Okay, so here’s the scoop: before I get into any details about DIY chicken coop construction, I’m gonna be upfront and honest with you… I am not qualified to be writing this article.
Sure, I’ve built two of ’em now (and I think they do a pretty dang good job), but that definitely doesn’t make me an expert!
Just like all of my other “Chickens 101” articles — the only thing I can offer is my perspective and personal experience.
That being said, let’s talk about some of the most important factors to take into account when you’re designing/building a chicken coop:
The size of your chicken coop really depends on how many chickens you plan on keeping.
Cramming a whole bunch of chickens into a tiny space is just asking for trouble — everything from beat up birds and bullying to disease and parasites.
Most folks recommend a minimum of 4 square feet per bird (plus 1 foot of roosting space), which has worked pretty well for us — but beware! Those stinkin’ chickens have a way of “multiplying.” (And I’m not talking about the birds and the bees!)
They just seem to weasel their way into your life and into your heart, and you end up keeping way more of them than you ever thought you would!
Take us, for example…
We never thought we’d have more than 8 chickens at a time, and now we’ve got 24 of the little moochers running around the place!
(Hence, the second coop.)
If you want my advice, build your coop a little bigger than you think you’ll need. You’ll probably be glad you did.
Worst case scenario, your chickens end up with a little more elbow room. 😉
There’s a lot to think about when selecting a location for your chicken coop.
Chances are, you’re probably gonna need to go out there at least once or twice a day (mostly just to check for eggs), so it’d be good to have the coop pretty close to the house.
At the same time, rodents are often attracted to chickens, because of all that feed just sitting there…
Definitely NOT something you want near your house!
Kind of a “Catch-22,” right?
Fortunately for us, we have a bunch of half-wild farm cats running around the place, so rodents aren’t really an issue. (And even if we didn’t have all those cats, our chickens have been known to eat mice from time to time, so I think we’re covered!)
Another thing to consider is your specific environment.
Is there a strong, prevailing wind where you live? If so, you might want to consider building your chicken coop behind a wind break of some kind.
And on a similar vein, you might also want to build it somewhere with a little bit of shade.
We already talked about prevailing winds, but I think it’s still worth mentioning: you don’t want the wind blowing directly into your chicken coop!
Those bitter winter gales can wreak havoc on your chickens.
Plus, I know from personal experience just how miserable it can be (any time of year), reaching into the nest box when a big old gust of wind comes up — blowing straw and chicken dust out at you. In your eyes. In your mouth. Everywhere!
But if you ask me, one of the most important considerations when orienting your chicken coop is the position of the sun.
I wrote in a previous blog post that egg production tends to decrease quite drastically in the winter, mostly due to the shorter days.
According to an article published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a hen needs approximately 14 hours of daylight to lay an egg. So naturally, the more sunlight entering the coop, the better.
Our coop has a big old south-facing window, which is perfect for our northern location; the ladies get sunlight almost all day long in the winter, and yet it stays pretty shaded during the hot, dry summer.
When it comes to positioning the chicken coop, a little planning goes a long way!
Proper ventilation is SUPER important. (And yes, I did just spell the word “super” using all capital letters!)
We all know that it’s helpful to have a little air moving during those sweltering summer days, but it’s easy to overlook how vital it is to have good ventilation during the winter.
Chickens put off a surprising amount of moisture when they breathe, and if it doesn’t have some place to go, all that warm, moist air will accumulate inside the coop. And eventually, when the temperatures dip low enough, all that moisture is just gonna freeze — which is the perfect recipe for frostbite.
For a little more information on the subject, you might want to check out my article about heat lamps.
Are there a lot of predators where you live?
If you’re in a more urban setting, you might not have to worry so much about bad guys breaking into the chicken coop and killing your ladies.
Sure, there are some cities that’ll have a few skunks, raccoons, possums, and possibly even foxes or coyotes, but for the most part, urban areas are a little safer for chickens, with only the occasional stray dog, or maybe a hawk or an owl.
Out in the country, however, all bets are off.
We routinely have coyotes serenading us up on the hillside; hawks, owls and eagles patrol the skies; skunks are roaming all over the place; and it isn’t uncommon for us to see foxes and weasels scurrying off the road, when we drive home late at night.
Heck, I even got into a bare-fisted brawl with the neighbor’s pet raccoon one time! (Twice, actually.) 😉
That being said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You want to fortify your chicken coop as much as possible.
Use good, sturdy materials, and make sure to cover all your bases. Top and bottom.
True, I might have gone a little overboard with ours — I dug an 8 inch trench around the perimeter of the run and poured concrete in it to create a dig-proof barrier (in addition to the 24 inches of chicken wire buried just below the surface).
If I’m gonna keep chickens, I want to make sure I keep my chickens!
Just as a side note, I’ve heard some people who complain about regular old 1 inch chicken wire not being strong enough to keep predators out, but we haven’t had any problems with it (and it’s been tested and tried by a number of different predators, a number of different times).
Y’know, life is busy.
I don’t want to spend any more time and effort maintaining stuff than I absolutely have to, so I designed our main coop to be as easy to maintain as possible.
I blame it on my background as a software engineer, but I made things as modular and reusable and polymorphic as possible.
Take the chicken run, for instance:
I could have built the entire fence as one contiguous piece (it probably would have been quicker and cheaper to do it that way), but I chose to break it up into 5 identical panels — kind of like “chicken coop Legos,” if you will.
That way, if I decide to expand or reconfigure the coop in the future, all I have to do is grab a ratchet, loosen a few bolts, and I’m ready to go!
I can take it down or put it back up with relative ease.
If (heaven forbid) the fence breaks, I can easily take out just that one section, mend it or make a new one, put it back in place, and then be done with the job. No need to fix the entire run.
In fact, I’m already planning on taking out one of the panels and modifying it to include another side door sometime this summer. Those “polymorphic panels” make it really easy to do stuff like that!
Which actually brings me to my next point: be sure to include lots of doors!
There is one main door into our coop, two (soon to be three) side doors into the “run” — and small a door right on top of the run that we use to give our ladies kitchen scraps (best idea ever).
We also have a hinged roof over the nest boxes, so we don’t have to go in there disturbing all the chickens every time we collect eggs.
Lots of doors just makes life easier!
Now, I love our funny old chickens — but dang! Those birds sure know how to make a mess!
When you’re designing a coop, keep in mind that every single ledge, shelf, platform, etc. will (in practically no time at all) get covered with chicken poo. It’s just what they do, man!
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t include elevated roosts for your chickens.
You just need to try and make ’em as easy to clean as possible.
Because, let’s face it, you’re gonna have to muck out the entire coop at least 2 or 3 times a year (possibly a lot more), no matter how well it’s designed — so you might as well make it easy on yourself.
This is one category where I think our chicken coop really shines.
To clean it out, all you need to do is loosen a handful of bolts — and the back wall of the nest boxes comes right off, making it really easy to sweep them out.
When you’re done cleaning the nest boxes — just undo 4 more bolts, remove the rear fence panel, park a wheel barrow underneath the coop, and VOILA! The floor boards slide out, dumping all of the piled up bedding right into the wheel barrow.
Just take a shovel and scrape the floor panels off, put everything back together, and you’re done!
You don’t even need to go into the chicken coop at all!
If you’ve read even an article or two in this blog, you probably already know I’m a bit of a dreamer.
I spend a lot of time (too much time, probably) with my head in the clouds, daydreaming about future projects — and because of that, I’ve got a pretty vivid mental picture of how things should look on our little homestead.
Now, the most important thing for a chicken coop is that it does its job; it should keep your chickens safe and comfortable.
But if I’m gonna be looking at a chicken coop day in and day out, I want it to look nice too!
So instead of just painting everything a boring old white, I decided to buy a can of red paint too — and I used a little bit of recycled fence wood to make some decorative trim.
Does it serve a purpose?
No. But it really didn’t take too long, and it didn’t add too much to the cost, so why not?
Little stuff like that might not be for everyone, but I think it adds a nice touch!
Lindsey and I were walking through Walmart a few months ago (I hate that place), and right in the middle of the isle, near the dog food, was a chicken coop on display — y’know, one of those little dinky prefabricated ones.
Any guesses on the price?
They wanted $250 for it!
TWO-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!
Now, I didn’t exactly keep track of how much we spent building our coop. In all honesty, I think it was slightly more than $250 because I opted to take the nicer, more durable route — but it’ll house 4 times as many chickens. (And it’ll probably last a heck of a lot longer, to boot!)
Our “mini-coop,” which is significantly smaller and simpler than the first coop (yet still bigger than that old “Walmart special”), only cost us about $35 to build.
My point is, you can spend as much (or as little) as you want on a chicken coop.
If you want to build a no-cost chicken coop, all you’ve gotta do is keep an eye out for used lumber sticking out of dumpsters. Old wooden pallets are another great find. Our calf shed was built entirely out of recycled fence slats.
It can be done!
It just takes a little patience and ingenuity.
A Word on Chicken Tractors
Have you ever thought about free-ranging your chickens?
It seems like such a great idea, right? Letting your ladies forage a bit for their own food… Fresh air, exercise, with happier, healthier hens and reduced feed costs…
How could you possibly go wrong with that?
Ummm, I can think of a few ways.
Chickens seem to have this uncanny ability to get exactly where they’re NOT supposed to be — which means that if you don’t have adequate fencing, they’ll end up in your garden (or your neighbors garden), or in the middle of the road, or cornered by a stray dog.
There’s a good chance they’ll be laying eggs in all sorts of random places.
And they’ll also be pooping all over the place.
Like I mentioned before, a good fence can circumvent a lot of these problems, but let me tell ya — setting up fences is a big project!
It can get pretty expensive too.
Instead, you might want to consider keeping your chickens in lightweight portable coops, a.k.a. “Chicken Tractors” — and then just move them from spot to spot every day or so.
Chicken tractors keep your girls contained, but since they’re frequently moving on to fresh grass and fresh pastures, you still get (most of) the benefits of free-ranging.
It does take a little bit more effort hauling them around to new places day after day, but a lot of people swear by it.
As a matter of fact, I was so sold on the idea that I actually started building our own chicken tractor earlier this spring to house our chicks — but when we found ourselves scrambling to make a place for a calf, we ended up biting the bullet and fencing in two separate pastures.
Now that we’ve got those shiny new fences firmly in place, we don’t need a chicken tractor anymore. So it has kind of become a semi-stationary “mini-coop.”
Anyway, chicken tractors… they’re pretty cool.
I have to tell ya though — I’m really getting sick of typing (and I’m sure you’re probably sick of reading), so how about we finish this article?
At the end of the day, when it comes to chicken coops, you just gotta do what works best for you.