Returning to Our Roots // Chicken Coop Inspiration
Ever since we've come home from Country Living Fair, I've been slightly obsessed with planning for our chickens this upcoming spring. While we were there, we were lucky to meet Melissa Caughey of Tilly's Nest, who has the most helpful book published called A Kid's Guide to Keeping Chickens. Tad is still too little to read it, but it has been so wonderful for someone like me! The internet can be such a dangerous place to navigate if you want truthful and helpful information on a particular topic. I tend to not trust too many dot-com websites when it comes to learning new things, nor do I like to peruse through question and answer threads - too many opinions and not enough facts! Melissa's book is a really great purchase if you want to learn how to raise chickens, aren't sure where to start, and you don't want a bunch of chicken-jargon forced down your throat - just enough chicken-jargon to get you started. Because, let's be honest, we are definitely beginner chicken keepers over here! Along with learning the beginning steps, we also had no idea where to start when it came to picking which type of chickens we wanted. I'll save our breed choices for another post, but just to be clear for now, we want to keep chickens as pets. The eggs are simply a bonus!
If you missed our last post on plotting our kitchen garden, you can read it here. Last week, I talked about how we plan to make our garden look and what we plan to use it for. Along with the garden, we're hoping to construct a greenhouse and a small chicken coop. We believe our city ordinances state that you can only have three chickens on your property, but we've seen people with four and even six. I'm not sure if we have the number wrong or if our city is just a bit more lenient than others. With that in mind, I would love six, but I think three or four is a great way to begin! Only having a small number of hens is the perfect starting point to begin designing and constructing our chicken coop. We don't want to spend a lot of money on the coop, and we also want it to last a long time, as well as being functional for both us and the ladies.
How do you begin designing a chicken coop? We've already determined our amount of chickens, so the next step is figuring out the size. Because we will only have four hens, that means we won't need a lot of space. Melissa says that you need about 10 square feet per chicken. That would mean our coop would be about 40 square feet... that's pretty tiny! Along with the space of the coop, which is where the chickens sleep, lay eggs, and keep their feeder and water, you also need space for a run, where the chickens stretch their legs and explore outdoors. Runs are enclosed and are there to help keep your chickens contained. I hope to free range our chickens to some extent, though I'm not sure how well that will go considering we live in town and not out in the country. I know that chickens can be trained to not wander from their yard, but our backyard is not enclosed and does easily connect with the yards around us. Have you seen chicken tunnels? Hilarious! They're a great way of keeping chickens out of specific parts of your garden, and, I suppose, keeping them in your yard!
Now that I've written that out, I guess we will be having a designated run. This is a place where the chickens can roam freely, stay safe, and be able to get outside even when we're out running errands. They also have easy access to head back indoors when it's time to eat, lay, or escape a predator. This space needs to be a bit larger than the coop! Some of my favorite runs are located underneath the coop, making the entire chicken home space more compact!
The next question is, what should the coop look like? Above all, it needs to be functional, which isn't too difficult considering chickens don't need anything too fancy. However, we will be making our coop to look absolutely darling just because I want it to be! If you are looking to spend the least amount of money, my favorite coops tend to be converted garden sheds or I've even seen one made out of a recycled wardrobe! You can get pretty creative in this department. The main focus you want to consider is what will be going inside the coop.
A standard chicken needs some specific pieces to their tiny home: nesting boxes (one per three chickens, though I think we'll definitely make more than one for our girls), feeder, waterer, and roosts. You'll also want a small door for the chickens to exit + enter, along with a human sized door so that you can get inside the coop to clean! If you live in a colder climate, it might be smart to insulate your coop, but you don't need to keep a space heater as chickens are cold blooded. We will be insulating our coop as we can get fairly cold winters in the Midwest.
Now that the function of the coop has been discussed, we can start dreaming of what the design will look like! There are so many adorable options; I tend to gravitate to the coops that look like little garden sheds, but I really love the compacted version where the run is either built underneath or around the coop. I have seen a lot of coops similar to ones that I like that have a succulent garden growing on the top of it - SO cute.
Along with the design of the coop, there's the design of the kitchen garden to put into consideration. It's totally okay for your chickens to eat from your garden, and they help to keep pests like beetles, slugs, grasshoppers, and larvae away. There are lots of creative treats you can make to feed your chickens, but they will be happy with several of the vegetables from your garden. This is where the chickens tunnels can come in handy so they can't eat plants you don't want them to!! I am hoping to create a tiny patch of garden make specifically for our girls, maybe located fairly close to their coop. I can just picture them exploring through our garden, Tad on their tails, and them all cuddling at the end of the day. It's a magical image that I can't seem to shake!! Spring cannot come sooner!