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Tips for Building (or Buying) a Chicken Coop

Thinking about building or buying a chicken coop for your backyard? Here's what you need to consider before you make your decision and get started.

Back in 2009 on sort of a whim, we decided to start raising chickens.

I wanted goats, my husband suggested chickens instead, so I ended up "settling" for six baby chicks.

I knew that our chicks would eventually grow out of their little brooder box and need a coop.

So I started looking at pre-made coops, coop kits, and coop plans, but couldn't find exactly what I wanted.

I researched the different elements that good coop designs encompassed and I decided to design and build my own, using the different aspects from a few different coops I had seen online.

This is the coop I ended up building after several days of sketching out measurements and specs and then a weekend or two of cutting, sawing, hammering and drilling.

With virtually no prior building experience other than a few bookcases and birdhouses, I built this coop over the course of a few weekends with just a cordless drill, hammer, staple gun, jigsaw and circular saw.

The coop had a hinged roof for easy cleaning, three nesting boxes with an exterior hinged lid, twelve feet of roosting bar and tons of vents that could be opened or closed depending on the weather.

It was the perfect size for our six original chickens - with room for more as we expanded our flock (or so I thought at the time).

Measuring 24 square feet, technically it would have been enough space for up to 10-12 chickens who have access to the outdoors every waking moment and only use the coop to sleep and lay their eggs.

Get my DIY Coop Plans

But realistically, I would stick to just six chickens if they would be spending large amounts of time indoors due to inclement weather or your schedule or only have access to a small run area.

Over time, of course our flock grew to nearly three dozen plus a dozen ducks (chicken math at its best!) and so our original coop was converted to a duck house for eight of our ducks.

I ended up converting a dog house for the rest of the ducks, then turning a lean-to that was attached to our barn into a much larger coop for our entire flock. But I still loved our original coop.

When we left Virginia and moved to Maine in 2015, it was hard to leave it behind.

There are so many memories attached to that little coop that housed our very first batch of baby chicks!

Tips for Building (or Buying) a Chicken Coop

When I was designing my coop, there were several things I took into consideration regarding the location and design.

These considerations are also important if you are shopping around and considering buying a coop as well.

Chicken Coop Size 

Conventional rule of thumb is 3 to 4 square feet of interior coop floor space per hen, depending on the size of your birds (bantams need less, Jersey Giants need more) and how many waking hours they spend in the coop.

My rule of thumb: Build your coop a lot bigger than you think you will need.

You only have three hens now... By this time next year you will have 10 ... or 20 ... or 45 ... and maybe a few ducks..... Trust me. I know! So build bigger than you need at the current time.

I had never built anything like this before. My prior construction experience was limited to basic bookcases and things like that. But I just approached it like it was a sewing project.

Design it, draw it out, cut out the pattern and assemble. Easy, right ? Yes, it was. It ended up being a weekend project that cost me about $250. A smaller coop like this will be easier to build if you have only limited building experience.

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Here's what I did:

First I drew out a scaled-down diagram on a sheet of paper and worked out how I would cut all the sheets of plywood and boards. Then I made a list of materials I would need.

Once we got all the materials purchased and back home, I started measuring and cutting the plywood.

After all the pieces were cut out, I sorted them and could already see the coop taking shape!

Chicken Coop Location

If your coop is going to be stationary, versus a movable tractor-type coop, then the location is very important.

In the warm southern climates, you'll want to situate it in the shade. 

Since we were in Virginia, I should have set my coop in the shade. I didn't. I originally had it in full sun.

By August of that first year, we had enlisted the help of neighbors with a dolly and moved the coop under a pine tree so it was in the shade all day.

If you live in a more northern climate, then locating your coop in the sun will be more beneficial. 

Now that we're in Maine, our coop is facing south, so it gets sun all day long, and backs up to trees to block the cold wind from the north.

You should also consider whether your run will be attached to your coop at one end or if your coop will sit inside a pen like ours did.

Our little coop fit perfectly inside our completely enclosed (1600 square foot) run - yes, that was a bit of overkill on the run size (rule of thumb is a minimum of 10 square feet per chicken), but our flock eventually did outgrow their coop, but never outgrew the run space!

Chicken Coop Elevation

A raised coop will prevent predators from digging and burrowing underneath and keep the wooden floor from rotting.

Another advantage of a raised coop is that it provides welcome shelter from sun in the summer and sleet and snow in the winter for your chickens.

Raising the coop up at least 8 to 12 inches keeps it high enough that the chickens can easily fit underneath while preventing rodents from taking up residence.
Our coop was elevated, and the chickens loved taking dust baths underneath it!

I knew I wanted a raised coop, so I attached short legs to the underside of the floor.
You can also use cement blocks or bricks to raise your coop off the ground.

Chicken Coop Flooring

Coop flooring is another consideration. Dirt floors are easily breached by predators, concrete is expensive and often not a DIY option. 
Wood floors can house mites and other parasites.

I chose to cover the plywood flooring in my coop with an inexpensive piece of roll-down linoleum.
It makes for super easy cleanup and the linoleum doesn't provide places for mites and other insects and pests to burrow into.
Easy to cut and staple down, it is also easily replaceable when needed.

I nailed down linoleum over the plywood floor and then build the body of the coop in place on the base.

Building the Roosts

Once I had the legs attached and braced, I assembled the sides of the coop and put in two roosting bars.

Rule of thumb on roosts is to allow 8" per hen. The reality is that all your hens will squeeze together at one end of the coop leaving 90 percent of the available roost space empty.
Regardless, plan on enough roost space for the eventual number of hens you plan on raising (see tip No. 1 above).

Using two-by-fours with the 4 inch side facing up works well for roosting bars. You can even round the top edges a bit if you want.
The flat side helps keep the chickens' feet hidden under their bodies and protected from frostbite in the winter.

Building the Nesting boxes

Rule of thumb on nesting boxes is one box for every three to four hens. My plans called for three boxes.

Nesting boxes should be 12 to 14 inches square and be positioned lower than your roosts so the chickens won't perch on them. 
As long as your nesting boxes are positioned lower than at least your highest roosts, the chickens shouldn't be tempted to sleep in the nesting boxes (and poop!) which leads to dirty eggs.

Reality is, no matter how many you have, all your chickens will want to lay in the same the same time.
So don't stress over the number of boxes in your coop. Add as many as you will fit comfortably in the coop.
Even easier, you can just set some wooden crates or barrels or totes up and fill them with soft nesting material.

But I chose to build a set of external boxes that jutted out from the frame of the coop so as not to take up any floor space inside the coop.

Chicken Coop Vents

One-fifth of the total wall space of your coop should be vented.
Good ventilation and air flow is very important, winter and summer, in a coop. So go ahead and cut some vents in your coop walls.

I stapled 1/2" hardware cloth over the double door vent, bracing it on the inside with furring strips to secure it.

I covered all the openings and vents with 1/2" hardware cloth stapled in place and then secured the wire from the inside by screwing furring strips along the edges  and using washers screwed into the corners.

I saved the pieces of wood I cut out earlier and then reattached them with hinges so I could open and close the vents as needed.
The best ventilation is higher than the level of the roosts.

Chicken Coop Latches

Coop doors and nesting box covers need to be fitted with secure latches.
Raccoons can turn knobs, untie knots, undo bungee cords, lift latches and slide deadbolts.

Spring-loaded eye hooks work nicely on our nesting box lids and coop doors.
They come in various sizes and will keep predators out. We haven't yet met the raccoon who can figure out how to work these.
Predator-proofing your chicken coop is the one most important thing you can do.

Latches secured with carabiners or padlocks also work well.

By taking these factors into consideration when choosing a coop, whether you buy one or build one yourself, I think you will find yourself with a very functional coop that you are pleased with for years to come.

This coop served us well for a couple of years, then became a wonderful house for our small flock of ducks.
I wouldn't change a thing about this coop. It was just perfect.

Until I got more chickens.

Get my DIY Coop Plans

And find plans to build roosting bars, nesting boxes, predator-proof window frames, window boxes, coop shutters, plus projects for your run, garden and more are included in my book DIY Chicken Keeping. Available wherever books are sold!

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