It was approximately one year ago that we built our new coop and the extra time and money spent to make it user friendly has proven to be very worthwhile. If you’re thinking of building a coop here are a few points that are worth thinking through before banging in that first nail.
1 … Is it going to be big enough ?
This is important not only for the hens but also for access, cleaning and general husbandry. The maximum allowed for hens that can free range is 10 hens per square metre and for those that are permanently confined it’s 7.
Details of minimum New Zealand requirements can be found in the MAF animal welfare code for layer hens.
I often wonder if the multitude of cheap “delivered to your door kit sets” that are being sold by every Tom Dick and Harry just now meet these requirements?. I some how doubt it!
Firstly raising your coop off the ground means less strain for one’s back and eliminates the problem of rats and mice digging under the floor and setting up their own digs. When you keep hens its inevitable that you will attract vermin. For a backyard coop I favour a timber floor over concrete as its less expensive and concrete can be cold, especially during the winter.
2 … Removable nesting boxes.
You won’t realise how important these are until its time to do the first spring clean, trust me I know.
3 … A human sized-door as well.
Keeping hens can be very enjoyable but who wants to be crawling around on all fours amidst “fowl” and dusty chicken litter.
Don’t skimp on the perches.
Install removable sturdy perches of approximately 5 cm in diameter with rounded edges at levels that the girls can easily handle. Hens spend considerable periods of time roosting so they need to be comfortable. Our coop has two which were raised as the hens grew. These are held in place with some extra long screws.
5 … Water, water but not everywhere.
For the sake of good egg production and hen health is crucial that there’s plenty of clean water. Our hens get fresh water every morning and I have their supply set up so that there are no spills. The coop operates on the concept of deep litter and water is not a welcome part of the mix. You can find a brief description of this below.
6 … Feeder and grit holder.
As the photo above shows the feeder and grit holder are at a level that ensures that shavings are not scratched into them. When the hens are let out to free range the feeder is removed otherwise wild birds will help themselves. I also like to open up the doors and nesting box lid to aerate the coop.
7 … Deep litter system.
If you don’t employ this method in your hen house you’ll only be creating hard work and hassles plus the likelihood of diseased and unproductive hens. To start all that’s required are some dry untreated wood shavings which are then spread over the coop floor to a depth of approximately 10 cm. Simply put the hen manure will become mixed with the shavings which in turn eliminates smells, generates heat and finally ends up as rich compost that’s great for your garden.
Twice a week I turn and churn the shavings over with a rake which further reduces smells and moisture as well as preventing droppings from compacting. It only takes a few minutes and is well worth the effort as the end result is one only major clean out per year. As much as we love our free range eggs there are better things to occupy our time than cleaning out coops. A large real estate sign cut to fit and stapled to the floor also helps with insulation and coop cleanliness. I have heard of lino and other similar materials being used.
8 … Lastly don’t overlook that most important of doors.
Removing the old litter hardly raises a sweat, especially so when you’re on camera duties. If you have built a coop recently and have any questions or just wish to exchange ideas I’d love to hear from you.