30 Tips For Setting Up a Backyard Chicken Coop

Shannon Quinn - December 28, 2020
Help keep your chickens alive in the cold winter months. Credit: Shutterstock

16. Protect Your Chickens Against Your Climate 

Always make sure your chicken’s shelter is prepared to handle the climate in your local area. This is especially true in the winter time, where harsh temperatures might be enough to cause your chickens to freeze to death. Many people install a heater in their chicken coop, as well as making sure their water doesn’t freeze. However, don’t use a household space heater, because it could potentially start a fire with the dry hay! Normally, chickens huddle their bodies together for warmth in the winter time, and they are more resilient to the cold than you may think.  

Chickens stick together in the winter to maintain body heat. Credit: Shutterstock

With that being said, there are still a few things you can do to keep your chickens warm in the winter. Make sure their hay is dry, so that they have insulation that won’t grow mold. Feed them both day and night, so that they stay plump. Some people will build a glass greenhouse area of the coop so that the hens can stay warm and get a lot of sunlight. This will encourage them to continue laying eggs. In some extreme cases, if the temperatures are dropping too low, people have been known to bring their chickens inside their house when it got too cold.

Foxes are a common predator of chickens. Credit: Shutterstock

15. Be Aware of Predators In Your Area

Pretty much everyone loves to eat chicken. Before you set up a chicken coop, do some research about the predators in your local area. Depending on where you live, you might have a lot of animals to worry about. If the animal is particularly large like bears, mountain lions, or coyotes, attracting them to the area with chickens can also endanger the people in your neighborhood, or members of your family. Depending on the type of predators that you have nearby, you need to make different adjustments to ensure that your livestock will stay safe. If you think a fence is enough to keep them safe, think again. Hawks also like to eat chicken, and they can swoop in from the sky. This is why many keep make sure to keep their coop below a large tree. 

Snakes love to eat chicken eggs. Credit: Shutterstock

A lot of people make the mistake of knowing that certain predators exist in their local area, but they assume they’ll be fine. This past summer, I asked my local farmer if she had any fresh eggs for sale. I was shocked to hear her tell me that all of her chickens were killed by wolves. It is not common for wolves to come out of our woods, so this was a big surprise to hear. I’ve lived here all my life, and never saw a single wolf. But it was clear as day in her night vision camera. The next door neighbor’s chickens were left untouched, because they were safe inside of a coop that was incredibly well-built, and lifted off the ground. Her coop, on the other hand, was far less safe, which is why her entire flock was killed in one night.

Night vision cameras help to keep track of predators. Credit: Shutterstock

14. Consider Installing a Night Vision Camera

In the last bullet point, I told the story of my local farmer who discovered that her chickens were eaten by wolves. She would have never known this if it weren’t for her night vision cameras. These are very important for you to figure out which predators are in your local area. Hopefully you don’t have to figure this out once the chickens are already dead. You may be able to see a motion sensor camera that will let you know which animals are sniffing around the coops at night.

Some people set up multiple cameras to capture all locations. Credit: Shutterstock

Based on what you find and the night vision footage, you might have to adjust your setup to make it more safe for your chickens. It’s also very interesting and a lot of fun to see what kind of animals are roaming your property at night. Obviously, this is going to be yet another up-front expense. This will cost around  $100 or more, depending on the brand that you purchase. However, if you plan to keep chickens in your backyards for the rest of your life, consider it an investment in your new lifestyle. This can also help anyone who is a hunter, and obviously, the motion sensor camera is also helpful for home security.

An automatic feeder will make your life a lot easier. Credit: Shutterstock

13. Install a Feeder and Waterer 

Some people might imagine sprinkling feed on the ground every day for their chickens to eat. Yes, you can do this if you want. However, this is a lot more time and labor intensive. You also don’t know if your chicken will get hungry later when you’re not around to sprinkle the food on the ground. This can cause some aggression among the chickens if they start to fight over food. That’s why it’s best for you to install an automatic feeding and watering system. This also makes it a lot  less work for you in the long run. 

Large poultry farms have massive feeders. Credit: Shutterstock

However, if you start to feed your chickens with scraps from the garden or allow them to free range in the backyard, you might start to realize that they don’t need to use an automatic feeder or watering system. But it’s still important to have those things as a backup just in case. In the winter time, waterers tend to freeze after just a couple hours. A lot of people struggle with this, and carry out fresh water to their chickens every few hours. That’s why I recommend getting a heater for their water, so that it doesn’t’ freeze.

Chickens get bored, too. Credit: Shutterstock

12. Keep Your Chickens Entertained 

When you observe a chicken, it might be easy to assume that they’re not very intelligent. After all, all they seem to do is pick up the grass, eat, and sleep. But just like dogs and cats, chickens get bored very easily. And if you leave them to their own devices, they might be more likely to get into trouble by flying the coop. In the winter time, they become even more bored than usual, because they can’t walk around in the snow or enjoy beautiful weather like they can in the spring, summer, and fall.

Just a boy and his love for chickens. Shutterstock.

You actually need to buy them toys and give them ways to keep themselves entertained throughout the day. One of the most popular toys is a xylophone, because the chickens can peck at it and make “music”. You can also install ladders, swings, dust baths, straw bales, and more. Holding your hens, petting them, and giving them love has been shown to help lower their blood pressure, and keep them calm. Just like dogs and cats, they need attention from their owners! And the more human interaction they have, the more social they will be. 

Do some research to see which chicken wire works best for you. Credit: Shutterstock

11. Research the Best Chicken Wire

Beginners assume that you can buy any chicken wire at the hardware store and you’re good to go. However, there are different types of wire depending on whether you are simply trying to keep chickens out, or if you are trying to prevent predators from getting in. If you go to your hardware store and ask for “chicken wire”, this is only going to stop your chickens from escaping. In order to protect them from big predators, you’ll need to buy something called “hardwire cloth”.

This is what it looks like when chickens get into your gardens. Credit: Shutterstock

If you own a full backyard farm, you’ll also want to make sure that you put chicken wire around your garden to prevent time from eating all of your fruit and vegetables. Many people decided to double up on chicken wire if they need to make sure your flock is secure. As time goes on, be prepared to purchase additional wire if your setup needs an upgrade. For first-time users, be sure to watch YouTube tutorials and follow the instructions on how to install it properly.

If you plan to eat your chickens, be prepared. Credit: Shutterstock

10. Prepare for Eating the Meat

Chickens have a life span of 5 to 10 years if you let them live out their natural life. If you plan to eat your chickens at some point, you need to do a lot of research in order to properly kill and prepare your animals. It’s always possible for you to hand off your chickens to a local butcher and pay him to do the work for you. However, if you’re trying to stay on your own property and be self-reliant, this means that you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of preparing meat. For a lot of people, this can be a traumatizing experience. This is especially true for children. 

Farmers pluck chickens by hand. Credit: Shutterstock

Of course, there’s always the option to let your chickens live out their natural life expectancy. Some farmers feel as though they don’t want to spend the money to take care of these chickens long-term if they no longer lay eggs or become unproductive in some other way. If that’s the case, look for an animal rescue in your local area. There are places out there where they will allow your chicken to live out the rest of their elderly life without resorting to killing them. 

It’s best to give your chicken coop shingles on the roof, like a real house. Credit: Shutterstock

9. Make Sure The Roof is Secure

Since most backyard chicken coops are built by hand, a lot of people try to use leftover materials or whatever they can afford to use at the time. One of the roofs that people commonly make is sheet metal similar to what you might see in a garden shed.  Technically, this might be okay with your town ordinances. But just because it’s not against the rules doesn’t mean that it’s a good choice. Believe it or not, raccoons are strong, and they have little paws with five fingers that are like human hands. They can grab and rip those metal roofs off like a pull-tab can. It’s very common for raccoons to break into a chicken coop and all of your livestock.

These metal roofs are not sale from the hands of raccoons. Credit: Shutterstock

This is why it’s always a good idea to build a roof with wood and shingles, similar to one that you would see on a real house. It might be more expensive and difficult to install in the short-term, but it means that you’re going to be building a much safer and secure house for your chickens to live in. It can also potentially be more insulated to keep out the cold in the winter time, and keep it cool in the summer. If you were considering building your own coop, this might be more incentive for you to actually buy something pre-made, because it’s often more safe and secure. 

Roosters can be real jerks. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Be Prepared to Deal with Rooster Problems

There are pros and cons to having a rooster in your flock. On the upside, roosters will become the dominant bird, and keep the hens in line. Without a rooster, hens typically choose an alpha based on whoever the biggest bird is. This can cause fights among your hens, if they can’t agree on a leader. It’s part of a rooster’s natural instinct to want to protect the hens.  When you have predators in your area, it’s important for you to have this rooster to keep them safe. It’s also obviously necessary if you want eggs to become fertilized so that you can have baby chicks.

Roosters crow all day and night. Credit: Shutterstock

However, for all of their upsides, roosters aren’t actually necessary for laying eggs. Unfortunately, roosters can be a real handful sometimes. Certain breeds tend to be aggressive, and can potentially attack the humans who are trying to take care of the hens. They also crow at all hours of the early morning, and can make your neighbors angry. Some cities even ban keeping a rooster in your backyard, because they are known to cause too many problems. Hens will lay eggs on their own, even if a rooster is not present. Obviously, they are needed for baby chicks. But if all you want is eggs, just skip the rooster.

Chickens commonly fly up into trees. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Expect to Rescue Chickens from Trees

Something that a lot of people don’t realize about chickens is that they do in fact fly. And they also tend to want to roost in high branches at night so that they are safe from predators. If you allow your chickens to walk around your backyard, this means that they will always fly up into the trees when they are ready to go to sleep. For most people, they are shocked to see their chickens in the tree and completely unprepared. Some families even go through the process of getting the chickens out of their trees every night, simply because they want to give him the freedom to roam around the backyard as much as they want.

These young chickens flew up into a tree together. Credit: Shutterstock

An alternative to dealing with chickens getting caught in a tree is to simply give them a room inside of their coop that is high up off the ground. Make sure that they feel comfortable and safe. Some people even go as far as to make a fake tree inside of the coop so that they feel as though they’re in a natural habitat. Others make sure that they have a large enough fenced-in area to encompass everything that they need, including one or two small trees.

Notice how the feeders in the background are elevated. Credit: Shutterstock

6. Elevate Their Water and Food

Plenty of people who keep backyard chickens will sprinkle the feed over the ground and let them eat it that way. However, if you’re trying to keep your chickens in the coop for the majority of their day, it’s best not to put their food or water on the ground. Chickens can be dirty animals, going to the bathroom or kicking dirt into their water. Obviously, this is not sanitary, and it can lead to them getting very sick. This is why most experts recommend hanging or elevating their feeders and watering system. Some people create their own cheap and easy feeding and watering systems using Home Depot buckets suspended on chains that are hung to the roof of the chicken coop. They drill holes into the bottom of the bucket, and attach nipples so that the chickens can drink from that.

These feeders are elevated off of the ground. Credit: Shutterstock

With that being said, some people still put their feeders and waterers on the ground for a number of reasons. Maybe their coop isn’t set up for this, and other chickens simply can’t reach or have a beak deformity that makes it impossible to drink out of the suspended watering system. For those backyard farmers, they are willing to change out fresh water every day. In the winter time, make sure you buy a heated water bucket for chickens, so that the water doesn’t freeze over. Earlier on the list, we already mentioned some automated feeders that you can buy online.  If you want to elevate your chickens food and water, it’s a good idea to do some research about your options online.

Do some research on how to care for various types of birds. Credit: Shutterstock

5. Not All Birds are Created Equal

It is very common for people to keep several kinds of birds on their backyard farm, because it gives you a lot of variety. You might be thinking about also keeping ducks or turkeys on the property as well. Just keep in mind that these birds all need different types of nutrients depending on whether you’re growing them for meat or eggs. Don’t assume that you can use the same seed for all of the birds. Do some research on what kind of nutrients that each of your birds need. There may be some overlap in what they can all eat and enjoy at the same time. However, make sure that they all have what they need in their respective areas and that they are all given space to thrive.

Peacocks are a popular pet to keep as a bird. Credit: Shutterstock

Also keep in mind that your roosters might not like seeing other birds near their hens. This can lead to a lot of aggressive behavior, and some of your other birds could get hurt. Turkeys aren’t very intelligent, but they can also cause a lot of property damage if they see their own reflection, and think it’s a rival mate trying to start a fight. Before you go and buy a bunch of different poultry eggs, be sure to do your research beforehand to make sure everyone can be one big, happy farm family.

Be very careful with baby chicks around dogs and cats. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Keep Your Dogs and Cats Away From The Chickens Until They’re Trained

If you own dogs or cats, You might be excited to make all of your animals into one little happy family. However, this can be especially dangerous if you bring home baby chicks. Your dogs and cats might assume that the chicks are a toy they can play with. This can lead to the baby chicks dying or getting eaten very quickly. And if you have a rooster, be prepared for your dog to get attacked or scratched by its claws. 

Even cats can get along with chickens. Credit: Shutterstock

Most chicken owners keep their dogs as far away from the coop as humanly possible. However, there are plenty of farmers who have trained their dog to not only stay away from the chickens, but actually protect them. In order to accomplish this, you have to train your dogs to know that you, as the alpha, have first dibs over the chickens. Once they have calmed down, they can happily co-exist. Unfortunately, cats can’t really be trained in the same way. So it’s best to keep baby chicks away from your cats until they have grown until adult birds. When the chickens are fully grown, cats will leave them alone.

Your chicken’s eggs will end up tasting like the food they eat. Credit: Shutterstock

3. You Are What You Eat

Earlier on this list, we mentioned that you can give chickens scraps from the garden as food. However, you need to be careful, because the wrong foods can have unintended consequences. If you plan to give your chickens scraps of food from the garden, be aware that their eggs will begin to smell like it. For example, garlic and onions are so strong, that the flavor will transfer over to the eggs. If you’re making an omelette, maybe that’s a good thing. But no one wants to crack an egg into your mixing bowl, only to realize their cake tastes like garlic. 

These chickens are eating pumpkin seeds. Credit: Shutterstock

You also need to make sure your birds are eating a balanced diet. For example, a lack of calcium could make the egg shells too thin, and break easily. This is why many people buy store-bought food that’s fortified with extra calcium supplement. And if you were planning to eventually eat the chicken for meat, you would need to do some research to see which vitamins and minerals are going to result in the best-tasting bird. 

Avocado pits are toxic to chickens. Credit: Shutterstock

2. Keep Your Chickens Away From Plants That Can Kill Them

While it may be tempting to throw all of your food scraps to your chickens, you need to be very careful with what you’re feeding them. There are a lot of foods and plants that will make chickens sick, or could even lead to their death. Avocado pits, dried beans, rhubarb, and moldy or rotting foods are examples of what can make a chicken very sick. Certain foods like potatoes are toxic when they’re raw, but okay for chickens to eat if they’re fully cooked beforehand.

Keep your chickens safe from toxic foods. Credit: Shutterstock

Before you even think about giving your flock of chickens a new treat, do a quick Google search to make sure they will be okay. The full list is too long to include here, so please check out this website for all of the plants that are toxic to chickens. If you have children, it is very important to teach them this, because it’s all too easy for kids to unwittingly give the chickens something that will make them sick or die.

Establishing a family farm can be a great way to save money on taxes. Credit: Shutterstock

1. Look Into Homestead and Small Farm Tax Deductions

If you plan to create a backyard farm, it might be a good idea for you to look into potential property tax deductions. With urban sprawl taking over natural landscapes, most municipalities have incentives for people to maintain farmland. Every state, and sometimes even towns are very different from one another with their rules of what constitutes a “farm”. Keep in mind that some of these rules have become more strict as time goes on. Some older farms have been grandfathered in to the looser restrictions.

Having a family farm can be a rewarding experience. Credit: Shutterstock

Where I live in New Jersey, we have some of the most expensive taxes in the entire country. By becoming a farm, you get a 90% discount on property taxes, so it’s totally worth it to qualify as a farm. You need a minimum of five acres, and prove that you make at least $1,000 annually selling products that were created on your farm for two years before you get any tax breaks.  There is a 20-page rule book that goes over all of the eligibility requirements. Your local area will most likely have similar rules and regulations.