Building a chicken coop? The cost-effective way to go is to construct your own out of recycled materials. We bought some materials, used left over materials from a building project, reclaimed materials from out of the new house, and the hubby bought a reclaimed door at the salvage yard. If you can use materials you already have then you're all set, otherwise, to build one similar to our coop (below) it will cost nearly $1,000 - $2,000 brand new - depending on where you live and buy the materials. Also consider buying a pre-built coop kit which saves time and spares the "non builder" the headache of a doing a massive DIY project. Just make sure to spend your money wisely. But guess what? Whether you build or buy, the chickens won't care.
"We've raised chickens in these old coops, we've had chickens just running loose in the barn, and we've made and used several styles of houses custom-built for small flocks... The chickens had no preferences. Their first concern every morning was to get outside! Most chicken coops are designed for people, not chickens." - Jerome D. Belanger - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Raising Chickens.
Well I just about fell out when I read this. You see, I have a picture of Martha Stewart's chicken coop that looks like a summer cottage complete with rose trellises, large swing-out windows, a tiled roof, siding painted to match the main house and flower-lined chicken runs on all sides. It's the size of the average one-car garage and opens out to her massive garden. It's absolutely beautiful and I want to copy it. And the funny thing is that I know it's for me - not the chickens. I haven't seen the inside (in order to copy it) so I downloaded several videos from You Tube showcasing many great ideas that I want to combine into one FABULOUS chicken house. (It's the diva in me, I can't explain, it'll take too long.)
This is the start of something truly beautiful. A vapour barrier was added and it will get insulated. And venting was added under the roof. It is raised up off the ground for two reasons: to better keep critters out and to give the chickens another cool place to roam. The frame sits to one side of the cement block to allow us to easily add onto the coop when ready.
I know that we'll start with about 8-10 chickens and grow from there, so it has to be roomy enough. Each bird needs 2-4 square feet depending on the size of the bird and whether or not you have a run for them to use each day. We started with 64 square feet or 8 ft x 8 ft of floor space. If you can't provide a run then make the coop a lot larger... up to 10 square feet per large bird, according to sources. (See below.) 8 x 8 was no accident; the sheets of siding come in 8 foot stretches and so it was convenience that we considered. And it worked out just fine. Their door slides up and down and will get a padlock on it (for the super-smart raccoon!)
Somehow I'll have to fashion reach-in access to the chicken door through the wire so that I won't have to go inside the run each time. We will add gutters to store rain water and to help direct it away from the coop.
Update: I found that I actually prefer to go inside the run each morning. That way I can spread a bit of feed on the ground when they first come out, which discourages fighting. Who knew?
This gopher wire will prevent critters from getting into the coop through the windows. I heard many horror stories about snakes, ferrets and raccoons all sneaking in this way. Yikes!
The hubby ripped out portions of the sub-floor from inside the house and repurposed it as the coop walls. I read here how to use hydrated lime to whitewash the walls and help repel insects. The lime is easy to find and all you do is mix with water. It won't look like much until it dries though:
This will probably wash off when I get to the deep cleaning (see below) and I expect to re-whitewash the coop yearly at the least. But it's so easy and quick and won't seem like a chore... I promise!
You also need to think about other dimensions. An 8 x 8 foot wide coop that is only 3 feet tall sounds like it would be very hard on this homesteader's back. Consider the height when constructing the coop for things like cleaning and collecting eggs. For example: You can choose to go inside the coop to collect your eggs or stay outside, totally giving them their space. If you want to go inside, then would you be comfortable crouching? If not then it should be tall enough to stand in. Or how about building an access panel along the outside wall for reaching into the nests to collect eggs; then you can make the coop as tall (or short) as you want. I want mine just tall enough to be able to walk inside of it, with all the nesting boxes lined up on the back side of the coop and the perch on the opposite side from their door. Then I'll leave a walkway down the center for easy cleaning.
1 - Chicken door and ramp
2 - Gutters and rain collectors
3 - Gopher wire attached to windows
4 - Perch, 2 feet off the ground
5 - Feed stored in (locked) trash can
6 - Extra bedding stored high on shelf
7 - Nesting boxes with removable inserts
8 - Boots and gloves storage
9 - Scooper and broom stored over doorway
I hope this layout works for the ladies. It looks good to me!
Update: #5 and #8 ended up outside - not enough room. Also keep in mind that it's much easier to use shoes that slip on and off without using your hands. 🙂
Since chickens need a cozy place to lay their eggs, a typical nesting box is about 12" squared and you only need one for every 2-4 birds since they don't all lay eggs at once, and they sometimes like to double-up. I can't decide if I want to buy premade boxes or not. At any rate, I'll take all the advice I can get - raise the boxes off the ground at least 18 inches, 1-2 rows of boxes at the most to make it easy for them to get into, add a lip to the front of the boxes to keep the nesting materials inside, and slope the roof of it to prevent roosting which leads to a big ol' mess. (See pictures here.)
I decided to buy a 10-hole nesting unit from flemingoutdoors.com. The reason being the ease of cleaning it and bug control. Take a look at their video and you'll see why it's a winner. It may seem like I went overboard due to the size of this thing, but remember, with 64 square feet I can squeeze in quite a few birds and they'll all need the room to nest. I'll use some kind of sawdust for bedding since I'm sensitive to hay. But if the girls don't like it, I'll have to grin and bear it I suppose.
Update: This unit turned out to be better than expected, especially for cleaning. And the fact that the perches fold up and out of the way forces the girls to use the real perch for sleeping. (I suspect they started using the top for roosting because it's higher.) I really don't want them to do this because they poop while they sleep, so the coop can become a virtual minefield! Keep it all to one side and life will be a lot easier.
For some reason, chickens do not want to sleep where they nest. (Go figure.) Where they want to sleep at night, like any bird, is perched up on a limb. (Okay, I suppose it makes sense.) At first, we gave the ladies one 2" x 2" board that spans the length of the coop and added support to it. Then we noticed the heavier birds occasionally had trouble balancing so we added another two inches. It is 2 feet off the floor. If we need to add another perch, we'll try to keep it at the same level. I read a funny story about a woman who thought it would be a great idea to use a wide-set ladder, thinking it would provide plenty of room for all her birds. Well they ended up fighting each other for the top step! If you have done a bit of bird-watching at all you might have noticed that birds like to challenge each other for the chimney rather than settle for the roof just below, or the lead bird gets the tallest fence post, etc. (It's a social order thing.)
We completely covered the run with chicken wire so that I don't have to worry about predators. Raccoons are smart enough to reach through other types of fencing and grab a chicken without ever having to enter the run. Hawks can just swoop down on the backyard of their choice. And don't kid yourself; everything likes chicken. Raccoons, hawks, skunks, cats, dogs and so on. Some people make the mistake of thinking that raising their dogs from pups around chickens will help them not be aggressive toward them. Not true. Most dogs will see it as sport and just go for it. So the motto is that protection will not be taken lightly on our 'stead!
We dug into the ground a bit to make it hard for critters to get underneath. We'll dump rock right up to the edge and I'll top it with potted flowers to rival Martha's chicken run. As stated above, we made it tall enough so I can easily walk inside to open the chicken door, feed them or what not, so it's kind of a massive eyesore thingy.
We left the space under the coop open to the run so when in a pinch, the ladies have a safe place to run to. The hubby dug out some of the dirt, framed out all three sides and laid down the extra wire.
The extra dirt was swept back over and you'd never know the wire was there.
I added locks on all the doors. Yes, a raccoon is just that smart. I sometimes think they secretly snicker at us when they get a door knob or latch open. (Hey, silly human! You trying to make me laugh?)
If you free range, consider how protected they are from things getting in and from them getting out. You want to make sure your fencing is high enough to discourage flight. If they ever escape, they'll have to contend with things like moving cars, bikes, the neighbors' pets, etc. And there is one more predator to consider:
"As for kids - well, we have never understood what they get out of it, but some kids think it's fun to throw stones at roosting chickens or to chase birds around the yard until they're frantic with fright. Hopefully, if you let your kids help take care of the flock, they will develop a love and respect for birds. But the flock still might need protection from other children in the neighborhood." - Rick and Gail Luttmann, Chickens In Your Backyard - A Beginner's Guide.
In other words, free ranging is kinda for the person that can watch them all the time. I don't think I'm there yet...
We recently experienced a week of really hot weather and the shade from the tree wasn't enough for the girls, so I covered the run with a couple of tarps for more shade. And the hubby built a run within the run for the smaller birds. It is made up of panels (front, 2 sides and a top) and held together by bungee cords. The reason for doing so is so we can add more or less panels if necessary, and then just take it out when not being used.
Update: As we're heading into wet weather, we see that covering the run with tarps serves another purpose: To keep the girls dry. We've since added old fence boards as support, angling them so water can run off to the rear of the run. So far so good.
This was a mini coop/run contraption thing (the hubby sawed it in half) that I bought at the feed store which now sits inside the mini run, and will allow me to temporarily keep the bitties completely separate from the others. I close it off with a piece of scrap board every night secured with a bungee. I know I can't do this for too much longer because mini coop de ville is not weather proof and just shy of being secure enough to help me rest easy at night. We're frantically working on a better plan for smaller birds.
And finally, I recently downloaded a great You Tube video of a woman that built her own coop according to a set of plans made by another You Tuber... and she finished it all by herself and it looks great! (Made me proud.) Anyway, her chicken run (more like a yard) had a stack of firewood in it that she planned on removing at some point until she noticed the chickens jumping onto it when they heard a scary sound. Then she noticed that they just like jumping onto it for fun, so she left it in their yard - kinda like a playground for chickens. Well, why not?
That inspired me to add this beautiful log I found which is filled with spiders and other bugs and they just love it. I also put in another stack of (cut) logs across from it and now they can't decide where they want to go... there's just too much fun for everyone!
Cleaning won't be an easy task but with the current coop design I can open it up easily for scooping and sweeping. When first imagining myself cleaning the coop, I immediately thought of a giant bird cage. The removable cage floor - ingenious. I also appreciate the method used here. If you've done any research on the subject then you know that opinions vary. But tell me this method doesn't rock! I think we'll go with it... here's what we did:
We added about a 2 inch layer of sand onto the coop floor.
I totally copied the scooper as mentioned above. Hardware cloth on a pitchfork secured by wire did the trick. This and a cardboard box are a lifesaver.
I don't clean this every day, just every other or every two days. A chicken coop will never be sanitary, so why worry? The point is to keep the smell down to keep critters guessing. But you'll be surprised at the fact that there is no smell! Really. The sand acts like a giant litter box and practically eliminates the smell.
And the sand just falls right through, leaving nothing but sand-covered poop. Beautiful. A few tiny poops may be left behind, but they won't pose a problem for weeks. Scoop the coop for poop and you'll find that it's the easiest chore on your farm!
(More information about using sand from The Chicken Chick.)
We created a sand path from the coop door to the run door to cut down on the smell and mess outside. I also think it's a good idea to put in a sink nearby for cleaning the shoes and tools so I won't have to carry heavy buckets of water to and from the coop. We'll see I suppose.
Deep cleaning basics: Take out all the old litter and using disinfectant, scrub the floors and perch (and any other area you see fit) with a hard-bristled brush. Hose 'er down afterwards. Use the mite control of your choice and replace the litter after everything has completely dried out. (I will post a separate page for explaining diseases and treatments later on.) Doing this on a warm day when you know drying it won't be an issue is best. When should you do it? When the coop starts to smell even after you've scooped the poop you know it's time for a deep cleaning, and then you can write up a custom cleaning schedule to stick to. A typical schedule is about every 4-6 months.
Of all the different coops I've seen, the one that seems the most useful is the chicken tractor. It's a portable coop/run designed to be moved around your yard to easily spread the wealth. I've seen small and large, high and low and everything in between. Pretty cool. If you have a small space and only a few chickens then how convenient would that be?
And finally, it turns out that the perfect location for our coop was near a couple of large trees. In the summertime we get our share of heat. (And for at least one week out of the year we get it all day and all night long.) The trees shade the coop and keep it cool inside during the hottest part of the day. And part of the run is shaded by another tree and the balance of sunshine and shade seems to go over quite well with the girls.
Garden info: If you want to use the poop in your garden, wait a month or so before adding it to the soil. Otherwise, compost it and you're good to go. Another site suggests using the bedding from the nests around your fruit trees - poop and all, but I'll do more research on it.
Click here to see how we've extended the chicken yard.