By Gwen Dawkins
A few weeks ago, I told you about my new baby chicks. Well, guess what? At four weeks old, they’ve grown so fast, I just moved them into the coop with their heat lamp. If you’ve decided to get chicks, it’s time to think about your coop if you don’t already have one. Depending on your local weather, chicks can move into the coop at three to seven weeks.
There are tons of ready-made coops and kits. They are easy to find at feed and hardware stores. You can also find them on Amazon and on Craigslist. Another blog, The Spruce, shared this nice roundup of The 8 Best Chicken Coops of 2021.
Building A Predator-Proof Chicken Coop
Several years ago, I took a Backyard Chicken-Keeping class taught by well-known biodynamic farmer Cynthia Sandberg of Loves Apple Farms. People tease me about this, asking, “Do you really have to take a class to raise chickens? How hard can it be?” Well, I’m from the suburbs, and although my grandparents were former farmers, I never learned any homesteading skills. But even more important to me was learning how to build a predator-proof coop. My town, at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has plenty of varmints running around. We’ve seen plenty of raccoons, coyotes, skunks, red-tail hawks and bobcats in our backyard. In fact, a friend who lives just two blocks away had a chicken plucked bit-by-bit right through her chicken wire fence –– most likely the work of raccoons. And although we haven’t personally seen a mountain lion, we know they’re in the neighborhood. Several nearby neighbors’ security cameras regularly pick up mountain lions roaming the streets and yards at night.
The key to foiling predators is to run 1” x 1” wire or 1/2” hardware cloth (not chicken wire) around the perimeter, floor and ceiling of the chicken run. Yes, you need a ceiling! Cats and predatory birds can swoop right in. And you should bury the wire all along the bottom of the run about a foot below the surface. Trust me, coyotes will dig to get what they want. I also added an Automatic Chicken Coop Door that opens when the sun comes up and closes when the sun goes down. That way, I don’t have to run down to the coop every morning to let them out. My previous flock quickly trained themselves to get inside before the door closed itself at nightfall. The nesting box and run entrance gate also have latches as an extra safeguard against raccoons and their crafty hands.
Cute Chicken Coops
The other part of the equation for me is that the chicken coop needs to be cute! I love this coop designed by Heather Bullard. She sells the plans, so you can build your own. But because my backyard is terraced and I wanted to make the most of the space and levels I have, I hired a contractor to build a custom coop. My husband calls it the “Coop Mahal” because it ended up costing more than he thought necessary –– around $3,000. But it’s actually less expensive than some of the ready-made coops like this one and this one.
I drew these sketches to show my contractor what I had in mind. Basically, I wanted the run to be tall enough for me to walk in without stooping and to have enough room for the chickens to run around. The coop itself is on a higher terrace, and the nesting boxes are waist level. (As it turns out, hens don’t mind sharing, so you’ll only need one box for three to four hens.) I also wanted a built-in storage cabinet to hold the food and other chicken supplies, so everything I need would be convenient and close.
We ended up making several field changes during the building of the coop, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Initially, I envisioned a porch spanning the front of the coop and a ledge running along one side of the run. We eliminated the ledge and moved the plank into two sections, running along the edge of the run instead of the middle, to not infringe so much on the run. I planned to hang the water and food containers from the run rafters, but we haven’t gotten around to that, as you can see. The cupola, which I considered very important initially, hasn’t happened yet — but there’s still time.
My chicks are pretty happy with their spacious new digs. I’d love to hear from you — whether you have chickens or want chickens.
Be sure to check with your local zoning laws to make sure you can have backyard chickens. Many municipalities limit the number of chickens you may keep and restrict roosters — which for light sleepers, like me, is a good thing.