Choosing a Coop - which is best?

Author: Aussie Chook Supplies  

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.

How much space do I need for my chickens?

The minimum area recommended is approx. 35cm square or 1.5 square feet and less for bantams in their coop. In their run allow 1m square space around 0.5 square metres for bantams. 

Please keep in mind that these statistics are MINIMUM requirements. When I talk to people about space allowances with chickens, I often compare it to us living with other people in a caravan - doable but you'll be happier with more room to stretch your wings (so to speak) and not living on top of each other. The more space you give your chickens the happier they will be as you don’t want to give them the outside version of a cage farm - it defeats one of the main reasons people keep their own chickens (improving hen welfare and living conditions). We also recommend 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 give them a happier life. 

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

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 and budget? Where do you compromise?

How healthy is your budget for a coop? Are you happy to buy something that is on the cheaper side from the multitude of sellers from Ebay/Gumtree 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 (building or buying) 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 around 13 years ago and contacted a carpenter friend to help assemble one when we were approached to sell them. 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 (and certainly didn’t sell them) 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 rotted in places; the remainder of 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, a feature not to be underestimated because, 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…

Other than these specific suggestions, Aussie Chook Supplies 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. Hope that helps you out in your coop decision making!