Chicken coops for newbs? Any advice?

As a new homeowner for the first time, we are getting into suburban ranching. The worm farm is going well, got 4 big raised beds, the window sill starter is getting fired up. Gateway stuff ya know. Now it’s getting time for chickens.

The kiddos will want to raise from chicks. And it’s chick season.

Here in the 'burbs, we want to raise five chickens. We want as small a coop as possible, want it semi-portable so we can move it around the back of the lot maybe every week or two, will have some kind of chicken run. We are in the seattle area, so it does rain a lot.

Any recommendations on styles or actual coops? I’m not sure I want to spend a weekend trying to build one, but I don’t want to spend a ton of money either. There are knock down kits that range from about $200 - 500ish. Since it rains so much, I’m not sure a traditional wood coop is the best way to go.

So, any practical advice for a chicken noob?

Any recommended kit coops? Is there something better than wood for a rainy environment?

Is it practical for chickens to be on our lawn for a day or two and then move areas? My wife thinks this will wreck our lawn. I have no frickin’ idea

What types of chickens are good layers for noobs?

Is it practical to raise chicks in the spring, get a summer/fall round of eggs, and then slaughter them for winter soup. Rinse lather repeat? Or is it appreciably worth keeping the layers around for a few seasons even though they don’t lay in the winter and it rains here for 6 months?

I’m sure I have more questions but thought I’d tap into the Dope first for some advice.

There are tons of resource materials available on this topic. I subscribe to Backyard Poultry, and I’d recommend it. Many books are out there on the backyard chicken concept as well. I’d suggest starting with docile breeds. There are Trolley style coops that allow you to wheel the chickens around. Since chicken poop is very high in nitrogen, this spreads the wealth, if you will, without killing the grass. The number one thing is to make sure the coop is strong enough to prevent every other animal out - dogs, coyotes, racoon, skunk, hawks, etc etc etc. Every thing loves chicken or eggs.

I once had the same thought you did, but didn’t have the heart to kill my “spent hens” so I gave them away.

Moved Cafe Society --> IMHO.

I’ve kept chickens for more than 20 years. Chickens are the easiest livestock there is, as long as you give them just a few things. I’ve heard many tragic stories about why people started with and then gave up chickens. There are only three reasons I hear:

  1. They were too noisy for the neighbors. Do not get a rooster if you have neighbors who aren’t actual farmers. Eggs happen just fine without them. Even hens can be loud at times.

  2. Intractable rat problems. Rats love chicken houses because of all the free food. From the get-go, build for rat-proofness. Store feed in metal cans. Pick up all food at night. If at all possible, rat-proof your whole hen house, especially where they sleep. Rats chew through wood easily. Once there is a hole, a weasel can get in. Which brings me to by far the biggest reason people give up on chickens: predators.

  3. Don’t want your kids to come out in the morning and find a raccoon has pulled your hens’ heads through the chickenwire and eaten them off? Or that your neighbor’s labrador dug under your chicken fence and partially ate all your hens, except without killing them first? Then you must think ahead and build to foil creatures who have **nothing they want more on earth **than to torture and kill your chickens and break your heart.

Chickens are easy to catch and kill even during the day, but at night they are as helpless as a meatloaf. Your night coop must be their bunker.

My henhouse is on a 3’x 5’ concrete slab. It is built mostly of old doors, with a plywood and tar-paper roof. The south face is aviary netting (smaller than raccoon hands). Nothing has ever gotten at my hens at night. Plus, so easy to clean because I can stand up inside it. It has a human-sized door on one side, and the other side has a hen-sized door into a 20’ x 15’ chicken run, which has 7’ high wire sides and a field fence and chickenwire roof (to keep hawks out); there is wire buried in an L facing out, around the perimeter to keep digging predators out. This set up is big enough for about six hens. Hens need room to get away from each other, otherwise they will start eating each others’ feathers off.

They are charmingly self-sufficient, industrious creatures. I hope never to be without chickens. And, there is no way to get eggs like mine except to raise your own hens. No commercial eggs, even Omega-3 Free Range Organic, taste anything like my eggs.

Breeds: for kids, avoid Leghorns and other Mediterranean Class breeds, they are flighty and hard to tame. Good easy to find middle-of-road breeds: Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, sexlink hybrids of any kind, Australorps. These are usually good egglayers with calm temperaments. “Fancy” chickens with funny hairdos usually are poor layers since they were not bred for that. Ditto bantams and giant breeds.

The best book I have on chickens is called Chickens in Your Backyard by Rick and Gail Luttman.

Correction: They don’t naturally lay in the winter. But if you provide them with a little artificial lighting at dawn and dusk to extend the “day”, they’ll keep laying year-round.

And you didn’t specifically ask, but make sure they get a good well-rounded diet. There are good chicken-feeds available (Purina makes one called Layena), but also give them assorted greens (they love most weeds), calcium supplements (the most common form is ground oyster shells), and the opportunity to scratch for bugs. Good feeds will also include marigolds (which contribute to tasty and colorful yolks), but you can give them more on top of that. Oh, and plenty of water: It takes a lot of water to make eggs, and they go through it quickly.

I have to agree with Ulfreida that chickens are about as easy as livestock gets. I was tending my mom’s for the past three weeks while she was out of town, and they only needed about 15 minutes a day. The feed’s cheap, and they’ll easily pay for themselves in eggs alone, even if you don’t slaughter and eat them when they’ve stopped laying.

Chickens are the absolute most rewarding and enjoyable pets that we’ve ever had! We cannot recommend them highly enough. We were just on vacation for two weeks and we had 4 neighbors VOLUNTEER to watch the chickens.

I second all of the above. However, sometimes the “Fancy” chickens are more friendly too. We have had turkens and Light Brahmas (as well as many others) and they were incredibly friendly and inquisitive. One of our light brahmas will jump up on any available lap so if lots of eggs aren’t the goal, maybe a special breed or a mixture will do you well.

We made a 4x6 foot coop pad and run using two bags of gravel and 24 1’x1’ concrete squares from Home Depot for $20 total. I built the coop myself ($50? + $60 for the tin roof)as we wanted something bigger than was cheaply available) and have heard and seen that some of the coop kits don’t really save much time and effort. The most important aspect is going to be burying the chicken wire 1’ around the coop to prevent burrowing animals. (We had a rat problem early on- got a electric zapper trap- killed two- and haven’t seen any trace in two years.)

If you are in any way close to Seattle, I’d recommend swinging by either:

Bothell Feed Center as they have some take home pre-built coops or more awesomely Portage Bay Grange right near the UW. They have 20+ chicken breeds on display and you can see what you’d be interested in and there are some serious chicken lovers always milling about that will talk your ear off with advice.

Even if all of our “ladies” hadn’t laid an egg it would have been worth it to watch how quickly they grow out of their eggs and become these huge chickens! We let ours wander the backyard during the day and they put themselves in the coop- which we then lock at dusk or a bit later every night. They are quite trainable as well- they come to specific locations depending on specific words and giving them treats to give them when they get there.

Get chickens!

Answering a few of your other questions:

Your chickens will wreck your lawn very quickly unless you have a large amount of lawn and rotate their access to it very watchfully. Chickens scratch for their food, and boy can they scratch. You can use a “chicken tractor” (essentially a big bottomless cage) to move them around on your lawn but they would enjoy turning your compost pile much more. Consider setting that up in advance.

Chicks purchased in spring may start laying in fall but will really set to work the following spring. They will lay optimally the first year, may or may not quit for the winter, and will lay well the following year. After that production will drop off, and even hens of laying breeds are going to be sub par by age four or five. But you’ll still get eggs.

Because Seattle is so far north I would consider extending daylength with a light on a timer in the hen house during winter. I’ve never done it but I’m way south of you. You’ll get eggs through the winter, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch – because your hens won’t get a winter rest, they’ll burn out sooner. Commercial layers never see darkness, ever – and they are husks in a year. They lay themselves to death and are ground up.

I’m always amazed at how much people will pay for a pre-made coop. Ours is really fancy, for a henhouse, and it was just the labor, concrete, a roll of aviary netting, and some framing lumber; the rest was just junk lying around (but we have a lot of junk lying around). Probably $25 or so.

If you are able to kill, pluck, eviscerate, and stew up the old hens your kids have named and tamed that you’ve kept for several years, I will be surprised. I never can. I give mine away on Freecycle to pet homes. The only chickens I’m able to kill are broilers I raise for that purpose – two months of feeding, Chicken Processing Day and into the freezer.

Since you’re in the PNW, I would NOT use chicken wire as the enclosure. Raccoons or coyotes can tear right through it and then your eggs and chickens are toast. Use hog wire (or something similar), which is much thicker and tougher.

You’ve gotten good advice so far. We always have six or seven hens. Our feed store will have chicks available early in the spring, so we set up a rabbit type cage in our sun-room and start them indoors. By hand feeding occasional treats (meal-worms, insects, etc) you end up with extraordinary tame birds.

We never leave a restaurant without a doggie bag. Meat scraps for the dogs and the chickens get everything else!

If your coop isn’t raccoon-proof, expect your chickens to be dead within a week. Everyone I know who got a few chickens and didn’t have a fortress for them to spend the night ended up with zero chickens.

Chickens will eat meat scraps too, the more protein they get the more eggs they will lay. Chickens can eat anything a human can, the only food scraps we don’t give our chickens are dairy products (chickens aren’t mammals) and chicken (that is called cannibalism, my dear children, and is in fact frowned upon in most societies).

Do you put wood shavings over the coop’s concrete slab? Then have nests up off the ground? We put shavings in the nest too. The nests were just divided wooden boxes with a railing for the chickens to perch on.

My family owned a commercial operation for awhile. 2 large houses with 10,000 chickens. Ours produced hatching eggs and had to be on the ground so the roosters could mount the hens. We switched out the shavings every time we got new chickens.

Always wondered if backyard chicken coops were similar.

Yes, but the dogs would be seriously pissed off!

I bed the concrete with straw or shavings or dry leaves or whatever I have on hand. That way I can shovel it out and presto, nearly instant compost. The nest boxes are about 2’ off the ground (I have the kind you can access from outside the house). The house is mostly roosts, with a place for feed and for water. I don’t like hens roosting on nest box ledges, too messy.

I recall some of our hens would get old enough to start sitting or broody. They stay in the nest, stop laying, and make that soft, purring, clucking sound. They were trying to hatch eggs we had already gathered and sent to the hatchery.

Normally the hatchery picked up our hens before too many stopped laying. We got a new batch of 6 to 10 week olds and started over.

I’d build a coop and get a dozen chickens if I lived outside the city. I miss those fresh eggs. We ate and gave away all the large double yolkers because the hatchery didn’t want them. Once in awhile we even found a triple yolk after cracking the egg. :smiley: that was very cool.

I’ve had 4 chickens for about a year now. 2 red “sex links”, one smaller spotted chicken, and one fancy brown, tan, and black colored chicken.

I built my own chicken coop. IIRC it’s about 5x8’ with a flat slanted roof. The front wall is taller than the back wall, and I left a ~5x1.5’ opening at the top of the front wall for ventilation. I covered it with chicken wire to keep animals out, but I have a piece of plywood I cover it with in winter time to keep it warmer inside. There are tons of coop designs online, and I looked at some local ones close-up too to get ideas. Building a coop is pretty fun, and as long as it’s reasonably sturdy and keeps the rain out it doesn’t have to be beautiful.

Inside the coop is a 3-nest nesting box (accessible to the outside through an access door on the left side of the coop), 2 roost poles about 4 feet off the ground, a ramp between the poles, food dispenser hanging from the ceiling, and a metal water fount sitting on some bricks with a birdbath heater underneath to keep it from freezing in the winter. They poop anywhere and everywhere, in the nesting box, in their food, in their water. That’s why it’s important to keep the food and water off the ground. I keep a ~4" layer of straw on the floor of the coop and in the nesting boxes.

I normally get 4 eggs a day in the summer and I get from 1 to 3 eggs a day over the winter too.

They have the run of my fenced-in back yard, and I leave the top-hinged side coop door open about 5" so they can get in and out. They always go to into the coop before sundown. I haven’t seen any rats or raccoons messing around, but there was a hawk/falcon on the coop roof one morning. After that I put netting up over and around the coop, haven’t seen any birds of prey messing around since. They don’t mess with the yard (other than leaving poop all over), but they like to dig in the flower beds. In a way it’s nice because they get rid of the weeds, but smaller delicate plants probably won’t fare too well. They also like to dig at the house foundation, so I need to bury wire or something along there to discourage them.

My chickens are curious but very stupid. They follow me around the yard like puppies. I occasionally hear some clucking from them but overall the occasional sounds they make are very quiet.

I worried about them being outside on 20 degree nights. From everything I read chickens do fine in cold weather, you just want to give them shelter that dry and out of the wind. As long as they have food, water, and a roost pole big enough so they can sit on their feet they will be fine. They have multiple layers of feather with downy feathers underneath, it’s like they’re wearing a warm coat. They go outside every day whether its cold, rainy, snowy, or all 3.

As far as day-to-day care, I just go get the eggs in the morning and sometimes in the evening. In the mornings I throw them a cupfull of “scratch”, which looks like crushed dried corn. I vary the location I throw it at, make them hunt and scratch around for it. They love it. On Saturdays I clean out the coop, use a pitchfork to remove poopy straw and put fresh down, and give them new water and more food. That’s about it.

Thanks for the initial feedback, especially PNW specific. And this is one place where the interwebs have too much information, so the wisdom of the Dope is much appreciated.

Anyone built a PVC coop or run? How did that work out for you?

Interesting you mention PVC - I’m looking to build one this weekend … mine is just an extension for my existing metal chicken tractor (yes, once you have chickens, you will start renovating and extending!).

The chicken tractor works well - but unless you have a huge lawn they will scratch through to dirt. I’ve got lots of lawn so have no issues as I just move it - I also don’t keep mine in the tractor full time (a bit too much like caged birds vs free range for me) … so mine are out during the day (but in winter need to be locked up whilst I’m at work as I don’t get home until after dark - hence the extension!).

Unless you have killed and eaten your own chickens/pets before I wouldn’t count on doing it - they are seriously sweet animals and can live for years (I have one who is now 5 years old and still lays regularly). Mine come when called, let me pick them up … they’re pets not food to me!

Keep in mind they can live for years - so start with two … once they get a bit older (say a year), add another 2 in (the introduction does need to be managed) … this means you get eggs for years without having to kill off the older ones when they slow down laying.

As much as 5 chickens sounds great … really consider … 5 eggs x approx 6 days a week = lots of eggs!!!

A chicken coop should have two doors. Because if it had four doors, it would be a chicken sedan.

(All the actual practical advice I was going to give has already been given, especially about predators - my sister lost a couple of chickens recently when the neighbor’s terrier got loose - but I love that joke.)

When our hens are laying, we eat a ton of eggs. When they are not laying, sore eggs are so blah that we cut way back. We also share eggs. When the hens are at their peak, our friends/neighbors get their share.

The current batch are five or six years old, still going strong. Since they are named, we will not be eating them.