Like so many DYI trends, building a chicken coop empowers us to produce something we would usually buy, harkening back to a time when folks knew how to provide for themselves. And if you love eggs, you can’t get a more fresh and local source than your backyard.
While there are many factors involved with raising and caring for chickens, one absolute necessity is providing them with a safe, clean, dry place to live.
Here’s a primer on what to keep in mind as you research, plan, and build your coop.
Buy a book
Before you even start thinking about building a coop, it’s important to educate yourself about raising chickens. Buy a comprehensive book, like Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, and read it all the way through. The breed and number of chickens you choose to keep will inform how much space they need to live, their temperature tolerances, behavioral characteristics and so on.
Check your local zoning laws
Check the zoning laws in your town. They will tell you how many hens you can keep, whether or not you can keep a rooster, and whether an inspector will have to check out your finished coop. Almost every city in the U.S. allows you to raise chickens, but the rules about how close your coop can be to your house (and your neighbors’ property) vary widely.
Design your coop yourself or pick from one of dozens of designs available for free (or cheap) online. Fire up your search engine of choice and type in “building a chicken coop.” There are also several thick books that contain nothing but chicken coop design blueprints.
Pick a few designs that look good to you and meet your birds’ needs. Most will at least have a series of photos showing the basic steps -— leveling your site, framing, roofing, siding, building and attaching doors, attaching wire for the chicken run, etc. Be realistic about what you can build.
If you’re designing your own:
- AmazonsBackyard Chickens has a photo gallery of designs
- Search Flickr if you need some inspiration
There are also photos at the bottom of this article you can refer to.
Your design mantra should be: “It’s all about the birds.” Most chicken coop designs share some basic elements: a secure, roofed and vented area where your chickens can nest and sleep; nesting boxes and roosts within that space; and an open air chicken run (also called the “yard”) for exercise, pecking around in the dirt, and other chicken activities.
One of the reasons it’s important to know the breed of bird and number you plan to keep when designing your coop is space. You need to provide them with plenty of square feet to nest, roost, lay, and get along. Otherwise they will peck at each other —- or worse (Let the phrase “The Donner Party” flash through your mind).
A general rule of thumb (careful about your power tools) is 2 square feet per chicken. You can apply a similar rule to the space for their run. My rule is roughly 4 square feet per chicken. Treat these as minimum numbers.
You need to keep an optimal climate for your breed of chicken. This includes their chicken run (yard), which needs to be protected from the elements, and the interior of the coop. The interior may need heating, insulation, venting or other ways to regulate temperature. This could include a heat lamp for adolescent chickens in the spring, a heating pad for hens in winter, or vents to keep them cool in the summer.
You may need to make changes during the day or at night to keep the coop’s climate stable and optimal. Wireless thermometers are available that transmit to a main display in your house, as well as ones that can be monitored on your PC or mobile phone. Remember that you will need to run power to the coop for these or other climate control solutions.
Materials and tools
Once you’ve decided on a design, create a list of the materials that you need.
Materials: Your list will probably include wood types like 2x4s, plywood or OSB (oriented strand board). You will need chicken wire. Shingles and insulation are also must-haves to keep the chickens warm and dry if you live in an extreme climate. At the end of the project, you will need bedding material like pine shavings or straw. Do not use cedar shavings, as they can be toxic to the chickens.
For financial and practical reasons, consider recycled or used materials. Many towns and cities have a reuse center of some sort, a place where clean, used materials like the ones you need are available for purchase. The materials may have nail holes or be available at odd lengths and widths, but you can’t beat the price, and the chickens won’t care. Some reuse centers even sell “salvaged” paint, usually a combo of old paints that have been processed and colored. Also, some contractors store excess materials or salvaged materials that they may be willing to sell at a less-than-retail price. Contact a few and ask them.
Tools: The basics will include a power drill, hammer, utility knives, straight edges, tape measures, safety goggles or a safety mask, and hearing protection. You will also need saws. Handsaws are useful, but a chop saw is invaluable — it’s quick, efficient, and accurate.
Plan your build
You’re going to need buddy to help you assemble the coop. Find somebody (or a few people) who have some carpentry skills if you can.
Consider grouping your tasks -— framing, siding, roofing, painting, etc. —- and block out mornings or afternoons accordingly. When planning, think about how much available time you have. Factor in more time than you’ll need, because you’ll make mistakes (everyone does).
Also, factor in your chickens. Do you already have them? If so, think about when they have to go outside cheap flights to spain. You don’t want to take longer than you thought on the project and end up with full-grown chickens in your house or apartment. If you don’t already have them, keep them in mind as you’re planning your build.
Building a chicken coop can be a satisfying project and a great investment. Like any design/build project, it can also be challenging and frustrating at times. It’s important to choose a design that works well for the breed and number of chickens you plan to keep, factors in the climate in which you live, and is realistic for you and a friend to build.
Hopefully, a few months after you’ve finished construction, you’ll have some delicious, farm-fresh eggs to show for it. Just make sure you share, especially with your building buddy. You couldn’t have done it without his or her mad chop-saw skills.