Coop & Run Basics...questions from a beginner

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by davemonkey, Nov 25, 2012.

  1. davemonkey

    davemonkey Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 25, 2012
    Liberty, TX
    If there is a "sticky" or an article that goes into depth on these, please link me to it. I am wanting to start raising chickens for eggs (at first) and need to know some basics.

    Background info: I'm out in the country, semi-wooded area but the yard area is mostly open (a few large trees). I have about an acre backyard, fenced in with 4' chain-link (cyclone) fence. I'd like to fence off a section of this to keep the chickens in so they can free-range during the day and then be cooped at night. I want the coop to be large enough, with a "run" area, such that they could survive comfortably locked in there for a couple days if needed. I want to supplement feed as little as possible.

    1) I'm fairly certain I want about 6 hens. How large should my coop (with run) be if this will serve as a nightly 'lock-up' with the potential for leaving them in there over a weekend if I go out of town?

    2) Is there any information available to find out how much "yard" will support a given number of hens? How many sq.ft. per bird, etc...?
    For example, I know in my area that it takes about 3 acres for 1x 1,000lb cow (Animal Unit) if the goal is to not supplement feed...during a "normal year". Is there any such info on stocking rates for chickens?

    3) Do I need to provide some type of bedding/litter for nest boxes, or will the chickens gather material on their own (assuming they are free-ranging most of the day)?

    I have several other questions...but this should get me started on research. Thanks,

  2. Chookydeb

    Chookydeb Out Of The Brooder

    a 4' fence is nothing to a chicken, they fly

    chickens are incredibly destructive to the grass and plants, what they dont eat they dig up. I"m on more than an acre and they've cleared the undergrowth in less than six months. where i am is heavily tree'd, under the trees was a layer of wandering jew that was so thick you couldnt walk on it, it must have been 500mm thick, they ate that down to bare soil in less than 6 weeks

    you have to suppliment their feed, they need laying pellets etc for egg production, in saying that mine dont go through much, as you can see above they forage for what they need, but i've found if i dont have pellets available for them i get thin shelled eggs

    chickens dont gather nesting material, you have to fill the nesting boxes with straw or shavings

    my coop is 3m x 1.5m - but it really depends on where you are, i live in a warm climate so mine is mostly open, if it snows where you are you'll need a much more snug coop with a closed in sleeping area and different ventilation
  3. ChickensRDinos

    ChickensRDinos Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 19, 2012
    Los Angeles
    The general rule is in the actual coop, chickens need at least 4 sq ft per bird as long as they ALSO have access to a run with about 10 sq ft per bird (or are allowed to free range if you prefer). Each bird needs 10 inches of roost space and 3-4 birds can share one nest box. The chickens will destroy any plants in their run and they will dig holes. They would be fine for a few days in a predator proof coop and run.

    It is important to have a cozy next box with supplied nesting material inside the coop, otherwise the chickens will build nests in crazy, hard to reach places and you will end up missing eggs. I use pine shaves but there are lots of options.

    I would recommend doing some research on chicken nutrition. You do not NEED to feed a layer feed but you will need to provide a feed. Laying feed is just feed with calcium mixed in. Some people like this because it is easy but too much calcium can be bad so you can also provide calcium in a separate bowl (oyster shell is great) available free choice and feed a grower or flock raiser feed. Generally feed is made available to chickens 24/7. Figure out what will work best for your flock.

    They are omnivores with complex needs. Most feeds have around 20% protein. If you are planning to supplement other things to lessen your feed bill, you need to make sure you are maintaining this level of protein. I would recommend reading about growing fodder or fermenting feed if you want to cut down on costs while maintaining a high nutrition level. Farming mealworms at home is also a great, cheap option.

    Ask lots of questions! Good luck!!
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2012
  4. cafarmgirl

    cafarmgirl Overrun With Chickens

    If you have an acre of fenced backyard and are planning on fencing off part of that for your chickens to free range/forage on then you will have to feed them, no way around it. That's not going to be enough ground for them to forage enough to feed themselves on. Even with more ground if you want lot's of good eggs they need to have access to some good feed.
  5. rikithemonk

    rikithemonk Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 19, 2012
    Mont Dora Florida
    I have seven Rhode Island Reds in a ten foot square run. My coop is a four foot cube with two four foot roosts and two nest boxes.

    My set up has changes since I set up my account here, but if you click on my name and view my profile pictures, you will see a few pics of my coop. Like I said, the runs are different and I made some minor mods since then, but you will get a basic idea.

    Bear in mind that my coop is a place to sleep and lay eggs. The ten foot run is where the girls spend most of their time. If you intend to leave them locked up for vacations, you will need a very large coop. My ten by ten run is maxed out at seven hens. Anything smaller would lead to behavioral issues and other bad things. You would need a coop house the minimum size of a ten by ten shed if you intend to leave them in it all day for days.

    Last edited: Nov 25, 2012
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    1) I'm fairly certain I want about 6 hens. How large should my coop (with run) be if this will serve as a nightly 'lock-up' with the potential for leaving them in there over a weekend if I go out of town?

    I’m not a believer in magic numbers for chickens in this or anything else. I know you need someplace to start if you don’t have any experience and the 4 and 10 is a pretty good place. It will keep most people out of trouble and is overkill for many. But with different flock dynamics, different management techniques, and different climates, there is no one set of numbers that works for all of us.

    I suggest you go as big as you reasonably can. I’ve yet to hear of anyone having problems with too much space, yet this forum of full of problems caused by too little space. If chickens are overcrowded you can have behavioral problems ranging from feather-picking to serious fighting to cannibalism. Commercial operations have proven you can keep chickens permanently in 2 square feet but they take drastic measures like beak trimming to keep them from eating each other. A whole lot of chicken behavioral problems are solved by the weaker chicken running away. They need room to run.

    I find if I have more room, I work less hard. Poop management is a good example. I have excess space most of the time in the coop and plenty of outside room. I cleaned my coop out this year for the first time in four years, not because I had to but because I wanted that stuff on my garden. I did have to do some work right under the roosts (they poop a lot while they are on the roosts overnight) but the main coop was no problem.

    I find having extra room gives me a lot of flexibility. If I want a broody hen to raise chicks with the flock, she can. If I want to integrate new chickens, I can. I feel that most of the problems we read about on this forum with broodies or integration are caused by a lack of room. If I have a predator problem, I can leave them locked up for days or even weeks while I deal with the problem. If I want to sleep in instead of getting up at the crack of dawn every day of the year to let them out, I can. If the college girl that takes care of them while I go down to see my granddaughter is really late in letting them out, no problem.

    When planning your coop, I suggest you consider that most building materials come in 4’ and 8’ dimensions. If you plan around that (and remember to work with out-to-out dimensions, not center-to-center, you can often build a larger coop with no more expense and with less cutting and waste.

    I suggest going long more than wide. If you build a wide coop (run too if you cover it) you have to buy more expensive longer and heavier lumber to span the top, especially if you have to worry about snow and ice loads.

    Plan on overhang for the roof with lots of ventilation under that overhang. Regardless of your climate, it’s really hard to have too much ventilation in the winter as long as it is over their heads when they are roosting. In a hot climate and during summer for practically all of us, it is hard to have too much ventilation period, no matter where it is. Heat kills a lot more chickens than cold. It has something to do with the down coat they wear.

    I’ll give you three articles that I think are really good. I don’t know how important that cold weather one is to you but I think the muddy run and ventilation ones should be required reading for anyone building a coop and run.

    Pat’s Big Ol' Ventilation Page

    Pat’s Cold Coop (winter design) page:

    Pat’s Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs):

    2) Is there any information available to find out how much "yard" will support a given number of hens? How many sq.ft. per bird, etc...?

    Another example of no magic numbers for chickens. Do you live on a mountain top in the Rockies, in the swamps of Louisiana, in the Mojave Desert, maybe in New England? You may be able to find something for your specific area but there is no magic number that covers all of us. There are too many differences in climate, soil type, rainfall, and type of vegetation for one number to cover us all.

    Quality of forage is a big part of this. My parents raised chickens in the hills of East Tennessee. They never fed them during most months, just a little corn in the winter and not enough corn for them to live on. Even in winter with a light snow on the ground they could forage for a lot of their food. But they were not foraging in a manicured back yard with the grass neatly trimmed and weeds immediately destroyed. They had the run of the place. They had no fences except one to keep them out of the garden. They had pastureland, an apple orchard, and wooded areas to forage in. They got grass and weeds, grass and weed seeds, leaf mold, and all kinds of hopping, crawling, wriggling, and flying creepy crawlies. There were cows and horses so they could scratch to their hearts content in nutrient rich manure. They could go to a hay barn and eat hay if they wished, though a surprisingly few number actually did that.

    Those chickens may not have laid a double extra huge egg every day of the season but the cost of food was basically zero for most of the year. The corn they got in winter as a supplement we raised ourselves. To me that is pretty efficient.

    If they have good quality of forage you can cut your feed costs, but most of us do need to supplement their food.

    3) Do I need to provide some type of bedding/litter for nest boxes, or will the chickens gather material on their own (assuming they are free-ranging most of the day)?

    You need to provide some type of bedding for the nest boxes. They will not gather any themselves. I personally like to use straw or hay but that is just personal preference. It’s what I grew up using. You’ll find that people on this forum use about anything from wood shavings, shredded newspaper, rags, carpet, even Spanish moss. I also suggest you put a fake egg in the nest to show them where to lay. I’m convinced it helps. Golf balls work well for me.

    We each have our own unique circumstances and conditions and we manage them differently. Hopefully you can get something out of this that helps.

    Good luck and welcome to the adventure.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2012
  7. JeffOeuf

    JeffOeuf Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 23, 2012
    Springfield Missouri
    Just to support Ridgerunner's excellent post, my five girls have pretty much the situation described. They have the run of our 10 acres, though they rarely if ever stray more than a couple hundred yards from the coop. But, in that circle they have woods, weeds, lawn, garden and lots of undergrowth. They scratch and pick from sun-up to sun-down and always go to bed with their crops bulging. There's always food in the feeder, but they only peck at it a little bit each day. I bought a 50 pound bag of layer when they first started laying the first of August, and here at the end of November it is way more than half full.

    While they can fly, if their needs are met inside that 4' cyclone fence, I doubt that they would. If they do it repeatedly, you can clip their wings and put an end to it.

    Why must you fence off part of your yard? I plan to fence my vegetable garden before Spring, but other than that, they have the run yard. There are only a couple of ornamentals that they will really tear up...stuff that would be easily replaced if you are concerned about the appearance of your yard. Actually, the scruffy parts of my yard look much better now that the chickens scratch at it all the time.

    Go through the coop pages, keeping in mind that starting point of 4 sq. ft. enclosed and 10 sq. ft. open per bird. Mine is just a little over that number for 5, but with being free-ranged from sun-up to sun-down 95% of the time, when I do have to leave them locked up, it isn't big enough and they bicker. I would like my run to be half again bigger for those occasions. There are dozens of designs, from elaborate to thrown together. Something will strike a chord with you.
  8. davemonkey

    davemonkey Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 25, 2012
    Liberty, TX
    Thank you all so much for the great info. To answer a couple questions/clarifications, I am in SouthEast Texas...near the coast. The yard area has a few large trees, couple pecan tress and some sweetgums...couple tree stumps where trees were cut down, etc...

    The reason I have to fence it partially off is that I have 2 dogs who would love to eat a chicken if they could. My yard, as it is now, is about 233' long and 114' wide. I really need to actually measure it...when I installed the fence a coupe years ago I calculated 0.7 acres + ...but the numbers I just gave come to about 0.6. Anyway, I'd want to give the dogs at least half of their space to keep for themsleves. The chickens could theoretically graze the entire yard if I kept the dogs indoors...but I would not do this every day...the dogs would tear up the house. ;-)

    I actually would love to let the chickens out of the yard area where we do have heavy woods and open spots and a garden area (we have 2.6 acres, 1/3-wooded and 2/3-open, with 30 acres of land (wooded and open) surrounding us...but this would have to be 100% supervised due to neighbors dogs. (Very few people fence in their dogs here.)

    I do like to plan ahead, so I'll figure at least 4 sqft for the coop and 10 sqft for the run, per hen...and leave room to expand.
  9. MimiChick

    MimiChick Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 8, 2009
    Glocester, RI
    The only thing I didn't see mentioned in Ridgerunner's post (which was excellent advice, btw) was predators. Not knowing where you live it's hard to figure out what you may have for predators. But I'm guessing no matter where it is, there's some kind of predators around, dogs, racoons, hawks, fox, coyote, owl, weasels, fisher cats, etc. Don't forget to add that into your plans for coop and run. You need to make sure you have a SAFE area for your flock. Check the pests and predators section of the forum for different ways of dealing with different problems. You really want to be prepared BEFORE disaster happens. Find out what's in your area and how to keep them from hurting/killing your chickens.
    I'd also suggest a covered run if it's practical or a raised coop. Some place for the girls to be outside, but not directly affected by harsh weather. A covered run will also protect them from birds of prey wanting an easy meal.
    On another note, you may want to think about something called "Chicken Math". It's a well known fact that once you start, it's hard to stop. You'll want different, new and unusual chickens, different colored eggs, maybe want to try brooding and raising, etc. It's really hard to not keep adding to the flock [​IMG]. So prepare yourself by building the largest coop/run area you can afford and is practical for you. You really want to go as big as you can. Because it's almost inevitable you'll want more chickens.
    Good luck, and have fun.
  10. ChickensRDinos

    ChickensRDinos Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 19, 2012
    Los Angeles
    Plan for more birds than you think. lol. I have yet to meet anyone who didn't go out and get more later on....I had to rebuild the coop.

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