Spring doesn’t just bring sunshine, flowers and baby chicks. It also brings an increase in brand (and relatively) new poultry owners seeking advice as to how they can best provide for their fledgling flocks. One of the questions I receive at this time every year is one that frankly makes my husband cringe. He can tell just by the way I gaze through the kitchen window at our coops that someone has emailed or messaged me the question.
And this year, I’ve received the question twice … and it’s only just spring. What is the perfect coop?
There Is No Short Answer
Those eager for my answer to this question are occasionally disappointed to discover that there is no short answer. Too many factors play a part in determining what constitutes a perfect coop for each person who asks.
My immediate response to “What is the perfect coop?” is “Where in the U.S. are you?” Each region’s particular climate—snowy, rainy, hot—will influence the design of the coop. Hotter climates require a more open layout with more ventilation openings, while colder, wetter climates call for an enclosed design.
More to Think About
Another important regional factor to consider is the predator population: “What kind of predators frequent your area?” With a few exceptions, this question has always taken advice seekers by surprise.
For those who live near wilderness parks—inhabited by raccoons, foxes, weasels, opossum, coyotes and other carnivores—having a contained run (covered, with fencing continuing at least 12 inches underground) and a secure coop is crucial. Even in urban and suburban areas, backyard chicken owners need to evaluate the potential for predator attack … even if that predator is the neighbor’s dog or cat.
There also exists the threat of an aerial attack by hawks, falcons, vultures, owls and other birds of prey.
Size of flock also plays a vital part in coop design. Those living in communities with restrictions regarding how many chickens can be kept have it easy. A coop that accommodates a maximum of four hens does not need to be large. Those living in an agricultural or rural zone have a little more thinking to do, especially if breeding will be part of the program. The coop will need to accommodate the size of the future flock, not just the current one.
Then there’s the nestbox issue. My “don’t forget your nestboxes!” typically gets me the “oh, yeah!” realization. But yes, if you’re going to have hens, they’re going to need a place to lay their eggs, one that you can easily access but is still predator proof.
The rule of thumb is one nestbox per four hens. But adding an extra one never hurts, especially if the chickens of choice tend to go broody.
The Human Factor
It’s not just the animals that need to be taken into account when considering the perfect coop. Local laws, ordinances and home owner association regulations will all affect any additional structures built on your property, whether it’s a coop or a garden shed.
These rules can dictate the color of your coop, the square footage of the structure, the distance of the coop from your home and from property lines, and whether you can run electrical and water out to the building. Some municipalities even dictate who can build your coop—e.g. a licensed contractor—and the hours construction can take place … and even go so far as to require a review of blueprints prior to approval.
“Have you checked your local laws?” has never failed to surprise the hopeful flock owner.
The other human to consider is yourself. “How will you make the coop easy for you?” tends to get the response of “What do you mean?”
Your coop design has to be one that makes it easy for you to care for your birds. In addition to nestboxes that can be easily accessed, you will want a large, human-access door that allows you to easily sweep out the soiled litter and refill feeders and waterers. And speaking of feeders and waterers, give some thought as to whether you want traditional ones or built in, gravity-fed feeders and waterers.
Another consideration is storage. Do you want to store feed, supplements and bedding in a special area in your coop, or will you be fine going back and forth between your coop and your garage, pole barn or shed? Would you like the pop door automated or are you fine opening and closing it manually?
Finally, don’t forget head space. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve whacked my head entering our original coop’s run because my husband built the entrance without taking our height into account.
My Perfect Coop
Over the years my family has kept poultry—not just chickens but ducks, turkeys and guineas—we have had nine different coops (and three indoor brooders). My dreams for a new coop would be for a facility that would house all our poultry in separate sections, each with its own fully accessible nestbox and fully enclosed run, with storage and egg cleaning/packing areas inside.
There’s much more to it, but that’s where my mind goes when I look out my kitchen window each spring.
If I were building my dream coop for just one flock, however, I’d want it just like our current main coop—the head-bonking one—with just a handful of changes. For starters, I’d redo the run to make it larger, taller and covered. I’d definitely have plumbing and electricity installed (by contractors, as my township ordinances require). I’d install solar panels on the roof and downspouts with rain-collection barrels.
But that’s about it for changes. It looks like we pretty much already have our dream coop.