Like any hobby or occupation, chicken raising has its own vocabulary. And there is some confusion about what things are called in chicken world. So, let me give you some definitions.
- Run: A fully-protected area where chickens scratch, peck, and dust bathe.
- Coop: A space with walls and a roof where chickens sleep.
- Nest box: A small, dark space with nesting material where chickens lay eggs.
- Yard: A fenced area where chickens scratch, peck, and dust bathe.
You need to know these terms because they each have particular elements that match specific chicken behaviors (as well as their predators) and getting them right will make you and your chickens happier.
I’ll explain what each one must have and then you can customize to your own space and flock size.
A fully-protected area where chickens scratch, peck, and dust bathe.
Most mistake a run for a coop but they are not the same thing. The coop is the little box your chickens sleep in (see below). The run is a fenced space around your coop where chickens do their daily activities.
When I say fenced, I mean all the way around as well as on top. Your run should be completely protected against predators. There are many safety techniques I’ve learned over the years that I will share in other posts, but the main thing is that your coop should be inside your run and your run should be like a fortress.
I have found that chain link is the best material for a run. I’ve tried everything else and it eventually failed. Here’s what my run looks like:
*Note: If there is grass or any other ground cover in your run when you build it, there won’t be for long. The chickens will tear it up in short order. That’s okay though, because they need dirt to dust bathe in. Otherwise, you have to provide vessels filled with sand for them to bathe and that’s a hassle. Just dedicate your run space and let your flock have it.
It is important that your coop be inside your run. That way, your birds can do everything they need—Scratch, Eat, Poop, Lay, Sleep, Repeat—in an enclosed, safe space.
If you only have a small area to keep chickens, you can get away with keeping your chickens inside the run at all times as long as you don’t get too many for your space.
A space with walls and a roof where chickens sleep.
Chickens are birds, obviously. Most birds like to sleep in trees, for protection. Chickens have the same instinct. They want to sleep in a protected area off the ground. They also want to sleep close together.
Chickens are descended from ground-walking jungle fowl and can’t really fly. So, they want to sleep on a tree branch, but not very high in the tree.
You have to create these conditions in your coop. All you really need are some simple walls, a roof to keep the rain off, and several “perches,” or horizontal poles (to simulate branches), for them to grab on to.
For perches, you can use 2 x 4s cut in half, old shovel handles, or any stick of wood that is about two inches in diameter.
*Note: Chickens will sleep on the highest thing they can find. Therefore, your perches should be the highest element inside your coop under the roof. If they are not, your birds will jump onto the roof to sleep and leave themselves unprotected.
There is no need to make your coop too big. I did this with my first one. I built it with four or five nice, wide perches. I went out that first night to see how my chickens were acclimating to their new digs. I was shocked – every one of my six birds were huddled shoulder to shoulder on about half of one perch.
Most birds make nests in trees or high in bushes. Chickens do not. If chickens like to sleep high up, they like to lay eggs down low. This is also because they are descended from jungle fowl. To keep their eggs protected on the ground, those birds would make nests deep under bushes or piles of fallen branches.
Your chickens have the same instinct, so you must simulate those conditions. They want a tight, dark corner to lay in so they feel their eggs will be protected. And it should be close to the ground with soft nesting material in it to simulate leaf litter from the forest floor.
I attach my nest box to the outside of my coop, for easy access. See?
And on the inside:
See how tight and dark?
If you don’t give your birds a nest box fitting this description, they will lay their eggs elsewhere and you will get to do an Easter egg hunt every day.
Nesting materials can include hay, pine straw, leaves, dry grass clippings, or any other soft, dry, plant material. My preference is shredded paper from the office.
A fenced area where chickens scratch, peck, and dust bathe.
As mentioned, you can raise chickens forever with a coop inside a safe run. A chicken yard is for those with more space. You can have a run with no yard, but you cannot have a yard with no run.
Your chicken yard can be as big as you want. In fact, your chickens will roam as much space as you give them. The main concern is that it must be fenced all the way around. No exceptions. This has to do with predators.
Your chickens will spend their daytime hours in your yard and most of the critters that threaten chickens during the day (dogs mostly, but I’ve had coyotes snatch my birds in broad daylight) can be stopped with a strong fence. The one exception is hawks and other predatory birds. Trees can help with them, since they have a harder time getting a straight shot to your birds.
A Poultry Shangri La
These are the basics, but you really don’t need much more. Chickens are pretty simple and easily contented if you give them this fundamental infrastructure.
Have fun, and comment with questions or ideas. If you want to direct message me, pop over to my Facebook page.
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Thanks for reading!