Chickens need physical and mental stimulation, so you need to furnish your chicken’s house. Even if you have a reinforced concrete floor, sound walls, and a roof to keep out the rain, that does not automatically qualify your structure as a chicken coop. An unfurnished ‘chicken coop is like a house without furnishings.
When it comes to providing your flock with desirable comfort, these few key pieces can make your chicken coop complete: roosts, nesting boxes, and ramps. Interestingly, building creature comforts is much easier than you can imagine, and it only takes basic woodwork skills and no specialized tools.
Providing enrichment to your chickens allows them to perform natural behaviors, reduces negative emotional states and harmful behaviors like aggressiveness, and keeps them engaged. This article will cover the two necessary fittings every coop needs: Roosts and nesting boxes.
Table of Contents
Starting with a Solid Floor
Chickens are happiest when they have plenty of space to roam and explore and a comfortable indoor space to take refuge from the elements. If you are a bird lover considering the chicken-rearing hobby, completing your coop before bringing in the birds is crucial.
Before furnishing, however, you want to ensure the coop floor is complete. It is essential because working around it will be more challenging after installing perches and nesting boxes.
For instance, when putting down a vinyl floor, be sure to use the recommended adhesive for longevity and performance. Once you are done, you can start building the comforts.
The Science Behind Chicken Roosts
Instinctively, chickens perch up off the ground to sleep as they feel safe up high, away from predators. For this reason, it is crucial to offer your birds sturdy and comfortable perching roosts.
For the uninitiated, roosts are bars where chickens sleep at night or hang out while relaxing in the coop. Adding simple roosts will allow your feathered friends to satisfy their instincts, sleep comfortably, and feel safe at night. You will need rounded perching roosts 2 inches wide for adult chickens. Chickens sleep flat-footed, so you want to build roosts wide enough for chickens’ comfort. You may also need smaller, low-lying roosting bars for chicks.
If you are building chicken comforts for the first time, here are details regarding roosting bars.
Location for Chicken Roosts
Inside the coop, roosts are mainly to provide your chicken with a comfortable sleeping perch Roosts need to be conveniently away from food and water sources to minimize the chances of the birds defecating into the bowls from above.
Unless you have a tiny chicken coop that leaves you with limited options, here are some factors to help you determine the right location for perching roosts.
1. Optimizing Roosting Space
Personal space on the roost is vital, and the capacity of your coop is the crucial determinant of the size of roosting bars you need. Typically, each chicken needs about 10-12 inches of roosting space, depending on the breed you are keeping. The larger the roosting space you provide, the better.
Notably, while you can have a roost as wide as your coop, breaking nests into smaller roost sections is common. Ensure the sections are 2 feet apart to allow your birds enough space to stretch and flap freely when resting. Best of all, you can install as many small roosts as your flock needs to provide each bird with 12 inches of roosting area.
2. Choosing the Right Height for Roosts
Because of their safety, chickens perch up off the ground for optimal protection from predators. You can go as high as possible but within reason. You don’t want to set the roost so close to the roof that the chickens can’t stretch and stand comfortably. If the coop’s interior allows, make the lowest roost at least two feet off the ground.
Tip: You might need a few low roosts if the coop houses chicks.
3. Keeping Your Coop Clean and Tidy
This is arguably the most important consideration when choosing a roost’s location. Chickens do most of their pooping while asleep, and you don’t want them to soil anything.
As far as your flock is concerned, the space directly beneath perching roosts is always the bathroom. For this reason, you don’t want to leave feeders and waterers under the roosts; otherwise, the birds will soil them. You don’t want to install roosts above nesting boxes unless the boxes have lids.
Note: If you are installing nesting boxes on the same side as the roosts, the roosts should be positioned higher than the nesting boxes. Otherwise, your birds may be tempted to sleep in the nesting boxes, leading to poop-covered eggs.
If you plan to break the roosting bars into smaller sections to save on space, make sure not to stack any roosts directly over another. Instead, spread the roosting sections in a stepladder orientation, making it easy for the chicken to climb, giving each bird a clear shot from above to the floor below.
There are a few ways to make cleanup manageable, especially under the roost, where much manure will accumulate every night.
Making Roosts with Different Materials
A firm, comfortable perch is imperative to keep your flock happy at night. While you can buy pre-made roosts, you can make your own roosts with basic woodworking skills. Wood is commonly used to make perching roosts because it is long-lasting, sturdy enough to hold several chickens, and can be well-cleaned. Wood perches also deliver a natural experience.
Regarding size, roosts should be at least 2″ inches wide, but closer to 4″ inches is preferred because chickens sleep flat-footed, and a wider surface will mean better comfort. It is no surprise that 2″ x 4″ roosts cut to length are most common.
Depending on your budget and what is at your disposal, you can make roost with;
1. Tips for Choosing and Laying Boards
Most chicken owners often make roosts from coop-framing leftovers, which is an excellent way to use those scrap boards. However, if you have a budget for perches, you can invest in lumber and build your birds a decent roost.
Regarding how to lay the boards, while some bird lovers argue that birds like to be able to grip the roost with their feet, those living in cold climates may want to turn the 2×4 board flat to create a wider perching surface. Since chickens sleep flat-footed, they can balance and cover their feet with their bellies if the board is more comprehensive, which helps keep the delicate toes warm. This can be very beneficial when the temperatures drop significantly and can go a long way to preventing frostbite.
2. Why Rounded Roosts Might Be Better for Your Chickens
Although chickens sleep with their feet flat, some owners prefer to mimic the tree branches that chickens would perch on in the wild. Instead of building roosts with square-off edges, they put up round perches.
With rounded roosts, your birds will enjoy a perching experience like other birds in the wild. Thankfully, you can easily find wooden dowels at hardware stores. Just make sure to get dowels that are at least 1½″ inches in diameter. This size dowel is not only comfortable underfoot, but also sturdy enough to support several chickens. Don’t use anything that might break while your birds sleep at night.
3. Can I Use Tree Branches?
A roost can be any piece of scrap wood, right? If you want to offer an authentic natural experience to your birds, tree branch perches are the way to go. With a tree branch as a roost, your bird will perch on a truly authentic and natural crossbar. Using tree branches to make roosts is also an excellent way to use tree limbs that fall in the yard. To make roosts using tree limbs, you just need to cut to size and install them.
Whatever you use to make roost, ensure it is wide enough to offer desirable comfort. Ideally, you want to offer your chicken at least a 2-inch-diameter branch, where they can easily balance and happily perch.
Unless you are constrained by space, having one long roost where all your birds can perch together is a good idea — chickens like roosting together.
Tips for Building and Supporting Roosting Bars
Roosts need to be solid and stable. Otherwise, they may snap, bringing all your chickens down, which can cause injuries. That’s why it is imperative to support them.
Regarding building perches, several options exist for securing and supporting your roosts. Like many chicken owners, you should build a freestanding roost rack, a series of bars attached to a self-supported, framed structure so you can move from one spot to another within the coop walls. A movable roost rack can make cleanup easy, especially when cleaning the entire coop.
Yet another quick approach to making a regular roost is affixing roost bars in stepladder orientation. You must fasten the roosts using nails or screws through the inclined sides to ensure stability. The legs should also be secured to the floor and at the top into the wall studs.
One nail or a screw in each end is often enough for a simple roost that spans the coop’s width. However, depending on the roost’s length, you may want to support it at the center. With this kind of roost, unless you have horizontal panels at an ideal height, you will be toe-nailing through the roost bar into the coop’s wall, so be keen with the fastener you pick. Be careful not to use a nail or screw that will go through the wall, leaving a sharp point on the exterior of the coop, as this can be dangerous. Depending on the material you use for walls, you can drive a fastener from outside the coop, through a wall, into the end of the roost bar. This is an excellent way to avoid leaving a nasty sharp point on the exterior, though it can be challenging trying to align the fastener with the roost
You can also make nailing cleats and mount the roost bar on top of the cleats. Cleats are small scrap boards securely affixed to the wall with short fasteners on which you can install your roost. After mounting the cleats, the bar is fastened to create a place for the birds to roost and relax at night. This can be a great approach if you install a roost along the coop’s longer side. With several cleats to support the weight of the roost, you won’t have to worry about the cleats warping.
No matter the approach to secure your roost, ensuring it is appropriately affixed for wobble-free mounting and dismounting is imperative. Ideally, you want to make your roost sturdy enough to provide comfort and stability that your flock will appreciate but remain removable, so you remove and clean it occasionally. Critters like mites hide in crannies of perches, so removing your perches to inspect and clean them can go a long way to ensuring the health of your birds.
Note: Depending on your roost’s material and length and the number and size of chickens perching, you may need to add some support underneath at reasonable intervals. The idea behind underpinning is to keep the roost from sagging or bowing, even when the entire flock is on it simultaneously. A sagging roost presents dangers in many aspects.
Building a Nesting box
A nesting box is necessary if free eggs are one of your primary goals for keeping a flock of birds in your backyard. With a well-designed positioned nesting box, you will pick freshly laid eggs any time of the day, depending on the number of birds you decide to care for.
The small cubbies offer a plush and protected space for your birds to lay their eggs. Nesting boxes also allow you to collect eggs conveniently without cracking or breaking any harvested eggs.
Having nesting boxes is also another way to help your birds adapt to being caged. In fact, even if you release them, they might stay within the backyard. Birds get disciplined and know where to lay eggs, where to play, and where to poop. Finding poop in a nesting box or on a bird preparing to lay an egg is infrequent. While some finicky birds may choose never to lay eggs inside the boxes, safely installing nesting boxes inside a coop is always prudent. This section will cover more on nesting boxes, and you will also get alternatives for not building a nesting box from scratch.
Each nesting box should be comfy and big enough to house a single chicken. Typically, a good nesting box is 12×12 inches square, which is the minimum size to build for any coop. However, a larger nesting box will do better, depending on the number of birds you have or plan to breed. The critical point is to give all birds enough space in the box to turn around quickly when getting in to lay eggs and move out after they have laid.
Even though a large nesting box is ideal, you don’t want to make things too big. An extra large box will allow more than one bird inside, which can lead to broken eggs.
Generally, any nesting box that measures more than 16 x 16 inches is too large and can contribute to more broken eggs. You can cover nesting boxes for safety, but ensure the roof is raised correctly so your birds can stand comfortably.
Another thing that helps determine the size of a nesting box is the breed of birds. Small breeds can comfortably lay eggs in the small nesting boxes, whereas larger breeds need relatively large boxes.
How Many Boxes Do I need?
While all birds can lay eggs simultaneously, that’s seldom the case. Do not compare nesting boxes to beds in your home; you need one bed for one household. If you think this way, you may only keep a few birds.
Too many boxes in your coop are considered a waste of space, and you will likely have some unused boxes. Chickens do not spend the entire day nesting, just as you don’t spend all day in bed. You can have one nesting box used by three or four hens. This is especially true considering that a good hen will always leave the nesting box once it has finished laying an egg and allow another chicken the opportunity to lay.
When considering the number of birds, you can determine the appropriate number of boxes they need to lay eggs freely. For instance, you need a story three-layered nesting box with four compartments on each layer in a coop where you rear four chickens. This will sound like a waste of space and resources that could have been used for other backyard structures.
Similarly, having three boxes in a coop holding about one hundred chickens will deny your hens space to lay eggs. You will likely find several broken eggs all over the coop and in the nesting boxes. While building every chicken laying space is not necessary, you want to ensure that each chicken gets enough space for laying eggs.
A prudent chicken keeper will always ensure that the coop size and the number of egg-laying chickens are proportionate to the nesting boxes. (Not too many to fill up space or go unused and not too few to deny some hens space to lay eggs.)
Creating Comfort through Proper Positioning
Where you place nesting boxes is also vital to see them serve their role best. When positioning nesting boxes, placing them together in small groups is recommended.
You may be tempted to spread them all around the coop, but that will only occupy more space and disorient the social egg-laying aspect of hens. For your boxes to serve their purpose best, you can choose to have one box with several compartments or have many boxes and arrange them together. You can even stack up to three boxes to save on space if they are correctly installed for stability and performance.
Notably, if you must stack more than three boxes, ensure they stay within four feet high.
Another thing that will help you choose a location for the nesting boxes is natural light. Hens love nesting in a dark area, where they presume to be hiding. Avoid putting the boxes near the doors or windows, as these places receive more light.
Putting the box under the elevated roost is a good choice because the space receives less light. This is considered a space-saving technique as it only occupies very little space in your coop. However, you must cover the nesting boxes underneath the chicken roost to prevent the birds’ droppings from falling on the eggs laid. You can also find a corner of the coop that receives less light and organize all the nesting boxes there.
In the most recent coop designs, it is not uncommon to find coops with nesting boxes positioned on the outside. These boxes are designed to be a small outer extension of the entire coop and can be accessed by the chicken inside while the owner picks eggs from outside. This is made possible by having a small door-like extension on the nesting box positioned on the outside. You can also cover the box with a hinged roof which you open to pick the eggs without disturbing your hens.
The design should be featured in your coop construction plan if you incorporate an exterior nesting box. You want to attach the box to remain firm for longevity.
With protruding nesting boxes, you need to cut out the frames in a way that will leave enough space for the box to be fixed. Precisely, leave studs 2 ft., ′ 5½ inches” apart between two boxes, and this space will allow you to easily slide in the box without cutting out other studs.
With the exterior nesting box, it is essential to add a lockable lid to help thwart any four-legged egg nappers. Also, install weather stripping to block out rain. This is a way to avoid handling the annoying dirt in your coop when rainwater flows in and messes up the bedding and egg-laying mats.
Be simple and go for the simple plans. A flap of rubber lining or plastic sheeting works fine and is readily available. You can also divert rainwater by installing a length of aluminum flashing, which you can find at any home center or lumberyard
Comfortable Egg-Laying Beddings for Hens
Hens love the comfort and will reward you well if you offer this comfortable space for them to lay eggs. Like giving birth, egg-laying is not simple; some comfort can ease the situation.
Loose straw and soft hay are the most used material for chicken bedding. Some chicken keepers go the extra mile to look for wood shavings or shredded papers. However, there are better options than these, which; you must replace regularly. Ideally, good bedding material is meant to maximize comfort for your lovable birds. You can acquire other items naturally from your surroundings, while others can be bought from farm-supply stores.
Whatever material you use as bedding, keep it loose and about 4 inches thick. Loose beddings are ideal for hens to kick around and play with as they prepare to lay eggs. And be sure to rearrange, replenish, and clean the beddings often. A well cared for nesting space means clean eggs.
Tip: You can use dirty bedding to prepare compost manure. Mix it with other organic matter and prepare a rich fertilizer for your garden.
Where to Source Beddings for nesting boxes
The different hen beddings can be sourced at different places. Here are some of the common bedding materials and their sources.
- Pine shavings: They can be easily found in nearby stores packed in convenience bales at a lower price.
- Pine needles: Freely available in a pine forest or where you have a few pine trees. Pick the softer pine needles because they work better than the mature, dry needles.
- Straw: Straw is loved mainly by chicken keepers. After mowing, you can collect them in your yard or buy them from local farm stores.
- Leaves: This is the easiest-to-find bedding material for your birds. Gather fallen leaves in the fall and give your birds a comfy laying space.
- Sawdust: Freely available in sawmills or sold at farm-supply stores. You can as also collect sawdust from local woodworkers or where trees are cut.
- Nesting pads: Modern nesting pads can be found in most hatcheries or online stores. They are cheap, washable, and reusable.
Can you Buy New Nesting boxes?
You can quickly get ready-made nesting boxes of heavy plastic or metal, but they are no better than wooden DIY boxes. You can mount these manufactured nesting boxes on the coop wall or strategically place them within the coop.
Designing and Building a Safe Ramp
Most chicken coops have a small door for the birds to pass in and out of the shelter. However, these access doors are often located off the ground because of design details.
If you are a first-time coop builder, you might have just realized that the access to your coop is way too high for your chicken to fly-jump into place, and that’s when a ramp becomes very handy.
Designing a hen house ramp should be easy, but that’s only true until you sit down to do it. There are a lot of variables that go into making ramps.
While a chicken coop ramp is a simple board that stretches from the ground to the door, designing one can be tricky. You need to decide on the slope, width, and length. And whether or not the ramp needs small cleats so the chickens can easily walk up and down the ramp without slipping.
Well, when it comes to designing and constructing a chicken ramp, there are no hard or fast rules. Even so, enthusiastic chicken growers have settled on a few generalizations that hold in most circumstances. Make sure to understand these tips before building your ramp:
1. Getting the angle right
The ramp’s angle with the coop is the most crucial aspect when designing a ramp. And while there is no magic number, you don’t want to construct a slide in the name of a ramp. No matter how high off the ground the door is, the ramp should never be more than 45°.
If you want to construct a ramp without cleats, make it long enough so that the angle of the ascent is 30 degrees or less. For steeper ramps inclined 30° to 45°, place cleats every 4 to 6 inches. The cleats should be at least ¾ inch wide x ¾ inch high in size. Generally, the steeper the ramp, the closer the cleats must be. For stability and comfort, some chicken growers will put cleats 3 inches apart.
2. Ideal width
A henhouse ramp should be at least 8 to 10 inches wide. Anything less will be uncomfortable for your chickens.
3. What length for a chicken coop ramp
You don’t have to worry about the length when constructing a chicken coop ramp. Your ramp can be any length; pay attention to its angle with the coop door. The more elevated the coop door is, the longer the ramp will be.
Use a ladder instead.
Some chicken growers strongly believe birds prefer a series of stairs to an angled ramp. If your ramp is too steep for your chickens to navigate, consider building a ladder or a makeshift staircase. One benefit of chicken coop ladders is that they can be steeper than ramps.
If you place the rungs about 6 inches apart, your girls can hop from one rung to the next to get into the coop.