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Creating a Healthy Chicken Coop: Tips for Backyard Chickens

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Keeping your hens warm, dry and comfortable in their chicken coop will significantly reduce the number and size of any problems or issues that might come your way. This blog post is based on the 2nd presentation in our three-part Winter Series, where we looked at all the essential areas that we need to be aware of in order to create an ideal environment in which our flock can thrive. A video of the presentation can be found at this link or at the end of this post.

Coop flooring

Concrete is ideal as it is easy to clean and prevents pests or predators from digging underneath. Strong, galvanised or stainless steel aviary mesh is also suitable along with concrete pavers. Wooden boards can also work but must be supported above ground level to avoid any rot.

Bedding and nesting

Wood shavings to a depth of 10cm throughout the coop provide insulation, comfort and good composting of chicken droppings. It must be kept dry to be able to do its work effectively. A 10 to 13 cm layer of hemp fibre is ideal for nest boxes as it is antibacterial and highly absorbent so keeps eggs cleaner.

Nest boxes and perches

Nests should always be lower than perches to discourage sleeping in nest boxes at night. They should be cosy and dark, so using a curtain over the entrance to the nest works well. Perches should be around 4 cm square with rounded edges and made from hardwood, metal or plastic. A ladder configuration works well with 30 cm space for each hen. If your coop has a droppings tray, clean it more frequently during winter as droppings won’t dry out nearly as fast as in the warmer months.

Coop integrity

Thoroughly inspect your chicken coop and run periodically, fixing all gaps and replacing any damaged boards. Plug small holes with steel wool to stop rodents, but ensure that there is adequate ventilation at or around the apex of the coop to release ammonia fumes.

Covered run

Keep the run as waterproof as possible using 20 cm eaves and 25 cm skirting boards around the bottom perimeter. Place a wall on the prevailing wind side of the run to stop excessive driving rain from entering and dampening the bedding materials.


Provide temporary and permanent enrichment for your flock. Temporary enrichment can be provided by using healthy, pecking blocks placed on your scrap tray. You can also hang bunches of silverbeet and other vegetables in the run. More permanent forms of enrichment can be swings, mirrors, hanging DVDs and even old metal or plastic children’s playground equipment.

Feeders and drinkers

Hang or stand feeders and drinkers at least 25cm high. Keep the feeder in a completely dry area and use a good quality tread-on feeder if the chicken run will be open to the outside environment such as an open roof or large diameter mesh.


Any scraps given to hens should ideally be vegetable-based and given sparingly. They should always go onto a scrap tray with all leftovers placed into the compost bin. A high-grade, balanced chicken feed should always be available during daylight hours. Let the feed completely run out at least on a weekly basis to reduce cherry picking behaviour. Chickens have a crop for pre-digestion storage so they won’t go hungry or be compromised in any way when no feed is available for a time.

Parasite detection

Check hens each month and feel for any lightweight hens along with checking around the vent area for any nit eggs which shows that parasites have been active. If you discover any mites or lice, treat over 7 days with Lice Away and Wipe Out Mites to remove them from the hens and the environment.

Parasites and disease prevention

Adding Bugs Away into bedding materials every two to three months will create a hostile environment for any bugs that find their way into the coop and run. Keep wild birds and rodents out of the coop if at all possible with your run fully enclosed in a narrow gauge, aviary mesh. Use a well-designed, high-quality tread-on feeder such as the Chooktred if allowing hens to free-range during the day.


Replace bedding at least twice each year and remove any wet or caked bedding or nesting when you see it. It’s a great idea to use a sanitiser on all surfaces when chickens are out of the coop. Sprinkle Bugs Away into fresh bedding to help keep unwanted pest insects from establishing a new home. Store all feed in an airtight and watertight steel drum ideally so that it stays fresh, dry, and pest-free. Here is a comparison chart to provide you with more information on the best bedding and nesting materials to use in your chicken coop and run.

Different options for bedding, litter, and nesting

Ideal bedding/litter is…

  • Absorbent
  • Non-caking
  • Non-toxic
  • Resistant to mould and bacterial growth






 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

  • Antibacterial
  • 4 x as absorbent as shavings
  • Renewable/sustainable
  • Compostable 
  • Lasts longer
  • Higher price
  • Can be difficult to source
  • Must stay dry

Wood Shavings

 ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

  • 3 x as absorbent as straw
  • Reasonable price
  • Lasts a long time
  • Compostable
  • Must stay dry
  • Can cake if there is too much moisture


★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

  • Good for dust bathing
  • Drains well
  • Can be used in a range area without cover
  • Cool in the summer
  • Won't compost droppings
  • Cold in winter
  • Needs frequent cleaning
  • Poor absorber of droppings


★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

  • Inexpensive
  • Absorbent
  • Can cake
  • Dusty
  • Can aggravate the respiratory system


★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

  • Used traditionally
  • Easily sourced
  • What people know
  • Tendency to cake
  • Poor absorbency / compostability
  • Needs frequent cleaning
  • Can create mould when wet
  • Can cause sour crop with long fibres


★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

  • Can be used in a range area without cover
  • Easily obtained
  • Inexpensive
  • Poor absorbency / compostability
  • Can cause areas to be smelly
  • Does not break down into compost
  • Mould problems

Setting up your chicken coop and run correctly will enable you to provide a healthy and productive environment for your backyard flock. Not only will it minimise the problems that can be encountered, but it will save money and effort over time. Your flock and back pocket will thank you for the little time and effort put in at the very beginning – an effort that will ensure your success over the long term.

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Comments (1)

  • thank you for making this article very useful and keep up the good work


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