I absolutely commend my clients on doing the double check because there are so many unscrupulous chicken coop sellers around because there is a real lack of decent backyard coops for suburban gardens.
A standard traditional chicken shed will not fit today's reduced size housing block, so compromises are made. Many fodder stores and discount shops stock pet housing passing them off as chicken coops, but in actual fact are really not appropriate for the standard size hen. These 'coops' are better suited to rabbits and guinea pigs, but could be OK for 3 or 4 bantam (miniature) hens.
What is wrong with the small coops?
If your hens will be locked in for most of the day in that coop, these coops will soon cause boredom in the hens that can lead to behavioural issues which may include egg eating, pecking another chicken to death (starting at the vent) and feather stripping. We can see the stress that chickens endure as battery caged hens. So floor spacing is key.
The second problem with the small coops is the lack of ventilation. The design of these mini coops may only allow for the side door to be open as the only source of air flow, so come a hot Australian summer, the hens will struggle to roost and may refuse to even go in at night due to lack of cooling and the ability to breathe. If you want to lock up the girls at night to keep them secure from predators, the side door cannot be left open. These side doors often slam closed during the night unless modified by yourself to somehow stay open.
A third problem is the roosting rails, although this can be remedied by a little DIY.
Roosting perches should be at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide or more for relaxed roosting.
If the rails are too thin, the hens may refuse to use them at night, preferring to sit in the nesting boxes and pooing them up daily. Nesting boxes should be kept clean and never be used for night.
The fourth issue is the lack of space for food and water stations. You need just as much access as the chookies do because top ups and cleaning out are essential coop maintenance duties.
How much space do chickens need?
Space per hen is often debatable amongst chicken owners, but a generally rule of thumb is a 50cm x 50cm square per hen of room, if the girls are going to be kept inside permanently (shed and run).
Free range chickens do not require as much room as they come and go from the shed and out to the garden for free roam. They only need the shed for bad weather shelter, roosting at night and a dry location for their food and water.
Roosting space is different in size to floor space, as during the colder months hens will bunch up, and in summer they will spread out. Again, sizing will be different according to the breed size. Egg/meat hens are far bigger than Hybrid hens, so plan accordingly.
Where to find bigger chicken coops
Bunnings now stock a line of sheds that look a little more appropriate for backyards, however, if you are limited for space they still may not be ideal. In the range that they stock there is one upright narrow shed that is inappropriately called a chicken shed, that is because it offers no protection from the elements at night for roosting and no dark area for nesting. Ventilation needs to be able to be opened as well as closed, if a shed/coop does not offer this in the design then it either needs to be modified with some DIY or rejected as a suitable shedding option.
My favourite place to shop for a larger coop that fits the standard guide lines of a good chicken shed/coop is eBay. There are other sites around that sell similar designs, so by all means, shop around online for the best prices. These coops are easy to order, get home delivered (so no trailer hire required), and are easy to erect.
Taller coops are excellent not just for your hens but also for you to be able to access the shed for food/water, maintenance and the ability to collect up a hen without too much fussing about for space. Giving the hens height gives them interest too to keep away boredom. Balconies and extra cross branches are great for the hens to hang out in throughout the day.
The coops from the internet are usually constructed from the same materials that the mini coops are made of; same soft timber, green roofs.
COOP MAINTENANCE TIP: I paint my coop's exposed roof timber with Bitumen Paint (look in the plumbing section of your hardware store). I retouch it every 6 months or so, and it works marvelously to preserve the timber.
Tips for a great Shed Conversion
Not everybody wants to buy an instant chicken coop from the store. If you plan to convert a shed into a coop then there are a few rules to follow to make your hens an excellent home.
Ventilation - able to opened as well as closed.
Roosting rails - minimum 1 inch wide and set at a minimum of 1 meter high off of the ground.
Nesting boxes - placed away from roosting area so they are not poo-ed into at night. Kept in a darker corner.
Lockable door - day/night security.
Appropriate location for food and water station - where you can easily access it for cleaning and stays clean.
View - for the chickens to be able to see out and you able to see in as well as providing natural light.
Sunlight is necessary for a part of the shed/run area if you intend to keep your hens permanently locked in.
Don't be temped into the cheap mini coops. It is better to purchase a larger shed that will meet all of your chickens' requirements for a good quality of life. Your biggest outlay for starting out with chickens should always be the housing. A good coop will be both it for both the hens and for you.
If you DO own a mini coop, all is not lost. Enclosing the coop in a large walk in cage system can be the answer if you have the available room. These are often available from discount stores and sold as Dog Fencing. The top can be enclosed with a roll of chicken wire if you are worried about predators.
Here's a great solution that one of my clients has come up with...