Best Practices for Chicken Coop DIY Design and Construction

Chicken Coop DIY Design and ConstructionWe realize that there is a group of folks out there who love building as much as we do and want to build their own coop and not buy one from someone else.  If you’re that person who wants to tackle your own Chicken Coop DIY Design and Construction project we still want to help.  Keep these things in mind and consider these points before you begin your project. Whether you’re going to be a Urban Coop Company customer or not, we want to share what we’ve learned building 100’s of coops that are in service all over the country.

Coop Parameters: We suggest starting out with the end in mind and let that guide your decisions…

These are most of the questions you’ll want to ask yourself to create parameters for choosing a design. There are certainly others, but this will knock out a big chunk of what is important.  Of course, you have to like what it looks like, but that’s your deal 🙂

Lets talk about each one of these items and ways it will influence your choices. While not exhaustive, the following will give you something to think about.

How many chickens do you want?

If your intention is to keep your chickens in your coop full time (no free ranging) you will want at a minimum 3-4 ft2 per bird of run space on the ground. Some people will tell you much more, and commercial egg farms allow for more like 1 ft2 per bird. In our consultation with the Texas A&M poultry department and in our own practical experience, you will be fine in that 3-4 ft2 per hen range. Much more important than space, is ventilation. Its stagnant air that causes the problem more than anything else.

As for an egg box, a one hen egg box will support 4-6 hens laying each day as they are happy to take their turns in the box. We have a box that will easily hold two hens and they seldom go in pairs. Laying must be a private thing 🙂

If eggs are your goal (for some it is not) a conservative number is 65% of days, a hen will lay an egg. Time of year, age of your hen and nutrition are some of the factors that control production, but on average, you’ll get 4-5 eggs per week per hen.

You don’t have to have a roost I suppose, although it is the natural way that the chickens like to sleep. You need 7-10 inches of roost space per hen and it is somewhat dependent on their size and weather conditions. Certainly on cold nights hens will cuddle together on the roost to stay warmer and conversely when it is hot, they will spread out more. But again, roost area ventilation is key. Even a small number of birds crammed into a poorly ventilated large space is a bad idea.

So with those thoughts in mind, ask yourself if the design you’re considering makes sense for the number of hens you want.  Back to Top

Is easy maintenance important?

Who doesn’t like the idea of a full height walk-in chicken coop. You could avoid getting on your hands and knees to do watering and feed. Chickens are pretty short. You could collect eggs standing up. But not many folks have the room or the budget (or want the eye sore) needed to buy a shed sized building for their backyard chickens. Its also another building to take care of on your property. Just think through your tasks of watering, feeding and cleaning out the coop and make sure the ergonomics of it all make sense for the design you’re considering. I’m getting older and being on my hands and knees doesn’t sound so good. We took the path of a Roost-over-Run™ design to our Round-Top Backyard Chicken Coop™ in part because it allowed an owner to perform almost every task, egg collection, feeding, watering, raking out run and cleaning roost from a standing position. Just make sure you consider how the design you’re looking at will work for the hen keeping tasks that will be required.  Back to Top

How much space do you have?

Some neighborhoods have height restrictions on coops, usually asking that they don’t stick up above a fence. Many normal fences are 6′ so stay under that. Keep in mind that many photos you see of coops are taken from a low angle trying to make them look much taller than they really are. Six feet is 72″ so just look at the specifications as your actual way of judging height.  Keep in mind that if a coop is only really short, you’ll be getting down on the ground some.

To a large extent, the number of birds you want to keep will determine the foot print of the coop because of the run space we mentioned above.  You get the ft2 of the coop by multiplying the width in inches by the length in inches, divided by 144.  So for instance, a 36″ wide by 48″ long coop run is 36×48=1728 in2 /144 is 12ft2.  Twelve square feet is good for 3-4 hens.  Also make sure the area you plan to place the coop leave you enough room, maybe 2-3 feet, around the coop to maintain things from time-to-time. Back to Top

How long do you want your coop to last?

I’m not being flippant about this question. For instance, I don’t want my computer or cell phone to last 10 years, so I really wouldn’t be persuaded to buy one that would. I want a new one every two years or so. I don’t want my kitchen remodel to last 30 years either.  But I’d like my wedding ring to last a lifetime, so the material I choose for it matters. Determining life expectancy goals will dictate material choices and joinery methods.  More advanced methods and higher quality materials… well, cost more, but last longer.

The majority of the coops you find on the internet are made in China from fir. Chinese fir is not so different from our N. American Douglas Fir. The wood HAS to be treated or painted to last more than about 6 months out in the weather without irreversible damage, and even treated, will require re-treatment every year or two. Fir is a soft wood and does not hold a screw well without special fasteners. We seldom hear stories of fir coops being in service for more than a couple of years.

Woods that have to be treated or painted (firs and pines) can be used, just keep the maintenance in mind.  As far as woods that can be used un-treated, in N. America, that is a short list of three woods… Cypress, Redwood and Cedar. Of course, you can get treated pine such as “YellaWood” or similar brands if you like the look and are not concerned with the chemicals used in treatment. Yes, Teak and Ipe would make excellent coops, but we do not have it in N. America. Actually, Bamboo is an interesting idea for coops and we are always thinking about Bamboo. Agriwood which is corn silage held together by glues are something else we look into. But practically speaking, Cypress, Redwood and Cedar your only choices for woods that do not require treatment and Cedar is certainly the most available. Any plywood used treated or not should be painted.  If you want to paint your coop, you could still use Cedar, but it does cost quite a bit more than pine, fir or plywood… about double.

As for metal parts, they have to be galvanized or outdoor ceramic coated. Even galvanized metal parts are corroded by chicken poop over time. I guess what makes it so good for fertilizer, makes it tough on metal. Any glues or paint that are used must be exterior rated too.

And of course, the heavier gauge your materials are, the longer they will last. Thicker wire, heavier roof metal, bigger screws and bolts and beefier boards will all contribute to your coop lasting longer. We targeted a 10 year lifespan for our coop and depending on the care it gets from its owner and the climate that it lives in, it could easily last 15-20 years with a little love.

Note: The cedar used in coops is NOT the aromatic cedar. that for instance, are used in coat closets to repel moths. The western red cedar used in coops is not toxic to moths 😉 or chickens. And few would pay for a coop made from aromatic cedar as it is quite expensive. In our country, almost all aromatic cedar is indigenous to the East Coast and isn’t even suited for outdoor use. For those wood experts out there, Eastern White Cedar would be fine for outdoor construction, but its rare.  Back to Top

please email your thoughts on wood to:
coop wood comment @ uccomail

Whats your budget?

Backyard chickens are a lifestyle educational hobby. You are likely NOT going to save money over buying eggs at the store unless you are among the most frugal of chicken keepers. It is possible, especially if you’re comparing free range organic eggs which is what you’d compare to the quality of a home raised backyard chicken eggs. Unless you want poop all over the place and live in the country, you will HAVE to have a coop of some kind to have chickens. A cheaply made coop will pretty much be a throw away after a couple of years.

Keep in mind what you’re trying to do (educate your kids, fresh eggs, the pure fun of it, all of the above) and spend an amount of money on materials that makes sense. The fact is that some of the “profit” we make building coops comes from buying materials in bulk. You buying materials one coop at a time will cost more than a company who buys in bulk.  Back to Top

Do you have particular predators to worry about?

Dogs are by far the most common predator for chickens followed by raccoons, possums, foxes, coyotes and the like. Some are diggers trying to go under and some are strong enough just to lift the coop off the ground or break into weak door openings. Plan to try to foil all but the most persistent of predators and save yourself the grief of finding your girls gone. Your coop must be heavy and strong. Hinges and latches must be strong. Throw away the rinky-dink screws that come with most hinges and put in some beefy good screws.  Burying wire around the perimeter or rocks around your coop can foil diggers.  Weight. If a Chihuahua comes after your girls, a 50lb coop with hardware cloth wire might do the trick.  If its a 75lb dog… ummm, not so much.  Use strong wire and weight does matter.

Chickens have some sort of death wish and if there is an opening large enough for a raccoon to reach through ( maybe like 2×2 or larger) we’ve seen birds seemingly go over and put themselves into the clutches of a coon when they could have easily stood back. So make sure that the largest opening or slot is small enough to keep varmints out. Back to Top

Will you realistically move your coop around often?

“Chicken Tractor” is the term adopted to describe a coop that could be moved around your backyard that has wheels. Just keep in mind that in about a week, the nice green carpet known as your backyard will begin to be trampled by the birds in your coop. And you want the birds to be on the ground so that the microbes in the soil can do their thing with the poop, and your hens can do their thing pecking away at little bugs and the such that live near your coop.

We’ve owned tractors before and have decided that we wanted to limit the area of yard damage to one particular spot and never really moved the coop around. Even though our coop is not a tractor, several strong people can relocate it assembled, and if broken down to its two major sub-assemblies or completely disassembled, could be moved even more easily, even relocated or sold to someone else altogether.  Just because the coop you choose is not on wheels, does not mean it cannot be moved. Some designs use skids which could be a good idea for you if you want to move your coop around.

So if you think you’ll want to move your coop, make sure that one way or another, you could. Wheels are for someone who would want to move it very, very frequently. Back to Top

What kind of climate do you live in?

Chickens are much more robust than people give them credit for. A bird that is allowed to fully feather over a month or two for cold weather, is good for sub zero temperatures if it keeps dry and can get out of direct wind. Conversely, chickens are good for the 100’s if plenty of water and modest shade is provided during the hottest parts of the day.

Keep in mind the North wind for colder climates and Southern breezes for hotter climates. Some materials transfer heat and cold much worse that others. For instance, Cedar neither transfers heat or cold in a bad way compared to steel which does both. The Galvalume™ coating on our metal roof transfers up to 50% less radiant heat than plain galvanized roofing. Composite shingle roofs have their pros and cons as do most other roof choices. Just think through the exposed parts of the design and how that will play out with the climates where you live.

The key to chicken coops is ventilation. Whatever coop you build it must have the ability to keep air moving around the birds to keep the moist air to a minimum.  Dryer air serves to protect your girls both in hot or cold climates from disease and respiratory problems. Back to Top

Feel free to email us at:
coop building questions @ uccomail
and we’re happy to answer your DIY questions regarding your coop project.

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