Setting up for my new chickens

Which coop should I buy? There are so many!!!!

The chicken coop that you choose for your girls is by far the most complicated decision you will have to make when keeping backyard chickens, and is undoubtedly the most costly. The range can be overwhelming, and prices a little scary… not to mention the big differences you will see in quality (and feel if you can actually touch the product you are looking at). Choosing the right coop for your flock can be a lot more confusing and tricky than you would initially think, due to the huge variety of materials, sizes and price range when you start looking. The fact you are reading this is a great start as it means this isn’t just an impulse purchase and you are taking the health needs of your chickens seriously.

When it comes to chicken coops you may find that price will reflect quality. There are a lot of imported chicken coops are a great entrance point for short-term chicken housing but can be a false economy in the long term. Our first coop was a cheap imported model which looked magnificent for 6 months and needed to be replaced after 18 months when it fell apart… hardly value for money.

Your coop should ideally have the following features:

  • Provide adequate shelter from all of Melbourne’s weather conditions.
  • Be fox/predator proof (Yes, Melbourne does have a lot of foxes. For more information, click here.)
  • Be easy to clean out.
  • Have an accessible nesting box for egg collection.
  • Be attractive and add to the garden environment, instead of an eyesore.
  • Be long lasting (years, not months).

We recommend you take the following points into consideration when choosing what is right for you and your feathered family members –

  • How many chickens are you housing? Honestly, if you ask any chicken keeper they will tell you that chickens are addictive cause of how awesome they are. So at a minimum, double the amount of chickens you are starting with. Don’t panic, hear me out. If you aim to start with three chickens, plan for six. If you don’t expand the flock in the future, your three girls will be very happy with the space you have given them. If you plan for six, then you have that covered too. I always say to newbie chicken keepers it’s like buying a caravan for the family, you can make do with smaller but honestly a bit more space makes everyone happier…
  • Materials? How is your budget looking? Are you happy to buy something that is on the cheaper side and after it dies (which it will) make an investment into a better coop? Or do you want to bite the bullet for a good quality coop that is an asset to your garden, allows for the functionality of easy cleaning, feeding, and egg collecting for years to come?
    Cheap ‘firwood’ coops are everywhere on Ebay and Gumtree, look pretty and are affordable. They are misleading in how many chickens they are advertised to house, but you can read more about that below…
    We looked into importing them when they first hit the market and contacted a carpenter friend to help assemble it. After he stopped laughing (seriously) he told us they were made of a thicker balsa wood. Their colour treatment was purely cosmetic and would do nothing to protect against the extreme Melbourne weather. The wire was very flimsy and would not stand up to the hungry attention of a fox or domestic dog (think about it, they have a good six-eight, even more, hours to get around anything we humans set up).
    Then after we assembled it, he picked up the ‘heavy’ end with one hand. You shouldn’t be able to do this 🙁
    We didn’t advertise the coop but kept it for broody chickens to raise their chickens in and so we could illustrate the negatives of this type of cheap import to customers who came to our shop front asking about them.
    Within two years, the green roof had faded, absorbed water and rotten and the coop had warped. You couldn’t pull out the ‘poo drawer’ for cleaning and had to jam the main door closed or wrench it open. The kids had thrown a ball at the wire and it had dislodge, leaving a nice ball shaped imprint/buckle in the wire. The frame that was in contact with the ground was completely rotten. And it looked like crap.
    I have since read that some people have gotten more longevity from their Chinese import coop by painting/staining their coop and reinforcing the wire with a thicker guage, and putting the coop on a brick or paver base. Honestly, we paid $450 wholesale for our one (remember this was years ago) and spending more money on it would have ticked me off royally.
    Garden sheds are actually a viable option for many reasons. Solid floors are easy to do with a bit of planning. They are spacious for rainy days when you need to lock the girls in or are going away for a few days. You can stand up to clean them out, believe me the novelty of stooping wears off really quickly… and you can easily set it up for a low maintenance setup (see below). The only thing that will need to be tweaked is a window across the top of two walls to allow for cross ventilation. Those things get hot in summer and they need the heat to escape
    If you want your girls to have free range access at their leisure you can easily install a ChickenGuard Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener so you don’t have to let them in and out.
    And if you don’t keep chickens after a while, you can use the shed for your own means.
    Similar reasons are supported for getting a metal chicken coop, but these will also be smaller. You will also need to take into consideration orientation so your chooks don’t get drowned in the rain or cooked by the afternoon sun…
    For a small, compact unit that is attractive and functional, you can’t go past the Brinsea Carefree Coops that we sell. We only sell these two and that is because we stand by these cute little houses and they have great functionality for egg collection and cleaning that other designs don’t have…
  • Other than these specific suggestions, Suburban Chooks are not able to provide advice or feedback on other designs or sellers. But given the information provided, it should be easy for you to make an informed decision from here 🙂
How much space do I need for my chickens?

The minimum area recommended is 1.5 square feet or .13 square metres per bird (0.1 square metres for bantams) in their coop and 8 square feet or .75 square metres per bird (around 0.5 square metres for bantams) in their yard/run.

Allow between 6″ – 10″ (or 150mm to 250mm) of perch space per bird for them to be comfortable and one nesting box for 4 – 5 laying hens is fine.

Suburban Chooks recommends that you free range your chickens whenever possible to provide a varied diet, exercise, alleviate boredom (and any associated behavioural problems), ‘yellower’ (is there such a word?) egg yolks… and have a generally happier chook.

Do I need a ‘perch’ for my chickens in their coop?

A majority of chicken owners (and chickens) would say yes as it is preferred. Chickens have a natural instinct to roost, and in the past (or not so past dependant on your chosen breed of chicken) they would do so in trees. Allow between 6″ – 10″ (or 150mm to 250mm) per bird for them to be comfortable. When building or buying a coop, a perch should be at least 2 inches wide, preferably with rounded corners (not a broom handle or thin tree branch). 

Chickens sit on their perch with their breast bone resting on the perch also (unlike other birds), so wider is better than thinner. A too thin perch can cause breastbone deformities and is painful for the chicken. Chickens also produce approx. 40% of their poo whilst they are sleeping, so it’s best that they are on a perch so they aren’t sleeping in their own mess. Once they get in the habit of laying in their nesting box this also means they will poo on the eggs. Yerk.

What should we use/put on the floor of the coop/run? I’m worried about it getting wet in the rain…

We use straw or rice hulls in the nest and inside the coop (easy to clean out) but prefer to use chucky/large mulch in the runs where it mainly gets wet. We think mulch is fantastic because (when you have a nice thick layer) you can walk on it without having it turn into a poo-ey bog (the rain drains through the mulch, which also washes away the chicken poo). This just needs an annual clean out and replacement…

Also, chickens are natural foragers, and are happy kicking around anything to get to the goodies underneath…

I want chickens but still want to go away for the weekend or go on holidays. How do other people with chickens do it?

A good setup is priceless, as it will mean that you have time to enjoy your girls as well as other aspects of your life including the odd weekend away/holiday.

A treadle feeder will mean less food lost to birds and rats and more time in between refills and a gravity fed waterer (automatic or one you refill) both hung at the back height of the chooks means you won’t have to be constantly cleaning their food and water containers. As long as your coop/run area has adequate shelter from the ever changing Melbourne weather, is foxproof, has ample food and water and your girls aren’t overcrowded there is no reason why you can’t leave them to enjoy your own change of scenery. Free ranging when you aren’t home (or even if you are) is very easily accomodated by installing a ChickenGuard Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener which can be set on timer or light (or a combination of both).

If you are especially worried, you will quickly realise (and be happy to show others) how easy it is to check on and maintain your chickens whilst you go away for a while. You can always sweeten the deal by offering the eggs to the person who collects them while you are away…