How to Build a Chicken Coop 101
Chicken coop construction requires patience, especially if you are a new carpenter. Before getting out your tools, or buying wood, you need a plan on how to build a chicken coop. It will make your build so much easier and faster. Plans don’t have to be elaborate or etched in stone, and you can change them as you go, but you should always start out with a plan. OR you can grab one of our professionally designed Coop Plans at BuildACoop.com!
Yes, that was a shameful plug, but our plans really make the entire process much easier and were designed with the DIY/backyard builder in mind. You don’t need much (if any) building experience as your build is laid out step-by-step. A full materials list is included with each plan, so you know exactly what materials to buy.
If you can swing a hammer, make a few simple cuts and follow instructions, you’ll be able to follow any of our coop plans and build the perfect coop!
Time to Make a Chicken Coop
Ok, back to the basics. Location is extremely important, and should be one of the first things you decide on before you start building. Just as if you would be hunting for a new house, there are many important factors to think about. Consider things like:
Water. How far away from water are you? You’ll need to either carry water, or run a hose or other water source to the coop for watering, cleaning and other chores. Decide how far you want to carry water, or what it will take to get water to the site. We highly recommend having access to a hose near your coop. Carrying it for watering or cleaning will get cumbersome and be a big inconvenience. Being able to use a hose on-site will make your life much easier. If there isn’t water near your planned location, consider running a pipe underground and placing a spicket close by. We have seen some people do this on their own, or hire a professional to get the job done.
Electricity. If you plan to light or heat your coop you’ll need a power source. Solar is one option if you don’t want to run power to the coop. Otherwise, decide if you prefer to insulate the coop or use another means to heat it in winter. Chickens won’t lay eggs in the winter. There’s just not enough daylight. Lighting your coop can help extend the laying season and keep them warm and healthy. Compared to having water, electricity at your coop is more of a nice to have instead of a “must have.” It will make certain things easier, but there are plenty of coop owners that do just fine without it.
Odors. Odor is always going to be a factor in having chickens, no matter how clean you keep the coop. Determine prevailing winds in your area and build accordingly. You don’t want every breeze to bring the fragrance of your hens into your house. Chickens raised for their meat are said to be smellier than egg layers. Either way, the average distance is about 40-to-60 feet, further if you have more than a dozen chickens. A lot of the distance decision has to do with how far you don’t mind walking twice a day. That may have to do with snow, rain and terrain (up or downhill). Choose your location wisely. Unless you’re building a chicken tractor the coop won’t move for a long time.
Level ground. Is the location level and away from trees and features that could harbor predators or make it easy for them to drop in on your coop? This is another consideration that should not be ignored. If you have different predators in your area, the last thing you want to do is make it easy for them to get into your coop. Keeping away from trees and other tall landscape features will help prevent access to vents or other elevated openings in your coop.
Wind. Which direction do you want your coop to face? This has to do with prevailing winds again. Make sure you site the coop where you can open windows to create a breeze that keeps the coop fresh, helps it dry out after a rain or cleaning, and gives the hens the most light possible year round. If you haven’t read our information on proper ventilation, do so as these two are related. Having the right amount of ventilation and airflow is absolutely crucial to the health of your flock, and wind is definitely a huge factor in this equation.
Approach. When determining where to site or locate your coop, try to angle the coop so that you don’t have to walk around it to get to the nesting boxes, and you don’t have to walk across the chicken yard or run to get to the coop. This will keep your feet cleaner and ensure you’re less likely to spread chicken poop around your yard if you’re a suburban chicken owner. This is something that many newbies fail to consider – many first-timers are more concerned about aesthetics than practical use…don’t be someone who learns the hard way and ends up re-positioning their coop because of one of the aforementioned issues.
Build a Chicken Coop Step by Step
Now that you’ve picked a plan, selected a site, and are ready to build, it’s time to prepare. Here is how to build a chicken coop step by step:
Tools. Gather all your tools and supplies before starting to make your chicken coop. This means having enough nails, screws, bolts, lumber, paint, stain, brushes and roofing tiles etc. on hand before starting. If you’re building in stages make sure you have all the supplies and tools you need for each stage. Keep your nails in a closed container, like a plastic bin, coffee can or other container so they don’t end up in the chicken run. Store all of your tools in a safe spot that will be safe from the elements. Weather should not be your only worry – make sure you don’t leave your tools in a place that is accessible by anyone or anything that should not be around them – such as children or pets.
All of our plans (including those on how to build a chicken run) provide a full tools and materials list so this part will be a breeze! Everything will show you exactly how to build an easy chicken coop – armed with a comprehensive list means it will only take one trip to your local building store, Lowes, or Home Depot. We want you to focus on your build, without having to constantly run back to the store for building supplies.
Organization. Organize your construction site. Have a table or other designated area to use as a “command center” where you keep your coop plans, tools you’re not using and other items. A piece of plywood on two sawhorses, your deck, porch, table or tree stump will all work. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does have to be a designated spot where you can work. Having it be covered in case of rain, or sun, is a bonus. Keep your work site clean and free of debris, rubbish, scrap boards etc. Either clean up as you go, or clean at the end of each work period or the end of the day. Put scrap lumber in a bin or pile away from the site so you don’t trip over it.
Coop Lumber. If you’re using reclaimed, found or recycled lumber make sure it is free of nails, staples and metal before cutting or using it. Old pallets, reclaimed wood and other sources of lumber can bring a special beauty and wood patina to a coop that new lumber can’t. It’s also often free wood, making it very attractive to many chicken farmers. However, pallets and reclaimed or recycled wood often contains nails, staples and metal embedded in the wood that can be struck by power tools when cutting or drilling and cause severe injuries. Check all reclaimed wood carefully for nails and fasteners before cutting.
Unless you’re using a spray gun, when possible you should always seal, stain or paint your wood after cutting and before assembly. Use treated wood if you can. Numerous studies, including one by the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension service, show that pressure treated lumber is not toxic to chickens or eggs.
How to Build a Chicken Roost
In case you did not know, most chickens will roost at the highest point in the coop; so the one building tip to remember is to place roost perches above your nesting boxes (or your chickens will sleep/poop in the nesting boxes, which is not good).
Based on the size of your coop and how many chickens you have, you can install multiple roosts at different heights to best fit your flock’s needs. For guidance, roosts can be made out of 2×4’s (38x89mm) or tree limbs that have been stripped of their bark and range between 2.5 to 4 inches (60 to 100 millimeters) in diameter. Whatever material you decide to use, make sure to sand any rough or sharp edges to prevent injuries to your chickens. Roosts should be 12″ (300mm) from walls and 12″ (300mm) in length per bird, which will allow your birds enough room to get up and down from them.
Learn How to Build a Chicken Coop for Dummies
The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO OBSERVE DURING CONSTRUCTION IS SAFETY! Wear proper safety gear such as glasses, gloves and tough footwear. Use the correct tool in the correct manner. Be sure to perform all lumber cutting in a safe area/environment. This should be obvious, but people forget. Don’t use power tools in the rain; beware of overhead wires when moving lumber, and wear sturdy boots to avoid food damage when you drop things (tools, lumber, etc).
The safety of you and those around you should always come first!
Be methodical about your building so you don’t have to keep fixing mistakes. Do one thing at a time. Don’t try to multitask. You’ll just make more mistakes.
Dry fit pieces first to make sure you’ve got everything in the right place. Don’t be afraid to write down notes to yourself on the wood itself (like, top, bottom, coop foundation) to help you remember what the piece is for. You can paint over the notes later, especially if you use a pencil to write them.
Once you’re sure that you have all the right pieces in the right place and they fit, use wood glue to secure them before assembly. The glue will ensure waterproof joints that are more secure and stable. Make sure you get wood glue for outside applications.
Measure twice, cut once! Before cutting lumber to build a chicken house, ensure the dimensions are marked correctly. We do not recommend pre-cutting your lumber. Although it may seem more convenient, it can actually cause headaches and slow down your build, and here’s why – most of us are not professional builders. Although the dimensions in each step are precise and 100% accurate, we may not construct it perfectly. If anything becomes slightly off during your build (which is ok), even by a 1/4 inch, you may need to adjust a cut in a latter step. If you pre-cut everything per the exact dimensions in the plans, you will need to either throw that piece away if it’s too short, or re-cut it if it’s too long.
Ensure you have a solid base to build on! Make sure the ground is level. Some coops have different foundation options (lumber, concrete); based on your weather conditions and placement of the coop, you should consider how strong the wind will be. If you know your coop will be susceptible to high-winds, make sure it is properly anchored. As mentioned, this is a DIY project so you should modify accordingly. We commonly see people digging post-holes and setting their coop’s four corner posts into the ground with quick setting concrete. It really is not much more work and will make for a safer structure.
How to Lower Costs & Build a Cheap Chicken Coop
Feel free to modify any feature to make construction easier, cheaper or more elaborate. For example, you may want to add a plywood rood instead of a metal one (and vise-versa), or you may prefer lower cost lumber – you decide what is best for your needs. Common additions we see are wall insulation for those of you in cold temperatures, electrical lighting/sockets, extra windows/vents, various paint/stain colors, vinyl siding, various roof shingles and custom feeding/watering systems built into the coop. We’ve even seen people install small security cams inside/outside their coops to keep an eye on their flock! Remember, it’s YOUR coop, so whatever additions/subtractions you make are entirely up to you, and there are plenty of areas, especially in the quality of materials you buy, where you can save money.
Last but not least – HAVE FUN! Take your time and enjoy the process. Once completed, you will be very proud of what you just built and hopefully will enjoy it for many years. We’d love to see your accomplishment, so if you don’t mind sharing please send us pictures of your coop – both during construction and after it’s all complete. We take pride in our customer’s coops, and with your permission, we would love to post your photos on the website…so take tons of pictures and send them over. We wish you the best of luck on your build!
Simple Chicken Coop Maintenance
Learning how to build a chicken coop is only the beginning. Whether you decide to build a small chicken coop, large coop, or even make a chicken run, you’ll need to learn how to properly maintain it. The basics of coop maintenance aren’t that difficult, so we wanted to provide a quick crash course right here.
First (and most obvious), you’ll need to give the chickens water and food every day. Give them some treats twice a week and greens in the winter. Thoroughly check each hen separately once a week for indications of sickness (limping, frostbite, discolored combs etc.). Also clean the water bowls and feeders, take out their droppings and replace the bedding weekly.
Seasonal cleaning is also essential. See the sections below on how to prepare for upcoming seasons.
Fall/Winter Coop Maintenance Checklist
Unless you’re raising chickens in Florida, the approaching winter can intimidate even the most experienced poultry farmer. Even though chickens are more likely to die of extreme heat rather than freezing cold, it’s winters that make farmers more nervous.
Winter and fall are undoubtedly tough on the flock. Before fowl were domesticated hundreds and hundreds of years ago, they were used to living in fields and forests and could take care of themselves perfectly well – before people decided their meat and eggs tasted too good to let them run wild! So your birds are generally capable of keeping warm as long as you provide them a place with fewer drafts, and there are enough of them to huddle and generate warmth (which is also why I’m against keeping only a couple of hens).
Survival may be easy enough, but farmers want their flock to thrive in every season, too, even hoping to get them to lay some eggs in the process. Egg layers are given some rest and recovery time by nature from egg-production during winters, because too much laying can cause prolapse in hens.
So I’m all in favor of letting them run their natural cycle in the interest of the hens’ well-being; you’ll likely end up with healthier chickens and better eggs. Many farmers employ methods to keep the egg laying going all year round, but you can do more research on the subject and decide which way you want to go. We have devised a pattern for our egg eating and tend to save some up during fall to use in Thanksgiving and Christmas, instead of forcing our hens to lay in winter.
So what should you do to keep your chickens comfortable and healthy for the whole winter?
- First and foremost, clean out the coop. Make sure the sand bed is raked and the old pine shavings shoveled out. Taking care of the litter and setting it up for the upcoming months is essential. Try to delay this until the season is almost upon you, and whenever the weather warms up for a bit, your first priority should be refreshing the chicken coop. Illnesses are more likely to spread due to the moisture created in draft free coops with the hens all huddled together for heat. The bedding will add to that by creating more heat and moisture after it breaks down. The heat will be good for your chickens, but the moisture will harm them. If the weather is less extreme in your area, you could use a fan to reduce the chances of this, but in freezing cold environments this obviously won’t be an option.
- Provide good insulation in the chicken coop along with no drafts. Cover up any coop holes or cracks. Remove and replace portions of the building that could possibly collapse from snow or get blown away with the wind. Make sure the roof, floor, walls etc. are all secure by knocking on them to check their integrity. Inspect the roof shingles and siding because you don’t want the coop leaking from any place in the severe cold. If there is any wiring in the coop, check it for any damage from pecking or scratching – you don’t want to find your chickens dead by electrocution.
- If your area gets a couple of days with zero degree temperatures every year, you’ll probably need a wired up coop. Even a heat bulb will do but you’ll need to provide some sort of heat source on zero degree days. Find out how other chicken farmers in your locality keep their birds warm in harsh weather. If it gets cold enough to freeze the water, you might need to get a water warmer.
- If you like to give your flock treats and something special occasionally like we do, I’d recommend green vegetable scrapings, warm oat groats mash and lamb’s quarters seeds. The seeds will fatten your hens so that they’re healthier and warmer without your intervention. It may even get you some bonus eggs in the coldest months. If you include corn in the feed, give them some more than usual or some extra lentils and peas during extreme cold days.
- Whenever the weather allows it, pay your flock a visit to cheer them up as well as lift your own spirits!
Spring Coop Maintenance Checklist
There are chores to get done each time a change in season approaches. When spring arrives, the coops are usually in a bad state with lots of work and cleaning up needed. You might even need to make repairs if the weather caused damage to the coop.
- Use about a gallon of a hot water and white vinegar mixture to scrub the insides of the chicken coop. If you’re making lemonade for yourself, save the used lemon pieces and keep them soaked in the water overnight to get an even more effective, antibacterial solution. Scrub and wash all parts of the coop with this, missing nothing. Don’t forget to scrub the nesting boxes and walls. The smell of vinegar will only last a couple of hours and you’ll be left with a very clean chicken coop. Meanwhile, let your birds enjoy the sun in the chicken run.
- Inspect the coop to find things that need to be repaired or replaced. Check the state of their water and feed bowls and whether they can be used for another season before needing replacement. Look for any holes caused by the chickens’ scratching or if any part of the roof has blown off due to wind. The perching sticks may need more than just a thorough scrubbing.
- Remove the heat lamp if the temperature at night is now more than 35F degrees.
With spring cleaning finished, it’s the chickens turn for inspection. You need to make sure they are all still healthy. Here are some important items you should run through:
- Examine their nails and legs. The chickens’ legs shouldn’t appear dry and scaly. Their nails usually naturally grind down but that doesn’t happen when they are in grass all the time, so you might need to clip them if the nails seem too long.
- Check the feathers and whether the wings need clipping again. The feathers should still look glossy and smooth, and make sure they haven’t lost any. Be on the lookout for lice, fleas or other parasites.
- Do they have their normal, bright and shiny eyes full of curiosity or are the eyes watery? See if a crust has formed around the eyes.
- How is their overall behavior? Be wary if they’re acting weird or laying around. If you suspect anything, be sure to check with a vet or at least with an experienced chicken farmer who can tell what’s up.
Dedicating a day to your chickens’ health and well-being is worth the effort. It is an afternoon’s worth of work to clean and repair the chicken coop and make sure that they are in good health, but you won’t regret taking out the time as it will save you money and time in the long term and will lead to happier chickens.