A Guide to Building a Chicken Coop
Farm eggs are arguably the best part of owning land where the blacktop ends. With just a few hens, a small family can get their fill with enough to spare. Coupled with a spring garden and some wild game or fresh-caught fish, you can serve up a healthy bounty sourced from right outside your front door.
If you’re contemplating building a chicken coop, you’ve likely made the decision to procure a few chicks. While they’re young, a cardboard box with a heat lamp in your home will suffice, but by the time they’re six weeks old they’ll need more substantial housing to keep them warm, dry and safe from predators. With some basic carpentry skills and a few tools, you can finish the project in a weekend.
A Google search for plans will yield seemingly endless results of varying designs. But all you really need is a space for them to lay eggs and sleep at night, as well as a small run so they can stretch their legs and wings. Letting them forage around your yard works too, but only if you can keep an eye on them and pen them up at night.
Pick a Spot
Choose a location with easy access from your house. Remember, you’ll be visiting the coop routinely to refill food, water and to pick up eggs. It’s best to build on high ground, which will prevent flooding and excessive mud. Attaching the coop to an already existing structure like a barn works like a charm and will save you some work. Avoid a location that will get direct sunlight all day. Instead, find a spot that gets some shade during the hottest part of the day.
Establish the Size
You’ll need two to three square feet of floor space for each bird. If you have a larger breed of chicken, such as the Dominicker, add an additional square foot for each one. There should be one nesting box for every three hens. When building a run, four to five feet per bird is ideal. If you have the room, a little extra space won’t hurt. More room for them will reduce any quarrels.
Allow one nesting box for every three hens.
Start with the Frame
Keep it simple and use a rectangular frame constructed from 2x4’s. Build with cedar, redwood or cypress, all of which reduce rot. Avoid pressure-treated wood, as it’s soaked with chemicals that could be detrimental to your chickens’ health. Cover the frame with plywood, while the roof can be a slab of tin or an additional sheet of plywood. Leave a few small openings near the ceiling for circulation - cover the holes with chicken wire so that air can seep in but predators can’t.
Construct a door for you, easily assembled from plywood and framed with 1x2’s. Install a latch to keep the door locked - and predators out. Build a frame from 2x4’s that surrounds the space you’ve set aside for the run. The frame will attach to the wall of the coop. Wrap the structure in chicken wire. Then, create a small opening connected to the run for the chickens. If you build the coop raised above the ground, build a ramp leading to the interior.
If you're making a run when building a chicken coop, ensure to include a ramp and entryway that leads to the interior.
A good way to keep foxes and other predators that dig out is to bury chicken wire a few inches under the coop before you begin construction. To keep smaller animals out, like weasels, use one-inch wire.
Equip the Inside
With 2x2’s, build a roosting bar that runs along a wall and is a few feet above the ground. Chickens will always seek the highest point to sleep. Each bird requires around eight to 10 inches of space. Lay a piece of plywood a foot or two under the bar and attach it to the wall, also. This will work to catch droppings, which, being high in nitrogen, serve as a great fertilizer for the garden.
Build one square nesting box, at least a square foot, for every three birds along the opposite wall and suspended above the floor. Ensure the boxes are lower than the roosting bar. Fill the boxes with straw. If you’ll be running electricity to the coop, install the wiring and bulb, which will keep chickens warm in winter and help during nesting.
Put down a layer of straw on the ground of the run. This will help to absorb droppings. Hang a watering device for every four chickens about six to eight inches above the ground. Ensure this area is shaded during the hottest part of the day. If the roof doesn’t provide adequate shade, hang a tarp of cloth to block out the rays.
Inspect the structure for any holes or cracks where a predator could enter. If you find any, plug them up with metal chicken wire. Then, introduce your chicks to their new home. With regular feeding and care, in about six months you’ll start getting eggs.