Chicken coops are a fixture of real importance. Not only will they act as a fortress for your flock, but, quite often, they will have some visual appeal to the non-feathered folks that see them everyday.
But…all too often, our personal preferences play too big a role in deciding things like, how many nesting boxes the coop should have, how big it should be or even where it should be located. And this kind of decision process can actually be detrimental to your flock’s health.
In regards to your own flock, the healthiest choice for locating your chicken coop will be in a place of shade.
The right breed of chicken will do remarkably well in below freezing temperatures, providing they have a dry place to escape to, that is out of the wind. However, any chicken that is forced to reside in a coop that sets in the direct summer sun, can be at risk from heat stress. Much like your attic, those smaller spaces can really heat up, even with adequate ventilation available.
Of course, if you are one of those with a mobile coop, then placing it in sunlight is an option for those cold winter months. However, it should be noted that keeping your birds dry and out of the wind is going to do much more for their health, than having them in the sun.
Do Chickens Need To Be In The Sun?
A happy chicken is one that is free to move around and has lots of stimulation. This is why the majority of our flocks have always been free-range. Having the opportunity to move about in a large area allows our birds to find the ‘sweet spots’ that best suits them.
Like most living creatures, chickens do obtain benefit from being in the sun. In particular, sunshine provides Vitamin D, which helps in the absorption of calcium. And considering just how much calcium is in each egg shell, being able to properly absorb this, is crucial for the health of the flock; especially your egg-laying hens.
However, just how much sunshine is necessary, depends on your bird and their immediate needs. I do not recommend that people try to monitor/regulate time spent in the sun, but rather provide both sunny and shady areas for your birds to indulge themselves as they see fit.
### Important Note ###
Hot summer days can make things difficult for your flock. A chicken with no place to get out of the sun is at risk for heat stress – which can be fatal. So during this time of year, make sure to provide your birds with fluid and shade.
How Many Hours Of Sun Do Chickens Need?
This is a difficult question to answer as the needs of a chicken will vary from bird to bird. Roosters, for example, have different physical needs than egg-laying hens. Likewise, broiler birds (birds raised for meat) have an entirely different schedule than free-range roosters.
For egg-laying hens, 12 hours of sunlight is preferred for good egg production.
Chickens are only active during the day. And for those who live where the nights can be long, it is not uncommon for hens to reduce their egg output. This is because the lack of activity causes things to slow down. In other words, active chickens are healthiest and this translates to a higher egg output.
For this reason, there are flock owners that will install a light in the coop, in order to keep up egg production.
Personally, I do not think it a bad thing for my hens to ‘take a break’ from their heavy output as laying an egg everyday does place significant physical demands on their small bodies. It’s also worth noting that there is a lot more foraging available during the summer and this means more in the way of nutrition.
What Direction Should My Coop Face?
The optimum placement of your coop will depend upon several factors, including; coop design, shade available and normal wind direction.
Ideally, a chicken coop in summer should be placed in a way to maximize the available breeze. However, a chicken coop in the winter should work to minimize the breeze.
While this is totally contradictory, it is not as difficult as you might think.
Our chicken coop has two windows. The first window is located on the west side of the coop and the other on the east side. This is because the wind generally comes out of the west and moves towards the east.
In the summer, both windows are open, allowing the breeze to flow through the coop and cool things off. In the winter, where the desire to retain heat is important, we simply close the window on the west side of the coop.
The window on the east side of the coop remains partially open to help ventilate, however with the window facing the west side (towards the oncoming wind) being closed, there is no ‘through the coop’ airflow to steal the heat from our flock.
How Far Away Should A Chicken Coop Be From The House?
One of the best ways to protect your flock is by having them close by. Human interaction can be a notable deterrent to potential predators.
For example, we really struggle with hawks attacking our hens. To date, I have never had a hawk win a challenge for the ‘kill’. Every single time, my approach has caused the hawk to release the hen and flee (albeit, sometimes begrudgingly).
Placing your coop closer to the house will also increase your awareness to the state of your flock, which is a good thing. However, chickens poo whenever and where ever the mood hits – which means the closer it is to your house, the more likely you are to step in it.
If you have the space, I recommend placing your coop at roughly 35 yards from the house, in a highly visible area.
This distance seems to be optimum as it is well within earshot, while giving you space from any ‘coop smells’ or ruckus on part of the birds.
I also recommend mowing as much of a clearing as you possibly can, as this open ground will cause reluctance on the part of predators and give you and your flock more time to respond.
Large bushes or small pine trees offer great places for your birds to hide from the sun and airborne threats. Otherwise, clear out as much brush as you can as predators will use this to conceal themselves.