I build a lot of custom backyard chicken coops. The designs vary greatly, and I love to use as much salvaged material as possible. Old windows, vintage doors, antique stained glass, salvaged lumber, barn tin...the older the better. The design process is a lot of fun, but the design must always be functional and meet my standard space requirements for the chickens to live comfortably and produce the best eggs. Here is a chicken checklist to get you started:
There are many fun, creative ways to design and build a chicken coop. As a general rule, Chickens need 4sq ft. of space per chicken in the coop (where they sleep), and 10sq ft. of space in the run (the outdoor section). If the chickens will be free ranging during the day, then they don’t need a run, or they can get by with a smaller run. Chickens will sleep on a roosting bar, and they prefer it to be highest, safest location in the coop. Chickens need one nesting box (where they lay their eggs) for every 3-5 birds. All of these numbers are recommendations…they can be adjusted depending on the situation. Baby chicks should be kept in a brooder/box with a heat lamp(and an area to escape the heat lamp) until they’re old enough to move to the coop.
Some breeds of chicken are very cold hardy, and some are not. Most chicken breeds can survive a typical North Texas winter if they have a dry shelter with proper ventilation, but using a heat lamp (or other type of heater) in the coop can help protect your flock through the cold months. Heaters must be used and setup with caution to avoid a coop fire. Chickens need plenty of ventilation in all seasons, especially winter. They produce a lot of moisture through breath and chicken poop, and if moisture accumulates in the coop it can cause frostbite, bacteria, odors, respiratory problems, and poor health. Coop cleanliness is another factor to consider. Your coop will need periodic cleaning so make sure you choose a design that is able to be easily cleaned. Chickens also need sunlight to produce eggs efficiently, so take that into consideration with your coop design/free ranging plans.
There are many ways to feed a chicken. Crumbles, pellets, organic, cheap, expensive, free…it’s all available. Some folks just let their chickens forage for themselves. They say that a natural, varied, organic diet will yield better tasting eggs. As long as your chickens have access to food and plenty of clean water they’ll be fine. Water will freeze in the winter and will need to be replaced accordingly. There are also heated water bowls available. Chickens don’t last very long without water, so keep a close eye on their water source.
North Texas has plenty of predators that would love to eat a chicken or eggs for dinner. There are several common predators, but hawks and dogs seem to be the worst. Your coop should be completely enclosed in such a way that no animal can climb or dig inside. When your chickens are free ranging they are at the mercy of the hawks, but chickens are alert and always on the lookout for such predators.
Each breed of chicken produces a slightly different egg. Some eggs are large, small, blue, green, brown, etc. Some breeds are known to be “good layers” and they lay and egg every day. Other breeds might only lay 3-5 eggs per week. The eggs have a natural coating that keeps them fresh for weeks without refrigeration. Once the eggs are washed, they need to be refrigerated like store bought eggs. All backyard eggs are delicious!
Each breed has a different personality. Some breeds are more laid back than others, while some are more dominant. Your flock will sort out their own pecking order. Most chickens will behave like pets if you raise them from chicks and handle them often. They will follow you around the yard and beg for treats (they love meal worms, crickets, yogurt, scraps, etc.) and they will enjoy being picked up and handled if they are used to it. This excludes roosters, as their personalities can be unpredictable.
I have experience building decorative, original, functional coops using a variety of materials. Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss a chicken coop setup for your backyard or property.