Guide to Building A Chicken Coop

Building a chicken coop, especially from scratch, can be exhilarating and exhausting, fun and frustrating. After all, a good chicken coop is one of the most important considerations in raising a happy, healthy chicken flock. However, for those with some basic carpentry skills, building can be the cheapest way to get a quality chicken coop by a wide margin. Even with those carpentry skills, though, there are still a number of steps and a lot of decisions that go into constructing the perfect chicken coop.

Figure Out Your Flock

Perhaps the most obvious question people ask themselves when launching into a new chicken coop project is how many chickens are going to live there. Deciding on the size of a flock, especially a starter flock, can be a thorny question, but the most important thing to know is that chickens are deeply social creatures, and having any fewer than three birds is usually a recipe for lonely chickens. It’s also good to remember that the size of a flock in January isn’t necessarily the same as in December; even the best-kept chickens can die suddenly from diseases, predators, or accidents.

Once you have settled on the size of your flock, though, there still remains the question of how big the coop needs to be. This varies depending on what kind of birds you’re intending to keep. The general rule of thumb is that standard-sized chickens need four square feet of space each if they’re allowed outside, and ten square feet each if they aren’t. However, there are a number of variations to this rule for different types of hen, so it’s always good to read up on the needs of your specific breed before calculating a square footage for the coop.

Make a Plan

Once you know how many and what kind of birds you’ll be getting, it’s time to figure out the nitty-gritty details about what the coop is going to look like. This can include aesthetic decisions about, literally, what the coop is going to look like, but much more important are the logistic decisions about where things should go and what models or designs will work best for your birds.

Perches should be at the highest elevation in the coop because chickens are prey animals that like to sleep on the highest available surface. If that isn’t the perches, the hens are likely to end up roosting in their nesting boxes, which is a recipe for the mother of all messes.

Another consideration is what kind of floor to install. The easiest option is simply to not install one and leave the dirt under the coop as the floor. This works fine but can be troublesome in colder climates because it’s so hard to keep dry. A wooden floor might be a better option, as long as there are no narrow gaps between the slats where poop can build up and begin to fester.


Choose Your Materials

With the blueprints drawn up, the next step is figuring out what materials you want to use to make it come to life. While there’s a lively debate amongst chicken keepers between plastic and wooden coops, when building from scratch it’s almost always easier to use wood, but, that still leaves the question of what kind of wood to use. Pressure-treated lumber is often recommended for outdoor builds because the “pressure-treated” bit means the wood is more resistant to rot, humidity, and termites.

However, pressure-treating also impregnates the wood with copper compounds that can leach into the soil and harm the chickens. A naturally resilient tropical hardwood or treated softwood product is probably a safer bet.

The last wood product you’ll need is usually some sort of plywood for the walls, both internal and external. Internal walls can get by with standard exterior use plywood, but outer walls will need something more rugged, like marine-grade plywood (the gold standard for durability, but also expensive and sometimes difficult to source) or medium-density overlay plywood.

Whichever products you choose, remember that a good (non-toxic) sealant and paint job is crucial to keeping out the moisture and ensuring you’ve built a long-lived chicken coop.


Build the Coop

This might seem like the most straightforward bit, but there are a few extra things to take into account when assembling a chicken coop beyond the usual carpentry considerations of choosing screws versus nails and making sure the edges are flush. (It should be noted that flush edges and tight seals are especially important in chicken coops. Even though the hens won’t appreciate the craftsmanship, a tight coop will help keep out red mites and other potentially deadly parasites.)

The most important consideration is predation and setting up the coop to be a fortress against chicken hawks and foxes. Burrowing predators are the easiest to defend against here, as they can usually be stopped by sinking any walls or fences at least a foot into the ground. Make sure, too, that any fencing material is fine enough not to let anybody through; hardware mesh is ideal for this. Another consideration, especially for aerial predators, is location. Building the coop away from any tall trees or overhanging branches will make it less of a tasty target, and cutting back bushes and tall grass near the coop will also make it harder for ground-based predators to sneak up on their next meal.

Small wooden chicken coop house with protected outdoor area.

Moving Chickens into the New Coop

Now that the coop is finished and looking spick and span, the question still remains of how to actually get the chickens to live in it. This is especially difficult if you’re moving your flock from one coop to another on the same property; chickens have a strong desire to return “home” at night and will want to return to the old coop to roost unless and until they’ve adjusted to the new one. The solution to this is actually delightfully straightforward: lock the chickens in the new coop for a week. Although being cooped up like this will limit their exercise, it’s a benefit in the long run because the birds will be adjusted to living happily in their new, more-appropriate coop.

Getting them into the new coop in the first place is a little trickier, but it’s made easier by the fact that humans are bigger than chickens, and chickens are deep sleepers. Therefore, the best way to get the flock into the new coop is simply to sneak into the old one when the hens are sleeping and carry them to their new home. As long as you’re reasonably quiet and careful in resettling the chickens in roosting spots, they’re unlikely to awaken until after they’ve been successfully transferred.

For moving chicks into their first coop, the nighttime subterfuge is unnecessary, but the same transition period of a few days locked in the coop still applies so they can feel comfortable in their new home and will be ready to return to it when night falls.

Old Rustic Chicken Coop

With any luck, your finished product will be a comfortable, durable, and charming addition to the backyard. And even if your chicken coop isn’t the most impregnable structure in the world, once you’ve built it once, you’ll be more than capable of repairing and rebuilding it as necessary. The good news is that chickens aren’t picky tenants, even if the paint job is sloppy or there aren’t any south-facing windows. They’re just happy to have a roof over their heads.

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