Good housing for pet chickens is vital if you want them to remain healthy and productive. The wrong coop can actually lead to chickens developing behavioural problems, becoming sick and ceasing to lay.
What are the essential features of a good pet chicken coop?
A pet chicken coop needs to be of the correct size, have certain features for the benefit of both keeper and chickens as well as being built well from quality materials to withstand the rigours of our British weather!
These requirements are specified in more detail below.
Regarding the size of your pet chicken coop:
Bantams such as Silkies will require 4 sq.ft. per bird if they are living in the coop and run all the time but only 2 q.ft. each if they have access to free range ground.
Hybrid layers such as ex-battery hens will require 6 sq.ft. per bird if they are living in the coop and run all the time but only 3 q.ft. each if they have access to free range ground.
Traditional large breeds like Orpingtons will need 8 sq.ft. each if they are confined full time but this drops to 4 sq.ft. if they go out and range free.
If you are going to have a large breed like this then be certain your coop is designed with enough headroom. It should have 24″ in the run and perching areas, particularly if you are getting a cockerel.
Cleaning is certainly going to be a regular job and so you want it to be easy for both you and your chickens. A well designed coop will open up on at least 2 sides giving you complete unhindered access.
It can be useful to be able to shut your chickens in their run whilst you clean the house. Extra features like pull out poop trays, removable floors, removable perches and side walls that lift out all make your job easier and quicker.
If you are able to prevent roosting in the nest boxes this also helps to keep the coop cleaner.
Not many people think about feeding when buying a pet chicken coop but look out for a useful covered area where you can put a chicken feeder. This keeps the feed dry and prevents the accumulation of spilt wet feed which can breed infection.
Look for space to put a water container where you can easily reach it. Fresh water is vital for laying hens and so it needs to be easy to change their water on a daily basis.
Some coops have externally opening nest boxes but it is not essential to be able to collect the eggs without opening your coop. In reality, confined hens rarely try to escape as they feel safe and secure in their run. Those that free range may hop out as you put your hand in but that’s fine anyway!
Perching & Roosting:
Roosting on perches is natural instinctive behaviour for chickens. It is not essential to provide perches and chickens will just sleep on the floor but they prefer to perch if given the opportunity so try to choose a coop that provides perching for your pet chickens to roost on at night.
It is preferable if your perches are removable as poop accumulates beneath them overnight and so it makes for easy cleaning if the perches lift out. If you plan on keeping a large breed of chickens then make sure there is about 24″ of headroom above the perches to allow them to hop up onto them without banging their head!
For each 4-5 hens your coop needs to have an individual nest box. These want to be preferably in a dark corner to encourage them to be used! Make sure the birds can’t roost on them at night in order to keep the bedding clean.
Floor Of Any Outdoor Run:
There is a balance to be struck here between natural behaviour and safety. Chickens love to scratch about for insects and juicy grubs but they also dig out dust baths for themselves. These can become quite large dusty holes in the ground and can create gaps at the edge of a run where predators could get under.
Some coops get around this by incorporating a mesh floor. This allows the chickens access to the ground but they can’t really scratch it about and certainly can’t create dust baths. They are however, safer from predators. If you decide to go for an integral floor you can provide a dust bath by putting sand in a low sided box for them to bathe and roll in.
It is essential to the health and well being of your flock that they do not stay on one patch of ground for too long. If they cannot free range then make sure you move the coop frequently – at least weekly. For this reason your pet chicken coop must be easy to move around the garden.
Workmanship & Quality of Materials:
So how can you tell the difference between cheap (in quality as well as price) coops and a decent coop that offers value for money?
Always go for pressure treated timber. If the timber is only dip treated, not only will it require re-treating 2 or 3 times a year but it is also indicative of the overall quality of the coop. If the manufacturers know about chicken keeping they will be sure to use pressure treated timber for their coops.
Make sure your pet chicken coop is screwed together and not nailed. It can be a small point to overlook but especially check the runs as these can be of a lower standard than the main coop sometimes. If you build it yourself from a flat pack then of course make sure you use screws.
Any metal work such as hinges and hooks should be galvanised galvanised or otherwise rust resistant. Cheap coops can use straight iron work which rusts and generally the hinges end up snapping.
Even pressure treated coops benefit from annual or at a least biannual splash of preservative. Keep all your hinges and clips oiled – even just a quick spray of WD40 once a month will prolong the life of your metalwork.
Bear in mind that your pet chicken coop will be living outdoors all year round and in all weathers so it’s worth giving it a little care and attention. You can then expect it to provide accommodation for happy chickens over many years.
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