5 Things to Know Before Building a Chicken Coop
by Chris Lesley of Chickens and More
You will need to know lots of things before building a chicken coop.
You will need to know how many chickens you want to keep, their breeds and sexes, and what you intend to keep them for. You will need to know what the climate is in your area, what kind of weather your coop will need to withstand, what your options are in terms of placements for a coop in your yard.
What this article will tell you is how to use that information to build the best coop possible to keep your hens happy, healthy, and safe.
- Planning – Planning your chicken coop is probably the most important step in the process, as any builder will tell you. This means firstly choosing a coop plan, which fortunately are readily available for free online. Make sure your coop plan matches not only your flock, but also the materials you have available. Many people like to build their coops from secondhand or scavenged materials, which cut down significantly on the cost of the project. If you are using secondhand materials, make sure they will work with your intended coop plan, or that the plan can be adapted to fit what you have available.
- Size – The size of your chicken coop will depend, of course, on the size of your chickens. For standard hens, plan for four square feet per hen. Bantam breeds will only need two square feet each, but they will enjoy having extra vertical space. Giant breeds can need as much as eight square feet apiece. These numbers only hold true for hens, however, and if they have a chance to exercise outside. Roosters will require extra space, and birds without a run will need at least 10 square feet of floor space each. For your run, plan for 10 square feet per chicken. Be sure to double-check for your specific breed, however, because some might need more space than others.
- Ventilation – Having proper ventilation is probably the most important thing to get right if you want to keep your chickens healthy. Heavy, constant air flow is crucial to the health of your flock, as chickens are susceptible to a wide variety of respiratory infections, including coryza and avian flu. Good ventilation will also help keep your hens cool in the hot months, which will help prevent heat stroke and other complications. The simplest way to add ventilation to your coop is to add two vents near the ceiling, above your perches. These can be open all year, as they will not create a draft for your sleeping hens. Additional vents throughout the coop will be necessary in hotter weather to keep your hens comfortable. Fans and air exchangers can also be used to increased air flow if needed.
- Expected Cost – How much a chicken coop will cost depends largely on the materials you use and what tools and building supplies (screws, braces, hinges, etc.) you already have on hand. If you already have everything you need and choose to use secondhand materials, the cost can be close to zero. If you buy your materials new, the cost can climb up to a couple hundred dollars. Part of this high price tag is that the cheapest lumber option, and the one most often recommended for outdoor projects like this, is pressure-treated lumber, which is unfortunately a bad choice for chicken coops. The pressure-treating process fills the wood with arsenic, copper, and other toxic compounds that will leach into the soil and harm your hens. If you live in an extremely wet region or termites are a major concern for you, it may be worth weighing the risks, but a tropical hardwood or treated softwood is almost always a better option.
- Building Time – Your carpentry skills and number of helpers are the biggest variable in terms of how long it will take you to build a chicken coop. The quickest option would obviously be to hire a professional carpenter, which will probably run you about $300-$400, though labor costs will vary depending on where you live. If you are building yourself, dedicating a weekend to the project should be enough to get it done, even for the most amateur of builders.
Building a chicken coop is a high-stakes, high-reward project.
A flimsy or improperly assembled coop can be a serious hazard to your hens and their health, so careful construction and thoughtful planning are crucial to getting it right.
The more you know before you start on the project, both about chickens in general and about your specific plans for your coop and your flock, the better your chances will be of having the right coop the first time around, and having a happy, healthy flock for years to come.
Chris has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is the Chickens and More poultry expert. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including three Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens. Her new book, Raising Chickens: The Common Sense Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens, is available in paperback and eBook form. Download it for FREE until Sunday, March 27th.