The chicken coop is essential to keeping your backyard chickens alive and well. Learn about the essentials to have in the chicken coop for feeding, watering, laying eggs, and sleeping in the coop.
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What are the Essentials to Have In My Chicken Coop?
Your chicken coop needs to provide a safe and dry place for your chickens to eat, sleep, and get away from threats like weather or predators. Many will keep feeders and waterers inside their coop to keep them out of the weather.
Chickens need free access to water 24/7. I use this waterer that holds five gallons. For about 20 chickens, this lasts about five or six days. In the winter months, we use a heater plate to keep the water from freezing. This plate will keep about half the water (two and a half gallons) from freezing in temperatures about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Once getting into the single digits, most of the water will freeze. For the handful of days we have each year where it consistently stays that cold through the days, we just refill the water every 4-6 hours, or as needed. For our barn cats, we use this heated water bowl that never froze through any of the negative temperatures we experienced this past year.
We feed our chickens daily. Please reference your specific feed and their daily feeding recommendations for questions about how much to feed. Personally, we keep our feeder full most of the time and do not limit access for our laying hens. I love this feeder for my chickens but with our growing flock, we will need something bigger this coming summer.
How Big Should My Chicken Coop Be?
As I discussed in a previous post about getting started with backyard chickens, you should have a minimum of 4 sqft per bird in the coop. Check out my last post for more details and recommendations on the square footage recommendation for the outside run as well.
Should I Have a Light in the Chicken Coop?
It is not essential to keep a light in your chicken coop. Chickens should have some exposure to natural light, at the very least. If your chickens must remain in the coop, I recommend a window to allow light in. If your chickens have access to a run or are free range, you do not need to worry about letting light into your coop. I still recommend windows for air flow or at least some way for air to move through the coop for ventilation.
We have lights in our chicken coop because we go inside to walk around, check for eggs, and clean it out. We do not keep the lights on all the time, they are only there for when we go into the coop. If you have the ability, I highly recommend including lighting, even if it’s just there when you need to clean the coop out. Working in the dark is not fun.
Do Chickens Need Light to Lay Eggs?
Egg production is affected by exposure to light. When the daylight hours are longer in the Spring, Summer, and Fall, chickens produce eggs regularly. When the daylight hours start to decrease, the egg production will do the same. Keeping artificial lights on inside the coop will usually cause the chickens to continue more regular egg production. There are mixed thoughts on how this affects the overall health and well-being of the chickens. Do your research to determine what is best for your flock.
The natural cycle of resting in the winter months allows the chickens time to recover from their egg laying season. Chickens have a predetermined amount of eggs they will lay in their lifetime. Adding artificial light in the winter and encouraging egg production will simply reduce the total amount of time the chicken will lay eggs.
Younger chickens may not reduce their egg production in their first winter or even first few years. Different breeds have different egg production and life expectancy. Some varieties are bred for high levels of production in a short period of time with a life expectancy of 3 years or so. Some breeds lay less eggs per year but will live 7 or 8 years and produce eggs the whole time. Every breed and every chicken is different.
Where do Chickens Lay Eggs in the Chicken Coop?
Another essential for your chicken coop are nesting boxes. Nesting boxes are where chickens lay their eggs (at least it’s where you want them to lay their eggs). Chickens have a mind of their own and will lay their eggs in the strangest of places if they can. They appreciate dark and secure places for laying their eggs. Additionally, when they see eggs already laid, it will indicate to them that it is safe to lay their egg in that same spot. This is why you may have several nesting boxes available but find that your chickens all lay in the same box.
Before our first batch of chickens began laying, I purchased these wooden eggs and placed them in the nesting boxes. This is to help the chickens identify what the boxes are for and that their eggs will be safe. This is completely optional but we only found 2 eggs laid outside the coop when they first started laying. Everyone else quickly took to laying in the boxes.
Your nesting boxes don’t need to be anything fancy. We have several of these boxes from Rural King. These boxes are safe and secure and we have not had any issues.
Where do Chickens Sleep?
Chickens prefer to roost while they sleep. Roosting simply means settling in to rest. In your coop, it is best to provide a safe place for the chickens to roost by adding roosting bars to the coop. This can be any sort of bar or platform raised off the ground. When we purchased our property, we found several metal ladders in one of the barns. We repurposed them and set them up in the coop, laying flat, about 4 feet off the ground.
The chickens love to roost on this ladder. When they were small, we simply rested the ladder against the wall so they could jump up each rung to move toward the top. After adding Silkie chickens to the flock, we decided to keep a ladder resting on the ground because I found my Silkie girls could not fly up to the roost that was higher off the ground. If you are unfamiliar with the Silkie breed, they are much smaller than other breeds and cannot fly due to their fluffy feathers.
What Kind of Bedding Should I Use in the Chicken Coop?
There are several ways to keep a chicken coop. Many keep their coop filled with bedding on the ground. Some keep a coop with a grated floor so the droppings can fall through. Grated floors are more common in mobile chicken coops where the coop is moving over different areas of grass. This is great for mobile fertilization!
However, if your coop is stationary, you will most likely be filling it with bedding that will need to be cleaned out regularly. Don’t let this scare you away in fear that this will be too much work. We clean out our coop twice per year. That’s right, only twice. No, we are not overrun with ammonia fumes or other smelly smells. We use the deep litter method with pine shavings.
Deep Litter Method
The deep litter method is the process of layering bedding into the coop and letting it self-compost in place. This method involves adding bedding on top of the bedding that is already in place. We typically add a thin layer every 2-3 weeks or if we start noticing any odor. Our chickens are free range and are only in the coop at night. Of course there are occasions of predicted bad weather or some other reason where they might stay inside the coop other than just at night. Our coop is about 200 square feet and we typically go through one or two packages of pine shavings in a month.
Word of Advice: Be careful if you have a dirt floor. We built our chicken coop inside our barn with a dirt floor. After the first substantial rain, we found out the ground inside the chicken coop laid very wet. The wet ground obviously soaked all the bedding on the ground. Wet bedding will not properly compost and the smell will not be good. To remedy this, we purchased plastic pallets and laid them out with rubber mats on top.
What to do With a Sick or Injured Chicken?
When a chicken gets sick or injured, it is important to have somewhere to put that chicken and be able to separate it from the rest of the flock. This will prevent sickness from spreading or injuries from getting worse. We call this the Chicken Hospital. A chicken hospital should be somewhere safe and prepped with food and watering capabilities. Chickens are flock animals and do not appreciate being alone or away from the flock. For this reason, it is recommended that the chicken hospital has at least a window where the isolated chicken can see the rest of the flock.
Chicken Hospital Box
In my last post about keeping backyard chickens, I discussed the must-haves for raising baby chicks at home. I shared about the box we built connected to our chicken coop. It is where we move baby chicks after they are large enough to move out of their brooder but still too small to be fully incorporated with the full grown chickens. This box has a window covered in chicken wire so the chickens in the coop can see and hear into the box without being able to get inside. While this is currently dual purpose (box to separate baby chicks and chicken hospital), we created a removable wall to further separate if we need to use the chicken hospital while the baby chicks are using it.
It is essential to have some sort of set-up before you need it. You never know when something may happen and a flock member will need to be removed or separated. You don’t want to be caught without a plan when things go wrong. Your chicken hospital can be as simple as a dog crate or a gated off area in the coop. Don’t overthink it.
I hope you found this information helpful for setting up you chicken coop. Chickens have very basic needs. Your chicken coop does not need to be perfect or “pinterest-worthy.” It needs to keep your chickens safe and provide a place for them to eat, sleep, and lay eggs. Don’t stress over every tiny detail.
Over the years, I have heard many people say “Done is better than perfect” (no idea who the original author is of that quote). I frequently apply this mentality to our homesteading projects. Gathering eggs every day and feeding my family with a home grown source of protein was way more important that having a picture perfect chicken coop. We got it done in just a couple days and moved our flock in right away!
For information on raising baby chicks at home, check out my last post here. If you’re just getting started with backyard chickens, start with my first post all about the basics of keeping a backyard flock.
I hope you enjoyed this peek into Life at Metzger Acres!