The range of chicken coops available is vast! If I could give you one piece of advice it would be, buy the best you can afford! You absolutely get what you pay for. If you buy a cheap coop you’ll probably need to buy a replacement within 2-3 years. Good quality 2nd hand coops are often a better buy but only from a very trusted source. If you buy a coop riddled with red mite, you’re doomed. It’s practically impossible to get rid of.
Whatever you buy or make yourself it must have the following features:
-1sq.ft of space per hen
-A nest box (make sure it’s secure from outside as this is often an entry point into the coop at night by clever foxes)
-A perch (6-8” per hen)
-A lockable door so they can go in and out all day but be securely locked IN at night
If I’m buying a coop I like it to have/be:
-Solid thick easy to clean floor
-Off the ground on sturdy legs with everything at waist height so I don’t have to bend down too far to clean it out
-Perches that are easy to remove for cleaning
-An automatic door or the ability to fit one. These work on a light sensor that lets your hens out in the morning and shuts the door at dusk. Hens are great at putting themselves to bed automatically but humans are not so great at remembering to lock them up on time!
-Corrugated roof (so no felt and associated red mite problems)
-Handles/wheels so I can move it around the garden, preferably on my own
All coops are generally made from wood or plastic which both have advantages and disadvantages.
ADVANTAGES OF WOOD
-Can be home-made
-Can be any size
-Can be adapted
-Is made from a renewable source
-Variety of prices
DISADVANTAGES OF WOOD
-Needs annual treatment/painting
-Wood is soft allowing red mite to penetrate the surface
-Often has felt roofs which also harbours red mite – try to get a corrugated bitumen/plastic roof instead
ADVANTAGES OF PLASTIC
-Maintenance free, never rots OR need painting!!
-Some brands are made from recycled plastic making them more ecological
-Very easy to clean, disinfect and dry
-Much less likely to harbour red mite and much easier to get rid of
DISADVANTAGES OF PLASTIC
-Often bigger initial investment but worthwhile over time
-Often only available for smaller flock sizes
In reality, very few people have a coop stuck in the middle of their lawn and let their hens free-range. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to share their entire garden but usually it’s because they need to keep their hens safe. BY FAR THE GREATEST CAUSE OF DEATH TO POULTRY, IS ATTACK FROM FOXES, BADGERS OR DOGS. Hens need somewhere to sleep and lay eggs (the coop) and somewhere to exercise, feed, drink and dust bath (the run). Wooden and plastic houses often come with integrated runs but the runs are often very small and don’t meet the 1m sq. minimum recommended per chicken.
In my experience people usually have one of the following 3 set-ups:
-House with integrated run but hens are allowed out to free-range when people are in the garden or around. The house/run is often moved onto fresh ground twice a week.
This system is good if you have 2-4 birds, a small garden or don’t want a large initial investment.
-House with a fixed run or aviary (a run with tall sides and a roof). The house and run don’t move and the area within the run fencing is often covered in fresh wood chippings. This system is good as you have a dedicated zone, ideal for small-medium sized gardens and perfect for 2-12 birds. If you can invest in a roofed run you’ll make your life so much easier. It’ll keep the birds dry, the wood chip dry and be much more hygienic. You’ll also be cleaning out the house in the dry, a huge bonus in winter! The only downside with this system is rats! The best way to prevent rats with any system is to stop food being kicked around the run by using a treadle feeder or anti-scratch feeder and REMOVE THE FOOD EVERY NIGHT! If you have good systems, rats won’t become a problem but they’re a pain if they get a hold.
-House with an electric poultry netting run. The house and/or netting is moved once a month or when needed. You’ll need a few people to help with this as it’s not easy to move and really not a great idea if you have very young children. This is ideal if you have a large garden, field or orchard and fairly deep pockets. It’s a lot of effort for less than 10 hens (although you would only need to move it once a year) but you could easily house 100 or more with this system so if you’re wanting to produce eggs for the whole street/village this is perfect.
All these set-ups can be made more successful and easier by using an automatic door opener/closer on your coop.