A well-designed coop can make raising chickens so much easier. There are several key features that your coop needs in order to keep your chickens happy and healthy. In this article, we’ll go over the essential things you need to have in your chicken coop.
What to Put Inside of a Chicken Coop
Before we dive into what should go in your chicken coop, there’s a common misconception that we should talk about. Many people think of a chicken coop as being both the enclosed space (the portion of the coop that looks like a small house) and the enclosed outdoor space. Technically, the coop is the enclosed space only and any outdoor space is considered the run.
Why does this matter?
Some of the things that your chickens need can go in the run of the coop, while some of the things will need to go inside of the actual coop (aka henhouse). We’ll let you know what needs to go where as we go through what you need to have.
You’ll want to include everything that your chickens need to be healthy and happy inside of the coop, especially if your chickens will stay mainly in the coop as opposed to free ranging them. This includes items to keep them comfortable and safe, as well as access to basic needs like food and water.
Plenty of Space
One thing that really gets under my tail is a chicken coop that is too small. I see this a lot with chicken coops that are prefabricated kits. They’ll advertise that they can hold 4-6 chickens… and they’re maybe 4’x6′.
A chicken coop should give your chickens plenty of space to walk around both inside the coop and the run. Chickens are naturally very busy animals and they’ll quickly develop bad habits like bullying if they get bored. A chicken coop that is too small can also cause your chickens to stress, which will negatively affect laying.
Chickens will spend the majority of their time outdoors inside the run. If you’re trying to decide where to give your birds extra space, the run is a great investment. Most chickens will come inside to roost at night and lay eggs. The rest of the time will likely be spent outside.
Chickens that are turned out for at least a few hours a day can get by just fine with a smaller coop since they’ll be able to get out and move around outside of the coop.
We’ll go into more detail on this further in the article, but you do want to make sure that there is plenty of space inside of the coop for all of your birds to roost and nest comfortably.
Chickens are naturally easy targets for predators. When chickens are roosting, they’ll become extremely relaxed. This makes them extremely easy for predators to take advantage of. Because of this, you’ll want to make sure that your chicken coop is really well-built and will hold up when predators come around looking for an easy meal.
There shouldn’t be any large gaps that would allow a raccoon, opossum, or small weasel to sneak into your coop. Some of these predators are also capable of tearing through weak materials or opening latches that are simple.
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If you’re building a coop from scratch, do NOT use chicken wire. Chicken wire is some of the weakest wire available, especially after a season or two of being exposed to the elements. Instead, opt for a sturdy welded wire instead. We really like this one.
Welded wire is more expensive, but it’s definitely worth it. We’ve had several coops over the years and the only one that held up to predators is the one that was wrapped with welded wire.
You’ll also want to make sure that the coop doesn’t have any gaps that would allow predators to squeeze in. We had a coop a couple of years ago that had small gaps in between the roof and the top of the walls (small as in <2″ gaps) and we had minks squeeze through these gaps and take out 30+ hens in one night.
The coop should be sealed up well to not only keep predators out but to keep the inside of the coop draft-free. You might also want to consider insulating the inside of the coop to keep it warm during the winter or cool during the summer.
Chicken poop is unique in the fact that it’s actually a combination of both liquid and solid waste. This means that chicken coop contains a high amount of ammonia. Chicken manure that piles up, gets wet, or isn’t removed properly can smell awful. In fact, it can actually release amounts of ammonia that can be dangerous for both you and your chickens to breathe in.
A great way to cut down on the ammonia smell is with proper ventilation. Your coop should have windows that can be opened to allow air to circulate through the coop. You’ll get the best ventilation if you have more than one window.
Any ventilation windows need to be covered with wire to both keep your chickens in and keep predators out, while still allowing air to flow through. We recommend covering windows with hardware cloth like this to keep your chickens safe without restricting airflow.
Ventilation is also a great way to keep your chicken coop cool in the summer. A ventilation window that is close to the roof of the coop will allow hot air to rise and leave the coop.
Your chickens will need a safe place to lay their eggs. When a hen is laying an egg, it puts her in a vulnerable position. During the laying process, a hen is an easy target for predators. Because of this, she’ll look for a hidden, safe spot to lay an egg.
In the chicken coop, this safe spot will usually be a nesting box. Nesting boxes are enclosed spaces that are designed to make hens feel more comfortable laying their eggs. Without nesting boxes, hens will create a nesting space, usually on the floor of the coop in a corner. These makeshift nests can be harder to keep clean which will lead to dirty eggs.
There are a few general rules for nesting boxes-
- Nesting boxes should be small enough to make the hen feel hidden, but large enough to give her plenty of space. For average-sized breeds, a nesting box that is 12″x12″ is ideal. Larger breeds like Brahma or Jersey Giants will need more space- 18″x18″.
- Nesting boxes should have a top, bottom, and three sides. Some nesting boxes can have a partial front wall also, but it’s not necessary.
- Do NOT put nesting boxes higher than the level of your roosting bars. Chickens like to roost as high up as possible and will seek out the highest point of your coop to roost. If the highest point is the edge of your nesting boxes, your chickens will roost there. Chickens poop at night while they roost, so you may end up with a nesting box full of poop if that’s where they’re roosting.
You should fill the bottom of your nesting boxes with nesting material. This will help prevent broken eggs, keep the nesting box cleaner, and make your hens feel more comfortable. What you fill the nesting box with is a personal choice.
You can also find nesting box liners for chickens. These are easy to keep clean and last a long time. You can grab nesting box liners here.
Some common fillings for nesting boxes are sand, straw, and shavings.
You’ll only need about one nesting box for every 3-5 hens. Hens will actually pick out their favorite nesting box and that’s what the majority of your hens will lay in. Even when we have 50+ actively laying hens, they tend to reuse the same nesting boxes.
Feeders and Waterers
Your chickens should have full access to food and water. Chickens won’t overeat, so you can feel comfortable leaving food and water available to them at all times. I actually prefer larger feeders and waterers so that I don’t have to refill them on a daily basis. We also vacation frequently and homestead, so large feeders and waterers make it easier on our help that watches everything while we’re away.
There are many types of feeders and waterers that you can put inside your chicken coop. When you’re looking at different designs, keep in mind that chickens like to be up high, so they may try to sit on top of your feeders and waterers. This is a recipe for illness and contaminated feed and water since your birds will poop into the feed and water.
Look for feeders and waterers that prevent your chickens from resting on top of them. This could be a sloped or angled top, or a system that attaches to the outside of your coop, with feed and water coming into the coop in a small bowl or opening.
Here are a few of my favorite feeders to go inside chicken coops.
Wondering what to feed chickens? Read about that here.
Having bedding in the chicken coop will make it easier to clean and manage. It will also keep the coop warmer during the winter.
There are several types of bedding you can lay down for your chickens. Sand, straw, and shavings are the most popular.
Sand is great because it can be quickly sifted clean similar to how you’d scoop out a cat litter box. It also doesn’t attract mites or pests.
Shavings can be great bedding in your coop, especially if you plan on using the deep litter method. The shavings will break down over time and can turn into compost. When choosing shavings, make sure you’re using pine flake bedding. Don’t use fine shavings or cedar shavings- both of these can lead to respiratory infections in your flock.
This is my favorite bedding to use for chickens other than sand:
Straw can be used in a pinch, but it’s not my favorite bedding for anywhere in the coop, especially in nesting boxes. Straw is the perfect hiding place for parasites like mites that will cause problems for your flock.
You’ll definitely want bedding on the floor of the coop to catch any droppings while your chickens are roosting, but bedding in the run is optional. If your run is large enough, you may want to seed it out with forage. Many runs have a dirt floor. I don’t like having a dirt floor in the run simply because it can turn into a mess with even the smallest amount of rain.
A messy run will mean messy nesting boxes and therefore messy eggs. Straw and wood shavings don’t usually hold up well in the run, especially once they get wet. Sand does hold up really well though. It drains quickly, so rain isn’t an issue.
If you’re putting sand in your coop, you can use simple playground sand like this one or construction sand.
When chickens sleep, they don’t bed down into nesting boxes as you might imagine. In the wild, they actually prefer to roost up off of the ground. Tree branches are a common place for chickens to roost in the wild. Roosting up off the ground makes them harder targets for hungry predators at night.
That same need to roost off of the ground applies when they’re sleeping inside of a coop. In fact, there’s more to roosting than just sleep. The way that chickens roost actually tells you about their social hierarchy. Chickens that are higher in the social order will roost higher up than chickens that have a lower social standing.
This makes sense when you think about chickens roosting in the wild- those that were higher up in the tree will be less likely to be attacked, making that a more coveted roosting spot.
Ideally, your coop should have a few different roosts. There should be roosting bars inside your chicken coop. These roosting bars can be made from wood, PVC, or metal. Even tree branches can be turned into a roost for your chickens.
If you’re using wood for your roosting bars, run your hands over them to make sure that they are smooth. If they aren’t smooth, use a piece of sandpaper and smooth them down. You don’t want your chickens to get splinters in their feet from their roosting bars as this can lead to a condition called bumblefoot.
Wondering what size roosting bars should be?
There’s debate on the ‘ideal’ roosting bar size. The general consensus though is anywhere from 2″ to 5″ in diameter. We’ve used everything from 2″ dowel rods to PVC pipe and cut tree branches. All of them were used without issue. It used to be thought that chickens would wrap their feet around a roosting bar to ‘hold on’ at night, but some research is starting to indicate that chickens actually like to roost with their feet more open, so a larger roosting bar diameter may be better.
Frequently Asked Questions about What to Put in a Chicken Coop
Do you put food and water inside a chicken coop?
The food and water for your chickens doesn’t have to go inside the chicken coop. Feeders and waterers can be placed in the run of the coop if the run is covered. Don’t leave feeders out in the weather where they’ll get rained on as this can quickly lead to clumpy, moldy feed.
If your run isn’t covered, you can put feeders in the coop to keep the feed clean and dry.
Do you have to clean chicken poop out of the coop?
Scooping manure is not a fun job, but it’s an essential part of keeping your coop clean and sanitary. There are a couple of options that you have to manage chicken poop. You can choose to do a deep litter method. This involves layering thick bedding material in the bottom of the coop and allowing the bedding and manure to compost down over several months. When done properly, the coop doesn’t smell and you’ll end up with great compost for your garden.
If you would rather keep the coop clean, you’ll want to work on it a little each day to keep it from snowballing into a huge project. Layer bedding down in the bottom of the coop and remove soiled areas as needed. I recommend leaving a bucket in the coop to collect poop. Hang a small shovel or putty knife in the coop for easy poop removal.
How do I keep my chicken coop clean and not smelly?
The biggest reason that chicken coops smell bad is due to ammonia. Chicken poop contains urea, which will break down into ammonia. Ammonia is a strong, pungent smell that can burn your nose. Urea breaks down quickly into ammonia in the presence of water. If the flooring of your coop is dry, you likely won’t smell ammonia.
I have noticed that when I leave a waterer in the coop, the smell is worse. This makes sense when you think about the fact that urea breaks down into ammonia in the presence of water. Water from the waterer will spill over onto the soiled bedding, creating the perfect environment not only to create ammonia but for bacteria and mold to start forming.
Keeping the inside of the coop dry will make a big difference. You can also help the coop to smell fresh by hanging herbs in the coop. Chickens love herbs, making it a win-win.