Every Spring we see many families looking for a chicken coop to start this project at home. Sometimes, they are seduced by the cute aspects of urban chicken coops offered in stores. Finding good housing for hens requires some basic knowledge of the hens’ basic needs in order to provide them with a home that respects animal welfare.
In this article, I will tell you about Nancy’s adventure, who experienced a lot of disappointment and problems with the chicken coop she and her husband bought in a garden nursery centre last year. Nancy, who lives in the greater Montreal suburbs in a residential area, is fortunate to have a beautiful piece of land that she has landscaped with care and love, filled with perennials, trees, plants and a vegetable garden. All that was missing was her chickens!
This is the story of Nancy Vallée and her urban chicken coop! Building a chicken coop is not like building a simple shed! See why in this article!
“For a long time, I’ve been dreaming of a large space where I could tear up the lawn to create a food forest and a vegetable garden in which a few hens would roam to fertilize the soil, eat insects and, of course, produce good fresh eggs! I jumped at the chance when last year, for my birthday, my boyfriend offered to buy the pretty “turnkey” chicken coop that I had seen in a garden centre near our home.
I thought I had enough information to embark on the adventure and in any case, the merchant would know how to inform and advise me on the different elements and functions of the henhouse, as well as its layout. The package included the coop, the basic accessories, as well as the installation and 3 supposedly vaccinated hens, all for about $1000. While the cooperation and service of the owners and garden centre staff was appreciated, there were several elements that had not been considered in the design of the chicken coop and which would be discovered once the chicken coop was installed.
As we are witnessing a real growth of the hen in the city as well as a real craze for this practice, I thought I would bring these few elements to the attention of those who would like to take the plunge. In fact, following my experience, I believe that the market must adapt and improve the characteristics, dimensions and all aspects of urban chicken coops. The health and well-being of our chickens is at stake.
I was very reluctant to part with my chickens in winter and I was reassured to know that my barn was “isolated”. However, I learned that an isolated chicken coop does not mean “winterized”. The arrival of the extreme cold in late December led us to reflect on every important element of winterization of a chicken coop and to make several changes.
THE CHICKEN COOP
Interior Height: The ceiling height (36 inches) was clearly insufficient, which caused several problems, particularly with respect to heating, ventilation and perch height. I wanted to use a heated ceramic tile, but this lack of volume made it unsafe to use. The recommended height between the receptacle of the lamp and the head of the chickens installed on the perch is 12 inches minimum. Therefore, the height of the perches at about 12-18 inches from the floor, plus the required spacing between the chickens’ heads on the perch and the lamp, requires much more space than what my chicken coop offered! I realized that the interior should have at least 5 feet of space between the ceiling and the floor! Otherwise, the lamp becomes dangerous for the chickens and for the fire because of the extremely flammable materials with the wood shavings! My 3-foot coop was far too small and narrow to guarantee the safety of my chickens.
A plastic plug had been installed inside the coop to install a red lamp. Nice attention, but this one was simply not adapted and dangerous for the fire especially with the use of a heating element on a regular basis. After several purchases and tests, I found a happy medium with a 175 watt ceramic lamp with a protective shade triggered at -10 degrees installed in the corner opposite the side where they usually sleep. The 250 watt lamp was much too strong given the lack of space. I had to drill a new electrical entrance since the existing exit was unusable.
Other drawbacks regarding the height of the ceiling, the roosting bars that can hardly be installed higher than the nesting box I had to remove in winter. The chickens naturally went to the nesting area to sleep there from the first evening and have NEVER perched in the coop which is a real problem. As a result, the hens started to peck aggressively due to the lack of space. The nesting boxes are obviously always dirty. So, I had to condemn the access to the nests at night.
The wood roosting bars were too narrow, and too close to the ceiling. It is recommended to use a minimum surface of 2X3 maximum 2X4 in order to keep the leg flat during sleep. However, placing the roosting bar higher is a very important element for hens to encourage them to perch at night. They must be comfortable. My chicken coop did not provide them with this at all. We had to modify the interior completely.
My chicken coop had only one window, which does not allow air to circulate efficiently during the night. It was therefore impossible to let the humidity out, which is essential during the winter. This single window has no opening-closing mechanism, but only a screen, which means that it cannot be closed or opened in case of bad weather. It is also too low and therefore a source of drafts. We have condemned it for the winter and plan to make a custom made one.
We had to install a ventilation outlet on the ceiling to let the humidity out. It is strongly recommended to have two to three of them. Since this product is sold insulated for the winter, it must be able to allow for heating and good ventilation, hens are very sensitive to humidity, and this chicken coop did not meet the basic criteria. In short, the question of ceiling height and ventilation caused us a lot of concern.
Another constraint: the outside door is too small, which makes work and maintenance inside the chicken coop very difficult. My boyfriend regularly hurts his head when cleaning the coop in the morning.
The run had very little space for the hens to move around once the feeders were installed. With such a low roof and too little space, it was very difficult to manipulate the feed and water trough, especially when the water had to be changed 3 times a day during the heatwave. The space was so small that it was impossible to install a dusting bath. On the picture, the old run.
In addition to the volume, the height and width of the door did not facilitate its maintenance either.
We understand that an urban chicken run cannot have the same dimensions of a rural big production facility. But it needs to be manageable. It has to offer a minimum of space for 4-5 hens and be manageable for us. Having to get up every morning at dawn and kneeling on the floor, often in the rain, is not pleasant. And what about spring when the ground is completely soggy! The run is not covered with a roof, which is the case for many commercial chicken coop or mini coops sold in kit from China. The hens are not protected from the sun and rain! We immediately saw the need for a roof with the incessant rains from May to July. The soggy floor had a hard time drying and left the hens in an environment that was moldy, wet and much too humid.
In addition, waterlogged feed could quickly become mouldy and create fungicide infections in the digestive system! There were also concerns about possible cross-contamination problems with wild birds. For all these reasons, we chose to build a new 11×11 run that would allow us to enter standing up, with a roof made of translucent corrugated panels and 16-gauge, predator-resistant spit. An additional cost of $1280 just for materials and I’m not telling you the labor costs. Here is the new run.
The turnkey package included the installation of the coop directly on the ground! As I was far from having thought about all the aspects of its location, aspects that I did not suspect at all, it was placed directly on the ground. During our work, we placed the chicken coop on concrete blocks to raise it by about 6 inches, which is clearly insufficient, because water is easily invited. Chicken wire (which is not safe at all) was installed all around the coopand the run; entrance a few centimeters into the lawn.
The most problematic issue for us is the drainage of water from the yard. We must keep in mind that in Quebec we receive an average of 250 cm of snow every winter. All this snow accumulates around the run; it melts and produces a lot of water that cannot enter the ground if the ground is still frozen, as was the case during the thaw last February.
Finally, it is also important to ensure that the chicken coop is located at a minimum height of about 24 to 36 inches from the ground in order to promote good air circulation under the floor, but also to be able to access it more easily!
We will have to make some modifications this spring to raise the coop higher from the ground. Finally, many predators will easily enter the run if the wire mesh is not inserted deep enough into the ground. We do not live in the country and yet we had to defend the girls (our chickens) against several falcon attacks! Living with the presence of raccoons and skunks, in addition to receiving the visit of a coyote wandering on the edge of our swimming pool requires vigilance, security and good planning of the location of the coop.
In the end, we have never regretted buying a chicken coop and are literally in love with our chickens. But I regret the impulse purchase of the cute small chicken coop, because we were not prepared enough and the product we bought was not at all adapted to our climate. There are a lot of things to consider before buying a chicken coop and I wish I had known all this before. A poorly designed chicken house could lead to the development of diseases or worse, losses. The owner who does not have enough time and resources will not be able to keep them during the winter and will be tempted to take his chickens to ashelter, euthanasia or the slaughterhouse! It is important to be informed, to adopt good practices, to be well prepared for each season and to make good purchases. In the end, we had to spend $1280 to adapt, modify and fit out this coop which had cost us almost $1000 and we still have some minor adjustments to make this spring. All this being said and no doubt, life is much more beautiful…with chickens! “Nancy Vallée
*Special note: Since all the adjustments they have tried over the years never worked really well from 2017 to 2020, they have decided to order the Villa chicken Coop from Urban Chicken Coops Canada in the winter 2021 to be better organized to care for their chickens in the future.
For more information on the basic standards and bylaws of most cities, as well as minimum and maximum dimensions for the urban chicken coops and run , visit www.urbanchickencoops.ca