Building a chicken coop is about as straightforward and as complicated as any other carpentry project, with the added concern that this structure is intended to house living things.
As such, the stakes are higher to get things right. The perfect chicken coop should be spacious and well-outfitted, which will keep your hens happy and prevent infighting.
It should also be protected from predators, like hawks, weasels, and snakes, and well-ventilated, dry, and easy to clean, which will help prevent disease and parasites.
Fortunately, all of these things are easy to meet if you follow the right steps and work thoughtfully on your coop.
1. Find The Perfect Plan
Finding the perfect chicken coop plan is actually probably easier and cheaper than you think, as there is an endless variety of plans available online. When you are searching for plans, you should consider the needs of your flock, as well as the materials and landscape you have to work with. Another thing to look out for is how well it will withstand the weather in your area.
2. Choose Your Materials
If you’re building your own chicken coop, you are almost certainly planning to use wood, but choosing what kind of wood and where to get it are actually important decisions. In terms of what kind of wood, you want to avoid pressure-treated lumber, which can release arsenic and toxic copper compounds into the environment, harming your chickens. Instead, a tropical hardwood or treated softwood will give you the best durability without the harmful chemicals. What is really great for a chicken coop is second-hand or scrap wood. Leftovers from old carpentry projects, wood pallets, bookshelves, and cabinets can all make great (and cheap!) components for a chicken coop.
3. Determine Your Ideal Location
The ideal location for your coop will be on high ground, so it doesn’t get flooded or swamped, and in a level, sturdy place where it won’t tilt or sink into the earth as the years go by. The other major consideration is shade, which gets a little bit trickier. Chickens do not do well in hot weather, so ideally your coop would be under a large tree to get at least partial shade. However, building a coop directly under overhanging tree branches can be an invitation to hawks and owls. To combat this, you can build a wooden roof or shelter over part of your run (which will also add more shade), or use shade cloth to help your hens beat the heat.
4. Build The Frame of The Coop
Building a coop frame is, thankfully, not much more complicated than building the frame to the house you made in middle school shop class. It should be a cube, all straight lines and right angles. You will have to make sure you have the proportions correct for the number of hens you plan to keep. Standard hens will need four square feet each; bantam breeds can get by with two, although they will need more vertical space. Giant breeds should have at least eight square feet apiece of floor space. Once you add the floor to your coop, cover the bottom of the floor with a layer of hardware cloth to keep predators out.
5. Build The Run Frame
The run frame is, if anything, even easier than the coop frame, since it doesn’t even have to be strong enough to support exterior walls, just wire fencing. For the run, you should plan for each bird to have about 10 square feet of space, though again, this varies by breed size.
6. Add Your Interior Features
These are things like perches and nesting boxes. Perches can be as simple as a 2×4 nailed up near the top of the coop, as long as each hen will have about 12 inches of space. Nesting boxes can be a shelf with a small lip on the front to keep the bedding in, a few milk crates, or a pre-purchased product. Whatever you choose, you should plan for one for every three hens, and make sure not to put them higher than the roosts. Chickens like to sleep on the highest surface available, and hens sleeping in nesting boxes is a recipe for a big mess.
7. Build The Exterior of The Coop
Two things are especially important to consider when building your coop exterior: weatherproofing and ventilation. In terms of weatherproofing, your coop should stay warm in the winter, (more importantly) cool in the summer, and dry all year round. Watch out for gaps that could let in drafts or predators. As for ventilation, good air circulation is key for preventing the respiratory diseases that can plague even the smallest flocks. Having a few vents up near the ceiling, above the roosting perch, will help keep clean, healthy air flowing without causing a draft to blow right on your hens and give them a chill.
8. Enclose The Run
The immediate product that comes to mind when you think about enclosing a chicken run is probably chicken wire. This is understandable, but chicken wire is actually a pretty poor choice. Chicken wire is an excellent deterrent when it comes to keeping chickens inside a run, but a pretty terrible one when it comes to keeping predators out; the gaps in the wire are just too wide to stop snakes, weasels, and other predators. Instead, hardware cloth or chicken mesh is the way to go, for at least the bottom three feet of the run fencing. If you have already bought the chicken wire, one place where it really does shine is in keeping chickens out of your garden or your neighbors’ yards.
9. Double-Check The Structure
While you should obviously be checking the quality of your construction as you go, now is the time to do a final, thorough quality control check before you move your girls in. Look for any holes or gaps wider than half an inch, which could let predators into the coop. Give the whole structure a thorough once-over with a hose or buckets of water, looking for any leaks that might let in rain, moisture, or a draft. Triple check all of your hardware cloth and fence joints for any looseness or gaps.
10. Add Your Finishing Touches
You might think this means adding cutesy details or making your coop look lovely, and while that certainly is an option, there are also a few finishing touches necessary to keep your hens as safe as possible. There are a wide variety of predator deterrents you can buy or make to scare off birds of prey and other predators – anything shiny, sparkly, and likely to move around a lot will work. This is also the time to add anything like an automatic coop door opener or exterior lights to the structure.
These steps are a good blueprint for any chicken coop project, but remember that every flock and yard is different.
Approach the project with an open mind, ready to adapt anything to your space or your plans, so long as the end result is happy, healthy, productive hens.