Chickens have gained in popularity here lately because they can be kept in smaller areas than other livestock and are light enough for people of all ages to take care of without a huge amount of strain.
The type of chicken coop you need depends on the following:
1. How many do you want to keep?
A lot of people keep 5 hens or less but some of you out there may have more space and want to take on 25 hens or so and sell excess eggs or put them back for future use. In fact, check out my article on top ways to preserve eggs to get started on that part of your prepping plan!
The amount of chickens you have versus how many eggs you consume is a very important factor to consider. If you like to bake a lot then add that in as well. A family of 4 that each eats an egg a day and uses two for cooking with on average should have 7 hens to make sure there is enough. 6 would very likely do but hens are on an natural clock and might not always give you an egg every 24 hours on the dot.
2. Size of your chickens
A big laying hen takes up more space than some smaller chickens. Some hens can get to be 10 lbs when they are mature whereas a Bantam is 2 lbs. I advise that you get a medium to large size laying hen though because they produce more eggs and they can fend for themselves better.
3. Free range versus confinement
If you have to keep your chickens contained all the time then your coop needs to be larger. If you are just trying to put up and protect your hens at night then you can get away with a smaller size but still remember to have some egg laying boxes so you are not running all over the place looking for eggs. You still might have to a bit because hens sometimes try to hide nests, but it will reduce the incidence of this if you provide a nice soft nest spot. Even an old milk crate will work!
4. Temperatures where you live
You can definitely get away with less if you live in a warmer climate. Those that have cold winters should plan on a better insulated chicken house or using a heat pad or brooder light to help out the chickens. You can also keep hens laying for a longer part of the year by offering them some heat and light. Even though chickens are incredibly tough, if they are exposed to really low temperatures they can actually get in a situation where their combs freeze and turn black and parts can even fall off. It is not a pretty thing. It can happen even in generally warmer climates too during the winter if chickens don’t have protection from the frost and cold.
How to Build a Movable Chicken Pen
In this article, I am going to discuss how to make a movable chicken pen with no bottom, otherwise known as a chicken tractor. I would need an entire full length book to explain how to make all the various designs of coops out there but I chose the chicken tractor because it can be made in various sizes and allows preppers to allow chickens to graze without getting into unwanted areas like your veggie garden when you are about to harvest.
- Salvaged Materials
Salvaged wood or metal poles can definitely be used to make the framework of a chicken tractor so you might be able to reduce your initial cost. Chicken wire is cheap and should be bought new since it rusts out eventually. There is no doubt that you can make a great chicken coop with salvaged goods if you are bit handy and creative.
- Roost Poles
If you want roost poles you will need some round poles. Chickens don’t have to have a roost pole really but they do prefer it. It also helps keep them cleaner and warmer because they are not exposed to the ground. I recommend offering a roost pole if at all possible.
Basic Principles Of Making A Chicken Tractor For 5-7 Chickens
If you want the best eggs and chickens to be comfortable then you need about 3- 4 square feet of space per hen. So a 4 ft x 6 ft chicken tractor with attached shelter is enough for 6-7 hens. Now this means you are going to want to move the tractor daily as well.
- Chicken Wire
- Very Small Chicken Wire Staples
- Screws or Nails
You can also utilize an air stapler if you have tools like that laying around or can borrow one with an air compressor. It can make the job go a lot faster.
What you are going to do is make a lightweight framework covered by chicken wire. For a 4’x 6’ x 2’ yard area you will need ft of boards. If you want a coop that is 6 ft tall then you will need about 6 boards that are 8 ft long.
Create your framework by cutting boards to the following sizes.
- 4 boards at 2 ft
- 4 boards at 6 ft
- 4 boards at 4 ft.
Nail or screw together to make a frame that looks like the outline of a box. The one below has more supports and a door but it gives you an idea of what to go for. The cutting guide I gave above does not account for a door or extra supports. If you feel the yard is too flimsy than add some supports by measuring the distance between boards and cutting a support that you can nail or screw in. I like to leave this up to the individual somewhat because some might want a sturdier coop and may not be as worried about weight.
Now cover with chicken wire and staple. You may have to over lap and wire some chicken wire together unless you find some that is really wide. This is your chicken yard if just building a coop for night use.
When it comes to shelter and egg laying areas there are some really basic ways to get away with this or you can build something. If you want this to be movable then lightweight is the answer. Here are a few options. Some are cheap some are not.
Pick Up An Old Pet Kennel
I know that it may not seem like the prettiest answer to a chicken shelter but those big plastic pet carriers can actually be great chicken coops. A really big one gives hens a safe space to lay and you can even lock them up at night or catch them up with ease if you need to doctor them or anything like that. Just shut them up in it at night and then move your kennel and chicken yard and you have a two piece chicken tractor that is really cheap. Pet kennels are ventilated and allow some light in which makes hens feel protected yet comfortable.
Another thing I love about plastic pet kennels or dog houses is that you can clean them so easily with a hose and some soap or oxygen cleaner so owning chickens is a bit less messy. The disadvantage is that getting to eggs is harder than a specially designed shelter.
Mother Earth New’s Chicken Coop Plan Does This
Prebuilt Coops On Amazon
If you are not confident in your building skills, lack time, or just want something that looks nice then there are a lot of affordable coops on Amazon that don’t take very long to put together. If you are just starting out in chickens then you might do alright dropping $100-$250 on a premade coop. Putting something together yourself can take a lot of time. When I first started out raising chickens these types of thing were not widely available but now that they are I can see the appeal.
Wayfair and other sites have coops that look really good and are all inclusive with nesting boxes and everything. Don’t be ashamed to get something premade if it means you can get on with your life and started raising some chickens sooner.
Not everything made at home with salvaged materials is the prettiest to look at. So consider what is ok with you and your hens in the long term before diving into a project. Here are some suggestions for premade coop options that are budget friendly.
- 86″ L x 40″ W
- 28″ H in the edge, 40″ in the middle
- Free Polyester Cover
- High quality low carbon steel wire and powder coating
I am not trying to sound discouraging but at this price and the size I am tempted to never build a chicken coop again. While this doesn’t offer nesting boxes or roost poles, they could easily be added. Now this pen is only good for warm climates or use when it is the warmer time of year., It is easy to move and lightweight.
The pic shows shade cloth on it but if it was me I would just wire a piece of sheet metal on for a roof where they can get out of the rain. If you wanted to add an area for laying you could simply use the door as an entryway into a shelter you built or bought. This would actually be lighter in weight than a similar size pen made with boards and chicken wire. You can clean this easily and it can be stored flat if you ever need to put it away for awhile. You could also enclose it a bit more than I described and have a good chicken coop.
- Outer dimension: 53″L(include nesting box) X 25″W X 28″H
This basic design has a lot going for it and is a manageable size. An easy to reach nest box makes gathering eggs a snap. It stands out because it actually gets the most consistent good reviews of chicken coops on Amazon. If you want something that looks good and don’t have the time to build a coop, this can work. Of course if you want a yard for them to roam in you may have to invest in a little bit of fence or poultry netting.
More Detailed Plans
If you have some experience then you can likely figure out your coop from this article but if you don’t then there are some very reliable plans available online that give exact measurements for specific
coops. I advise finding a plan that fits your needs the most precisely. Yards can vary in size a lot and you may want to keep a lot of chickens rather than the 5-7 that can fit in a chicken tractor. Anything beyond a very basic design means a very detailed plan is going to help and save you a lot of time and frustration.
Resources For Free Chicken Coop Plans and Additional Knowledge
1. Barn Geek
This is a really neat and sturdy design that you can do with supplies from any large home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowes. If you wanted to you could easily wire in the bottom for more space. This is a pretty big coop but it is really nice and easy to clean. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for the plywood floor though. If it were me the major change I would make would be to have a few floor boards for support and then attach hardware cloth for a floor for a more long term solution and better ventilation.
This is a recently launched instructional course/series on raising meat chickens by Marjory Wolcraft (highly recommend).
So Which One?
A lot of people go through a learning process when it comes to chicken coops. Over the years, we have had all kinds. If the first one starts not meeting your needs then don’t be afraid to change. Some people decide that they really love raising chickens and need to expand or that a design they initially thought was durable didn’t hold up so well. That is just part of farming. If it is your first time raising chickens, start out with a few before you get 50-100.
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