Much like the houses you live in, each of America's backyard chicken coops is built on a foundation of character and provides comfort to its residents. To create a backyard oasis for your birds, experienced chicken raisers recommend starting with strategy.
'When we think about chicken coops, we need to think of them as homes,' said Patrick Biggs, Ph.D., a flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition. 'These structures make great backyard centerpieces and, when planned for properly, also provide shelter, protection and comfort to our birds.'
Experienced chicken raisers recently agreed with the focus on planning when asked their top chicken raising tips on Purina Poultry Facebook. The group concluded: To make your coop a structural standout, think long-term for location, space and design.
In the social media survey, the first audience trend was on design. One respondent encouraged: 'Place your coop within view of a window. We can see our girls from our dining room and always enjoy 'Chicken TV!' The flock is quite entertaining.'
Beyond a window view, Biggs said location scouting should answer several questions:
·Are there rules about where the coop can be built? Some cities have regulations about distance to neighbors, buildings, roads or property lines.
·Is the environment calm and comfortable?
·Is the spot flat? A flat area simplifies the process.
·Does the area have good drainage?
·Does the coop location provide both sun and shade for the birds?
·Is the location close to utilities (water, electricity and feed storage)?
Once you've determined a location, consider design. One chicken raiser recommended: 'Map out your coop design and get everything set up before ordering chicks.'
The first design decision is the structure. Biggs outlined three primary chicken coop types: chicken tractors, chicken wagons and stationery coops.
·Chicken tractors are best suited for small flocks that live in big yards. The structures are built similarly to a wheelbarrow, with two wheels and handles for mobility. Routinely moving the structure helps birds explore new areas, control insects and fertilize the lawn while promoting a healthy lawn.
·Chicken wagons work well for those wanting a large, movable coop, such as those using rotational pastures. The wagons are on four wheels and include a ramp for birds to enter. The wagon can easily be moved to different paddocks or various parts of the yard.
·Chicken sheds, or stationery coops with runs, are the most common form of chicken coops. They work well in both rural and urban areas because they require minimal space and provide both outdoor and indoor access. Easily maintained and regulated, they are also the easiest to predator proof.
'Each of these coop options can be adjusted, updated or merged to create the coop that is best for your backyard,' Biggs said. 'Similar to our houses, the aesthetic comes down to goals, location and personal preference.'
Regardless of the design selected, adequate space is essential. One experienced Purina Poultry fan recommends: 'Plan more space than you think you'll need, so you have room to expand.'
Biggs agreed, advising to determine the size of the coop based on the number of birds you hope to have.
'We recommend providing at least four square feet of indoor space and 5-10 square feet of outdoor space per bird,' Biggs said. 'Birds will lay eggs and sleep inside but often spend most of their time outside in the run. The run is their playground.'
Biggs outlines a few space tips to keep in mind:
·Provide at least 2 feet of roosting space per bird for sleeping. Chickens like to sleep high off the ground. A board that measures 2x4 inches, with the wide edge facing up can work well for a roost.
·Build nesting boxes with easy access for egg removal. A general rule is to provide one 1-foot square nest box for every four or five hens because the flock will take turns using the boxes. Keep the nests up off the floor in the darkest corner of the coop.
·Plan for weather. If you live in an area with harsh winters, consider more indoor space. For areas where warm weather is consistent, provide additional outdoor space.
·Remember space for the chicken keepers. A coop tall enough to stand in can make bird care more enjoyable.
'Once you have your coopitecture strategy outlined, the fun part — building or assembly — begins,' Biggs said. 'Make the new project an experience for the whole family by deciding on colors, decorations and materials together.'
For more coop building tips, including ventilation and predator-proofing, visit http://bit.ly/1JSgBJR.
For additional tips on starting a backyard flock, attend a Purina® Chick Days near you. Learn about upcoming Purina® Chick Days events and sign-up for tips and coupons by visiting www.PurinaChickDays.com or by connecting with Purina Poultry on Facebook or Pinterest.