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Thinking of Getting Chickens This Spring?

A beginner's guide to getting started

Published on: March 12, 2019

Thinking of Getting Chickens This Spring?

child paints coop

Coop basics

Your chickens won’t care if their home is a prefab dog house on cinder blocks or a scale model of a Swiss chalet. The bottom line is, you can’t go wrong — as long as it meets the few very basic needs of your hens.

Shelter 

A standard approach is a coop (house) connected to a fenced run. The coop must provide dry shelter from rain and wind, and it should be ventilated, without being drafty. 

Size

Figure on a minimum of three square feet per bird, but they’ll be happier with more room. Their home can be smaller if you plan to let them roam in a larger yard during the day. 

Roosts 

Chickens like to perch up high at night, usually side by side. Provide them with two-inch-diameter roosting bars inside and outside the coop and up off the floor — the higher the better. 

Nesting box 

Hens will take turns laying eggs in the nesting box, so they can share just one. It should be a box at least one-foot-square, elevated off the floor of the coop. Place straw in the box for padding to protect eggs from breakage. An outside hatch to the nesting box makes it easy to collect eggs.

Protection from predators 

The coop and the run must be fenced on the top and sides to keep out predators. Bury the fencing around the coop at least six inches below ground to keep critters from digging under the fence. Doors on the coop and the run must latch securely; raccoons in particular are very creative intruders.

Protection for your garden

Your chickens will scratch and dig up all parts of their fenced run, leaving no living plants in their wake, so consider how you’ll keep them out of your garden.

Cleaning 

Droppings accumulate under the roosts, so a removable tray is ideal to keep the coop clean. Or, spread a deep layer of wood shavings on the floor that you can rake out and occasionally replace with fresh litter. Another option is a solid cleanable floor that can be hosed off.

Food and water 

Hang a feeder at the height of your chicken’s back to help keep the food clean of debris and discourage the birds from perching on it or scratching in it. Get a waterer that’s big enough for a long weekend away, but small enough that it’s easy to carry back to the coop when full.

Lighting 

Some owners outfit their coop with a 40- to 60-watt bulb on a timer to extend the “daylight” hours in wintertime and keep hens laying all year long. It's cheap and will vastly increase the egg production yield of your hens.

Location 

Where should you locate the chicken coop on your lot? Check your city regulations.  In Seattle: “Structures housing domestic fowl must be located at least 10 feet away from any residential structure on an adjacent lot.” You'll also need to think about whether you want to see (or smell!) your chickens from your house and be considerate of your neighbors when selecting a location.

Where to build or buy

You can design a coop yourself, buy a kit online, or download plans for a coop and build it yourself. There are regularly lightly used coops and custom built options on Facebook marketplace, Offer Up and Craigslist, too. 


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