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Monday, February 6, 2012

Building a Chicken Coop ? Some Things to Consider


Several years ago when we decided to start raising chickens, I knew that our six chicks would eventually grow out of their brooder box and need a coop. I starting 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.


This is the coop I ended up with and I love it. It's perfect inside our completely enclosed run. It has a hinged roof for easy cleaning, three nesting boxes with an exterior hinged lid and tons of vents that can 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 is perfect for up to a dozen hens who have access to the outdoors every waking moment. (Otherwise, I would stick to just six chickens if they would be spending large amounts of time indoors due to inclement weather or your schedule.)

Here are 7 things to consider when building (or buying) a coop:

1) SIZE 

Conventional rule of thumb is 2-4 square feet of interior coop floor space per hen, dependent 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. So build big.


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.

Here's what I did:

First I drew out a scaled-down diagram on a sheet of paper and 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 ! 


2) ELEVATION

Raised coops are more secure than coops built on the ground (unless you pour a concrete floor). A raised coop will prevent predators from digging and burrowing underneath and keep the coop floor from rotting. Another advantage of a raised coop is that is 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.


I knew I wanted a raised coop, so I attached short legs to the underside of the floor.



3) ROOSTS 

Once I had the legs attached and braced, I assembled the sides of the coop and put in two roosting bars. 2x4s with the 4" side facing up make perfect roosts. You can smooth the sides and round them a bit if you want also. Rule of thumb on roosts is to allow 8" per hen. Reality on that 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.




4) 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 easy cleanup and the linoleum doesn't provide places for mites 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 put the body of the coop in place on the base.



Then I attached the coop to the base using furring strips and screws.



5) NESTING BOXES

Rule of thumb on nesting boxes is one box for every three to four hens. My plans called for three boxes that I screwed together. 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 one...at the same time.


All the bare wood was primed and painted... 


Then I shingled the coop roof and nesting box lid with cedar shakes.


The coop was looking downright luxurious inside.



I ended up using black barn hinges for the vent doors. I think they add a nice touch.


I attached the roof, one side with hinges, so it can be raised for easy cleaning.


Of course our cat had to come check it out ! 


6) 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, braced on the inside with furring strips to secure it, and put hinges and predator-proof eye hooks on the doors.

Cover all the openings with 1/2" hardware cloth stapled in place and then secured from the inside by screwing furring strips along the edges. Then by all means, go ahead and cut some more.


I hang onto the pieces of wood I cut out and then reattach them with hinges so I can open and close the vents as needed.

The coop has lots and lots of vents I can open and close as needed. The best ventilation is higher than the level of the roosts.



7) 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. These predator-proof eyehooks 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.


I painted a 'Hens' sign for over the front door...


And of course I decorate the coop for the various holidays. I think even my chickens are starting to think I'm a bit crazy !




By taking these seven factors into consideration when planning your 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 has served us well the last couple of years. But now with 20 chickens and more chicks arriving next month, the time has come to think about building a larger coop for them all.


But I wouldn't change a thing about this coop. It's been just perfect.

If you are interested in building this coop yourself, the PDF plans are available on etsy HERE. They include a material list, a cutting diagram plus five pages of step-by-step assembly instructions that you can download and print out.  Just $20 for the set.


I don't know how it is in your household, but in ours, I'm the one who builds stuff - most likely because I'm too impatient to wait for my husband to get home from work and explain or draw out what I want built (but that's a whole 'nother story).  I have my own set of tools even. You don't need many, in fact I have built two chicken coops and a duck house using only a cordless drill, hammer, staple gun, jigsaw and circular saw.

Some suggestions for your toolbox
After your initial investment, the money you save building things yourself will pay for these tools in no time!

   

And if you want to go really 'girly'...
(I'm actually kind of digging these pink tools - you can bet my husband would NEVER borrow them!)

     

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19 comments:

  1. This is a terrific coop. I searched the different coops when I built my small tractor. We were only getting 2 chicks so I kept it simple. Before I put the extended run on it, it reminded me of a Peterbilt Semi. hehe.

    I'll remember the linoleum for my next design.
    OurlittleMeadow

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    1. I do put down new linoleum each spring. I just rip it up, scrub underneath, let it dry completely then sprinkle some DE onto the wood - as a natural mite preventative - and then staple down a new sheet. The cheapest I can find at Lowes is very economical.

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    2. Would a durable hard tile offer the same protection as the linoleum? Or would the joints and grout lines trap too much ick and beasties? Or maybe stone/ceramic would be too cold in the winter? I know tile would initially be more expensive than lino, but you probably wouldn't have to replace it as often (maybe just reseal it).

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  2. It is inspiring to see that you applied your sewing skills to this project. I can't wait to see the next one! Another fantastic post...and gift to your readers!

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  3. Thanks Becky ! It really is pretty much the same concept. Even using the jigsaw reminds me of sewing.

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  4. A woman with power tools! Wow! LOL Great job! Love it!

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    1. Yes I am proud to say that when we got married, I actually had better power tools than my husband !

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    2. That's awesome! I'm slowly but steadily learning to use my husband's power tools. There are too many projects and not enough him. LOL

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    3. Lisa - I did too! And I do our car maintenance as well... =) It's not that he's not handy; it's that I'd been presented (or sought out) more constructing opportunities. We're building a custom coop, with a conjoined storage/garden shed with interior access to the girls, exterior-accessed hinged/drop-down nest boxes, and a 10'x20' run - all safely lined with 1/2" hardware cloth, including dug 18" down and 30" out and buried (under first a small layer of gravel, then backfilled dirt), with a chicken-friendly perimeter garden.

      Anyhoo, I can relate - and am fortunate that my husband appreciates my empirical knowledge. =)

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  5. You smart cookie you...beautiful job!!! I too can't wait to see the next project....thanks for the encouragement and sharing...!!!!

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  6. This is adorable! I would love to see your new bigger house as we will be getting many hens..

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  7. Since this has a raised floor design, you could easily add some wheels to the legs (maybe beef up the bracing a little) and make it a semi-portable "tractor". Might be a little heavy to pull or push alone by hand, but certainly a good size to pull around to different locations with an ATV.

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    1. You could..but I'm not a huge fan of the tractor. I understand that the chickens are on new grass every few days, but they are cooped up in a very small space. I prefer a stationary coop in a very large enclosed run.

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  8. I think this is the best coop I have seen. You explain the steps so that a novice like me can understand it and know what you are talking about. Thank you so much, I cannot wait to start and build my coop. I cannot wait to see your "movin up to the big house" chicken coop.

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  9. My husband was planning to use those nice sheds they sell at Home depot and putting down a cement slab and ceramic tile the floor for easier cleaning. The reason for him to walk inside.

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  10. nice tips on to build a chicken coop, i will try this weekend and ll let you know about my progress.

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  11. Hello again Lisa. As I stated to you before I am new to the “back yard chicken farming” clan but I am also new to blogging in general so I’m having a little trouble knowing if I am posting in the right places but here go’s anyway. I definitely am going to make a $4.00 donation to help support your website. I have already gotten way more than $4.00 worth of information already. I love your site and am very excited. Plans for my coop and run officially started today. Whoop Whoop!!! I do have some questions that I will be asking when I make my donation but I am also going to ask them here because I “think” this is the right thread. I noticed in your pictures that you have an open topped run for your girls. Will they not fly out and over the fence? That being said, I also have a few cats roaming the property and wonder how much of a threat they are to my forthcoming flock. I plan to start a blog of my own to show my progress from start to my first egg. For the startup do you recommend day old chicks from Georgia to North Carolina or eggs I hatch here at home? Thanks in advance for any advice from you or your bloggers.

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    Replies
    1. Hi there. Yes this is fine for posting or you can always email me too at:Fresheggsdaily@gmail.com
      Our run actually is covered but full grown hens really can't fly. They can clear a 4 or five foot fence if they really put their mind to it but the netting across the top is more to keep the hawks out honestly. Cats won't bother your hens - chicks possibly although our cat never has. If you are equipped to hatch, I would say hatch for sure. I really enjoy it -but day old chicks are just great too.

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    2. Thanks again Lisa. I did not realize you had netting across the top. I guess I just can’t see it in the pics. I do have two fairly large hawks that I see frequently overhead. I made my donation so you can up the good work. You do such a great job.
      D.J.T.

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Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily
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