My newest project is complete; The Raptor Ranch, it’s my new coop. Yep, you heard that right. My wife laughed too when I told her what I’m calling it. Now that it’s finished I thought this would be a great opportunity to help those of you interested in your own backyard raptors.
Previously I wrote a post about Backyard Raptors… Chickens! I was a little brief about the topic of shelter and just covered the basic knowledge. Hopefully, here I can help you all make good decisions on your own raptor ranches and cover more detailed issues on the topic. So pull out the pen and paper because we are about to begin…
So What Should I Get?
Hmm! That is a good question and one that I asked myself when I got started. At first, I was looking at the traditional stationary coops and I built one. Now there are so many options out there one should take great consideration of them. First, you should ask yourself …
- “How much space do I have for the coop?”
- “Do I want a traditional stationary coop or a mobile one?”
- “Can I provide enough space for my backyard raptors to roam safely?”
Well, I don’t know what you have on your property. Therefore, I can’t answer that but I can provide the info for you to answer those questions yourself.
Like with my Backyard Raptors post, there are some basic things we need to go over. This will help you with choosing the size and layout of your soon to be raptor ranch.
- For happy and healthy chickens they need a minimum of 3 sq. ft. within the run or outdoor area and roughly one square foot within the coop itself
- The gals like to perch at night when they sleep and need about a ten inches of space to be comfortable.
- Access doors should be around nine inches wide and tall for your raptures to easily move through.
- With stationary coops or coops with a floor, you will need to use bedding. I usually keep mine around 6-8 inches deep.
- Like other birds, chickens usually lay eggs in a nest or as we call them in the backyard raptor business… Nesting Boxes!
- Though they are hardy animals, chickens do need protection from the elements and predators.
- Chickens can have respiratory issues so good ventilation or air flow is a must.
- The length of the amount of daylight does effect egg production.
- Your raptors will want and need to dust bathe. Which means they will need access to an area or space to do so.
Now that you’ve got a general idea of what goes into a coop. Let’s get into the types out there. Then we can cover the features and what your ranch should be aiming for to keep your chickens alive and happy. So they can give you all those yummy eggs.
Thanks to some very innovative farmers and homesteaders like Joel Salatin, Harvey Ussery, Geoff Lawton, Justin Rhodes, and Paul … Sorry! I was starting to lose track of my thoughts in all the names out there and there’s a lot.
Anyhow, thanks to them there are many types of coops available and they all fall under to categories: Stationary or Movable. Let’s take a look at what is out there for you to choose from.
As I have mentioned in the past, there are many choices for most things dealing with chickens. This section will cover what I consider stationary coops and building types for them.
Traditional Coop and Run – These are what most of us see when it comes to having chickens. It’s a build (the coop); sometimes elevated for more space usage, with an attached area for the chickens to roam (the run). Most commonly the run is enclosed on all sides with chicken wire or hardwire cloth. The coop portion can be anything from a small shed to a four-foot by four-foot elevated box with a peaked or slanted roof.
This is what I started with and built only soon to realize the lost potential of what my chickens could do for me. Along with that, I noticed I was using a large amount of bedding to keep things clean and the odor down.
Paul Gautschi goes one step further and a with a lot less work. He has a simple shed type building (coop) with an attached fenced in area (run) for his raptors to run around and scratch the ground. With his step up he never has to clean the run and in fact, it became his composting factory. The chickens do all the work for him.
Which leads me to the next type…
Greenhouses – Yep! That’s right I said greenhouses. Actually, Joel Salatin uses a greenhouse system for his chickens during the winter. It’s a great option if you aren’t using the greenhouse during that time. The greenhouse helps keep the chickens warm during those cold days and night. Plus, the chickens till the ground and fertilize it for your next seasons’ usage. A pretty good setup but with two downsides. One, you could be using the greenhouse to grow a fall/winter garden. Two, you will have to protect the greenhouse walls from the chickens. You can do this by using plywood boards to create a barrier along the lower inner walls. This will keep the chickens from scratching and peck your nice greenhouse.
Since 2012 mobile coops have begun to appear everywhere and there is a good reason why too. Here we will go over the type of mobile ranches and why they are so popular.
Pastured Poultry Pen – I first heard and saw one of these during a video with Joel Salatin. It’s a large pen roughly around 10’x12’x2′, that is moved on a daily basis across a pasture or paddock. These pens have no bottom to allow the chickens to eat the grass/weeds and scratch at the ground to promote new growth. Joel usually will run 75 Cornish Cross (meat birds) in one of these. Also, Justin Rhodes built a smaller version about 10’x10’x2′ that he has used for years on his homestead. Though it is not quite what most backyard raptor raisers would use it’s still worth mentioning.
Chicken Tractor – A smaller and lighter version of the pastured poultry pen, the chicken tractor is designed either for a certain job or the number of chickens it will house. The chicken tractor has no bottom like the pen above allowing your raptors to work on the yard, garden, or pasture. One of the downfalls of the tractor is that they can be light enough for the wind or predators to pick up or move.
Mobile Chicken Coop – Exactly as the name implies. These are the true definition of mobility with coops and they have a large variety of sizes, layouts, styles, and designs. Joel Salatin has the enormous Eggmobiles, Geoff Lawton coverts smaller trailers into coops, and Justin Rhodes has his Chickshaw (one of my favorite designs). The mobile coop is designed to work alongside the use of mobile fencing (usually electrified). This setup allows your raptors to free range within the fenced area and use the coop for all their other needs.
I do have to say that if you’re looking for more freedom for you and your backyard raptors than this is the best setup anyone could do. Whether you have a garden area for the chickens to clean up in the fall, a large or small yard to move them around in so you don’t have to mow as often, a mobile setup is what I’d look into first.
I bet your head is teeming with ideas now. Then let’s dive into the feature you’ll need to add to your own raptor ranch.
It’s All About The Features
There are three features of the coop that will need to be provided for. This is where I had a little fun designing my coops. These features can change the look and functionality of your ranch for both you and your backyard raptors.
The feature can change the look of your coop both inside and out. The function of the nesting box is to provide a safe dark place off the ground for your egg laying ladies to… Well, lay their yummy eggs of course. Nesting boxes should be around 12 cubic inches, placed above the chicken’s eye level and you’ll need one box per ten chickens. They can be built off the outside of your coop (usually for smaller coops) or on one of the interior walls. The option of what to use for nesting boxes is huge. Some build their own out of plywood while others will use what is available around the house. Justin Rhodes uses milk crates in his Chickshaw. You can even buy pre-made fancy egg catching designs that you can install on your coop.
Naturally, chickens will roost when they are resting/sleeping at night and like other birds, they use tree limbs to do so. Most people will use a 2″x2″ board to emulate this. I’ve used one to two-inch thick limbs from trees I have pruned and noticed that they not only add character but last longer than bare wood lumber. Whichever you decide just remember that they need a place to get off the ground and out of their manure. Your backyard raptors will cuddle close to each other to keep warm at night. Therefore they only need around ten inches of space on the perches. It’s also good to have the perches less than three feet high or provide a ladder system for them to easily hop on/off.
As I have mentioned above, your backyard raptors like to dust bathe to keep pests like mites away. If you do not have an adequate place for those gals to do so outside than you may want to provide one for them. An old tote at least 2’x2’x16″ will do the trick just fine. Now you’ll need to add the dust mix and set it in a dry place they’ll have access during the day.
There are many different mix options out there and I haven’t actually used one. Usually, I’ll get some dirt from their favorite spot they found in the front garden last year. One thing I do know a little diatomaceous earth, wood ash, sand and garden lime helps immensely.
With all this information you’re probably asking yourself…
My answer would be the most important part when looking for or building a good coop. There are many things to consider and among them are these four important objectives your raptor ranch should provide for those helpful little ladies needs.
Protection From Predators
Since a chicken isn’t truly a raptor… Well, maybe they are if you see them attack an ant hill.
Seriously though! Since they aren’t we need to provide the gals and their eggs with protection from any critters that may want to harm or eat them and/or your delicious eggs. This means that there should not be any gaps larger than an inch on the exterior of the coop. Especially if you live in an area that has snakes.
Shelter or Cover
Your coop should offer protection from the elements; wind, rain, snow, and sun. Yes, even at times the sun too. This means that your new raptors need to have someplace to get away from the wind, rain, and snow. Along with having some shade to cool off in from time to time on hot summer days.
Keep It Ventilated
Due to the fact that chickens love to dust bathe, scratch and will trample bedding. Your raptor ranch needs to have good ventilation so those egg-laying ladies get plenty of fresh air and don’t start to have respiratory issues. A great way to do this is to have one end open and vents in the upper areas of the enclosed section of the coop. Creating some sort of circulation within the ranch.
Plenty of Sunshine
I know I previously stated that they need protection from the sun. Well, they also need access to sunlight too. At times you will notice your backyard raptor laying out and bathing in the sun. Like many other types of birds, chickens enjoy sunning themselves for many reasons. From helping regulate body temperature to getting rid of pesky parasites, they need adequate access to sunlight.
Plus chickens need about 14-16 hours of daylight to continually lay eggs.
Your New Project Begins
Whichever choices you make on your road to having chickens of your own. Hopefully, you feel well armed with knowledge on your adventures with backyard raptors and the next project you may tackle. Have fun building guys and gals.