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Top 10 Tips for Building a Chicken Coop

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If you're building your own chicken coop, you might feel a little intimidated. Don't. With some basic woodworking skills and a lot of patience, you can build a great coop that will house your girls comfortably for years to come.

1. Take your time.

Photo © Lauren Ware
This is going to cost twice as much and take at least four times as long as you think it should. So just relax and go with the flow. At least, that's what I tell myself.

2. Consider following premade plans.

If you're new to woodworking and DIY, find a plan in a book or online that goes through the steps in detail, so you can just follow along like it's a recipe for a cake. I have a step by step coop-building project that I did this way, and it went really well. This spring we will add a rectangular base about 4 feet high and top it with that coop to make a larger stationary coop.

3. Don’t overbuild.

The coop needs to have a solid floor to keep raccoons and other predators out, unless you're using other means such as electric net fencing. And it needs to be sturdy. But it doesn't need to be Fort Knox, either. Remember that it is going to be completely covered in chicken poop within a month or two.

4. If making your own plans, write or draw them out in detail first.

If you are a carpenter or naturally gifted with woodworking skills, you're not reading this. So take the time to think through your design as much as possible and write out the steps with little sketches of what your thoughts are. This will also help if you get interrupted and have to put aside the building project for a time, so you remember what you were thinking.

5. Use recycled materials whenever possible.

"Upcycling" materials - making something better out of used materials - is a great way to build a coop on the cheap. But make sure that you don't use worn, rotting wood, or low-quality materials that will end up wearing out quickly. And sometimes the irregularities of a scavenged window or other item will be too hard to work around. If you're a beginner, this can add up to a lot of frustration quickly, so use upcycled or recycled materials thoughtfully.

6. Size your chicken coop properly.

If your birds will have access to an outdoor run, you'll want to allow for a minimum of 2-3 square feet per bird inside the coop, and aim for about 4 square feet per bird in the run. The higher you can go, the better, though. If your birds will be cooped all winter (chickens don't like to go out onto snowy surfaces), allow for 5-10 square feet per chicken. For birds that will be completely confined in a chicken tractor without an outdoor pen, give a minimum of 5 square feet per bird.

These are just general guidelines. The bigger the chicken, the more space it needs - so meat birds in general require more space than laying hens, and full-grown pullets need more space than baby chicks. Most annoying chicken problems like pecking and aggressiveness can be cured with more space, so plan for as generously-sized a coop as you can fit or afford.

7. Give them plenty of roosting space.

Chickens love to roost and will do so wherever given the chance - woodpiles, the tops of their waterers or feeders, the roof of their coop. So create roosting poles that are at least two to three feet off the ground (they don’t like to be too low). Plan for at least six to ten inches of roosting space per chicken. If the roosting poles are more than four feet high, they will need a way to get up to them, like a piece of wood with strips across it for steps.

8. Create cozy nesting boxes.

A pair of nest boxes.
Photo © Lauren Ware
Aim for one nest box for every four to five hens at a minimum. These also need to be a couple of feet off the ground or they generally won't get used. Consider creating a way to access the nest boxes from outside the coop for easy egg gathering.

9. Decide whether the chicken coop should be movable or fixed in place.

A movable coop is going to be small and light. You can move the birds often to pasture them on fresh grass. Or you can have a larger, still movable coop that gets put on new ground three or four times a year. A completely fixed coop and run means you're going to muck it out several times a year. It also depends on your chosen management method.

10. Make it easy to clean and maintain.

A full-sized door to enter the coop is key here, mostly for a fixed coop. This allows a human to enter easily and to clean it without a backache.
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