Chicken coops are like real estate. After all, a coop is a house, right? Just like houses vary in size and price, coops do also. To our surprise, coops can be very expensive, even for a basic structure. A pricey coop was not in our budget since we were building our homestead.
We knew that chickens were the first livestock animals we wanted at our homestead. But before we could get the chickens, we needed a house for them. After searching farm stores and online for coops, we decided that we could build the coop for a lot less money. We actually ended up spending less than $20 on their house ! This was mainly because we used repurposed material from the construction of our home, scrap materials from other projects, and did the work ourselves.
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My handy hubby is a carpenter so there was no specific blueprint for this project. After researching many options, he designed a coop in his head that would meet our needs. (See the drawing of the coop on page 57. You can adjust the dimensions to suit your requirements.) We wanted the structure to house six to 12 chickens at any given time. Working on the coop in his spare time, he constructed it in the barn. Once completed, we hoisted it up and onto a trailer so we could transport it to the location that we wanted.
The coop is constructed of scrap plywood. I stained the outside with deck stain to help protect it from the weather, using what was left from another project that I did at our homestead. The roof shingles and 2x4s used to construct the coop were left over from the construction of our house. The only materials that we purchased for the coop were locks, hinges, some lumber, and a gable vent. We bought chicken wire to enclose the area underneath the coop and to fence the chicken yard.
The coop is 6 by 6 by 4 feet tall. It is elevated off the ground 2 feet and built on 2x4s that are attached to 2×8 pieces of lumber. This area beneath the coop is surrounded with chicken wire and provides the ladies with shade and shelter from the weather. It is a favorite spot for them. They hang out there during rain, instead of going inside the coop. This is their favorite spot to take dust baths and congregate when the ground is covered with snow. We put a bale of straw on the outside of the area where the snow would blow, which gives them more protection from the weather.
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There is one large door with a small door cut in the bottom. The big door stays closed and locked with a bolt lock. Its main purpose is to make cleaning the coop easier. When the door is open, we can rake the soiled straw into a wheelbarrow and put clean straw back into the coop or rearrange it with a rake, if needed. Stooping over, I can stand in the coop when a deep clean is in order. We have also had to enter the coop to retrieve a broody hen who decided to use a back corner as her brooding spot.
The small door that the ladies use stays open during the day by locking it open with a hook latch. It is closed and locked at night once they go inside to give them protection from predators. A lip above the door helps to prevent rain and snow from getting in the coop.
Inside the coop, there are two levels of roosts made from a 2×4 cut in half. Chickens have a natural desire to roost. They all like to sleep on the tallest one. We also installed a vent high on the back of the coop. This is crucial for ventilation and airflow all year round. You do not want an airtight coop; the moisture needs to escape. Chickens create a lot of moisture, ammonia and heat from breathing and their droppings. Without proper ventilation, the moisture and ammonia can cause health problems. Even during cold weather, keeping the air dry helps to prevent frostbite. To keep predators out, make sure the vent is covered with some type of hardware wire.
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The nesting areas are created by using a cut 1×6 board. There are a total of eight nesting boxes (four on each side of the coop). But the ladies all lay their eggs in one location! When constructing the nesting areas, it is important to install them away from the roosts. Most droppings will accumulate right under the roosting area. You don’t want that to be a nesting area. Having the nesting boxes off to the side helps to ensure that the eggs stay fairly clean after they are laid. Constructing this part of the coop with hinges makes it easy to collect eggs from outside.
The coop’s ladder is an 8-foot 2×10 with 1½-by-¾-inch plywood for the treads. The treads help the chickens keep their balance going up and down, especially if the board becomes slippery. The chicken yard is a fenced-in area made with T-posts and chicken wire. The gate is also homemade from 2x4s and chicken wire, which saved us even more money.
The Chicken Dream
Once the coop and fenced area were completed, we were ready for the chickens. After finally obtaining our chicken dream, we have truly enjoyed watching them. When the weather is cooler and our house windows are open, I enjoy listening to the egg-laying song that they sing. And there is nothing like eating farm fresh eggs.
This coop housed our first flock of chickens for two years and is now housing our second flock. I let them out every morning, locking the little door open. I give them layer pellets, kitchen scraps and fresh water in the chicken yard. They enjoy being outside, usually only going in the coop during the day to lay their eggs. Like clockwork, they go to bed around the same time every night, cozying up on the top roost. We then lock the little door closed for the night, helping to protect them from predators. To learn more about Lori Leigh and her family’s projects, visit them online at LLfarmblog.blogspot.com.
Interested in a portable chicken coop? Or in adding wheels to your own coop? Go to eggcartn.com for details and videos!
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.