some tips for keeping chickens healthy:

  • Start the flock with chicks from a reputable hatchery.
  • Always provide chickens with quality nutritious food and clean water.
  • Keep the coop dry. Dampness enables disease.
  • Give the birds plenty of space. Cramming many birds into a small area fosters aggression, odor, and disease. Just like humans, chickens are healthiest when they have access to fresh air, sunshine, and room to exercise and stretch.
  • If a chicken dies immediately remove its body from the coop and dispose of it properly. Most municipalities allow the body to be placed in the trash if it is in three layers of plastic bags. Then watch the rest of the flock for signs of disease.  If others sicken consult a veterinarian immediately.

Good Practices Also Keep People Safe

A sick chicken can spread disease to other birds but generally people aren’t susceptible to bird diseases. There are a few scary and rare exceptions. A common human health threat that can come from chickens is salmonella.

After being in the coop it’s always a good idea to clean up. Thoroughly washing hands before eating is essential to reduce possible human illness. Adults need to make sure that children also wash well after being in the coop.

Fortunately, most owners of small backyard flocks never have to contend with a sick chicken. When well cared for chickens are amazingly healthy animals, but careful attention to sanitation and biosecurity reduces the odds of disease outbreak.

Gnats and Chickens: Tiny Predators Take Toll on Chickens

Some things are certain about racoons. They seem to live everywhere, are always hungry, and their favorite meal is a tasty chicken. (Gnats and chickens go hand in hand as well.)

Few animals are as adept at raiding a coop as a hungry raccoon.  Outstanding climbers, they can clamber up siding to reach a window or hole in the side of the building.

Their forepaws are almost as nimble as human hands and enable the hungry predators to open simple clasps and enter a pophole or even coop door. Added to that is their amazing ability to squeeze through small holes and gaps.

It’s no wonder that chicken keepers take precautions to keep them out of their coop.

Unfortunately, many people who keep their flock safe from raccoons, dogs, cats, foxes, opossums, weasels, and mink, ignore the tiny predators that suck blood from their hens.

Mosquitoes, gnats, and flies easily buzz through hardware cloth or heavy-duty wire mesh used to exclude hungry mammals. They enter by the thousands to steal blood meals and torment the flock.

Chickens are extremely vulnerable to biting insects. Although thick feathers provide some protection, fleshy combs and wattles are inviting blood-rich targets.

Most mosquitoes and gnats aren’t usually active during the day and wait until twilight and evening to hunt for dinner. Biting flies often work the day shift and welcome the chance to bite chickens.

Sometimes a foraging hen will turn the table and snatch a fly from the air and turn it into a protein rich treat.  But when fly numbers are high chickens are vulnerable to their bites.

During daylight hours chickens are amazingly alert but once they flap up to the roost and nod off for the evening, they enter a near comatose state. When sleeping they can’t protect themselves from either biting insects or toothy mammals.  After dark they especially need the help of their owner.

When gnats and mosquitoes make it unbearable for humans to sit outside on an otherwise pleasant evening it’s likely they’re drawing blood from vulnerable chickens that are equally uncomfortable.

Fortunately, there are ways to make it challenging for both insects and mammalian predators to enter the coop. When owner keep them out, the flock will enjoy a good night’s sleep.

REDUCING THE MOSQUITO POPULATION

Reducing the local mosquito population is a good place to start. Success makes life more pleasant for people and hens.

One stage of the mosquito life cycle makes them vulnerable. As aquatic insects they must have standing water to breed. Fertile females lay eggs in tiny rafts on stagnant water. These hatch into larvae within one to two days. Larvae feed on nutrients in the water and eventually pupate and emerge as adults.

The time from egg to adult depends on the temperature but can be as short as a week. Male mosquitoes are content to spend their lives feeding on nectar and mating, but females need a protein rich blood meal to produce eggs. They are the aggressive biters.

Gnats and ChickensThe key to reducing a local mosquito population is to eliminate standing water they need to breed. That’s not always easy to do but it’s the first step a homeowner should take to control skeeters.

They don’t need much water to produce thousands of mosquito babies. Rain filled toys, tin cans, and even a bird bath can breed them by the thousands.

Here are some tips for reducing mosquito breeding sites:

  • Tidy up the yard. Remove toys, tools, cans or anything else that can hold even a small amount of rainwater.
  • Check and clean rain gutters. Sometimes a wad of old leaves blocks a gutter, causing a standing pool of water. One gutter can produce thousands of mosquitoes.
  • Change chicken drinking water often. Buckets and waterers for chickens, dogs, or other animals can quickly become mosquito breeders. So can a bird bath. At least every two days dump out the old water and replace it.
  • Encourage mosquito predators. Birds, bats, fish, frogs, toads, and even some insects, like dragonflies, eat mosquitoes. Yards with a diversity of vegetation encourage mosquito predators.
  • Stock decorative backyard pools with a few goldfish to snack on larvae.

KEEPING THEM OUT OF THE COOP

The coop is the last line of defense chickens have against biting insects. Many flock owners are diligent about covering windows with strong wire that repels racoons. Yet they forget about fine mesh netting that allows biting bugs easy entry.

The same type of mosquito netting that keeps bugs out of houses works just as well on coop windows. There is a problem.

Metal or nylon insect screening will hardly slow down a raccoon, so windows need two layers of mesh.

Heavy duty hardware cloth or other strong wire mesh on the outside of the window deters raccoons and makes it impossible for them to tear the mosquito netting that’s installed on the inside of the window.

The double system allows cool summer breezes to enter while keeping both big and tiny predators outside. Screens allow chickens to snooze in peace.

Insect screening tends to collect the abundant dust created by chickens. Over time, the screen will nearly plug up with dust and not allow much light or air to pass through.

They need to be cleaned a couple of times a year. An easy way is to remove the insect screen in the fall after the end of the bug season and spray it with a jet of water from a hose.

Once dry, they can be stored for the winter. Permanently installed screens can be cleaned in place by using a cordless vacuum cleaner with the hose set on the blower mode. Simply blow the dust out of the screen.

A leaf blower might also work but sometimes the force of air is so strong it might tear the screen. Be sure to wear ear protection to block the high-pitched sound.

Nearly all flock owners are aware that furry nocturnal predators love to raid a coop after dark. They take precautions to keep them out.

Remember too that you can help your flock be comfortable and work to reduce insects that love to feast on chicken blood.

Wise flock owners protect their birds from both kinds of predators.

Enter Today – Chick Days Giveaway from Nutrena

Join in on the fun and enter our Nutrena Chick Days Giveaways. We are offer twice weekly drawings for eight weeks. Enter each giveaway of your choosing. We’ll draw winners every Wednesday and Friday during the contest period, ending April 25. Prizes include poultry starter kits, gift certificates to your local feed store, egg aprons, and much more. Enter for each prize for a chance to win. Click here to enter today!

Follow along on our Facebook page – Nutrena Chicken & Poultry Feed to enter each giveaway. Don’t miss out on great prizes!

What’s in Chick Starter?

The golden crumble your new baby chicks are devouring these days  was carefully formulated for their unique needs. Chick Starter. What’s in it?

You won’t be surprised to hear that a  large component of chick starter is Chick Startergrains. Poultry have a unique digestive system that you can learn more about here.

Their digestive system is suited well for taking advantage of the nutrients found in these grains.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common grains found in poultry feed.

These ingredients are carefully selected in order to support a baby chick’s nutritional needs:

  • Energy to support daily needs and growth
  • Protein (including critical amino acids like Lysine) to support muscle growth and development
  • Fiber for optimum digestion
  • Vitamins and minerals to support rapid skeletal system growth and other essential functions.

Soybean meal: Dried and crushed beans from the soybean plant, soybean meal offers the highest concentration of protein of plant proteins. Often 44 to 48% protein.

Canola meal: Also dried and crushed seeds from the canola plant (noted for their beautiful yellow blooms). Canola meal also is very dense in protein. It is often used in conjunction with soybean meal, or as a replacement, when soy is not desired in a formulation.

Nutrena NatureWise Hearty Hen, our soy-free, omega-3 from flax poultry layer feed, contains canola meal.

Corn: Corn is a go-to source for energy in poultry feed. Cracked corn is often viewed as a pastoral, traditional form of poultry feed. However, as nutrition research has advanced, we now understand that a diet made entirely of corn is lacking in protein as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

Wheat midds: Never heard of it? We’re not surprised. Wheat midds are a byproduct of the wheat milling process. Byproducts can sometimes be viewed as a filler or leftover, but, in the case of poultry feeds, wheat midds make a great addition to poultry feed. Midds are a good source of energy, protein, and fiber. They also help create a nice pellet that holds together and reduces dust.

Besides grains, premium poultry feeds often contain value-added ingredients. Nutrena NatureWise poultry feeds, for example, contains the following:

Pre and probiotics: These feed additives benefit both microbes in the chicken’s gut and adds beneficial bacteria to the existing population in the chicken’s digestive tract. Learn more about prebiotics and probiotics.

Vitamins and minerals: Just like humans, supplemental vitamins and minerals help poultry stay healthy and preform regular body functions like seeing, growing, and eventually, laying eggs.

New Chick Checklist

New Chick Checklist

New Chick Checklist: Chicks thrive in ideal conditions, so consider these tips for getting started:

  • Heat: Suspend a warm bulb about a foot above the brooder floor for warmth – and have a second bulb on hand in case one burns out. Keep temps in the brooder about 90-95 degrees F for the first week, decreasing about 5 degrees per week. Raise the light as chicks grow.
  • Environment: Be sure your brooder is big enough so your chicks can move about comfortably. Keep it out of drafts. Stock tanks, plastic tubs and homemade brooders are a few good options. Do not allow the brooder to become wet or damp.
  • Bedding: Pine wood shavings are ideal. Avoid straw and newspaper as these become slippery for chicks. Clean bedding daily.
  • Water: Be sure clean, fresh water is always available. Dip chick beaks into water and let them drink 4-5 hours before introducing feed. Elevating the waterer a couple inches off the floor will help it stay clean and prevent bedding from contaminating it.
  • Feed: Scatter feed on the brooder floor so chicks can find it at first. Then place in a feeder. Have chick starter feed available 24/7. Your chicks will eat just what they need. One chick will eat about 10 pounds of chick starter in its first weeks of life. There are some great options available when considering chick starter feeds.