What You Must Have in Your Chicken Coop

Are you a new chicken mom? If you succumbed to the "chick days" displays at your local farm store and came home with some little peeps, or even if you're a seasoned chicken keeper, let's talk about the must-haves in your chicken coop.

A chicken coop provides shelter from the weather, just like your own home. It also keeps your chickens safe from predators. It needs to be weather-tight and yet provide plenty of ventilation to keep your birds healthy.

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Something that keeps rain and snow off of your birds, keeps them safe, and keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer is all you need. Your coop might be a converted shed, a commercial coop, or something in between. And while it doesn't have to be pretty, if you'd like to paint the door a bright color or hang flower boxes on the shuttered windows, that's up to you; it really just needs to be functional.

Must-Have Chicken Coop Accessories

How much space do chickens need?

Large breed chickens need four square feet of floor space per bird; bantam breeds need three square feet per bird. If your birds are confined to the coop all the time with no time spent outdoors, they should have at least ten square feet per bird.

Why is ventilation in a chicken coop important?

There are several reasons for providing fresh air ventilation in your coop. Chickens produce a great deal of ammonia in their droppings, which is harmful to both the birds and to you. Ventilation also removes moisture from the coop, reduces the risk of airborne diseases and replaces stale air with fresh.

Windows are the easiest way to keep air moving in your coop, as long as they are covered with hardware cloth or other sturdy barrier to keep predators out. Windows on opposing walls will ensure a good cross-breeze.

Chicken coop ventilation

Other ways to encourage air movement are vents you can open and close, or open eaves at the top of the coop. We plan to replace this floor vent in our bathroom and put this old register in an outside wall of the coop.

The standard recommendation is for one square foot of ventilation space per ten square feet of coop floor space, but if you live in a damp or very hot climate you may need more than that.

What your chicken coop must have:

Inside the coop your chickens need food, water, roosts, and nest boxes in which to lay their eggs.

Feeder - Some folks just toss chicken feed on the ground and let their girls hunt and peck. I prefer to use feeders to help lessen waste and also lessen the attraction to mice and rats who just love to eat spilled chicken feed. Ick!

You can put chicken feed in just about anything, but a spill-proof feeder is best. I've gone a step further and hung my feeder by a chain from the ceiling; it's nearly impossible for them to spill the feed now.

You can choose plastic or metal feeders. After replacing several plastic feeders, I've opted for a metal feeder (affiliate link) which is working well for my girls. It will hold thirty pounds of feed, but the only time I fill it is when I go out of town and have someone else feeding for me. Controlling the amount of feed that's available also helps prevent rodent problems.

Waterer - Waterers also come in plastic or metal. I have a terrible time refilling the metal ones so I use plastic. I bought a seven-gallon waterer (affiliate link) so that the girls have plenty of water in the summertime.

During the winter I add a bottle of salt water to keep the water from freezing. (It's a game-changer! You can read the details here.) I also add a black rubber pan to the coop in winter; it's easy to dump the ice out of it and it doesn't crack or break when the water freezes.

One of the most important items in your chicken coop is the roost. Place it higher than the nesting boxes to prevent the chickens from sleeping in and soiling their nest boxes.

Roosts - Chickens like to sleep as high off the ground as they can, so roosts that are higher than their nest boxes is the best way to keep your nest boxes clean. Wooden 2x4's work well as roost poles. Wood is better than metal, which can be too cold on their feet in the winter.

When I moved my young hens into the chicken coop two years ago I "temporarily" used wooden sawhorses as roosts. You guessed it, they're still in use. They've worked great and are easy to move so I can clean underneath them.

Nest boxes - In the past I've used kitty litter buckets on their sides as nest boxes, but my hens usually preferred to nest in the dirt in the corner of the coop. A few months ago I traded with a friend for a bank of eight wooden nesting boxes that my hens absolutely love.

Provide nest boxes where your hens will lay their eggs.

I keep hay or shavings in the boxes to keep the eggs clean. You can buy special blends of nest box herbs or make your own mix to calm your birds, repel insects, and boost their immune systems. More information can be found at Backyard Chickens.

Dust bath - If you don't provide a dust bath area your hens will make their own, but why not put it where you want it, and make it as healthy as possible? Dust bathing helps chickens stay lice and mite free and keeps their feathers clean. A dust bath can be as simple as a wooden box or plastic kitty litter pan half-filled with fine sand. You can add wood ash, diatomaceous earth and/or dried herbs.

Dispenser for grit and oyster shell or eggshells - Last but not least, your chickens need grit to help them digest their feed and either ground oyster shell or eggshells to provide calcium. These should be offered free-choice, separate from their feed. You can use a low dish or a dispenser that attaches to the coop wall. There are some cute DIY projects on my Pinterest board.

How to "furnish" your chicken coop. Pictured: young speckled Sussex and black sex link hens.

There you go: your chicken coop is now "furnished" and ready for occupancy. What you do with the walls and windows is up to you. Just remember that chickens create a lot of dust and anything in their coop will require very frequent dusting. While wreaths, curtains and other decorative accessories are pretty, to me they represent a lot of work to keep clean, and my chickens really don't care.

Would you like to read more? I've written about keeping your chickens safe from predators and also how to keep your chickens entertained if you can't let them free range.

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You'll find all of my chicken-keeping posts here. 

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How to be the best chicken-mom: what your chickens need from you.

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