Elaine e-mailed me a little over a week ago asking for advice on chicken coops and I asked for some time. I've spent a week thinking and this morning researching. I've decided what is a smart coop design in Texas wouldn't necessarily be recommend for us in Wyoming. I looked at a number of building plans on the Internet and many of the designs had the run extending under the hen house. This gives the chickens more room to run without taking up as much space as a run that is set next to the coop only. But this coop up on stilts would be asking for trouble in our country. We get high winds. Forty miles an hour when it's snowing is the worst kind though we've had the wind blasts up to 70 mph. When the wind is high and it's snowing, it's like standing in a sand blasting machine. One storm was so bad it took all the hair off the behinds of the ranch cattle my dad managed. The cows had froze teats, and the ears were froze off the calves. These high wind storms shake the house and make the rafters rattle and I can just imagine it whipping underneath a coop set up off the ground and sending it airborne. The chickens squawking in terror, their winds flapping as they flop around inside the coop as it sails into the neighbors livestock pen, tumbling until they slam into the horse's shed. Nope, that design wouldn't suit us a bit.
This design made me remember the time I slept in November on the camping cot in our wall tent at hunting camp. I froze. Though the wood stove was banked, it wasn't radiating much heat and the freezing cold air circulated under me and around. I learned my lesson - sleep on an air mattress on the ground. The same principle has to apply to chicken coops. Don't raise them up if you live in a cold wintry area, since the cold air would circulated around it. But, if you're down south, it would make sense to built one up off the ground for the air movement.
You saw the picture of this little A-framed coop in the last post. The best part about it was the original tar paper shingled shack underneath the tin was free. We've love the A-frame as hot air rises and it means since there isn't much space in the top of the building, it forces the hot air to remain down where the chickens are. Yes, normally we get a couple weeks of hot weather - 90's - in the summer but most of our year is cool or cold. If we lived in a little warmer area, I'd put in a vent above the entrance door and with the run's door on the opposite side of the coop, that should create a pretty good air flow. This would be critical if we had more than our ten or twelve hens as the ammonia build up from the excrement would be high, especially in hot weather. Instead, I put a sheet of ply-wood over the section of the run near the coop and weighed it down with tires, an awning of sorts. This gives the hens a nice shady area in the run with lots of air movement since there is seldom a day that doesn't at least have a slight breeze.
Some put window's in their coops so that it lets in the sunshine and they can open them for ventilation. If we lived where I grew up, on the other side of the mountain, I would. And, if we didn't have a steep A-framed strucure. Instead, I have a door large enough for me to bend over and walk through that leads to the run. My neighbor has a coop that is a tall box structure and she has a double paned window on the south side which lets in lots of warmth but the tall head room causes all the warm air to rise to human head height - br... in the winter.
I use to have a light bulb on inside the hen house to add heat and give light in the winter. Then we had the power disconnected to the corrals and our egg production dropped in the winter. Not as bad as it would have for we then insulated the chicken coop and added a tin outer layer. The mice have since riddled the insulation but the air barrier between the inside wood frame and the tin outer frame has added a great deal of warmth. A study done by a West Virginia experiment station found that in five months the difference in egg production between a warm coop was 629 eggs to 486 in a cold coop. Comfort to chickens is a big deal.
I'm considering putting in a solar paneled light in my coop. I thought about it for years but at one point it was too expensive but now you can purchase one for $30 and under. The reason I'm going to order one for next winter is that I'm going to lower the number of hens I keep and I need fewer hens to produce more eggs. This will cut down on my chicken food costs.
A hen's egg production is stimulated by light passing through the eye to the pituitary gland which stimulates the release of a hormone that causes the hen to produce eggs. Got all that? If not just remember that a hen needs fourteen hours of light a day. So I'm going to try a solar light. I keep a plexiglass cover over the chicken's run when it gets cold because it allows light in but if the chickens are closed up for a few days the egg productions really goes down.
Even if you have enough light, stress whether it be disturbances like a marauder or temperature extremes will interfere and drop egg production. Hot weather will also produced thin egg shells.
Elaine, if it were me, I'd take a looky lou trip and see what kind of structures are popular in your area. I hope this post gave you some food for thought and tomorrow I'll journey inside our coop and I'll discuss some more thoughts and show you our bare bones interior.
Last but defininetly not least, if you want your project to be successful I'd go to this web-site to choose a chicken breed that will be tolerant to the hot weather or cold if that is what you deal with. It also tells many for facts about each breed of chicken, personality, egg production, etc. I'm going to be studying this site more closely to choose some new chickens to try.