So you’ve decided to start being self-sufficient and sustainable. After some research, you’ve decided to raise chickens and create a chicken coop. Chickens can provide you with so much—cruelty-free fresh eggs, meat straight from your yard, organic fertilizer and compost, and natural pest control.
- Planning Your Coop
- Making Your Coop Sustainable and Eco-Friendly
- Maintaining Your Coop
Like with all animals, chickens need a safe and comfortable environment to thrive. You’ll need to design and build a chicken coop that fits your and your chickens’ needs and preferences. But you’d also want to reduce the carbon footprint associated with building a typical coop and make the coop self-sufficient.
This article will provide a complete guide toward planning, building, and maintaining your chicken coop in an eco-friendly way.
Planning Your Coop
Below are some important factors to note when making your chicken coop:
Look for a suitable location for your chicken coop. Chickens need plenty of space to be happy, and happy chickens are healthier and produce more eggs. They’ll need at least four square feet of coop space and at least eight square feet of run space per bird. This’ll depend on the breed you plan on getting too.
The location of the coop should get plenty of sunlight, is well-ventilated, and should also be easily accessible to you. The best location would be where they’re less exposed to elements.
Once you’ve found a good location, think about the cost of building a coop. This largely depends on the size, location, materials you plan to use for your coop and run, and of course, the number of chickens. The national average cost is about $650 dollars, with an average range of $200–$2,500. This includes material and labor costs if you plan on hiring help.
You’d also have to think about expenses once you have your flock: feeders, waterers, bedding, vet bills, maintenance, and so on.
This can go in two ways: you get a number of chickens appropriate for your chosen location, or you choose a location appropriate for the number of chickens you plan on raising. For beginners, you’d want a minimum of four chickens, one rooster, and three hens.
Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, Leghorns, Plymouth Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons are good breeds for beginners. They’re relatively low maintenance and have pleasant dispositions. Note that your location may affect your decision when choosing certain breeds; for example, if you live in colder climates and want hardier breeds, you’d want Brahma and Silkie Bantams.
Making Your Coop Sustainable and Eco-Friendly
Once you’ve settled on the best location, budget, and number and breed of your chickens, think about how you want to design your coop. Normally, a chicken coop with a run is the ideal way to go—it shelters chickens from the weather and protection from predators and gives them the space to stretch their wings, exercise, peck at the ground, and do other normal chicken business.
You’d also want your coop to be eco-friendly. Below are some tips to consider if you want a sustainable coop:
Construct the Coop with Eco-Friendly Materials
Lumber may be one of the most popular choices for creating your coop, but it’s also one of the priciest. Reduce your expenses and upcycle materials like wood pallets, recycled plastic lumber, PVC pipes, scrap metal, and even old windows and doors. Look for these materials in your area, like construction sites and recycling centers. You can even search online for anyone selling or giving away these materials.
Use natural materials like hay or straw, pine shavings, or dried leaves for nests and bedding.
Ensure you get permission when gathering materials from certain areas, like construction sites. You’ll also need to inspect, clean, and prep these materials before using them.
Plant a Chicken-Friendly Garden
Grow your chickens their own plants to munch on! You can either plant a garden right where your chickens are or create a space for them to forage and peck away under your supervision. Some plants that are good for your chickens are rosemary, fennel, catnip, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, lavender, and more. Some weeds like dandelions, purslane, thistle, and chickweed are even beneficial for them (and you!).
When you let your chickens forage, ensure your plants are grown enough. Chickens are notorious for pecking away at young plants, seedlings, and even the roots of fully-grown plants! Plant your seeds in trays first, so they’re able to grow, and protect your plants by laying poultry or chicken netting over the roots of plants.
Collect Chicken Manure and Turn It into “Black Gold”
One chicken can produce 130 pounds of manure in one year. That sounds like a lot—and it is. Turn all that waste into “black gold” for your garden! Chicken manure fertilizer is considered to have the most nutrients among all livestock and poultry dung.
But you can’t simply collect and throw chicken waste right into your garden and expect the best. You’d need to compost the manure to achieve the ideal combination of organic matter and nutrients for your plants, kill harmful bacteria, and reduce the level of ammonia.
Use the hot-compost method to create your fertilizer. Use a 1:1 mixture (or even 2:1)—1 part brown waste (your chickens’ bedding, like straw or wood shavings), 1 part green waste (chicken manure). Pile your mixture in a compost bin, and it should start heating up at the center. Turn and stir the mixture and let it cure for up to 60 days. Add fertilizer to your garden by spreading it on the surface or working it into the soil.
Use the Sun to Power Your Coop
Chickens may be hardy birds, but like any living creature, they need certain components in their coop to thrive. This includes heat and ventilation, and you’d certainly want to be able to see and navigate your way around the coop at night.
You can build your coop to allow for natural ventilation and light, but you’ll need electricity for heaters inside the coop and the chicken’s water and feeders, especially during winter.
Utilize solar energy to power up everything that uses electricity in your coop! If you don’t want to install a solar system just yet, you can replace certain items with those that can use solar energy, like solar-powered sheds and predator lights, and fans. Heaters and automatic coop doors may require a more complex system.
Maintaining Your Coop
To keep your flock healthy, safe, and happy, you’ll need to do some regular maintenance:
Keep the Coop Clean
Keep bedding clean and dry by spot-cleaning and changing the bedding regularly. Clean out their water containers and feeders consistently and always provide fresh water to avoid risking your chickens’ health. When you deep-clean your coop, disinfect it with natural or commercial poultry-safe disinfectants.
Inspect the Coop
Look for any structural issues that may damage the integrity of your coop. Look for mold, holes, and any loose nails, screws, and wood. Check for any signs of pests like mites or rodents—droppings, nesting materials, or chewed-up bedding.
Check Your Flock
Observe your chickens for any signs of illness, distress, or abnormal behavior. You can also check their waste for any changes.
Maintain the Garden
If you’ve planted a chicken-friendly garden, check if your plants are growing well and aren’t riddled with any diseases. Make sure that no plants toxic to chickens have grown in your garden.
There may be no recipe for the perfect chicken coop, but with the information you now have, you can plan, design, and create a chicken coop you’ll be happy to have and keep for years to come. Enjoy the plentiful benefits of raising chicken with a sustainable and eco-friendly chicken coop.