Wild chickens will run around as as they wish and roost up in trees, under bushes, or just sitting on the ground. While you could just throw your domesticated chickens in your back yard and let them figure it out for themselves, it’s doubtful your neighbors, the city, or your conscience would be happy (although predators would be). Fortunately, meeting your chickens’ habitat and shelter needs isn’t that difficult.
Behold the Chicken Coop!
A chicken coop provides your flock with a safe place to live that protects them from the elements and predators. It also provides them with a place to lay eggs and roost at night, while helping you keep track of their location. Chicken coops come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs. Check out our chicken coop pages to learn more about coop designs and choosing the right coop.
Chickens have a strong homing instinct which drives them to return to the same place and roost as soon as the sun starts going down. Because of that homing instinct, once your chickens have spent a few nights to a week in their coop they will always return to it at dusk. If you move their coop you may have to help them out by putting them in the new coop each night until they start to go in by themselves.
It’s important to understand and provide the correct coop features that compliment the natural behavior of chickens. The following provides an overview of these behaviors and the features needed in your coop design.
Four Walls and a Roof
Your chickens need the basics- 4 walls and a roof. They need a doorway to get in and out, and the coop should be relatively draft free otherwise. The materials and design choices for your coop are endless. More of the coop features are discusses below.
Chickens love to scratch in the dirt, dig through weeds, dig up bugs, take dirt baths, relax in the sun or shade, and just run about. It’s important for your chickens to have access to outside. Be sure to provide them with an outside fenced area or fully enclosed run that is attached to their coop.
Your chickens are birds and hence love to roost. This means they like having something to perch on that is up off the ground. Most coop designs incorporate a roosting bar or something similar to fulfill this need. Providing roosts both inside and outside allows them to have more choices depending on the weather.
A Lay Box
Laying hens require a lay box, and it can be as simple or as extravagant as you like. A simple wooden box built inside the coop and lined with some straw is perfectly fine. (While we were getting our coop set up we used an old cat carrier and the chickens loved it.) The box just needs to fit the bird comfortably on three sides, provide a roof, and have a low enough lip so that the bird can step over. Don’t forget the straw bedding!