What came first: The chicken or the coop?

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Updated Aug 28, 2019
Photo: SoniaT 360./FlickrPhoto: SoniaT 360./Flickr

With all-natural and organic practices on the rise in the field of landscaping and design, one urban homesteading trend that’s recently gained more popularity is backyard chickens.

With more and more customers jumping on the edible gardens train, another aspect of their yard to table landscape that may soon follow is the installation of chicken coops to keep these chicks safe and sound.

Having chickens can be a twofold experience for many customers, but if they are willing to put in the time and effort, it can ultimately prove to be a beneficial experience. If your customers aren’t looking for a hands-on and time-consuming experience, however, chickens may not be for them.

If your customer has definitively decided to have chickens, the next step is to create a coop that can keep these peeps safe and comfortable, while also adding a nice design element to the yard.

Benefits of chickens

Along with supplying your customer with a steady stream of eggs, chickens can also provide numerous natural benefits to the yard. First and foremost, chicken manure can act as a fantastic fertilizer source in both the lawn and garden.

If your customers do plan to use the manure for fertilizer, ask them to consider creating a compost area. Compost and composted manure can improve soil structure, aid the necessary microbial activity in the soil and also release its nutrients slowly throughout the growing season. Typical compost piles consist of anything from kitchen scraps like eggshells and coffee grounds, cardboard, leaves, grass trimmings and manure.

The process of composting can help reduce the amount of nitrogen levels found in raw manure, and it’s important to advise customers to keep their compost area enclosed. Chickens will be tempted to forage for scraps in a compost area, and eating too many of said scraps can dilute their diet’s nutrition.

Another benefit of having chickens around the yard is the soil aeration they provide. Chickens will scratch and dig at the soil in search of snacks, and during this process, compost and mulch are spread, the ground is loosened and soil layers are mixed. This also means that if your customers have new or budding plants in the area, it would be wise to section them off from the chickens so the plants are not uprooted or trampled.

As noted previously, chickens enjoy foraging for tasty ground treats, and this can help your customers keep creepy crawlies and weeds at bay.

Chickens also enjoy a wide variety of plants, so adding some to their area can help spruce up the joint while also benefitting the animals. The options are limitless, so talk to your customers about adding in a few layers of shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses, perennials, vines, edible plants, groundcovers or annuals to give these birds their own little paradise. 

Coop design basics and upkeep

Now that your customers know exactly what they are getting themselves into, the time has come to design the chicken coop.

Photo: furtwangl/FlickrPhoto: furtwangl/Flickr

Coops should provide a henhouse for egg laying, a fenced-in run for pecking and roaming and perches for roosting and sleeping. Coops can be made as intricately or as standard as your customers want, so don’t be afraid to take a few design liberties.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, chicken coops need to meet the following basic needs of the chicken:

Appropriate floor space. Experts say coops should provide at least 2 to 3 square feet of space per chicken inside the henhouse, and 4 square feet per chicken in the adjacent run.

Proper ventilation and good quality litter. Wood shavings are a great source of litter, and straw should be checked for mold or contamination before using. Hay is not recommended because of potentially harmful mold spores and dust.

Nest boxes. Nest boxes should be in the lowest, darkest part of the henhouse.

Perches and roosting bars.  Roosting bars and perches are where chickens will sleep and should be adequately high and spaced apart.

When deciding on location, coops should be placed where they can receive an ample amount of both sun and shade. The more sun exposure chickens get, the more egg laying is promoted. The coop should also be elevated 1 to 3 feet off the ground to provide protection against predators, ventilation and additional pecking and roaming space.

For more chicken coop design ideas, click here.

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