How to Build a Chicken Coop for First-Timers
What Does a Chicken Coop Need for my Chickens to be Happy and Healthy?
How to build a chicken coop and all the many features that can be built in or around them can be overwhelming for the first time coop builder. If you’re preparing to build your first coop, I know the question on your mind. “What does a chicken coop need for my chickens to be well cared for?” If you search online or even in magazines, you’ll find everything from functional, sustenance farming structures to designer chicken coops and everything in between. Of course, your choice will depend entirely upon your goals for your flock.
The sustenance farmer, like me, will want an entirely different design and look than a backyard enthusiast. This doesn’t make one chicken keeper better than the other, it just simply means we’re different. As my grandfather would say, “There are as many ways of gettin’ a farm job done as there are farmers. Ya gotta be willing to listen, help, and learn from ’em, even if it’s just to see what not to do.”
What is a Chicken Coop?
It’s simply a structure which gives your flock shelter from weather and predators. Have you ever picked up a chicken when it’s asleep? Then you know they’re true zombies. They are helpless. So it’s important to give them a place to roost where they can feel safe and be safe. No matter what your choice for design, there are a few basic things to consider on how to build a chicken coop.
The amount of space for each bird also depends on how much outdoor time they will have. If your flock will free range during the day, they really only need a small shelter in which to sleep and get out of the weather. If your birds will be totally confined to your coop, including the yard space around it, they will need more space to avoid overcrowding. Of course, larger breeds require more space than smaller breeds.
A good rule of thumb is a minimum of 5 square feet per bird if your flock is fully confined and few in number. If you have a large flock, you can figure 8 square feet per bird. Again, this is for birds confined to the building proper. If you have a yard for them to be in, you can adjust the room needed for your building. When allowed free ranging or access to an open yard, you can easily house a dozen chickens in the space as small as 7 x 8′ because they’ll only be sleeping, laying eggs, or seeking shelter there.
When looking at how to build a chicken coop, think about food storage and cleaning out the coop. Besides knowing how to clean a chicken coop, you’ll also want to be sure the roof is high enough for you to stand up in and work with a shovel. The pitch of the roof is also important as this will allow rain and snow to run off
In my experience, having a short walk from your home to the chicken yard is a nice thing. Besides being able to hear predators and gather eggs, I like having them close for visits.
You also want to find out whether or not you have to have a building permit. Especially for those who live in town. Your area may have other building restrictions for chicken coops so be sure to check on those.
If you’re in the South or any warm climate, you won’t have to worry about insulation. Your main concern will be providing protection from storms and a place for them to keep cool. In colder climates, you will need to to have a well-insulated coop tightly constructed to keep your birds warm.
If you choose to put a window in your coop, be sure you have enough roof overhang to keep the summer sun from beating through it. You’ll also want to consider putting the window on the south side if you live in a cold climate. I don’t have windows in my coop because my birds are free ranged every day. Lighting is important for the fertility of the rooster and the hen since they are both affected by the amount of light they are exposed to. The more the better.
The debate on whether or not to have electricity in your coop lighting is a hot topic. I personally have never had electricity to my coop. When I lived in the deep South, I used an infrared heat bulb when temperatures dipped into the 20s.
Whether or not you choose to use artificial lighting in your coop be sure you do your research and provide for the safety and welfare of your flock. It’s always a good idea to talk to chicken keepers who are keeping their flock in ways similar to how you want to do it.
Ventilation is of the utmost importance. The more chickens you have in your coop, the more moisture there will be in the air because of their respirations and poop. Chickens have a high respiration rate because they can’t sweat. Instead, they exhale excess moisture.
If there isn’t proper air circulation, litter will get wet which will result in a buildup of ammonia. The build up of ammonia in your coop can cause health issues with your birds including ammonia poisoning, damage to their respiratory systems, foot damage and more.
Ventilation is important even during winter. My coop is ventilated on both ends and the door is covered in hardware wire. This allows for excellent ventilation, especially during the hot summer months. In the winter, I put plastic sheeting over the doors to block the cold air, but leave the ventilation in the roof open. Regular window screening does not allow enough air flow which is why I chose hardware wire.
My grandmother’s coop had a dirt floor. My husband built mine to be portable so it has a wooden floor. Granny’s chickens were free ranged too so cleaning the dirt floor was never an issue for her. If you plan on keeping your birds confined, then a dirt floor is probably not ideal. It’s hard to keep clean and dry. It’s also easy for critters like mice to tunnel in! There’s also the parasite factor. It can be really difficult to remove parasites from the soil.
If you go with a wooden floor, you may want to consider building it off the ground to prevent mice from living underneath and gnawing through. This will also allow your floor to dry from underneath. The drawback, of course, is that wood rots over time especially when exposed to moisture.
For some, I suppose concrete would be an option. Although it is expensive, it would last a long time and you could hose it out. You would probably want to be sure your floor had a slope in it from under the roost toward the door to make cleaning out easier.
I saw a really cool idea when visiting a fellow chicken keeper. They had a plywood floor covered in Tyvek. At first, I thought this was kind of strange idea and wondered about the risk to their birds. When I questioned him, he said it keeps the moisture from the wood, it’s a breeze to clean out, and he had had it for several years without any problems. I did observe that the floor appeared as if no one had been pecking at it. It only seemed to have wear and tear.
You may not think about nests when planning how to build a chicken coop, but they are a vital part of what your chickens need. You can make your nests out of anything you want as long as it’s about 10 in tall and wide. I’ve decided it doesn’t really matter how many nests you have, whichever nest another hen is in, that’s the nest everyone wants.
I get so tickled at watching them fuss outside of a nest while one hen is laying when there are six other open nests. Some people put curtains on their nests, I don’t do that. My chicken nesting boxes are deep enough for the hen to feel safe and they are not in the direct sun.
You may have to change the nest litter occasionally if your hens poop in it. While I do freshen them, I find I only have to change the litter once a year and that’s mostly just for my peace of mind. If you just want a number, a good rule of thumb is one nesting box for every four layers.
This past year when I had a snake in the coop, a couple of my hens started laying under the roost. I wasn’t happy about having to reach under the roost to get their eggs. Every day I busted up the makeshift “nest” they formed in the litter. It took me actually catching her in the act, removing her from under the roost and placing her in the laying box to break her.
Chickens roost. This means they fly up and perch curling their toes around the chicken roosting bar. Because of this it’s important to use a pole or round the edges of whatever you choose to use. If you don’t provide them with a roost, they will fly up into the trees if at all possible. Their instinct is to do this because they are such sound sleepers.
The roost can be made out of anything that is at least 2 to 3 inches in diameter and set from 2 to 4 feet off the floor. You don’t want to use anything that’s smooth because they’ll lose their grip and slip. Remember, your birds poop during the night so don’t place your bars too close together. In cold weather, your flock will crowd together, but under normal circumstances you want to allow 18 to 24 inches per bird on the roost, depending on the size of your breed. Be sure you place litter under your roost to make cleaning out the manure easy. I use straw or hay.
Remember to consider your breed when designing your roost. Some breeds prefer to roost higher than others. The Bantam prefers higher roosts while many of the feather-footed breeds prefer low roosts even one inch off the ground.
It’s important to remember that you will want easy access to your coop so include a people size door. I like the Dutch setup. I can leave the top closed during the day and the bottom open for easy access for my flock. When I want to enter, all I have to do is open the top door. This makes it easy for me to check for eggs, clean out the coop, and leaves me an open pathway for when I find a mouse or snake in the coop!
If you don’t want the Dutch type door, be sure you have a people door and a chicken door. The reason for this is so that the people door can be shut to minimize drafts and offer extra protection against predators. The smaller door will allow your chickens to get to their nests, get out of the weather, and escape predators. This can be designed in any way you really want.
If you don’t want to have to get up early in the morning to open the coop door, you may consider designing it with a timer so that the door opens automatically. I’ve only read about these so I assume they would require some power source. I enjoy getting up early and doing the chores, counting heads, and inspecting the flock.
You can always contact me if you have any questions I can help you with. Do you have a coop tip you’d like to share with us? Have a photo of your coop you’d like to share? We’d love to hear your tips and see your photos. Share them in the comments below.
Happy Coop building!
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack