Whether you have free range chickens or keep your flock in a pen they need to be safe from predators including your neighborhood dogs and cats. This is especially important at night when your chickens roost. If you have ever entered a chicken house after they have gone to bed then you know it’s almost like they are in a deep coma. If a skunk, raccoon, coyote or domestic animal can get to your chickens then they have their pick of which one they want to eat. The chicken never knew what happened.
The coop itself needs to surround a chicken house of some kind. Some people have converted an old wooden shed or long forgotten playhouse. Inside the house you should have some nests and a roost. The roost needs to be placed away from the nests. This prevents chicken droppings from landing on the egg laying area. The higher the roost the better as chickens like to sleep or roost a few feet above ground level. For a roost you can use a piece of an old broom handle, a 2’x4′ piece of wood, a closet dowel or a branch from a tree. They just need something to wrap their feet around.
Ideally, there should be a door on the house especially in cold climates and, if temperatures fall below forty degrees a heat lamp can be placed in the house. You will want to be very careful on the placement of the heat lamp as it should be used to warm up the house not the bird. Your hens may also lay during the winter with a light in their barn.
The pen surrounding the house is what keeps the chickens safe. Of course, depending on the amount of chickens you keep determines how big. A good rule of thumb is twenty square feet per chicken. The recommendations do go higher but never an less as the more room they have to roam the happier they are.
First build a frame based on your needs. The corner posts should be 4″x4″ posts placed 10″ into the ground and surrounded by concrete. Next, using 2″x4″ eight foot long build your frame. It would be sturdier if it is reinforced vertically with another 2″x4″ board placed vertically every four but is not needed in most cases. Don’t forget to leave an opening for the door which can also be built from the 2″x4″ wood and chicken wire. You will need some kind of sturdy lock. Surprisingly, raccoons can easily figure out how to open a door.
There are several types of chicken wire you can use and can be found at most hardware stores. There is a chicken wire called “snake wire” which is desirable, as the holes are too small for a snake to penetrate. Before you attach your chicken wire dig a ditch at least twelve inches deep by six inches wide around the perimeter of your coop. When you put the chicken wire on the frame put the lower twelve inches into the ditch and later fill with concrete. This serves two purposes. It helps to prevent digging predators from in and stabilizes the wire.
After you have wired the sides of your coop then you will need to wire the top. I will be easier to do this if you cross the top with 2″x4″ boards so you can attach the wire. This needs to be secured also since cats and other climbing animals will “drop in”. You may also consider putting a roof over some or all of the coop depending how big it is. It helps keep the ground dry but more importantly will keep rain or snow out and the temperature down in the summer. Chickens do not do well in the heat.
Building a safe place for your chickens will be a good investment for the future. Chickens can live up to eight years and can produce eggs many of those years.