CHICKEN COOPS GENERAL INFORMATION
So you're thinking about building a chicken coop but don't want to spend a fortune on
coop plans and building materials? This was my thought when I built my own coop a
few years ago. I've read that the average person spends $300.00 to build their coop
and I didn't want to spend that much - I scoured the internet to find free (or cheap)
but well made chicken coop designs that I could either build myself or buy.
I've included the links to FREE coop designs on the left side of the page.
the links contain plans to big or small chicken coops, depending on your needs. I've
also added some ideas for cheap or free chicken coop supplies i.e. building
materials, chicken feeders, chicken water containers, chicken nest boxes, chicken
roosts, and a few recommended books on how to care for chickens. I'll be adding more information to each of these topics as time goes on. For now, I wanted to give you the basics and show you some pictures of the coop that I use and some of the supplies that have worked for me.
CHICKEN COOP DESIGNS
There are hundreds of different designs available for your coop. A picture of my coop is posted here - It's made of scrap lumber and left over house paint. If you're looking to build a coop with the links to free plans below, you'll be limited to only those designs...but at least they're free, functional, and actually quite lovely! And you can always add your own design twists too.
How you design your coop will, of course, depend on your needs. If you are planning to have a small flock and want to build a smaller coop, you may want to consider a portable chicken coop. These are also called "chicken tractors." They often do not have floors and can be moved every few days or weeks from one part of your lawn to another so the grass does not get trampled down. This is ideal for raising chickens in urban areas where there may be limited space for them to run around. It's also beneficial for both your chickens and your lawn. The chicken droppings provide great fertilizer for your lawn and, by moving the coop often, the chickens get access to new bugs and fresh grass. Plus, you don't have to worry about cleaning up the droppings!
You can use any design you want, or create your own - the chickens won't likely care. But do keep in mind your skill level when building it. I used a design of my own creation - now this worked just fine in the end, and I had fun building it. But I didn't have a lot of experience in wood working or construction so it took me a lot longer to come up with a blueprint, to figure out how much wood it would take etc. I also encountered problems while constructing it since my blueprint wasn't perfectly polished and ready to go - so the construction process didn't always go smoothly either.
In hindsight, I wish I would have simply used an already available design that I found online since it would have saved me a ton of time and energy. But like I said - I do take great pride in my little 4'x8' creation and the chickens seem perfectly happy in it! You'll figure out what will work best for you.
CHICKEN COOP MATERIALS
Chicken coops can be made from almost anything - revamping an old shed or camping trailer, using scrap lumber, PVC pipes, 50 gallon barrels, tarps, kits, and the list goes on. Wood is the most commonly used material for coop building. Depending on the size of your coop, buying new lumber can get expensive.
I was able to find a couple of businesses which sell used or scrap lumber and this worked nicely for my 4'x 8' coop. I even found some used windows and a couple sets of unused shingle there. If you decide to build your coop with used lumber, be prepared to pull out some nails, cut out some broken pieces, and to be creative with what you find. It takes extra time and TLC to build a coop using "recycled" or used wood - but I found the extra time well worth it in how much money I saved!
Another view of my coop above - I lucked out in finding a few stacks of new shingles to use! I also saved extra space inside the coop by building the nest boxes on the outside - you can see the row of nest boxes in the picture, jutting out on the right side (which is actually the back of the coop). There are 8 total boxes for them to choose from.
CHICKEN NEST BOXES
The suggested size for chicken nest boxes is 15" wide, 15" high and 11 1/8" (see picture for example). This can vary to a certain extent. My nest boxes are about 2" smaller than this and work just fine. You can fill your boxes with straw or place some type of padding down on the bottom so the eggs won't crack when they lay. I noticed that they tend to kick and scratch a lot of straw out of the boxes so I stapled a piece of padding onto the bottom.
I started off with 8 chickens and made a nest box for each chicken. It turns out they all used the same 2 nest boxes for laying eggs! I've even seen 3 chickens in the same nest box at the same time - therefore, you don't need to make too many boxes. They tend to gravitate toward the same box. If you have a big flock - you'll need to make more. In some of the links I've provided, there are some excellent pictures of nest boxes, diagrams, and "how-to" instructions for building nest boxes. A view of a couple of my nest boxes is pictured above.
A 2" by 4" or 2" by 2" board works nicely as a roost. You can also use a tree branch measuring between 3" to 6." I used a 2 x 4 and rounded off the edges with a circular saw, and these are working like a champ. This step is not necessary, but I've found that they are able to grip onto the roost better when it's slightly rounded. A view of my roost and walkway leading to the roost is pictured above.
I made sure to place the roosts where the droppings are not in my way when I enter the coop so I don't have to clean it off my shoes after being inside. Depending on the type of coop you build, you may also want to consider positioning the roosts where you can easily clean up the droppings.
Chickens seem to like roosting higher in the coop at night, so I positioned mine about 4 feet off the ground. I then constructed a walkway leading up to the roost since we clipped their wings (more on this in a bit). It's basically an 8" wide board which angles up from the floor to the roost with some make shift "steps" nailed on and spaced every 6" or so - something they can use to "grip" onto as they walk up.
Back to wing clipping, just briefly - we clipped the outer part of the wings - on one side only. Don't worry - this does not involve pain for the chickens in any way, and it prevents them from taking flight. When the wings are clipped, it's done toward the outer part of the wing where there is no blood supply. We didn't clip their wings at first because we thought it would hurt them. They kept flying over the fence, however, and and we lost one to a neighborhood dog. Thus, the wing clipping, and consequent ramp from the floor to the roost inside the coop. There is a great illustration on wing clipping at www.backyardchickens.com.
The farm stores all carry a nice selection of chicken feeders and water containers but they can be rather expensive. I made a 5 gallon feeder and waterer using two 5 gallon buckets I got for free at our local grocery store - usually the bakery or deli section - and two 20 inch plastic planter bases. The plastic planter bases cost around $5.00 - I purchased mine from a garage sale. Of course, any local retailer such as Walmart, Target, or your local hardware store or nursery would carry them as well. The 5 gallon feeder I'm currently using is pictured above - after filling it with feed, it will last about 3 weeks for 13 chickens.
How it's done: To make the Chicken feeder - drill several holes about 1 1/2" in diameter around the bottom of the bucket. Make sure the bottom edge of the holes are no higher up than 1/2" from the very bottom of the bucket. Next - place the bucket in the bottom of the plant base so the top of the bucket is still up. Don't throw away the lid - you'll still need it. Make sure the bucket is centered as best as possible in the plant bottom and then screw it in place using 3 or 4 screws until it is secure. That's it! just pour in the feed and put the lid on and you've got 5 gallons worth of feed. I'm guessing this would be roughly 20 lbs of feed since it holds just under half of a 50lb bag of chicken feed in my feeder. I place my feeder on top of 2 concrete blocks - chickens are sloppy eaters and this helps prevent feed spillage. I've seen other people hang their feeders a few inches off the ground with rope. The suggested distance off the ground is about the height of the chickens back.
UPDATE: You can also make a feeder double the size with 2 buckets! This will double the amount of feed you can provide. As we grow our flock I plan to use this one. It will easily hold a 50 pound bag of chicken feed. To put it together, you simply have two 5 gallon buckets. Just cut out the bottom of a second bucket and screw it about 2-3 inches from the top of the first bucket (as pictured). Then drill in 4 - 6 screws around the perimeter, which works great to hold it in place (see picture). The screw length I used was 2 1/2 inches. Don't forget about those screws in there if you ever need to reach in the bucket. You don't want to get cut! But that's all there is to it! You now have an extra large chicken feeder.
CHICKEN WATER CONTAINER
For the waterer, it's the same method except you only need to drill one or two small holes (1/4" or so) near the base of the bucket - and drill them around 1" up from bottom of the bucket. You can vary the height or distance from the bottom of the bucket a little, but make sure the hole does not lie above the rim of the planter base - If you do, all the water will overflow out of the trough.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUILDING A CHICKEN COOP
Dimensions: Each chicken requires 3 to 4 square feet of space - this will need to be taken into account when designing your coop so you don't make it too small. I would suggest making it a little bigger than you need since, if you're like me, you'll want to purchase more chickens each year.
Climate: Build your coop to suit the climate of your area. If you live in a warm climate, you will need to make sure there is plenty of ventilation to keep your chickens cool. In cold climates, it's important to keep out the draft and to make sure it's warm enough so that the drinking water doesn't freeze. An insulated coop will ensure the coop isn't drafty either. But you'll still want good ventilation, however, to ensure that fresh air can move in and out of the coop - minimizing the likelihood of your chickens getting sick.
Elevated Coop: An optional part of the design is elevating your coop. Having it elevated can help with the flooding rains and keep it cooler in the summer heat. It also gives the chickens a shady place to go during the day. I elevated my coop and noticed I've never had any rodents in it either - I'm not sure it's a way to fool proof your coop from rodents or predators, but it probably helps to some degree.
Location: If you live in the city, check your city regulations. Sometimes, they require you to be at least 5 ft from the property line. Also, try to make a coop that won't be offensive to your neighbors. It doesn't have to be as pretty as the home you live in, but not too unsightly so as to reduce property values. Keeping on top of the smell is also key, since you don't want to damage relationships with your neighbors.
It's beneficial for the chickens to have adequate sunlight as well - for staying warmer in cold climates and for maximum egg production. Putting a window on the south side would allow for the light to enter the coop all day.
Deep Litter Method
You'll also have to consider if you're going to clean out the droppings on a regular basis or if you want to use the "deep litter" method, which is less maintenance. This is important to consider for designing the floor of your coop. Some people prefer to use a chicken wire floor so the droppings fall into a container under the coop for easier cleaning, less odor in the coop, and a way to regularly stay on top of the cleaning.
With the deep litter method, you essentially have around 4-8 inches of wood pellets, wood (pine) shavings, or other bedding on the floor of the coop. Every few days you'll want to use a rake or shovel to stir the droppings on the top into the bedding underneath. The chickens do this on their own, but you'll want to rake it in a bit deeper and more evenly across the whole floor.
The bedding/droppings will begin to decompose underneath. As this happens, the amount or level of bedding starts to shrink down. As this happens, you'll simply add another inch (or more) of bedding so you'll always have about 4-8 inches. By using this method, the odor is minimal. You really only need to clean the entire coop out once or twice a year.
I use the deep litter method and highly recommend it - it saves me a lot of time, and I can use that rich compost for our garden once it's done! I buy 40 lb bags of wood pellets for my coop - most large retailers i.e. Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes will carry some. It may be that they only stock up on wood pellets during the winter so it may help to call the store in advance. Another great place to get pellets is at farm stores, and they usually carry them all year long. However, the price may be a bit higher.
I start off pouring a few bags on the floor until I get about 5 inches of pellets, spread evenly across the floor. I occasionally (once a week) rake the droppings on top, into the pellets underneath. Then I periodically add another bag of pellets - about every 3 monts on average.
I usually know when it's time to add another bag of bedding - when the coop starts to smell a little and just raking the droppings into the bedding underneath is not working to eliminate this odor anymore. After a year, I simply clean it all out and start the process over again. You can find more information on this process at www.backyardchickens.com which, by the way, is an excellent overall resource for all things related to chicken care.
If you live in an area near dogs, coyotes, racoons, skunks, mountain lions, fisher cats, red tailed hawks, or bears (the most common predators), you'll want to make sure to make your coop is predator proof. For an outpen made of chicken wire or bird netting, you should embed the material 8"-12" below the ground around the perimeter of the pen to prevent the would-be predator from digging in.
If your coop is fenced in with woven wire farm fencing (or any other type of farm fencing), it is a good idea to place either a strand of electric wire or barbed wire around the perimeter a few inches off the ground on the outside of the fence. Again, this will deter predators from entering.
RECOMMENDED LINKS TO NEW CHICKEN COOPS AND SUPPLIES
If, after reading all of this, you don't feel up to the task or decide you DO have the money for a coop after all or don't want to go through the work of building a coop - there are dozens of good chicken coops for sale. Here are a few links to some excellent coops and chicken coop supplies!
I hope this information was helpful. I'll be adding more as time allows. Good luck with your coop building adventures!