How to set up a chicken coop

How to set up a chicken coop

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Looking to set up a chicken coop? Whether you're looking to keep chickens as pets, for eggs or meat, or to keep on top of garden pests, your choice of breed should line up with exactly what you want from your new feathered neighbours. Read on for our top tips on picking your chickens and setting up a coop.

Important features

  • Regulations
  • Chicken coop
  • Chicken breed
  • Chicken feed
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UK rules and regulations on keeping chickens

UK rules and regulations on keeping chickens

Unless your closest neighbour lives miles away, your first step will be to find out all about the rules and regulations involved in keeping chickens. 

Generally speaking, there aren't any rules against keeping less than 50 chickens but there are exceptions, especially in urban areas. It's important to check the deeds or lease of your home and ensure that your local council does not have a ban on poultry keeping.

Benefits of keeping chickens

Benefits of keeping chickens

So, why exactly do you want to keep chickens? The answer to this question will determine the type of chickens you choose. The main reason most people keep chickens is to have access to fresh eggs and for the guarantee that the eggs you eat are produced by a hen that is fed on a healthy or even organic diet. 

It is even possible to slaughter chickens on your own property, provided that the meat is for your consumption only. However, a lot of chickens are kept simply as pets and admired for their plumage – a bit like a peacock! In fact, many chicken breeds have spectacular feathers.

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Chicken coops and poultry care

Keeping chickens: a daily responsibility

Keeping chickens: a daily responsibility

Keeping chickens doesn't require a great deal of skill but once you've bought or built your coop, you will have to spend at least a few minutes every day feeding and caring for these animals. 

The chicken coop must be cleaned regularly to ensure your chickens are kept in hygienic conditions and you should designate an area far from the house to store chicken manure.

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Chicken coop

How to choose your chickens

It is easy enough to find chickens from rescue organisations or from private breeders. If you are a complete novice, it can be a good idea to go to an agricultural fair to get an idea of the different breeds and their characteristics before you make your choice.

Choosing your laying hens

Chicken bedding

The most common chicken breeds in the UK owe their popularity to their hardiness and ability to lay a good number of eggs. Here are some of the most popular laying breeds in the UK

  • Rhode Island Reds;

  • Anconas;

  • Croad Langshans;

  • Sussex;

  • Welsummers.

Hens will start laying at about five months of age. Bantam breeds often have the same characteristics as larger breeds but will lay smaller eggs and take up less space. For a beginner chicken owner hoping for eggs, your best bet will generally be Rhode Island Reds. These birds lay a lot of eggs and tend to be easy going.

Once you've gained some experience, you might want to turn to more unique breeds.

Choosing an ornamental chicken breed

Choosing an ornamental chicken breed

If you're looking for an ornamental chicken breed, a chicken show or exhibition can be a useful starting point. 

Bantam and Silkie chickens are usually very docile and friendly. They don't tend to scratch the earth much, will live happily in a smaller space and come in a range of colours!

Hybrid chicken breeds

Hybrid chicken breeds

Of course, pure chicken breeds also lay eggs but usually not as many as hybrids. Many of these varieties have been cross-bred over generations to create a dual-purpose breed that is healthy and produces a lot of eggs.

What age of chicken should I buy?

It's usually best to get your chickens when they are at least a few weeks old. Young chicks are very delicate and require a lot of attention. If you wait a few weeks, you'll have less risk of accidentally buying a male chicken instead of a laying hen. This is because chicks are notoriously difficult to sex.

At the same time, you can buy chickens at any age. You will often find older chickens in rescue centres or being sold by farmers because they have become less productive. However, these hens will still be great companions and will usually provide enough eggs for a household.

What time of year to buy chickens

What time of year to buy chickens

You can buy chickens at any time of year but the best time to do so is in the spring.

Avoid buying chickens when the weather is extremely hot or cold to prevent them from suffering more than necessary in transit. 

How many chickens to start with 

How many chickens to start with 

If you're just looking for fresh eggs, two hens is a good place to start. This should provide you with about 500 eggs a year and your chickens should be happy enough with about 20 m².

It's worth pointing out that you don't need a cockerel if you're only after eggs. However, you will need a cockerel if you're looking to fertilise eggs to hatch chicks.

Installing a chicken coop

How to choose a chicken coop

How to choose a chicken coop

Chicken coops should be selected with a number of factors in mind: 

  • the number of chickens you plan to keep;

  • the type of chicken coop you want: e.g. fixed or mobile;

  • the size (dependent on number of chickens);

  • additional options such as a pull-out tray for cleaning and/or removable roof, automatic opening or access ramps.

The following accessories are essential:

  • nest boxes;

  • perches;

  • feeders and drinkers.

If you can't find a chicken coop to suit your needs, you can set about building your own using timbers, wooden pallets and so on.

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Chicken feeders and drinkers

Getting your chickens used to their new enclosure

Chicken coop disinfectant

Chicken coops are used to keep your chickens feeling safe and to protect them from predators. Your chickens need to get used to taking themselves to their shelter at night.

To encourage your chickens to recognise their new home, most chicken owners shut their chickens in for a few days before allowing them to explore their new home. This way, they shouldn't have any trouble finding their way home once night falls. 

How to feed chickens 

How to feed chickens 

Chickens bought from farms are usually raised on grain. Continue feeding grain at first to avoid upsetting their digestive systems and gradually switch over to a high-quality chicken feed

This type of pellet food is easy to pick up at farm or pet shops. It's also a good idea to supplement your chicken feed with dried worms which are high in protein. Dried oyster shell feed is rich in calcium which may come in handy if you notice your chickens are losing a lot of feathers. Chickens will also relish many types of fresh fruits and vegetables and leftover scraps. But be careful to do your research and find out which foods are suitable. Feeding chickens a balanced diet is not as easy as it may seem!

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Chicken feed

Installing wire fencing 

Installing wire fencing 

It is a good idea to set up an outdoor enclosure to stop your chickens ruining any ground that you don't want to get scratched. This should be done before your chickens arrive. For medium to large-sized breeds, a 1.5 metre high wire fence should do. Smaller and more agile chickens will need a fence measuring about 2 metres in height. 

It is a good idea to bury the fence about 20 cm into the ground as foxes will have no trouble burying under most fences to select their dinner!

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Wire fencing
 
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Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study plant biology. At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart). They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood. I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specialising in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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