Photo by Rachael Brugger
After you have established your chicken-coop design, add accessories to meet your chickens' health needs and to make your chicken-keeping experience more enjoyable.
So you’ve launched into your very own chicken-keeping adventure. You’ve done the research, narrowed down the breeds you’d like to raise, and now moved on to the final piece of the puzzle before placing your order with a hatchery: the chicken coop. Many different coop options are available to poultry keepers, from store-bought, pre-assembled chicken arks to DIY enclosures of all shapes and sizes.
No matter what your chicken coop might look like or what your end purpose in chicken-keeping might be, a number of accessories are available that can enhance your chicken-keeping experience, making it as easy and fun as possible, while keeping your beloved brood safe and healthy.
These coop accessories are essential to all coops, keeping your chickens fed and hydrated and providing them with adequate sleeping and egg-laying locations in their cozy home. Before you start thinking about fancier add-ons, make sure you incorporate these fundamental enhancements into your flock’s coop.
Because hens seek a secluded place to lay their eggs, nest boxes, complete with clean, dry bedding, are an essential feature of most chicken coops. David Frame, a Utah State University Extension poultry specialist, recommends placing the nest box (or nest boxes, depending on how many chickens you own) in darker areas to promote its usage. He also encourages poultry keepers to have a good amount of nest boxes accessible: "Even though the rule of thumb is one nest box to about five hens, I suggest having more nest boxes available than that to discourage overcrowding,” he says.
Most chicken breeds roost, or perch, to sleep at night. To enhance the chicken’s comfort, some keepers provide roosting bars for their birds to perch on throughout the night. It’s a good idea to include at least one bar per bird (or a bar long enough for multiple birds to perch on), and Frame recommends smoothing off the edges on the bars’ top surfaces to minimize potential foot discomfort.
The most important element in a chicken’s diet is water, so ensure that clean, fresh water is available to your flock at all times to avoid issues with growth and egg production and to keep your birds healthy. Waterers come in an assortment of types and designs, such as a portable fountain-type drinker and a bell-type drinker that can be hooked up to a low-pressure water line.
"Always put in more waterers than you think you’ll need,” Frame says, as this can help accommodate shy chickens and allow for the availability of fresh water in the event of a spill or malfunction.
Food is another vital ingredient for a healthy flock, and like waterers, feeders come in a variety of designs, including feeders that can be hung from the coop ceiling and bucket feeders that can store a few days’ worth of feed. Frame emphasizes that floor feeders need to have a lip deep enough to minimize feed spillage onto the coop floor. He adds that excess feed should be stored properly. "Always store unused feed in closed containers, such as Rubbermaid bins or covered plastic garbage containers,” he says.
Heater and Thermometer
If you plan to hatch and raise chicks, a heating element and a brooder thermometer are absolute necessities. Because chicks cannot produce enough energy to keep themselves warm (this is why mothers cover the chicks with their bodies), a heating element, such as a heat lamp, is essential to their survival. A brooder thermometer also allows you to monitor the actual temperature of the chicks’ habitat, raising or lowering the heat as needed.
This category of accessories is for the chicken keeper who is willing to splurge a little on their coop for additional safety or ease of care. None of these add-ons is required for a healthy and productive flock, but they could make tending to your poultry much easier.
Waterer Upgrade (Heated and/or Continuous Flow)
In addition to the basic waterers mentioned above, additional designs can make providing water for your brood much easier. A waterer with a heated base will keep the water from freezing on cold days and nights, as will a continuous-flow design, which also keeps the water from becoming stagnant.
Depending on the size of your coop, it might be possible to attach wheels to the frame and move it around the yard. As a side effect of their scratching and picking at the soil in search of bugs and plant material to eat, chickens aerate the ground under their feet while fertilizing it with their droppings. By moving the coop around your property, you can spread these benefits across your whole plot of land, minimizing potential destruction to your grass.
If you have a free-range flock, electric fencing is an excellent way to keep your birds contained while keeping them safe from predators. "In trials, we found [electric fencing] even discourages raccoons from entering,” Frame says. Electric fencing can be implemented in a number of ways, including a simple one- or two-wire system, electrified poultry netting, or hot wires added to existing fencing.
You can supplement your chickens’ diet with edible plants, including spinach, lettuce, watermelon, cantaloupe and comfrey (which Frame notes is a particular favorite of many birds) to vary their diet and provide them with additional nutrient sources. Frame discourages the consumption of grass, however. "Grass clippings are hard to digest and may cause impaction, and folks often treat grass with herbicides and insecticides,” he says. For more information on chickens and edible garden plants, check out "Garden-variety Chickens” in the March/April 2013 issue of Hobby Farms.
To provide a little variety in your flock’s diet and keep them busy, you can either purchase or make an edible block treat. These treats usually contain an array of ingredients, including various grains and meals along with some all-important grit to help with digestion. As your chickens break apart the block treats little by little, their natural scratching and pecking instincts are encouraged by the treats, keeping them healthy and entertained all at once. Frame also notes that chickens love to scratch and pick at alfalfa, especially in the winter.
These add-ons are for chicken keepers who want to take their coop to the next level, and they range from gadgets designed to help protect and watch over a flock to embellishments and decorations aimed at beautifying coops from the bottom up.
Chicken coops don’t have to just be functional; they can also add to your farm’s overall style with keeping your flock safe and sound. Tiffany Kirchner-Dixon, photographer and blogger at The Fancy Farmgirl, keeps function in mind with her coop’s decorative touches, such as the stylish wall hooks she uses to hold egg buckets and feed scoops; the galvanized, lidded buckets where she stores extra feed; and the coop’s predominant feature—a classic chandelier that keeps her hens laying year-round.
Kirchner-Dixon advises keepers to meet their chickens’ basic needs before adding decoration, but she points out that even the basics can be stylish. "Even creature comforts can be pretty, like the vintage ladder I use for the chickens to roost, or the vintage windows and shutters I added to the coop for ventilation,” she says. She suggests keeping decorative items either on the outside of the coop or up high in the coop itself and to keep small, shiny items away from the coop entirely.
To fully maximize the space that your chicken coop occupies, consider building a coop with a green roof. With a little extra construction, you can grow plants right on top of your chickens’ cozy home. It does require extra planning to ensure that the coop can hold the soil and plant weight, as well as a waterproofing membrane to keep moisture from sinking into the structure itself. Incorporating a slight slant to the coop’s green roof (or any coop roof) also allows you to collect rainwater in a rain barrel to help with your flock’s water needs or water plants around the farm.
Automatic Door Closer
For free-range chickens, installing an automatic coop-door closer will make locking your chickens in the coop at night a cinch. These coop doors are set on a timer to open in the morning and let your flock out to roam and subsequently close at night to keep the birds locked in the coop. Despite their convenience, Frame advises chicken keepers to perform frequent checks to ensure that the door closer is working properly. "[Automatic door closers] require frequent monitoring to make sure they don’t close birds out if they malfunction,” he says.
Solar-powered LED Light
If you have a long-standing problem with predators, such as raccoons, coyotes or foxes, encroaching on your chicken coop at night, consider a solar-powered LED light to help keep your flock safe. These lights gather power during the day and flash a small red light from dusk until dawn, which predators perceive as a threat, causing them to keep their distance from the coop.
For an illuminating look at the goings-on of your flock, try installing a video camera in the coop for the inside scoop on your chickens’ behavior. Frame points out that this can be very entertaining, of course, but it can also be informative, too. "If you really want to be enlightened about what goes on in the coop at night, add infrared [to your camera],” he says. "This may help [you] get an understanding of rodent and other varmint challenges.”