Choosing a chicken coop goes hand-in-hand with other chicken-keeping considerations. There are many ways to raise chickens in your backyard successfully, depending on the type of chicken you plan to raise, the proximity of your neighbors, weather conditions, potential predators, and how much space you want for yourself. Ask yourself these questions:
What sort of chickens are you raising? If you’re keeping a few hens as pets or layers, you’ll probably be best served with a small all-in-one unit, cages, or a small A-frame or hoop house. If you’re keeping more layers, a shelter with either a run or free range is ideal.
For meat birds, loose indoor housing or specially designed cages are best. True meat breeds don’t exercise much, although a small outside run attached to a shelter can be used to raise them. Because meat birds are here on a temporary basis, the housing can be temporary too, but it must protect them from predators and weather.
If you have enough land, using the pastured system may be right for you. Chicken tractors, hoops, or A-frames can house meat birds in warm weather and then be stored away over the winter.
If you put meat birds in movable pens on pasture, you must take great care not to crush or run over the birds when moving the pens. The Rock-Cornish crosses often move very slowly.
Do you want to raise show birds? Show birds need larger quarters to prevent feather breakage and fraying. If the breed you’re keeping has really long tail feathers, the roosts must be high off the floor, and bedding or run surfaces must be easy to clean.
Many show specimens are raised on wire floors so that their feet and feathers don’t get dirty. Poles are often attached to shelters and runs a few inches from the wall, to prevent the birds from rubbing against the wire or wood walls. Dark-colored show birds must be protected from direct sunlight, which fades their color or turns it brassy.
Grass runs should be avoided with light-colored birds to prevent feather stains. Many show birds, especially roosters, are kept in individual cages so they don’t fight. Some show breeders use removable dividers in pens to separate birds they want to mate, but roosters may attack each other through these barriers if they’re not solid.
How close are your neighbors? If you’re in an urban or suburban area with close neighbors, choose neat, attractive housing that’s easy to clean. Rather than building an A-frame out of old pallets, consider partitioning off part of the garage and locating a neat enclosure behind it, or hiding a small, neat shed in the garden with the chickens confined to the housing most of the time. Loose chickens scratching up the garden of a nearby resident or walking down the road may not endear you to your neighbors.
Do you have children? If you have small children, you probably want a coop that they can’t get into without help from you.
Are predators or extreme weather conditions a concern? The safest and healthiest housing is generally a well-built shelter with a well-built run. Small, combo shelter-run units may be safe, but they’re not a healthy way to house chickens if they’re overcrowded or not kept clean.
Chicken tractors, hoops, and A-frames can be safe and healthy in good weather, but they’re a nightmare in bad weather. Windstorms, heavy rain, lightning, mud, and cold all take a toll.
It does no good to let your chickens have free range if they can wander into heavy traffic, be picked off by dogs or alligators, or treated meanly by kids. Any form of housing, whether inside or out, should be built or purchased with potential predators in mind. If you have dogs, coyotes, or raccoons in your area, use heavy welded wire rather than chicken wire or plastic fencing on your runs or pasture enclosures. Doors to shelters should be closed for the night.
What do you want? If you want to enter the shelter to collect eggs or clean, you’ll probably want ceilings that are taller than you, unless you enjoy stooping. Small shelters that you can’t enter require a removable or drop floor for cleaning. These small coops must eventually be totally cleaned and that can be a problem if parts of them are hard to reach.
If you’re keeping only two or three chickens and know you’ll be diligent about cleaning their small quarters, then a small, pre-fab housing unit or any housing that you service from outside may work for you. These units fit into small areas where other housing might be a problem — that’s the biggest advantage they have to offer.
You can always alter housing for your convenience. For example, in a walk-in shelter, you can add a small door just above the nest boxes so you can reach in from outside and quickly collect eggs when you don’t want to go inside.