Chicken Coop Design Requirements
With keeping chickens comes the responsibility of providing them adequate housing. Through proper chicken coop design you will address important considerations for purchasing or building the correct chicken house for your poultry.
This article will concern itself more with the overall chicken coop design, including outside runs and pens. Happy and productive chickens in terms of space and Chicken Coop Design Requirements. This knowledge will provide needed information should you decide to build a chicken coop or purchase a chicken coop that’s suitable for your poultry’s needs and will keep the chickens and/or other poultry safe and contented.
What makes poultry happy/unhappy?
Research now provides a very good idea of what makes poultry happy and productive. Interestingly, the findings closely reflect the behaviors of the wild red jungle fowl of Southern Asia, from which all domesticated poultry are descended. In the wild, red jungle fowl form small, complex social groups. Much of their waking time is spent foraging over large distances, taking dust baths and preening themselves. Prior to laying they seek secluded spots for nest building and at night, they fly up into trees to avoid predators and roost.
While poultry are often labelled ‘bird brained’, research indicates they’re remarkably intelligent and have capacity to feel emotion. Poultry readily recognize each other and their place within the flock. They make friends with some and will avoid those they dislike. They learn from each other, exhibit self-control and anticipate the consequences of their actions. They can feel frustration and even anxiety for the future if their natural behaviors are impeded.
If poultry are unable to express their natural behaviors and desires to socialize, leg stretch, wing flap, tail wag, walk, dust bath, preen, forage around, make a nest, or roost due to fear or lack of space, they quickly display deprivation symptoms similar to those housed in battery cages.
How many chickens do you need?
Flock size is another important consideration with regard to keeping chickens happy and proper chicken coop design will provide for adequate floor space. Poultry have a preference for small groupings of 5 to 10 individuals where they can easily recognize and interact with each other. Otherwise there can be fighting and birds may get hurt. Also diseases are higher when crowding exists. They will happily be part of larger flocks, provided there’s sufficient room for all.
The current standard in for ‘battery caged hens’ allows a minimum area of no more than that of an A4 piece of paper. By any measure this is abhorrent and unacceptable.
In order to exhibit full leg and wing flexing and flapping behaviors, hens show a preference for a minimum (indoor) floor area of about 4′ x4′ each with a minimum height requirement of 2′. Keep this requirement of chicken coop design as an absolute minimum when buying or building a chicken house. If you wish to enter the coop. you must consider your requirements which would make the coop size much larger.
Chickens prefer discrete nesting areas 12″ x 12″ with loose straw-like materials for bedding. Most poultry lay in the morning and will spend around 45 minutes laying. Poor chicken coop design with insufficient nesting sites can cause stress so it is recommended the number of nests represent around 40% of the flock numbers.
Poultry love a dust bath, and will take one every other day, spending around half an hour at a time. Dust baths followed by preening help remove parasites and oils and keep feathers in good condition. Given dry conditions, chickens will soon create their own dust baths. In wet conditions, or where soft soil is not available, such as inside a concrete floored coop, ‘dust baths’ can be made using a large wooden box or plastic feeding bowl. These can be covered when wet for outside use. They need to be at least 10-12 inches deep and four to five chickens will happily share an area of one square yard. Dust material can be made out of light garden soil, or fine sand. Mixtures of sand, dichotomous earth and wood ashes are popular dust recipes, since the dichotomous earth and wood ashes are both known to help reduce parasite loadings on a chicken’s skin and feathers.
For poultry to feel safe from predators, they need to be sufficiently high off the ground. A minimum perch height of 4 feet is recommended, requiring no more than a short wing-assisted hop by the hen. A perch length of 6 inches or more per bird is proper chicken coop design.
Wooden poles are suitable, but secure them so they can’t turn. Where using square cut lengths, plane the edges so the hen’s claws can comfortably curl around them when resting.
Multiple rows at increasing heights facilitate poultry’s pecking order behaviors. Allow a minimum spacing of 18 inches between rows.
Foraging and free range requirements
Poultry will happily walk up to 1-2 miles daily and peck up to 15,000 times as they forage for food, yet are still motivated to forage even when food is otherwise provided.
For free range conditions, a minimum of 6 square feet of vegetated area per hen is recommended. The presence of trees or artificial cover is recommended in foraging areas as this makes them feel safe and encourages them to venture out. Keeping chickens on a large piece of land does give them more exposure to predators.
Protection from predators
Snakes, coyotes, weasels, foxes, rats and even raptor birds can all cause heartbreaking carnage with poor chicken coop design.
While poultry are often labelled ‘bird brained’, research indicates they’re remarkably intelligent and have capacity to feel emotion.
Chicken housing can be made predator proof by ensuring the flooring, walls and roof are fully enclosed, with any openings protected with 1/2″ x 1/2″ mesh wire netting. All gaps and openings must be targeted since snakes, weasels and even foxes can access even the smallest of openings.
To avoid fox attacks, netting is required for the roof of yards as foxes are adept at scaling fences, even when electrified. A curved overhang will also help. Netting should be buried into the ground, since foxes excel at digging. Alternatively, an outward facing apron of netting buried no more than 2-4 inches projecting 18 inches from the base will suffice.
Outdoor pens can be lined with corrugated iron or shade cloth from ground level to around 6 feet height to stop foxes or wild dog from seeing poultry.