Urban Chicken Movement
It's true - something called an "urban chicken movement" is taking place in cities including Indianapolis, St. Louis, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Madison, Wis. Folks are petitioning their city councils and zoning boards to allow them to keep chickens (and sometimes roosters) on their properties - in the city.
Why would you want to raise chickens in the city? Fresh eggs are better, and chickens at home are part of the "back to earth" movement that is becoming quite popular in recent years.
If you've become interested in raising chickens in your backyard, you'll need to build a coop for them to live in. Building a chicken coop can be easy and cheap, but there are a few guidelines that you should follow. I've researched a few basic facts you should know to build your own chicken coops.
Common sense will go a long way - especially true when you're designing your own chicken coop.
Make it easy to clean. Like any outdoor animals, chickens produce wastes that will need to be removed and surfaces cleaned and disinfected. Make sure you have easy and unobstructed access to the interior. Build floors that are easy to hose out. One trick experienced builders use is to slope the floor towards a door or access hatch. That way, when hosed out, all debris and water flows naturally out - no extra labor required!
Build with materials that can withstand harsh environments, water, extreme temperatures and repeated cleanings. Steel, concrete, aluminum and heavy-duty plastics will probably hold up much better that plain plywood, chip board and drywall. Inexpensive vinyl windows are great for chicken coops - they're easily cleaned, and come in a variety of sizes. Corrugated steel roofs are cheap, almost indestructible and install very quickly.
Always plan ahead when building your chicken coop. Make sure your design is easy to read and to calculate materials from. You should be building from a sketch or set of plans at the very minimum.
Space requirements are important - how many chickens will you be providing for, and how much room do you have to keep the birds in?How many chickens are you allowed to keep on your property? You may want to get this information before the construction begins.
If you're building in the city, you must be considerate of your neighbors. While it may be tempting to build as cheaply as possible, the aesthetics of your coop may be a real standout - in the wrong way. The last thing you want to happen is to aggravate your neighbors with a "hick barnyard" scenario in your backyard. Plus, the nicer and neater your chicken coop is, the more apt you'll be to take care of it - and your chickens.
Protect From The Weather
No matter which part of the country you live in - you're probably going to get some weather extremes. From excessive heat in the desert Southwest, to frigid and snowy winters in the Northeast, your coop must protect your chickens from all of the likely weather that can happen in your part of the country.
Your building should have proper doors and windows - doors and windows that open and close, and seal as well. For good ventilation, you should have screens that will withstand the animals and weather conditions. If you live where the winters are cold, you may want to face the front of the coop towards the South - for the sun's warmth during the winter will be a welcome relief to your chickens.
Insulation in the walls and ceiling can be crucial in hot and cold climates. Insulation will keep the interior temperature moderate and avoid the extremes that can damage and kill your birds.
Ventilation is also a real need and should be a part of your building plans. Ammonia and dampness from chicken waste can accumulate to harmful levels if not properly ventilated. And, the ventilation that you provide should be draft - free, that is, you don't want excessive air movement that could chill the chickens during a cold night. But, you do need to effectively ventilate your coop.
Plan to build on well-drained soil. Puddles and permanent wet spots combined with wastes from the birds can contribute to a very un-healthy environment.
Even if you live in the city, you'll need to make your chicken area predator-proof. Dogs, cats, raccoons and other carnivorous animals will see your chickens and their eggs as tasty treats - and will attack them if allowed. That's why good doors and windows that seal are a definite must to protect your chickens.
Give them Light
As mentioned above, locate the coop with windows pointed towards the South, so that radiant energy from the sun can be absorbed and used to help heat the building. Even in cold climates, the chickens will generate their own heat, but the building must be well-sealed and free from drafts when windows and doors are closed and latched.
For maximum egg production, electric light bulbs are a must. As the days shorten during fall and winter, egg production tends to drop off as well. An electric light bulb or two can keep your chickens "inspired" to keep producing eggs at a summertime level.
Food And Water
Commercially manufactured feeding bowls and watering troughs can do a great job of keeping your chickens healthy - assuming that you place them properly in the coop. Chickens really are a mess when it comes to eating - many people throw feed on the floor (in a small area) of the yard in addition to the feeders. Why on the ground? Chickens have an instinct to "scratch" for food - and if you don't allow for this instinct to happen, you may have big problems with proper feedings. Most commercial food manufacturers will give you an ideal dimension at which to place their feed bowl, but a good rule of thumb is to mount the food bowl at a height roughly equal to that of a chicken's back. That way, they can't scratch and spill food everywhere.
Same goes for the height of the watering bowls - chickens, like most animals, need a good source of clean drinking water. If you just have one or two birds, then a plain water bowl might make the most sense. For more birds, you may want to consider some type of semi-automatic watering system, where you fill a bladder or tank, and the water levels in the bowls are automatically maintained throughout the day.
Really, building a chicken coop isn't difficult at all. You just need to keep in mind these main points, and you'll have a successful venture on your hands in no time.
Cost? While many factors can affect what you'll pay in materials for your chicken coop, I've built then for $20 way up to $400 for real fancy buildings with lots of extras. Some of the best coops I've build started out as other peoples old ones - then I rebuilt and adapted to save money and make a better building.
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