How To Raise Happy Hens: Step 1 – Choosing The Right Coop

We’ve only had our happy little flock for a couple of weeks now but we put a lot longer than that into the research on how to raise happy, healthy backyard laying hens. It’s not a venture we went into blindly or without forethought and we definitely didn’t do it on a whim. It’s both a hobby and a necessity for our family because of my medical dietary needs and we are in it for the long haul.

We are fortunate to live in a rural, farming area where chicks, pullets and hens (and roosters, too!) are readily available on our local Craigslist just about any time. We are also fortunate enough to live in an area that allows us to keep livestock of all kinds, including chickens (no roosters though!), in our backyard. And fortunately our backyard is quite large compared to a lot of people’s spaces so we have plenty of room for keeping lots of backyard layers.

For keeping backyard layers happy and healthy, that is. It takes a lot of things, including having enough space, but it really all begins with choosing the right coop for your specific wants/needs/desires.

Many of us dream of having a coop like this:

Or not. Our dream chicken coop may look vastly different from yours, but ours works for us and yours should (hopefully!) work for you, too!

Here’s what we’ve learned so far about picking the right coop.

A good gust of Idaho wind could bring it all tumbling down…

The first thing we decided was we weren’t going to buy a “coop-in-a-box” from our local ranch store or anywhere online. We could tell that they wouldn’t be in it for the long haul like we were just from the pictures alone. Chicken expert Andy Cawthray warns about the quality (or lack thereof) of commercially produced coops:

There are many cheap and nasty coops flooding the market. I know this as I’ve tested a number of them in the field, and seen a ewe run straight through one when the feed bucket appeared. The result was nothing but an expensive pile of firewood and a small flock of bemused and now homeless bantams.

Luckily I have a handsome, handy husband who knew right away that our ideal coop would be built to last and designed to withstand everything from wind to rain to snow to the searing afternoon sun. He knew he had better quality scraps in his throw-away heap than most of the commercial coops we were seeing and could do a much better job of building a quality, long lasting home for our girls if need be.

Since we live in a rural farming area, once in awhile a durable, “high quality” coop will go up for sale on Craigslist, like this one for $600:

But they aren’t always the prettiest and we wanted both durability and aesthetic value. After all, it was meant to become a permanent part of the landscape and our yard is already filled with decorative antique pieces so we wanted the right look from our coop to fit in with the overall look we’re going for.

It wasn’t long after we started making serious plans to add a backyard flock that the perfect coop came up on Craigslist. I stumbled upon it less than an hour after it was posted and within a short time it was in our yard, ready for an upgrade:

It was made locally (meaning it was built way better than the cheap commercial ones) specifically for the original owners and had the exact look we wanted but it wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t quite finished. It took awhile for my hubby to get to it but it was well worth the wait because we ended up with this (so far):

Now it’s the right size. Our coop is still a work in progress but it is finished enough to house our four girls. Some of the upgrades he did to it were:

  • added insulation & lined all the walls with new plywood
  • sheeted and lined the bottom to make it another level and added more roosts inside
  • replaced the roof with metal sheeting & fresh plywood
  • added a large pen on the back & flower/planter boxes on the front

It’s hard to believe it’s the same coop, but it is and it only cost us about $200 (plus labor) total. That’s including the coop (I think we paid $100 for it). He used a lot of scraps we had laying around, too, so that helped cut the cost.

A similar coop would sell locally for $1,000 or more.

Our coop has six roosting boxes and while they say you can have up to three birds per roosting box, we prefer to let our girls spread out for now. In the near future they’ll be let out to free range now that we’ve had them a couple of weeks and they’re acclimated to their new place.

It’s pretty obvious that we’re doing something right because I’m getting on average a dozen and a half eggs a week which tells us we have happy, healthy chickens! Next time I’ll tell you how we found our flock and how to go about selecting the breed that’s best for you.

Until then, happy backyard farming!

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