A Helpful Guide To Building A Backyard Chicken Coop For Beginners
Five years ago, a feisty hen wandered onto our property. She was an adorable fluff ball who didn't want anything to do with us. After numerous phone calls to our town hall and local farms, no one claimed her; so we decided to give her a home and name her Easter.
Little did we know, she would become a part of our family, and we grew just as attached to her as she did to us. When she passed away last year, my kids were heart broken, so I was very hesitant to own chickens again. Yet, after months of research and checking local ordinances; we decided to give backyard chickens a try.
Chicken coops are expensive!! Trying to find something pre-built that checked all the boxes for our needs & the well-being of the chickens would have costed thousands of dollars, and that was not in our budget. We wanted to make sure the coop could withstand New England's weather. We also wanted to make sure it was comfortable enough for the hens to roost & run, safe from predators & pests, and lastly, easy to maintain. All of that came with a hefty price tag. So we decided to build our own.
We had this great spot in our yard that was leveled with a beautiful 11 year old playscape that my kids no longer use. My brother Jacob brilliantly mentioned, ‘Why don't you convert the playscape into a hen house', and that's exactly what we did. We began breaking the playscape down, making sure to salvage as much wood as possible.
After careful consideration, numerous sketched out plans, and the law of chicken math (Oh my, oh my, the CHICKEN MATH!) we decided to build a 4×10 hen house. A 4×10 hen house can comfortably accommodate the possible (who am I kidding, DEFINITE) expansion of a flock. Using wood that was left over from the playscape and scrap wood we kept in our shed, we added a 4X6 addition to the fort. We still needed to purchase additional supplies, but re purposing old wood really helped with the cost.
This plan allowed the hen house to have at least 20 feet of roosting bar space (at least one square foot for each hen to roost on a roosting bar and in general around 3 square feet per hen in the coop). It also allowed room for 2 nesting boxes, proper ventilation, coop doors for easy cleaning and of course an entrance for the hens to come and go as they please.
For the run of the coop, we kept the swing set beam to help create an 8×10 enclosure. So not only will the hens have the 8×10 run, they will also have additional run space under the coop which is another 4×10 space. This is equivalent to 120 square feet! Rule of thumb is to at least have 8-10 square feet per chicken in the run, the more square footage the better, but free range is always the best.
Why so much room you ask? Chickens are a working animal! They need to keep busy throughout the day. If not given enough space to do what they do best, fights may occur or hens lower in the pecking order can get viciously picked on.
Once we were happy with the build design, it was time to focus on the features.
The hen house, which we called ‘The Fluffy Butt Hut', is a good size for our 12 chickens. The two 2×4-10 foot roosting bars can easily pop out if they need a good cleaning when the time comes. The ladder has ‘hook and eye' hardware so it can easily be removed for cleaning as well.
We lined the entire floor of the coop with cheap linoleum. This makes it easy when it comes time to clean out the coop. Since the wood from the playscape was fairly thin and had lots of small cracks that caused drafts, we decided to install a very thin layer of insulation. We used 1/8″ double reflective insulation that was very affordable ($9.98 for 10 ft) with a thin piece of plywood over it to keep the hens from pecking at the insulation.
The two nest boxes were attached from the outside of the coop. Each nesting box has 3 sections that are 12in x 12in. A perfect dark & quiet spot for the girls to lay their eggs. We lined the bottom of each nesting box with a poultry padding (our old girl would forever break her eggs when they dropped down on the straw/wood) and layed straw down on top so they can make their nests. It is recommended to have at least 1 nesting box per 3 birds. Since we have plans to expand in the future, we thought 6 nests were best for our needs.
Ventilation is also very crucial to your hen house. We needed to make sure proper cross ventilation was provided so the hen house can breathe and not fill up with nitrogen from the hens manure. Putting a 19 gauge -1/2 inch hardware cloth over the vents & windows will help keep predators, small birds and mice from coming in; but keep the house breathable. Since our winters can drop as low as -10 degrees, we also fitted removable plexi-glass for the windows to help retain heat.
The back doors are very versatile. The top main two doors securely close so no predators can get in at night. During the day we can open the interior portion of the door to reveal a hardware cloth screen. The doors are still securely shut, but now more ventilation can get into the main house; especially during the hot summer days. If we need to get into the coop for cleaning or repairs, the bottom door drops down for ease of access.
We decided to use industrial hemp for the bedding of the hen house so we can do the deep litter method. Hemp is an amazing alternative to straw or pine shavings. It is very low on dust, multiple times more absorbent than pine & the best part NO SMELL!
Since the hemp naturally composts and absorbs the ammonia out of the chicken droppings, you only need to clean out the hen house once a year. Some have reported up to two years of not needing to clean out the coop. The microbes and beneficial bacteria from the hemp compost is very healthy for the hens. I love that you can reuse the composted hemp in your gardens or potted house plants for amazing results.
The run is attached to our coop by using 2×4's and covered with 19 gauge 1/2 inch hardware cloth. We made sure there was a roof over head to help keep the girls shaded since many are not heat hardy. We also placed hardware cloth on the ground around the coop as a predator guard to keep the foxes from digging to get under. Placing an additional layer of gravel on top of the predator guard added some extra protection.
We put down some fresh soil in the coop so its easier for the hens to scratch at and sectioned off smaller areas so the girls can take their dirt baths. Our dirt baths were a mix of organic garden soil, construction sand, wood ash, 1/2cup of diatomaceous earth & some dried herbs to help repel insects.
There were so many options in regards to feeders; from store bought to DIY feeders, the options were endless. Yet the thought of a mouses skull being smaller than a 1/4 inch means they can still squeeze through the hardware cloth and reach the food. This is something we really want to avoid, but seemed practically impossible. We decided to invest in an automatic feeder that claims to be rat/mouse proof by ‘Grandpa's Feeders'. Only time will tell if its truly rat/mouse proof.
When it comes to giving water to our girls, it can be a rather gross job since they love to kick all sorts of fun stuff in their water. My husband decided to DIY a water nipple system so we didn't have to worry about cleaning up icky water bowls. In the future we would love to install a rain gutter and water barrel system to make it even more low maintenance & efficient, but that is an investment for another day!
As for entertainment (aside from scratching), we placed some natural branch perches, a neat homemade swing and a DIY veggie pecking ball. We are hoping that our girls have enough to do throughout the day to stay entertained and healthy so they can provide us with eggs all year round.
Plants & Herbs
I really wanted to plant some beneficial plants and herbs for the girls on the outside of the coop. We had four large planters on hand and decided to make a mint box, a mixed herb box , a marigold box and a comfrey box.
Mint is great for chickens, not only is the smell a natural deterrent to insects and rodents, it has a calming effect on chickens and can even be put in small bowls of water to help lower their body temperature.
In the mixed herb box, I planted some oregano, lavender and thyme. Oregano is an antibacterial/anti-parasitic and great for a chickens immune system and respiratory system. Lavender not only makes the coop smell great, but it has a calming effect on your egg laying hens and is helpful for chickens circulatory system. Thyme is an herbal antibiotic and helpful for respiratory infections. They also add an additional protection to keep pests at bay.
The marigold box (Calendula) has wonderful benefits for chickens. These are great to plant near the nesting box since they repel insects. When the chickens ingest calendula, it helps their beak, feet and yolks turn a healthy color. It is also an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial & antioxidant. It makes a great salve for cuts, scrapes, prolapsed vents and egg bound hens.
Comfrey is an amazing plant to make a DIY healing salve for your chickens. Its great for treating bruises and sprains and is a great source of protein when offered in moderation.
Benefits of Raising Chickens
The benefits of raising chickens in your backyard are amazing. If you have smaller children, it really helps teach them responsibility and to respect a working animal. Not only do chickens provide us with nutritious eggs that are not processed or bleached, they can provided us with meat as well.
They create rich fertilizer with their manure for your plants and gardens and you can easily use the bedding from their coop as compost for your garden beds. Chickens are also excellent at pest control. Living in New England, especially here in Connecticut, ticks and Lyme Disease can run rampid! . Chickens will eat all of those life threatening ticks that can cause a slew of health issues and that can put any parent at ease when their children are outside playing.
In addition, chickens are your gardens natural ‘weeder' and ‘garbage disposal'. They love to eat weeds and grass, but be careful, they can easily mow down your vegetable and flower beds as well. So its best to have an area for them to graze or even create their own ‘garden' to scratch or peck at.
Best of all, they are very easy to take care of since they are very self sufficient. When you hand raise them from days old, it becomes very easy to become attached to them and they can become attached you. It's best to do your research to find the right type of breed that is perfect for your family's needs.
What are your thoughts on owning backyard chickens? Questions about the build? Leave a comment below!
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