Chickens require a certain amount of coop and run space. They also need nesting boxes, bedding, access to food and water, security from predators and space to roam. Setting up a chicken coop requires advanced planning to meet the specific needs of chickens.
Coop and Run Space
Build your chicken coop with a minimum of 4 square feet per chicken. A little more space is ideal and adding additional empty space allows you to expand the flock if desired. Build the run with as much room as possible. Fifty to 100 square feet is a nice space for 15 or fewer backyard chickens. Also consider allowing to the chickens to free range during the day. They will forage for food and exercise in your yard space. Add roosting posts and branches to the run space. Chickens will utilize roosting areas during the day. Add shade cloth or an overhang to provide a cool escape from the summer sun. Bury the fencing 1 foot in your run to prevent burrowing predators and cover with deer netting to stop birds of prey.
Add elevated roosting bars inside the coop. Chickens roost on the bars at night. Use natural tree branches, if possible, or wooden dowels. Chickens also will roost on exposed roof beams. Add nesting boxes with access from the coop interior. Nesting boxes for chickens require a minimum of 1 foot of width, height and depth. Use cedar wood shavings, straw or shredded newspaper for bedding inside the coop. Use sand for easy cleaning in the run area.
Food and Water
Provide access to food and water inside and outside the coop. Constant access to water is critical for the chickens. Hang food and water to prevent roosting and defecating in the containers. Use feeders and water containers specifically designed for chickens. They are widely available in farm and ranch supply stores. Use a heat lamp to prevent water from freezing during the winter. The heat lamp will warm the coop during cold weather. Frozen water will lead to dehydration and put your flock at risk. Check the food and water on a daily basis.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Keep a rake and trash can close to the coop for weekly cleaning. Remove and replace old bedding and rake feces from the sand. Take the used materials to a compost pile for your garden. Open the coop doors during the day to create airflow and keep things dry. Preventing moisture accumulation in the coop reduces fly problems and the potential for disease.
Zach Lazzari is a Montana based freelance outdoor writer and photographer. You can follow his work at bustedoarlock.com.