building a poultry palace (part I)

our girls are outgrowing their temporary housing (and, yes, there is a roo in this photo...we found Zazu a new and happy home outside of the city limits...)
our girls are outgrowing their temporary housing (and, yes, there is a roo in this photo…we recently found Zazu a new and happy home outside of the city limits…)

Like many who obtained chicks early in the Spring, we have been busily working to create a permanent abode for our {sub}urban flock.  And, like many design projects, what we ended up with is much different from our original inspiration!  The metamorphosis of a design project is natural, whether its a home, hotel, airport, or the humble chicken coop.  The key is that you have to start somewhere and then move forward.  Instead of beginning with a rigid idea in mind, we started with what the architecture and design world calls “programming”.  Given your client (in this case, the “client” was our feathered friends but also the needs of our family and neighbors were seriously considered), what are the basic functional requirements of the project?  Here is our random list based on web research and our chicken library:

  • the ideal spot for a coop is a hill or slope which allows for optimal drainage
  • a chicken yard will ideally include dirt for dirt baths plus a spot for vegetation (some owners grow trays of wheat grass for their chickens, others simply provide grassy areas or give them veggie scraps from the kitchen)
  • a modular design could easily be taken apart if we move again (this is very important to our family since we have a history of moving every few years); using screws will allow a coop to be taken apart easily
  • the rule of thumb for nesting boxes is one nest per four hens (size: 14″ L x 14″ W x 12″D)
  • creating an area for supplements (grit, oyster shells, etc.) is cleaner and more organized if galvanized metal rabbit feeders are used
  • a wire mesh no larger than 2″ x 2″ is necessary to prohibit predators (14 gauge is strongest); using galvanized wire is necessary to keep raccoons out
  • the flooring should be waterproofed to allow for optimal cleanliness
  • wood should be stained or painted to prevent red mites from inhabiting the wood and then infesting the birds
  • a metal roof is best for rain water collection into a cistern or barrel (to give to the birds to drink); an asphalt roof is fine if the water will only be used for plants
  • a green roof with plants on top will add warmth in the winter and cooler temps in the summer
  • storage for food, bedding, and cleaning supplies is needed near the coop
  • most city regulations require coops to be a specific distance away from buildings (check your local codes)
  • having a composting system in place is vital
  • consider if you want an electrical system for summer cooling (fans) and winter heating (including water warmers); if you don’t use electricity, what are the alternatives?
  • consider expansion scenarios (backyard chickens can be addicting and you may want to add to the flock later on)
  • a human sized door will help when it comes to cleaning the coop
  • chicken necessities include a feeding area, watering area, and roosting spots (there are many books that address these details, but we like Barnyard in Your Backyard by Gail Damerow)
  • space: inside or out, chickens need about 4 square feet each to stay happy (overcrowding results in grumpy and sometimes feisty birds)
  • will they free range completely or partially or not at all?
  • what are the predators in your area?

Once the functional needs of your coop are considered, its time to get to the fun part: aesthetics!

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