Probably the most important first step when going into the “chicken business” is planning where you will house your birds.
The first time we had chickens, years ago, we housed them in our All-Purpose Shed, along with rabbits, a couple of goats, ducks, and occasionally, a pony and/or a goose. There was a large fenced yard, a kiddie pool for water and swimming (meant for the ducks, but I often found my children wading there, too), grass, hay bales, and various pots and pans for feeding the menagerie.
Six winters ago, when I decided I must have another flock, the housing preparations were different. The All Purpose Shed had become a leaking, leaning catchall for old gardening pots, rolls of wire and roofing, and mice. Building the new Chicken Coop was the winter project. As usual, I made the detailed plans and my husband did the work (and occasionally followed the plans). I learned that there are building codes in our township these days, and that any building over 96 square feet must have a builder’s plan submitted for approval. To the builder, that translated into 12 feet x 8 feet and that’s where we began.
The frame was built of 2×4’s covered on the outside with 7/16 OSB. Before plywood was put on the interior walls, R-19 insulation was added. The floor was built with pressure treated 6”x6”’s (3 of them—each 12 feet long), with 2”6” joists. The floor was covered with plywood, too.
Windows were added (my plans!)—two along one side, one in each end. These thermal paned windows were salvaged from another project, put in on hinges and screens were stapled into the interior window frames so summer breezes could enter, but summer predators could not.
I knew where I wanted the finished coop to be placed, so a door went in one end, next to the offset window—this would be the entrance to the hen yard from the coop, and the southern end of the building. Another door went into the side without windows –this would be the entrance door from the outside.
The roof of galvanized sheet metal was built, with my husband certain that it should attach tightly to the sides—until I explained how important it is to have ventilation in a chicken coop. The roof overhang is covered in screen to keep predators out, but lets fresh air circulate through the coop, without causing a draft.
The interior design of the coop allowed for an 8’ x 8’ living area, with roosts and nest boxes, and a 4’ x 8’ storage area for feed (in galvanized garbage cans) and tools. A screen door separated the two areas and a plywood half-wall completed with heavy-duty wire mesh, allowing for more light in the coop, filled in the rest of the gap.
The building was painted (barn red) shortly after the arrival of 24 small chicks that would be living in our garage under a heat lamp until the weather was warm enough to transition them to their new home. My research had taught me that 96 square feet, with access to the outside, would be sufficient to hold 24 laying hens.
The plans called for the coop, which was being built in my husband’s workshop, to be moved to the flat land beyond our raised bed gardens.
Moving day dawned bright, snowy and cold. The building was skidded out of the workshop, the roof attached, and the whole building lifted up on an oversized axle (another salvage item). Slowly, slowly it moved up the road and into place. It took a little leveling and more hard work, but the housing was ready for the birds. My husband built a “deck” along the side of the building, which allowed the hen yard to be 10 feet wide, and gave us a spot for more storage. The angle of the roof allowed this to be a covered area.
The feed bins were filled; the floor covered with shavings and straw, the chickens added to the mix and the rest is a happy hen history. Well, except…
· Always build a chicken coop to hold twice as many chickens as you plan to start with.
· Don’t think that the grass in your chicken run will continue to grow for more than…a week?…after the chickens take over.
· You’ll need to plan for grazing excursions or some sort of moveable shelter if you want your chickens to have access to grass or pasture (see previous note).
· Deer netting works great for keeping flying predators out of the coop. It does not, however, work well after a heavy snow. If it doesn’t collapse, it just holds the snow and lets it melt into the yard. And then it does collapse.
· Always build a coop to hold twice as many chickens as you plan. I know I said that already, but there’s a second reason –that extra room. It ends up as a hospital wing, a maternity ward, a teenaged birds’ apartment, and eventually as part of the coop. You’ll still need a spot for storage (and a hospital, maternity ward, etc.)
· Electricity is not necessary in a chicken coop. We didn’t add it, and I’ve never been sorry.
What would you add? How would you build your coop differently? What do you especially like about it? What have you learned?