Raising Chickens 101: How to Build a Chicken Coop

10 design considerations for a simple, safe chicken coop

April 23, 2021
Chicken Coop in Backyard

Chicken coop in backyard

ND700/Shutterstock

If you’re going to raise chickens, you’ll need a chicken coop to house them in! You can find a pre-built coop kit or build your own. Either way, here are design considerations for a simple chicken coop that’s sound, predator-proof, and doesn’t break your budget—plus, get pro tips for building a chicken coop yourself.

How Much Does a Coop Cost?

Simple, pre-built coops can be usually purchased online for $200 to $300 and go up from there. A second-hand coop can be purchased for even less. Look for used coops or old sheds on Craigslist; people move homes and good deals will come your way if you’re patient.

It’s difficult to cost out a DIY coop because it’s customized to your size and what you desire. It’s not necessarily about saving money. Pre-made coops aren’t usually as durable or long-lasting as a coop you’ll build out of lumber yourself.

Of course, if you can find pallets and reclaimed wood, you can bring the costs down. The hardware and the metal fabric are the most expensive parts. To save money, go to local places getting rid of wood. Visit house construction sites around our neighborhood for lumber that’s just being tossed in the bin. Convert a shed or small barn or doghouse instead of starting from scratch. Ask lumber stores if they have scrap lumber, cut-offs, or culled wood that has imperfections.

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This DIY coop cost about $300 to $400, recycling as much as possible to keep cost down and keep things out of the landfill

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This fun DIY coop was under $200 because it was built using reclaimed woods from local places getting rid of wood.

What’s most important is that the chicken coop you buy or make is sound and safe—which is what we’ll discuss below.

Location of the Coop

The location of the coop on your property is important to consider in order to maintain coop hygiene and protect the birds themselves. A chicken coop should be built on high ground to avoid flooding or any buildup of water and moisture.

According to Oregon State University, it is also a wise idea to build a coop relatively close to one’s home or in a highly trafficked area of the yard to deter unwanted predators. Building a coop away from large plants and lots of foliage that can shelter predators will also help keep a backyard flock safe. 

The coop itself can be a very simple structure and even use existing structures such as a garden shed or dog house. Minimally, the coop simply needs to be structurally sound and contain nesting boxes, roosting bars, space for a feeder and waterer, and vents for air circulation. Let’s discuss further …

Coop Size

A chicken basically sleeps and lays eggs in its coop without worry of predators. Chickens should have a separate run or outdoor space, but if this is limited, a chicken will need even more room inside the coop.

  • According to the University of Georgia, most breeds of chickens require at least three square feet of room in a coop per bird if outdoor range space is available. We like to give our birds between three and five square feet of room per bird. 
     
  • If there is no outdoor range space available, chickens should have more room inside the coop to spread out. Between eight to ten square feet of room per bird is recommended for those without outdoor range space.

Overcrowding in a chicken coop can lead to a multitude of issues among a backyard flock. For instance, overcrowding typically causes chickens to fight more, meaning the birds at the bottom of the pecking order will likely have limited access to food and water and may even exhibit cuts and peck marks on their bodies. Overcrowding in a coop also means a faster buildup of fecal matter and bacteria, meaning the chances of parasites of insects entering the coop and making the birds sick is much higher. 

Coop Material

While there are plenty of options in terms of the materials a coop can be built from, some options are better than others. Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends using plywood for a backyard chicken coop. Plywood is not only relatively cheap, but is extremely durable as well.  If you want plywood to last, you’re going to need to protect it with primer and paint. Furthermore, if you’re building your coop, plywood is easy to cut holes and windows in, providing a backyard flock with plenty of ventilation inside the coop.

Predator Protection

One of the most important considerations is how to secure a flock from the threat of predators. Some of the biggest threats to backyard chickens include raccoons, coyotes, fisher cats, dogs, and even snakes. Some types of snakes like to eat chicks and may attempt to slither between the coop walls and the ground to access backyard chickens.

To ensure that snakes and predators cannot break into a coop from underneath, it’s important that the coop is raised off the ground 8 to 12 inches—enough to allow the chickens to walk beneath. Otherwise, a dirt floor (with wire underneath) might be better than a low-raised floor because rodents and snakes love to live under floors; if the floor is up high enough for the chickens to get in, they’ll keep it clear for you.

Some predators may take a more conventional approach and try to break into a chicken coop through the coop door. Because of this, you”ll need secure latches on all doors and windows. 

Finally, any openings in your coop need to be covered by “hardware cloth.” This a wire mesh made of a stronger gauge metal than chicken wire. Note: Chicken wire is meant to confine chickens to an area, but is not adequate to protect from predators. A hawk or determined predator can tear through chicken wire with relative ease.

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Credit: Fraija/Shutterstock

10 Design Considerations

  1. Mark the ground where the coop will be located, taking into consideration its location relative to the sun (southern exposure ensures greater warmth and sunlight); any nearby structures (will you attach it to a garage or barn?); and the need for a run, fenced or not (more on that below). Locate your coop and run on high ground to avoid battling water and mud problems!
     
  2. Decide on the size. As mentioned above, you can make a coop any height, width, or depth, but also you will need at least 3 or more square feet of interior coop floor space per hen. So, if you’re going to have 6 chickens, a 24-square-foot coop should be plenty of space (4 square feet per chicken).  
     
  3. Also, you’ll need one nest box for every three hens. Nest boxes should be about one foot square. Position them lower than your roosts so the chickens won’t perch on them. You’ll find that chickens often want to sleep in the same box, but don’t be worried about this! For larger breeds such as Jersey Giants, allow an additional square foot of floor space per bird. Learn more about the sizes of different chicken breeds.
     
  4. Elevate your coop. As discussed above, chicken coops should be raised off the ground at least 8 to 12 inches to prevent predators, keep the wood from rotting, and allow space for the chickens to fit beneath. Most chicken owners build legs of the coop or any boards that come into contact with pressure-treated lumber. Theoretically, you could use non-pressure treated lumber if the legs are sitting on bricks or concrete and not in direct contact with the ground.
  5. Do not forget to include a door in the plans. A door can be as simple as a piece of plywood on a frame of 1-by-2s, with hinges and a simple latch. Make it large enough for you to enter and exit easily with eggs in hand or a basket. (Learn how to collect your eggs to determine what you’ll need). 

  6. For flooring, most folks use plain, unfinished plywood with a nice deep layer of shavings. However, note that wood can rot and house mites. Some folks nail down rolled linoleum on top of the wood as it’s so easy to clean as well as replace. 

  7. Consider whether you will bring electricity into the coop for egg laying: A low-watt bulb will prolong the day during winter months and keep egg production figures more consistent.

  8. Roosting bars: Plan to install 1½-inch dowels across the upper part of the coop; this will enable the chickens to roost off the floor at night. The rule of thumb for roosts is to allow 8 inches per hen (although we find that they usually crowd together).

  9. Coop ventilation: One-fifth of the total wall space of your coop should be vented. Your coop needs openings cut into the walls near the ceiling for air circulation. They should be higher than the roosts. All openings should be covered with ½” hardware cloth that is securely attached so predators can not enter. 

  10. Secure latches are important for all coop doors and vented windows to protect the hens from predators. Raccoons can turn knobs, untie knots, undo bungee cords, lift latches, and slide deadbolts. Spring-loaded eye hooks are effective, as are latches secured with carabiners or padlocks.

Regarding insulation: While chickens enjoy moderate—around 55°F—temperatures, they will survive nicely in the barn through fairly cold winters; their feathers keep them warm. There are also certain breeds that are better for cold climates.

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Image: Nesting boxes with simple dividers. Credit: Robert Bodnar T./Shutterstock.

Building the Chicken Coop

A small coop should take several weekends to design. And it will take 2 to 3 weekends to build, depending on our skill set. Count on numerous trips to Lowe’s or your local home improvement store and for it to take longer than you expect. It’s most certainly an adventure! Here’s our tips:

  1. Explore different coop designs. You can look at pre-built coops online or DIY coops and copy one you like. Here are thousands of DIY designs.
  2. When you’re ready, get out some paper and start sketching out your coop measurements.
  3. Check out material options online. Plan to frame the chicken coop with 2-by-4s and use sheets of plywood for the walls. The roof can be a sheet of plywood covered with roof shingles or a piece of corregated sheet metal.
  4. Bring your plans to the lumber yard. Someone there can help you determine how much plywood you will need, as well as other materials. At some stores, they may even do the major cuts for you.
  5. Carefully measure and mark you plywood for each cut that needs to be made.
  6. Cut all your pieces. Don’t forget to cut openings for the door and any windows!
  7. Pro tip: Prime and paint the wood pieces before you assemble them to save time and make the painting easier.
  8. Attach the legs to the floor of the coop. Then turn it over, and start attaching the walls to the base.
  9. Add the nesting boxes. These could be designs as simple dividers or boxes.
  10. Attach the plywood roof. Then, add your choice of roofing materials to protect the wood (shingles, corregated metal, etc.)
  11. Wherever you have a door opening, add a coop door with secures hinges and predator-proof latches.
  12. Wherever you have windows, cover with hardware cloth. Secure with screws and washers. Don’t use staples; a raccoon will pull them out. Also, cover any openings larger than one inch as minks and weasels can squeeze through very small openings.

Other considerations:

  • Remember that your coop will need a chicken run or yard. The general rule is 10 square feet per bird for the run. So if you have 6 hens and a 24-square-foot coop, then you’ll want a run that’s 60 square feet. You could elevate the coop and that’s 24 ft of the 60. Here’s an example.

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  • If predators are a problem in your area, bury a layer of chicken wire about 6 inches down under both the coop and the run to foil diggers like foxes, dogs, and skunks. Mink and weasels can slip through standard 2-inch wire. To keep them out, use a couple of 2-inch layers offset or 1-inch wire instead. 

Pro Tip: For serious predator issues, use hardware cloth in place of chicken wire. Chicken wire has hexagonal openings and it’s flexible, keeping chickens contained and providing a certain level of deterrence. Hardware cloth is welded wires in a square grid made in galvanized, stainless steel and bare steel manufactured from a strong gauge metal than chicken wire, and what you’d use for security fencing. As well as using hardware cloth over windows and open vents, bury it around the the perimeter of the coop and run AND at least 6 inches down under the coop and run. At minimum, make sure the coop and run are secure. There is no way a predator could get in unless they brought a wire cutters with them. The cost of safety and protection can be high, but it’s worth it.

  • You’ll need to accessorize the chicken coop, at least rudimentarily: Waterers, available from farm suppliers, keep the chickens from fouling their water supply. Get one for every three or four chickens. Also get a feed trough long enough to let all of the chickens feed at once (or get two smaller ones). Learn more about chicken feed
     
  • Have enough wood shavings (pine) or straw to put a 6-inch layer on the floor and a couple of handfuls in each nest box and your chickens will have a perfect home. Change the bedding about once a month or if it starts looking flat.

Remember, a chicken coop doesn’t need to be complicated. Our first one was a small shed built with recycled wood. The run was screened with chicken wire and built onto the side of our house. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. Just keep in mind the two simple rules, “Measure twice, cut once,” and “Pointy end down,” and both you and your hens will be happy.

Feeling ready to raise chickens? Get more tips on building a successful hen house and cleaning chicken coops, as well as bringing up baby chicks and collecting, cleaning, and storing eggs!

Complete Raising Chickens Guide

This is the third post in our Raising Chickens 101 series. See our full series to raising chickens here:

About This Blog

Welcome to our Raising Chickens 101 Guide, a series of chapters especially geared to helping beginners! We cover how to get started raising chickens, chicken breeds, building coops, baby chick care, protecting chickens from predators, collecting eggs, and more. The complete guide is authored by two poultry experts, Elizabeth Creith, and more recently, by Chris Lesley, a fourth-generation chicken keeper. Chris is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens. See more expert backyard chicken advice by Chris on her site, Chickens & More.