Chicken Coop 101

Waking up to fresh eggs every morning may sound like a dream but you’d be surprised just how simple it is to make a reality. We’ve got all the basics to help get you on your way to owning an urban coop.

Chickens and their eggs

  • Find out if chickens are legal in your city. Most cities have easily navigable websites with chicken laws and ordinances.
  • Decide how many full-grown, egg-producing hens you want to have.
  • Buy your chicks (incubating eggs and hatching your own is not recommended) – do some research on breeds and the characteristics that go along with each one before you buy. Feed stores carry certain breeds seasonally, and many desirable breeds sell out quickly, so call around town to see what feed store has the options you are looking for.
  • Care for your chicks carefully indoors those first few weeks, and when they are about 5 weeks old, they can go out in the coop! Patience is a virtue here – hens begin laying around 20 weeks of age.  Some a little earlier, some a little later, but those fresh eggs are well worth the wait!
  • Chickens lay one egg approximately every 27 hours. Egg color and size varies by breed, ranging from whites to pinks to dark browns and, of course, the highly-prized gorgeous aqua.

The coop

  • Choose a pre-made chicken coop or build your own based on the number of chickens you aim to raise. This is also a good time to scope out your yard for an appropriate area to keep your hens – it can be fun to make the coop an integral part of your yard – working it into the landscape adds a unique touch to each urban farm’s coop.
  • Most feed stores sell pre-fabricated chicken coops for a small flock of hens (2 to 5 chickens) for around $300.  These run from simple and basic to elaborate and fancy – the choice is yours! Keep in mind that the amount of space required for a small pre-fab coop is usually about 20 square feet, and the general rule of thumb is that you need 4 feet of coop per hen in the flock.
  • Want to build your own? Coops have 4 critical components: 1. Hen house – the enclosed “safe” area where the hens are out of harm’s way, they also sleep here at night. 2. Enclosed run – essentially a “pen” where the hens can scratch and play, and get caught up on some fresh air and sunshine. 3. Nesting boxes – where your hens will lay their eggs, generally one nesting box per 3 to 4 hens. 4. Roosts – a few “branches” built into the coop so that the chickens can feel like they are out in the wild, resting on tree branches – lends a natural and humane touch to their lives on the farm.
  • “Cage Free” seems like a good idea, but consider your landscaping set-up. Chicken droppings are large and frequent, and they will eat anything that looks delicious – including your bushes, flowers and garden!It also makes your hens prime targets for any predators in your environment. Make them “semi” cage free by letting them play freely for a few supervised hours each week.  A few hours a week running around the backyard is good exercise for the hens and is also a real treat for their diet, giving them a chance to spread their wings and forage for insects in the ground.
  • Line the nesting boxes with straw or wood chips, depending on your preference, and depending on the climate, heat lamps in the coop might be necessary during the winter months.

Basic care and maintenance

  • Chickens like their chicken feed, and the occasional serving of mealworms is a real treat. The hens will also enjoy your kitchen scraps, but keep it limited to fruit and veggie trimmings, and avoid citrus and avocado.
  • Fresh water! Make sure those ladies get fresh water daily – they will thank you with fresh and healthy eggs every day.
  • The coop and run need to be cleaned regularly to avoid unpleasant smells and insects, and to keep the chickens in a clean and healthy environment. Coop residue (droppings and straw or wood chips) makes a great addition to the compost bin.

Photography by Heather Kinkel.

Alejandra likes ice cream, dancing and pretty things. You can usually find her exploring downtown Phoenix, where she lives, or singing to herself while writing in a coffee shop.

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