There are many different types of chicken coops making it difficult for the first time chicken keeper to know what they will need. When I first got my chickens, I had a DIY coop and then bought a kit. Now that I’ve had experience with different features, I’m planning my next chicken to better meet the needs of my chickens and make my life a bit easier when it comes to maintaining my backyard flock.
Chicken coops typically require the following features:
- Ability to keep clean
- Roosting bars
- Nesting boxes
- Adequate space
- Protection from predators
Keep reading to learn about the different types of chicken coops and which one is best for you and your chickens.
Fixed Location vs. Portable
In general, there are two main types of chicken coops: coops that remain in a fixed location or portable chicken coops that can move throughout your yard.
Fixed location coops often resemble a small shed. They have a large human door, a chicken door (or pop hole), windows, walls, and a roof. They can either have a dirt floor or a wood floor (explained in a later section). All chicken coops will need to have roosting bars, where the chickens will sleep at night, and nesting boxes, where the hens will lay their eggs during the day.
For this type of chicken coop, you will need to have a good plan for where to locate this coop since it will be very difficult to move later. Consider placing it in a shaded area, especially if you live anywhere where it will regularly be above 95 degrees F during the summer. Chickens can handle cold weather much better than they can handle the heat. You will also need to consider drainage for your fixed coop. You don’t want to have a poop swamp around your chicken coop every time it rains.
Portable chickens coops are sometimes called chicken tractors, chicken arks, or mobile shelters. These types of coops can be more readily moved than fixed coops, often only requiring one person to move the coop. They can be on either wheels or skids, or be so lightweight that they are dragged without any additional mechanism to reduce friction.
The reason why many people will use portable chicken coops is so they can rotate the location of the coop throughout the yard, allowing the chickens to scratch and peck in a confined section of the yard, before being rotated to another section. If you don’t allow your chickens access to a chicken tractor or time to free range, then consider attaching a chicken run (explained in a later section).
Regardless of whether you choose a fixed location or portable coop, your chickens will need to have a certain amount of space in each. Housing more chickens than a coop can adequately handle can result in bullying, egg eating, stress, and overall poor health to your chickens. A general rule of thumb is to have 3 to 4 sq ft per chicken in a chicken coop and 8 to 10 square feet per chicken in a run. These sizes will accommodate most breeds of chickens.
|Space per Chicken (sq ft)|
|Chicken coop||3 – 4|
|Chicken run||8 -10|
The most important feature to consider, whether you are looking at a fixed location coop or portable coop, is ventilation.
Chickens have sensitive respiratory systems, which makes them susceptible to many different respiratory disease (which are the most common cause of death, after predation). Chickens have a high respiration rate compared to humans and other animals. Because of this, they need proper ventilation to ensure they are breathing clean air that is not full of moisture.
|Respiration Rate |
Our first chicken coop had one wall that was entirely hardware cloth, so it remained open all the time. We didn’t realize it at the time, but this was probably much more healthy for our chickens than our second coop, which only had a couple of small windows and very small vent holes near the top of two walls. It’s best to err on the side of too much ventilation rather than not enough.
Walk-in vs. Raised off Ground
The next feature to consider with your chicken coop is the type of flooring. A coop can be a walk-in, meaning it’s at ground level and allows a person to easily enter the coop, or it can be raised off the ground.
The two major differences between walk-in or raised off the ground coops are:
- ability to keep clean
- protection from predators
A walk-in coop will generally need to be a fixed location since it will be larger than a coop that is raised off the ground. For a walk-in coop, these can either have a dirt floor or a wooden floor and there are benefits to both.
When a coop has a dirt floor, it’s easier to use the deep litter method, turning the chicken manure into compost that is immediately ready for the garden. When using a wood flooring, you can also use deep litter, but it will require additional time in a compost pile before adding it to the garden. There is a bit more involved to the deep litter method, so I will save this information for a separate post.
A coop that is raised off the ground will typically have a solid, such as wooden, floor. Some people will use half inch hardware cloth for the flooring to allow the manure to drop through the cloth, but this can only be used for bantams or regular sized breeds. Larger breeds, such as Cornish, Orpington, and Welsumer need to have a solid floor because it will be less stress on their feet, thereby reducing risk of injury to the chickens.
If a chicken coop is difficult for you to enter regularly, you are less likely to keep it as clean as a coop that is easier to enter. A walk-in coop is the best option for people who don’t want to be crawling around the chicken coop when they are collecting eggs that rolled out of the nesting boxes, replacing feed, or adding new bedding. Coops raised off the ground are typically smaller and you will need to squat down to get in the coop.
A chicken coop needs to provide protection from predators. For a coop with a dirt floor, ensure that there is a footer around the base of the coop using either concrete, half inch hardware cloth, or any other sturdy material that a crawling animal will have difficulty breaching. The most common ground predators where we live are skunks, raccoons, and possums.
A coop that is raised off the ground won’t have as many issues, just make sure the solid flooring is sturdy and there are no holes for a predator to reach in and grab your chickens. My husband’s co-worker also raises chickens and a raccoon was able to reach its paw through the coop one night and tore up some of their chickens. Thankfully they all survived, but it’s important to regularly check that there are no holes in the coop (I normally do this check during my morning routine).
Run Attached vs. No Run
Chickens require exercise to keep them healthy. They need to be able to scratch and peck the ground, looking for insects, seeds, and plants to eat. The chicken coop will be where the chickens sleep at night and lay eggs during the day. The remaining time in the day, the chickens should have much more room to stretch their wings and dust bathe.
With our first chicken coop, we had no run. When I opened the coop in the morning, the chickens had free range of the entire backyard. A few months later, our yard was destroyed; the grass had disappeared, there was chicken poop all over the back porch, and all my potted plants had been sat on by the chickens. Since they were young chickens, they had a desire to fly on top of the 7 foot fence and into the neighbor’s crepe myrtle tree. They would also fly to the top of their coop and try to roost there for the night. (This post gives 5 tips to prevent your chickens from flying.)
For our second coop, we decided to make the investment and buy an attached run (I give a review of the chicken run here). This has worked out well for us as our chickens are contained during the day when we’re not home to supervise them in the backyard. I’ve been able to have my potted plants, the yard has grass, and I don’t have to worry about stepping in chicken poop on the deck.
Even with a run, the chickens do get restless if they stay in there too long. You’ll need to come up with enrichment activities for your chickens to keep them entertained during the day. We have a few random tree branches for them to stand on, a plastic bin that holds their water and also serves as a wading pool, and a rope where we tie iceberg lettuce for them to play with like a tether ball.
If you decide to not have a run and want your chickens to free range all day, make sure that your yard is fenced to keep out predators. Dogs are the worst when it comes to killing chickens indiscriminately, day or night. They can kill an entire flock in just a few minutes if they are given the chance.
You will also need to be aware of flying predators, like hawks, and make sure your chickens have plenty of safe places to hide in case of an aerial attack. Chickens should be able to easily access their coop during the day if they free range, both for protection and for laying eggs. It’s also nice to have bushes or a deck that your chickens can hide under. These are also good places for the chickens to go to escape the summer heat.
DIY vs. Kit
The last factor to consider when it comes to choosing which type of chicken coop is best for you is whether you want to make a DIY coop or build one using a kit. The costs of these can vary, which will most likely play an important role in your decision.
For a DIY coop, you get to design the layout based on the other factors already discussed. You will have the most freedom by designing your own coop; however, this can get costly very quickly. Also, take into consideration your construction skills and the time available before you need the coop.
When my husband and I decided to get our backyard chickens, we initially thought we would build our own chicken coop using leftover building supplies from a recent remodel and shiplap panels from a house that was torn down in our neighborhood. After weeks of building the coop, mostly in the evenings after work and on weekends, the coop was somewhat ready for our chickens, which had very quickly outgrown their brooder in our spare bedroom. Due to our construction skills and not wanting to spend extra money, the chicken coop did not turn out how we envisioned. It was hideous and the chickens even hated it. Within a few months, we broke down and bought a chicken coop kit that we should have bought from the beginning.
Chicken coop kits are great for people who aren’t really sure what they need in a chicken coop. These are designed by people who have experience raising chickens and usually come with all the features you need in the beginning. We bought a kit, but have found there are some additional features that would work better for us. Specifically, there is not enough air flow in the coop during the summer, so one of my husband’s upcoming weekend projects will be to construct a screen door for the coop that we will leave on all summer. (Update: We replaced the solid door with a screen door – you can read more about that here.)