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Basics of a Chicken Coop – Design Necessities

Thinking of becoming a chicken keeper (aka chicken farmer)? Before you draw out a blueprint and plan to build your DIY chicken coop, it’s important to learn the basics of a chicken coop and what you will need to make a better design.

A man letting a goose and chickens out of a mobile chicken coop.

Let’s go over some basic characteristics of function and chicken coop design needed to keep your backyard chickens safe, growing, and producing well.

Four Basic Functions of a Chicken Coop

  1. Shelter – The ideal chicken coop will be large enough to protect all of the chickens from rain, snow, and direct sunlight, as well as have an enclosed side to block the wind.
  2. Adequate Sunlight – The opening of a chicken coop needs to face the sun to capture all the natural light and fresh air possible. You can opt for 25% of the roof to be open as long as the sheltered area is still large enough for all birds to find shelter from rain and snow.
  3. Proper Ventilation – You need proper ventilation to allow airflow to draw out moisture. Even cold moving air, as long as it isn’t rushing winds, is good to prevent frostbite on your chickens. Make sure the chicken coop plan you choose has ventilation installed above where the chickens roost at night.
  4. Predator Protection – Unfortunately, predators can be a problem. Build the chicken coop and run with no more than one-inch gaps anywhere. Install chicken wire or wire mesh over all open areas and close the housing door at night to keep chickens safe.
A portable chicken coop.

Basic Design Principles for Chicken Coops

The basic design concept of chicken coops remains similar but will vary slightly depending on your personal flock size and space available. All coops need a few necessary design aspects which are listed below.

Keep in mind, not all chicken coops have to be permanent. Here are 5 brilliant chicken house ideas that really work.

Chicken Coop Size – How Big Should My Coop Be?

If your chickens have at least three square feet of outdoor space as a chicken run, the coop will need to be built large enough for one square foot per chicken inside. If they don’t have outdoor space and the housing is permanent, the interior should measure three square feet per bird.

Location – Do Chickens Need Sun or Shade?

If you’re raising chickens in a warm climate, consider placing the chicken house in the shade when possible. Chickens do not handle extreme heat well. 

Take special care selecting the location of stationary coops. Too close to your residence may bring unwelcome odors, but too far away will make it more difficult to keep them properly fed and watered.

Chickens eating from a feeder.

Food and Bedding

Make sure to keep any chicken feed in metal bins out of reach of mice. 

While the nutritional needs of chickens will differ based on their age, they are happier when they can forage for insects, worms, grasses, and seeds. Chickens are great for debugging a garden or pest control in an orchard.

If housing is permanent, it’s best to use at least eight inches of deep bedding. Carbon material like leaves, wood chips, wood shavings, and straw work well for bedding.

Housing Door 

The door for the chickens to go in and out needs to be at least nine inches wide and nine inches tall.

Nesting boxes inside a chicken tractor.

Egg Collection 

If the coop is too small for a person to walk into, set it up to allow access to eggs from the outside to collect eggs. 

Manure Collection 

When possible, allow the manure to fall through the coop floor to the ground. Move the housing often or harvest the droppings from underneath for other purposes.

Inside of a chicken coop.

Inside a Chicken Coop – Perches, Nest Boxes, and Dust Boxes 

  • Perches (or Roosting Bars) – Roosting is the act of resting or sleeping off the ground. Chickens roost to maintain warmth and get away from their manure. Proper roosting areas will have a perch. A few perch facts are as follows:
    • Perches should be provided as a place for chickens to roost at night. In nature, chickens roost on tree limbs.
    • Though perches are unnecessary for survival, as the chickens will settle on the ground if no perches are provided, you’ll find your chickens are happier with places to roost.  
    • If perches are higher than three feet, ladders should be provided to reach the perches.
    • Don’t use metal perches because the metal gets cold during the winter. Additionally, avoid using plastic because it’s too slippery.
    • One chicken takes up about nine inches of roost space. If you have ten hens, estimate at least 90” of perches.
  • Nest Boxes – Nest boxes are the areas you provide for your hens to lay their eggs. Hens naturally seek out a small dark area to hide their eggs, so we must keep that in mind as we build. Here are some tips for creating your nest boxes.
    • Nest boxes should be roughly one cubic foot each, and you’ll need one nest box for every ten hens.
    • Ensure the nest boxes have roofs (preferably angled), so the chickens don’t perch on top and leave their manure.
    • Have at least a four-inch wall in the front opening to keep them from scratching out their nest bedding.
    • Use shredded paper, wood shaving, or straw (my favorite) for nest bedding.
    • Ensure you provide a landing bar about four inches out from the nest box so your chickens don’t jump straight into the nest box.  Having this landing bar swivel up is a good idea to serve as a nest blocker. Sometimes you might need to implement the nest blocker if chickens are sleeping/pooping in the nesting box. You could put up the nest blocker in the early afternoon after the chickens have laid all their eggs.
    • Place the nests above the chicken’s eye level on the floor. If they loiter around the nests and see the eggs, they will be tempted to peck them.
    • Consider mesh bottoms for the nests to allow for self-cleaning (smaller debris will fall through).
  • Dust Boxes – Dust Boxes are boxes filled with dust so chickens can take dust baths, which help keep mites at bay.
    • Providing a dust box of about two square feet and 18” tall inside the chicken house is a good idea because you don’t want it to get wet.  
    • Your chickens will still want to take their dust bath even if it’s rainy or snowy outside.
    • I use an old plastic storage container, and I put the lid on at night so the birds don’t roost on it and poop in it.
    • If desired, provide an outdoor shelter over some bare earth for a continual outdoor dust bath. I’ve seen people using large plastic culverts cut in half for this purpose.

Instructions for Making Dust Boxes

  1. I prefer using a 14-gallon Rubbermaid tote, but you could also assemble a box out of plywood about 2′ x 2’ x 18″. 
  2. Add sifted dirt or soil. Alternatively, you can add wood ashes – one part ashes to four parts soil.
  3. Add a handful of garden lime or food-grade diatomaceous earth if needed. 

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Hi, I'm Justin

I share from a love of teaching and the sustainable movement. Here, you’ll find exhaustive permaculture articles, plentiful photos, cinematic educational films and business tips and tricks.

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