Size of coop and building questions

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by sphillips, Feb 19, 2013.

  1. sphillips

    sphillips Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 18, 2013
    New Mexico
    Hey everyone! New here, and have tons of questions. For my coop, we used an old building that was here when we bought the place. It's part of a larger barn, but the coop size is about 12 x 12. It has an outdoor run attached, which is about 24 x 10. It is a metal building, which concerns me regarding heat in the summer, because we have temps here that can reach 105 F. The coop is well ventilated, it has openings at the roof on two sides, and a door on the front that is covered with mesh. My husband will build a hinged cover for the door that can be closed when it's cold, and at night. It has a dirt floor, which is well compacted. Over the weekend we built nesting boxes (9), the boxes are 12" deep, 12" wide, and about 16" tall. We set them up on an old pallet that we cut in half, which will give the chickens a 'step' outside their boxes. The boxes are about 2 ft off the floor. For roosts, we wanted to use 2x4's, but I am not sure if these are too big. We don't have grass here. We have red dirt, and I am wondering if the chickens will do okay outside in their run without grass/plants. Free roaming is probably not an option at this point, as our 10 acres isn't fenced yet, and I have dogs. Do I need to plant something out there for them, or will they be happy scratching in the dirt? I've seen so many pictures of chickens roaming free in grassy fields, etc. I am getting my first chicks this weekend, so I have time to fix things in the coop, but just wanted to know if we are headed in the right direction with what we've done so far. Also, with a coop and run this size, how many chickens can I keep?
  2. DavidKerk

    DavidKerk Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 9, 2013
    You could probably keep 30+ chickens in a coop that size. You would probably want to plant a tree for shade in the run because chickens generally don't like being out in the hot sun. Also, when it rains your run made of dirt will become a pretty muddy place, but since you live in New Mexico I'm guessing that rain is not a very big issue like it is here in Michigan. If you have access to grass on your property, you would want to clip some and throw it in for the chickens to eat every day or so as grass is an extremely good thing for chickens to eat. They love it and it is really good for them. If possible you might want to lower your nest boxes to about 3-6 inches above the floor so that your chickens don't roost on it at night, which means you will have to clean their waste out often. I've heard that 2x4s are the perfect thing to use for roost. If you use them, have the wide end facing up for the chickens to roost on. Your coop sounds like the perfect set-up! :)
  3. sphillips

    sphillips Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 18, 2013
    New Mexico
    I talked with my husband, we may lower the nesting boxes some. I also will try to get some grass planted in the run. We have bermuda grass here that is very hardy and spreads easily, grows quickly. I will also have my husband build a shade shelter in the run, or we will put a heavier cover on one part of the run so the chickens can have shade. I think I will probably start with about 20 chickens, see how I do, and then go from there. Thanks for your post!
  4. ECBW

    ECBW Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 12, 2011
    The relationship between roosts and nests is roosts must be higher than nests. Chickens like to roost on higher "ground".

    Even so, some birds might still spend the night in the nests resulting in poo in the nests. If and when it happens, just invest a few evening closing or blocking off the nests and re-open them after dark. The birds will get the message and roost where they should.

    My nests are 18" AFF. This gives me more floor space. I keep my waterer or feeder in that space so the chickens cant jump on top of them.

    My roosts are 24"AFF and higher.

    Planting anything in the run is excercise in futility.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  5. 4 the Birds

    4 the Birds Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 15, 2010
    Westfield, Indiana
    18" is a good height for nest boxes in my opinion and the roosting bars up another foot. Mine can hop up and down into the boxes and use ramps to the roost bars. You can plant grass in your run but to tell you the truth.... They will scratch it to dirt eventually. Mine have places where they enjoy dirt bathing in the Summer. Some will say to use sand in the run but I just add pine chips from time to time on natural ground. I would be sure to have plenty of shade areas for them especially in your warm/dry region.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2013
  6. bj taylor

    bj taylor Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 28, 2011
    North Central Texas
    i had to lower my roosts. i have heavy breeds & it was becomming a hazzard for them when jumping down in the morning. it's still above the nest box height. the nest boxes are about a foot off the floor.
    i read where someone planted a fast grass in a home made skid they could drag into the run. they would let the chickens work it over & when it was gone they would drag it back out - replant & do it again. i don't know if you want to go to that kind of trouble, but the chickens would like it.
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I don’t know where you are in New Mexico or how hot it can get or how cold it can get when you see an extreme. Heat is a much greater risk for chickens wearing down coats year round so you are right to be concerned. That metal building is a concern too but if you put your nests and roosts on the more shaded north and east sides you can help that a bunch. Also, don’t crowd your roosts right up next to that metal roof. Give them a little separation from that hot roof. You probably are high enough the nights cool off reasonably but the metal can store and radiate heat.

    It sounds like you have pretty good ventilation but it’s pretty impossible to have too much ventilation. In the hot part of the year that means below them when they are roosting and above them so the hot air that rises has a way to escape.

    The roosts do need to be noticeably higher than the nests but it really doesn’t matter if the nests are 4” or 4’ off the floor as long as the roosts are higher. There are advantages and disadvantages to having them high or low but those are more for your convenience than the chickens. Pretty much the chickens don’t care but humans do. There are all kinds of nests too.

    How’s your back? Do you have any problem bending over to gather eggs from a nest on the floor or is it better for your back if the nests are higher? If the nest you use is covered this may be more of an issue than with a nest that is open on top.

    If your coop floor is dirty the chickens might scratch a lot of trash in the nests. If your coop floor is not dirty or the sides or lip is high enough, that is probably not an issue.

    If the chickens can’t get under a nest and you have a solid floor in your nest instead of having it on the ground, that may make a great place for Mommy Mouse to raise a family. If chickens can get under the nest, well, they eat mice if they can catch them.

    I’ve seen a broody hen get newly hatched chicks down from a 10’ high hayloft so this does not bother me nearly as much as it does some people, but some people really worry about a broody hatching chicks in a nest a bit off the ground. If you are not going to let a hen hatch chicks in there it’s obviously not a concern to you.

    If your nest is more than a couple of feet off the floor, it’s probably a good idea to put some type of perch or landing place for the hen to use to get into the nest. For many chickens it is not absolutely necessary but it’s not a bad idea. If you have a chicken that cannot fly, like a Silkie, you may need to provide a ramp up there.

    If the nests are pretty close to the floor, a hen may see the area under the nest as a good safe protected place to lay eggs. A fake egg like a golf ball in the real nest will really help with that but you are dealing with living animals. Nobody can guarantee what they will do, but we can give you some help in influencing what they are likely to do.

    If the hens scratch out the nesting material, fake eggs, or even real eggs, you probably don’t have a high enough lip on the nest to keep that stuff in there.

    There are a lot of other reasons you might want to put your nests high or low. We all do different things for different reasons. It’s not a case of one way being right and every other way being wrong. It’s whatever way works for you. The good thing is that the chickens pretty much don’t care. People do.

    2x4’s are fine for roosts. It really doesn’t matter if the wide side is up or the narrow side, though you will get some people that are adamant their way is the right way and everything else is a disaster. If you do use sawn lumber if any type, I suggest you sand them. Part of that is to round off the corners so their feet can grip a bit better, even on the really wide boards, but my main concern is to avoid splinters. Personally I use tree branches. I find that they are just as likely to roost on the smaller ends as the wider ends even in cold weather though you will find people on this forum convinced that chickens cannot bend their toes to get a grip. I know I don’t really get cold temperatures. My lowest is usually just a little below zero Fahrenheit which is not that cold for chickens, but I have not had any problems with chickens’ feet freezing when they are roosting on the fairly small portions of the roosts.

    Your chickens will do OK in that run without any vegetation in there. It will get muddy when it rains and I hope you do occasionally get some rain, but as long as it is positioned where it will drain and you don’t have it where rainwater flows into it either from a sloped roof or on the ground you should be fine.

    Vegetation probably won’t grow in there. They will eat practically anything green then scratch up the roots and eat them. They will still enjoy dust bathing and just hanging out in the run. I do suggest you provide shade for them, not just overhead but in the south and west where the sun really beats in. Maybe leave the bottom open so the wind can get through. Part of my run is covered but it does not provide much shade. The sun mostly comes in from the sides, not from overhead.

    How many can you keep in there? There is a big difference in what you can shoehorn in there and what I’d do. We keep them in so many different conditions, with different goals, different flock make-ups, in different climates, and use so many different management techniques there is no magic number than is the same for everyone regarding coop space, run space, roost space, brooder space, hen to rooster ratio or anything else. In general I find the more space I give them the fewer behavioral problems I see, the less hard I have to work, and the more flexibility I have to deal with problems.

    I understand that if you don’t have the experience with chickens you don’t have anything to base the number on. There are various rules of thumb used on this forum that will keep most of us out of trouble most of the time in a wide range of conditions and management techniques. These are generally geared toward smaller flocks kept in suburban back yards. For a lot of people they are overkill though occasionally someone will get in trouble with them. The more chickens you have the less these rules of thumb mean. For example, one rule of thumb is 1 nest for every 4 hens. That works pretty well for a relatively small flock but if you have a lot of hens they really don’t need that many nests.

    One rule of thumb often used on here for those small suburban backyard flocks is 4 square feet per chicken in the coop along with 10 square feet per chicken in the run. If you have a lot of chickens you can probably get by with less space but that depends some on how you manage them. You may wind up managing a lot of chicken poop too. Personally I like to give them more space for the reasons I mentioned above.

    If you ever want a broody to raise chicks with the flock or you want to integrate new chickens that goes much better if you have more space. Just a couple of examples of the added flexibility you get with more space.

    This is way too much tying I know but hopefully you can get something useful out of this. Good luck and welcome to the adventure.
  8. sphillips

    sphillips Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 18, 2013
    New Mexico
    The roof on my coop is about 10' high on one end, and 5' high on the other, so I think there will be good airflow, and the heat should rise above where the chickens will be. Hopefully will help to keep them warmer at night as well. We are going to put gutters on the lower end of the roof to help with mud. I don't foresee much rain, as we are in a terrible drought now that is expected to last. I think last year we had about 5" of rain. Temps can get up over 100 here in the dead of summer, but if I have to, I will put a fan in the coop which I've heard can help circulate the air. The south side of the barn has another large part of building attached to it, so it won't get much sun or heat from that end. That is the side that has my nesting boxes on it. The run is on the west side, so will mostly get sun late in the afternoon. I do have a bad back, so putting the nesting boxes up higher will help me (24"). I did talk to my husband, and I think we will lower them to about 18" or so, so that my perches don't have to be too high. There is space underneath, enough for me to clean out under, but high enough to prevent 'things' from wanting to nest in there., and there is a lip on the outside of the boxes for the chickens to stand on. I did place about a 4" lip on the front of the boxes to keep the nesting material in. I'm trying to get this right before it's time to move the chicks in so that we don't have to disturb them too much once they have settled in. I'm trying to avoid finding issues that are a problem later on, and trying to get it right the first time. Thanks so much for all your input, I'm really glad I found this forum!
  9. sphillips

    sphillips Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 18, 2013
    New Mexico
    This weekend I moved my nesting boxes down to about 18", and my roosts are at about 24". I think that will work better. Still have to work on the outside run, as the wire has sagged and I need to put a cover on the top. We're building a small shade shelter outside as well. Thanks guys for all your input, I've learned so much already!

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