Light and Exposure: Selecting Your Site
Coops need access to light and air. Given the temperate climate in Powell River, winter warmth for your chickens is not a significant concern. However, ensure that there is sufficient summer shade and/or airflow to keep the coop from getting too hot.
If an outdoor run is attached to your coop, locate the coop in a spot with good drainage, where it will not be inundated during winter rains. A portable pen or chicken tractor may be a handy option. Ideally, a south facing, gently sloped area will give the coop the advantage of the light and the drying effects of the sun, provided it will not bake too much in the summer.
Bear in mind that you will need to access the coop to feed, water, and clean. Proximity to a year round water source may be convenient.
Recommendations vary from 2 to 10 square feet per bird. If your chickens will have access to a fenced run or the great outdoors, they will generally need less space in the coop itself. Space requirements are also dependent on the size of the birds selected. Allow 10 square feet per large chicken (six to eight per bantam) if confined in coop. Allow four square feet (2 for bantams) if coop is just roosting/nesting coop. Too much room is better than too little – the litter will stay dryer and more comfortable and the coop will be easier to keep clean.
The coop should be large enough or adequate access for cleaning and egg collecting. Also consider an area for feed and water that has easy access for checking and filling.
There are many different flooring options, each with pros and cons. A dirt floor is cheap, easy, and has the added advantage of enriching the soil beneath your coop. However, the coop can become muddy if not well drained. A wood floor will keep birds off the ground, and can be designed with removable panels for cleaning. However, a wood floor will eventually rot. A concrete floor cleans easily and is rodent proof and permanent. However, it is more expensive and elaborate to construct, and is more difficult to remove.
A thick layer of litter (5 to 10 inches) makes it easiest to keep the coop clean, regardless of the floor. With the right ratio of litter to birds, the birds stir in their own manure and it will begin to compost underneath them.
Insulating the walls of the coop is not needed, although the coop should be tightly constructed to prevent drafts. Tight construction also necessary to prevent predators. Raccoons are clever.
Windows & Ventilation
Chickens need good ventilation. Consider a series of screened holes or slots across the top of the north and south walls of coop, to provide cross ventilation, without drafts. Too much air is better than too little. Birds need to be kept cool in the summer, so windows (or openings) should be operable. Operable windows must close tightly, with a latch that a toddler would not be able to open. (Raccoons are clever.)
Doors only need to be about 1ft high and 1ft wide. If more than a few inches off the ground, build a ramp as wide as the door, and add cleats every 6 inches for traction. Doors must close tightly, with a latch that a toddler wouldn’t be able to open. (Raccoons are clever.) Consider adding a larger door or access panel that will enable you to shovel out the litter.
Flat Horizontal Surfaces
While shelves and counter space are handy in an office, in a chicken coop, these will be used as a place to perch. They will become covered with poop. Best to be avoided!
Consider tree branches, an old stepladder. Roost diameter should be about 1Â½ inches thick, 1 inch for bantams. Allow 18 inches between roost and wall or between parallel roosts. Ten linear roost inches per hen. (five inches for bantams.) Remember the surface beneath the roost will become covered with poop. Make sure you design your roost so that you can get in to clean underneath.
Only one box is necessary for up to 4 to 5 birds. Approximately 1 ft wide, 1 ft deep, with at least a 1 ft high opening in front. Roof should be steeply pitched. (Flat surfaces will become covered with poop!) A 4 inch lip on the front of the box will help keep the litter in. A piece of burlap over nesting box opening will prevent birds from perching on edge of box.
An amenity that may make it easier to see what you are doing when tending the birds on the short days of winter. Also, added artificial light may keep your hens laying year round if your coop and run are dark. Electric lights can serve as a heat source in extreme cold. An inexpensive timer will enable you to regulate the light to mimic daylight hours and will save electricity.
An outdoor run will keep your birds happier and healthier, and also safer than allowing them to roam free. A run will also keep your birds from scratching up your freshly planted garden. They will want to be able to make large holes in the ground to dust in, with 4 to 6″ of soil.
A 4′ fence will be enough keep the birds in, but a wire roof is preferable to protect birds from predators. Bury the chicken wire 6 inches deep and bend the mesh at 90 degrees to the outside to discourage burrowing vermin.
Material Selection and Green Design
Consider using sustainable and reclaimed materials to save money and resources. If recycling painted wood, be aware of lead paint hazards. Chickens will peck at anything. Keep painted items out of pecking reach, and make sure that old paint does not flake onto the floor or soil around the coop.
Design your coop to use the least possible material, and use materials and construction methods that will be durable. Use screws instead of nails so that the coop can be deconstructed if modifications or rebuilding become necessary.
Pre-made Coops: If after taking in all this information you need to build your own coop, you still wish that someone else would do it for you, you’re in luck! There are plenty of companies, online that sell pre-made coops or hire local carpenters to build one to your specifications.