Chicken Coop Plans
Putting your chickens into a new coop is a lot like finding a new house for yourself. You have to consider things like how much space they need, what features do you want, how much can you afford to spend and of course the all-important “location, location, location.”
Just like you need certain essentials in your home, so will your chickens. Here are the essentials to make sure you include when selecting a chicken coop plan…
Required Space for Your Chickens
How many chickens do you have, and how many do you plan to acquire over the next six months to a year? Space is the number one consideration for any chicken farmer, no matter what the size of their operation. Chickens, like humans, need a certain amount of living space to stay healthy, warm and happy. When they’re crowded into small quarters they react like humans do. They get moody, argumentative and have all kinds of health, stress and aggression issues.
Overcrowding your chickens can result in problems like feather picking, stress, bullying, fighting and even cannibalism. If you have three chickens now, but plan on adding more within the year, build a coop for the number of chickens you anticipate having.
The “Chicken Math” rule is generally 4 square feet per chicken in the coop and 8-10 square feet per chicken in the run simply because of space restrictions most people have in their back yards. Those are the minimum numbers your hens will need to stay healthy. If you can give each hen more space, then do so. Do you anticipate needing chicken coop plans for 12 chickens? Or maybe you plan on a bigger flock and will need chicken coop plans for 20 chickens…either way, make sure you get the math right! 12 birds x 4 sq feet = 48 sq feet, 20 birds x 4 sq feet = 80 sq feet of coop space.
What climate do you live in? If you’re in an area with harsh winters you’ll need to plan on an even larger than average coop because your chickens will be “cooped up” for much of the winter and will need more space to move around in.
Have you ever had to jump off of something or maneuver through a crowded room? It’s no fun having to dodge furniture, toys and coffee tables or other obstacles. When your hens jump down from their roosts every morning they don’t want to have to dodge hanging lights, food and water bowls or stations, other hens or tight quarters. They like to start the day off feeling good and nothing helps more than spacious digs. Conversely, bed time is a lot quieter if everyone has plenty of room to roost without crowding their neighbor. Yes, in cold weather they may (or may not) huddle together for warmth, but like people, most of them don’t like being crammed into tight sleeping quarters. They like to fluff, spread their wings, decide who sleeps next to who, and even have hen parties with their best friends. In general they like to move about freely. Make sure they can do that and you’ll cut down on evening stress.
How much time will your chickens spend outside? The more they’re outside and the more space they have to run, feed and play outdoors, the less space they’ll need inside. Feed and water have to be placed somewhere the chickens can’t and won’t poop in it. You’ll need to factor in space for that. The more hens you have the more feeders you’ll need.
DIY Chicken Coop Plans Access
Believe it or not, you will be spending a lot of time in your chicken coop. You’ll need to access it to clean it, to collect eggs, tend to sick birds, and feed and water them. When selecting a coop consider how easy, convenient or accessible the coop is to you as well. Will you require an entrance you can crawl, stoop or walk into?
Many chicken farmers access their coops daily to collect eggs. Pick easy chicken coop plans that allow you to approach the access door to the nesting boxes without having to cross the chicken run. It will keep your shoes clean if you don’t have to walk through the chicken run to get to the access doors. Most of our plans on BuildACoop.com feature nest boxes that are accessible from the outside so you can conveniently collect your eggs without disturbing your flock.
Chickens, at least most breeds, feel the need to roost. They will instinctively go to the highest point in the coop to do so. This means if your nesting boxes are higher than the roost, you’ll find your hens sleeping in the boxes, not on the perch you’ve so carefully created for them. Make sure your roosts are the highest point in the coop. You can place some lower roosts in if you want, but make sure everyone has plenty of room and the option to roost up high.
That said, the urge to seek higher ground comes from a need to be safe and protected in the wild. If you have a secure coop and the birds feel safe they may actually prefer to sleep on the floor, or near the door, or their food or in some warm comfy corner they’ve discovered. As long as they’re locked up, safe from predators, weather and are warm, it doesn’t matter where they sleep.
Sometimes younger hens don’t know any better and will roost or sleep in nesting boxes or even on the floor of the coop. They will eventually figure it out, or you can help them by placing them on the roost every night until they get the idea. Some breeds, like Silkies, like to sleep in a heap on the floor like so many Labrador puppies. Other breeds who have feathers that block their vision, simply may not be able to see the roost. Trim their feathers around their eyes and see if that helps.
Simple roosts can be made using 2×4’s, but feel free to get creative. Some chicken farmers like to strip the bark from fallen trees and put the limbs in the coop to give the hens something more natural to roost on. The best limbs for this range in diameter from 2.5 to 4-inches, preferably with limbs who have varying diameters so the chickens can find their own spot.
That’s the minimum. The more roosting area you can provide the better. Chickens are like children. They like to sit and sleep next to their friends. They will squawk, flutter and fuss until they find the perfect roosting spot near their friends. So give them options.
Their favorite roosting spot may change as the weather does. Just ensure that everyone has enough room to stretch their wings and they’ll be happy. Give them options – such as flat roosts, which enable them to sit on their feet and keep their toes from freezing in cold weather; to round roosts like dowel rods or natural limbs, to allow them to cool off better in hot weather.
Make sure whatever kind of perch you use is free from splinters, nails and sharp points.
Simple Chicken Coop Plans – Nesting Boxes
Chickens lay their eggs, most of the time, in nesting boxes. On average a chicken will lay an egg every 2-to-3 days. They’re not particular about where they lay their eggs, as you may learn. The purpose of a nesting box is to give the chicken a safe, quiet place to lay her eggs, and to give the farmer a clean, easily accessible place to collect the eggs.
Nesting boxes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, but the most important thing about them is the hen feels safe inside. It’s true chickens aren’t particular about where they lay their eggs, but given a choice, chickens love to lay their eggs in small, dark places. Whether you make your boxes out of wood or plastic storage boxes, make sure whatever you select or build for a nesting box is cozy.
You should have one nesting box for every 2-to-4 hens. The box should be large enough for your chicken to stand in comfortably. Many experts advise around a 12-inch by 12-inch box.
Your nesting boxes will need some kind of nesting material. We suggest wood shavings rather than straw, but whatever works for you is good. Straw has empty chambers inside the stalk that harbor bacteria and mold and is less hygienic than wood shavings. Wood is a natural antibacterial substance and is healthier than straw and less likely to host mold, mites and things not good for your chicken. Sawdust is good too. There are also padded rubber mats sold just for nesting boxes. They’re easy to clean and less likely to develop mold.
No matter what you use, straw, wood shaving, shredded newspaper or sawdust, your hens are going to kick some of it out on the floor. To reduce the amount they do kick out, make the front and sides of the nesting box higher. It won’t eliminate the mess on the floor, but it will reduce it. Don’t make it hard for the hen to get in. Four inches is plenty of deterrent. Not all chickens will kick out their nesting box material. You may be one of the lucky farmers with neat hens, but don’t count on it.
If you pick a coop design with outside access to the nesting boxes, make sure you can secure the lid to the nesting box. Predators, like raccoons, have no problem unlatching or unhooking closures. So either lock the lid, or use a two-latch system that will deter the smartest raccoons. The nesting boxes and lids on all of our coops were designed with all of these important traits.
Chicken Coop Plans PDF – Litter Pros & Cons
Chicken litter is the bedding that goes inside your chicken’s nesting boxes and on the floor of your run to catch chicken droppings. Coops, nests and runs must be kept clean, particularly if you don’t like cleaning poop off of your eggs. Once a hen lays her eggs the dirt and feces comes from other chickens trampling over the top of the eggs another hen has laid. So you need to either collect the eggs shortly after they’re laid, or make sure you keep the coop, run and nests clean.
Common Chicken Litter People Use
Pros: Very cheap and accessible. May also be easily burned or composted.
Cons: Tends to attract mold and to smell when its wet.
Straw and Hay
Pros: Cheap, easily available and lightweight, easy to spread and to rake up when its dirty.
Cons: Straw and hay have hollow stems and tend to harbor mites, bacteria and mold in those stems, making them a poorer choice of litter unless you are obsessive about cleaning regularly.
Pros: Most sanitary of all litter. Wood is a natural antibacterial substance so it actually fights mold and bacteria and is more sanitary than other litters, even straw and hay. It’s readily available at most farm supply or pet stores. Smells good
Cons: Not many. It may cost a little bit more than straw or hay, but the advantages far outweigh the costs.
Pros: Cheap, or free if you live around pine trees. Smells good, hens love it and it’s a great litter, easy to clean up.
Cons: Expensive if you have to buy it.
Pros: Has the same advantages as wood shavings, natural antibacterial properties. Cheap and easy to find in many areas.
Cons: May kill your chickens as they tend to eat it, or it gets in their crops, get wet and swells. Not a great choice. Also irritates the chicken’s lungs, even if they don’t eat it.
Pros: Cheap and easy to find and can be scooped and cleaned much like cat litter.
Cons: Sand is known to harbor E.coli and coccidiosis. Like sawdust it can kill chicks. It can coat feces, leading chickens not to realize what it is, and then they end up eating the sand covered feces.
What do we advise? Wood shavings, hands down. It’s safe, a natural anti-bacterial material, chickens like it and even though it’s a bit more expensive the benefits outweigh the extra cost.
Chicken Coop Plans Ramps & Ladders
A chicken ramp (also known as a chicken ladder) is the way your chickens access their coop. It looks very similar to the fretted neck of a guitar, with the ramp and the cross bars that make it easier for the chickens to walk up and down.
A stiff board at least 10-inches wide with cleats or half-round placed every 4-to-5 inches all the way up the ramp is a good basic ramp. You can get fancy or as stay as simple as you like.
Don’t think you have to stop at just one ramp. You can use ramps that allow your chickens to access a beneath the coop run, or an outside run as well. If you are thinking about using mobile chicken coop plans (AKA chicken tractors), make sure your ramps are detachable so they don’t get damaged when moving the coop.
Chickens are just as sensitive to heat and cold as we are, maybe more so. Unless you live in a southern or tropical climate where temperatures stay mild year round, insulate your coop. Because chickens will use any kind of insulation to feather their nests, make sure you put a sheath or some sort of wood cladding (plywood) over the insulation. They will peck through plastic, so use wood to cover any areas you insulate. To ensure your chickens are comfortable make sure the floor and ceiling are insulated too. The amount and type of insulation you need depends on where you live. Someone in Michigan, where temps hover around zero and below in the winter, will need considerably more insulation than someone living in Florida.
Heating & Lighting
Electric lights and heated elements combined with straw, wood shavings and chickens spell out a recipe for disaster. Believe it or not, experts say all chickens need to survive extremely cold weather is a place to stay dry and out of any breeze, wind or draft. Having a well insulated coop is better than having a heater. If you absolutely must have heat for your chickens, hire a qualified electrician to wire the coop for you. They must also understand that they must be installed in such a way that chickens can’t knock them down and that they are out of the reach of anything combustible (including hens kicking straw up).
You don’t have to have straw or wood shavings close or touching the heat source either. Radiant heat is enough to cause materials to combust. If you’re worried about your bird’s water freezing, use a submersible bird bath heater or any of the approved drinking water heaters on the market.
If you’re concerned about winter egg production, which drops because of the reduced light in winter, then install a 25 watt full-spectrum (not blue or white light) bulb in the coop. Chickens need 16 hours of light a day, but it doesn’t have to be a lot of light. Twenty-five watts is plenty. Again, have an electrician wire the house and install the light where chickens can’t fly up and knock it down or kick straw up onto it.
Chicken Hardware Cloth
We only recommend using a specific type of chicken hardware cloth, DO NOT USE chicken netting. We have a very helpful resource page dedicated to this topic: Chicken Hardware Cloth vs Chicken Netting.