Scientists believe the modern chickens ancestors are the grey jungle fowl. The grey jungle fowl live in small groups, roost in trees, and nest on the ground.
Having watched the chickens here establish similar groups I became interested in finding out what would happen if I facilitated a similar social structure with modern chicken breeds. There have been very few studies of chickens in a similar living conditions and given part of my work here was looking after the chickens this seemed an ideal opportunity to learn something about chicken behaviour.
I could see some advantages to a multi coop system.
1) In the event of a transmittable disease outbreak with care I might only have one group infected.
2) I could maintain group stability by having two roosters per group, father and son. Father would teach the son and hopefully many of the problems reported with a flock with more than one rooster could be avoided.
3) I could keep more roosters, two per group and I was hoping to establish four tribes; that’s eight roosters.
4) I wouldn’t need a massive coop
5)I could observe chicken behaviour that in some ways at least, would represent the behaviour of their ancestors.
6) I would be in a position to let the chickens decide with who they lived with and where.
I decided I was going to experiment with a multi coop system and I looked around for some sensibly priced coops that I could buy. The coops would only be used to roost in, and hopefully egg laying. During the day the chickens free range
The majority of flat pack coops are built with cheap treated tongue and groove planking. While this is good for sending by courier, or post, they leave rather a lot to be desired in stability and functionality. You can’t clean the properly between the planks and that means chicken shit can accumulate and pests can hide there. The next problem was size. I don’t know where these people get their capacity information from but coops they state are good for six chickens I would only keep two in. A coop I considered large enough for six or seven chickens was pretty expensive for what you got.
We get a bit of North Westerly breeze here from time to time. This is what it does to flat pack sheds.
I looked at the coops on the pages of BYC at the time and I was impressed with the construction of some, the imagination of others, some were massive and others were small and quaint.
I found a couple with little net curtains hanging over the windows, lots had the inside painted (acrylic and oil based paints are usually toxic to chickens) and in general a lot of money and time had been spent on making the coops.
The thing that struck me most is, most were built with the human aesthetic considerations as the dominant design factor. It isn’t that most of these coops wont function perfectly adequately but do chickens care what their coops look like (?). I rather hoped they didn’t when I decided I would be better off making my own.
I needed at least four coops to achieve what I wanted which was two, or three living coops and at least one isolation coop.
The next problem was the coops needed to be portable, even if that meant by four men. Static coops have some serious problems
1) the ground they stand on accumulates parasites and pathogens over time
2) the rodents love them. Of course, static coops with an attached run usually have food them in and the rodents love that as well.
Even when the chickens are being kept free range, they tend to congregate under the coops in bad weather, empty their bowels first thing in the morning and if fed near the coop, eat from the ground locally. I think it is still very important to let the ground rest even with a free range system.
While I was looking for coops on various sites including BYC I would come across the occasional post where people had posted that they limed the runs! Liming sheep sheds, stables, cow sheds is fine, but to lime a run where chickens are going to forage is downright stupid. Lime kills all those little bugs that the chickens eat. For a while at least the soil is dead and of course the lime takes some time to decay.
The coops needed to be robust enough to take the occasional back scratching of a passing donkey or sheep and the attentions of any wild boar that passed by.
I wanted coops that would be high enough off the ground to allow the chickens to shelter underneath. Also, having the coop this high means I can use the space under the coop as part of a secure run if necessary.
A further advantage of coops at this height is it makes life more difficult for the ground predators to get in; most dig under a coop, sometimes a bit at a time, to gain entry.
I wanted flat roofs for the coops. Pitched roof can look nice and homely but unless the coop is very tall, or the perch very low, roosters can damage their combs when they crow; they don’t seem to be that good at noticing that if they stretch their necks to crow in one place on the perch they’re fine but a bit further either side and the head clearance isn’t there.
I didn’t really care what the coops looked like. I’ve never had a chicken complain about coop aesthetics. What did become an issue was coop stability in high winds. In some locations the topography provides adequate shelter, but as insurance I drive stakes into the ground and tie the coop legs to the stakes. I haven’t had one blow over yet.
Finally I wanted them to be easy to build preferably with no interior framework for mites to hide in and easily cleanable with a blow torch. I don’t use chemicals in coops if I can possibly avoid it.
I can build the type of coops shown in the picture below in a couple of days. They needed to be cheap to build.
Unless you are going to keep a few chickens as pets and have no intention of getting any more,
my view is you shouldn’t even think about keeping chickens unless you have an isolation coop. This needs to be entirely separate from the main coop. A section built into a large coop cannot be used for effective quarantine. I am still amazed when I read posts on these forums where people have gone out and got chickens and those who should know better are telling the original posters how to integrate the new chickens into the flock instead of stating that all new arrivals should be quarantined. I think it’s completely irresponsible to advise anything else.
The floor of the coop and the run are both removable as is the coop roof. There is wire mesh below both floors. It’s very easy to clean and it’s portable. I didn’t intend to bring, or buy in, any chickens but I do get the occasional stray or unwanted chicken and this coop has proved invaluable for quarantine and general isolation duties.
The coop below is the type of coop I build now. It’s reasonably cheap. So far this design has worked very well. I have a summer and winter doors for the backs of the coops; one solid with vents and the other with a large weldmesh section in the door.
You can just see in the picture another coop in the distance. All the fences have walk through points like the one in the picture; the chickens still squeeze through the fence sometimes!
The problem with this coop is location, there isn’t any cover on the left hand side. The chickens normally come out of the coop and head straight for the sheep shed.
This is a coop I built under pressure from a salvaged dog kennel. Very difficult to keep clean and I eventually got tired of torching the coop every week to get rid of the mites.
These are pictures of the same basic design. The small translucent rectangle on the sides are where the perch ends are located. Mites don’t like light, but they do like perch ends. So far this has worked well and I’ve had very few red mite problems.
I don’t think chickens need much more than these type of coops. They keep the rain off, they’re reasonably secure and relatively draught free with the winter doors on. Most winters we get quite a few nights when it freezes and every now and then we get a couple of nights when the temperature drops as low as -6 degrees Centigrade. We get snow, but again, not very much and not for very long.
They are very easy to clean. They are high enough for a wheelbarrow to slide underneath and I just scrap the shit directly into the wheelbarrow. The nest boxes are all removable.
I think for any future builds and for the repairs that need doing I’ll use marine ply for the roof and floor in future. It is a lot more expensive but it lasts.
The coop bases are 18mm plywood. Some of the coops have 12mm plywood sides and 12mm plywood roofs. All the seams are glued and screwed. I’ve found that a vent just below the roof with openings and/or vents below the perch height gives good air circulation through convection without draughts.
I don’t use bedding on the coop floors except in the nest boxes.
The largest coop will house 8 chickens, four on each side.
The smaller coops can house five to eight depending on the perch configuration and the breed of chicken.
I can’t help thinking that coops such as these would make better sense for those who keep four or five chickens in their back yard. A run could be made to include the space under the coop; the coop resting tightly on the top of the run. Say for example the coop has a floor area of 20 square feet (5x4) and the run a further 50 square feet ( 5x10) then that is more run space than many of the coops and runs I see and you get a rain shelter included and better coop security. Unless the back yard is very small it should be possible to move the coop and run regularly and rest the ground.
Approximate cost for smaller coops under 200 euros
Largest coop about 250 euros.