So you want to build a chicken coop?
You’ve bought your land, you’ve got your own house sorted, maybe got your off grid energy running freely and your water supply under control.
Now it is time to think about pets, animals and livestock.
The first, easiest and most cost-effective would have to be chickens. Be sure to read our beginners guide to raising chickens
* Surprisingly good family pets and great company (Read here to check out how many families in USA now keep chickens- and its over 13 million!)
* Easy and cheap to buy
* An abundant source of nutritious food (healthy chickens that have space to run around are 2-3 times more nutritious than factory farmed eggs.)
* Fabulous fertilizers for your gardens- simply add their waste to the compost heap
* Great at eating many of the insects and bugs around the place
* A constant source of side income- some people may have enough eggs that it can provide a little side income by selling excess eggs to neighbors or local farmers markets
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What is the purpose of a chicken coop?
A chicken chicken coop (or hen house) is a small house where female chickens(hens) are kept safe and secure. There are nest boxes found inside the hen houses for egg-laying, and perches/roosts where the birds can sleep.
The chicken coop should be cleaned every 2 weeks at least.
Having chicken in urban areas is now more popular than ever. Always check the rules and regulations with your local county if you live in urban areas and want to keep chickens.
Some will not allow urban areas to have chickens in the back yard. Some welcome it. Some will allow chickens but not allow roosters.
Others are fearful of noise and sanitation concerns. But cities like Albuquerque, Wisconsin, Seattle and NYC are welcoming chickens now along with many others.
Preparing to Build Your Best Chicken Coop
Decide whether you are planning to build a chicken coop or buy one.
Planning is essential before you start your project. How big should it be? More space is better!
Each chicken will need at least 3-4 sq ft room to move around plus the same again in space to roam around. Remember this is minimum. So if you start with 6 birds, you should make the space AT LEAST 18-24 sq ft.
The likelihood is that you will love having chickens and want to add more birds. It is rather painful to have to extend the chicken coop.
So build the chicken coop with extra room first time around. If you have planned extra room in advance, then you won't have to start again or have to face tricky extensions.
Chickens are social animals – never get just one chicken. They will die of loneliness. Start with at least 4-6 chickens.
Also crowded chickens have been know to peck savagely at each other. Give them more space.
The chicken coop will also protect them from harsh weather and provide a safe place to eat and drink. Make sure they can be protected from the harsh hot sun and also severe wind chills or snow.
The chicken coop also needs to be robust enough to protect the chickens from predators like racoons, foxes, wild cats and local dogs.
How To Build A Cheap Chicken Coop
If you have a few basic skills and can follow a plan, you will be able to build a basic chicken coop in a weekend and save yourself a fortune.
If you need a very large or elaborate chicken coop, it may take a few weeks but you will still save a ton of money and aggravation on buying a store bought chicken coop.
The 2 main components are an enclosed space for sleeping and laying eggs and an open air safe place for roaming about, called the “chicken run”.
Use rot-resistant lumber, such as cedar or redwood in a rectangular frame then chicken wire on all sides to keep predators out.
Get detailed plans for your chicken coop.
The interior of the chicken coop should be filled with straw to absorb chicken droppings and moisture when it rains.
Ensure you have a nest box for every 3-4 chickens.
Provide a watering device and a feeder which hang approximately 6-8 inches above the floor of the coop.
Some people add an incandescent bulb to extend the laying season.
Make sure you provide roosts/perches which are higher than the nests. Chickens always tend to seek the highest point to sleep.
Also the chicken coop should not be in the burning hot sun all day. If it is, be sure to provide a shade over the coop to help them regulate their temperature.
Think about where the access points in the coop need to be to collect eggs and for easy cleaning. These must have fox and raccoon-proof locks as these are very cunning predators.
Ensure you have some ventilation in the hen house roof (covered with strong chicken wire to keep predators out).
The other factor to consider is whether you’d benefit from a chicken tractor. This is a moveable chicken coop that can take care of the tasks a tractor used to do.
Chickens are great at pecking and scratching the soil, moving and aerating the earth, fertilizing it and removing weeds.
If you design the coop to be movable, you can move it around different parts of the yard, ensuring all the soil remains healthy.
Common Mistakes When You Build Your Hen House
The first mistake nearly everyone makes when they first keep chickens is to underestimate how tricky and resourceful the predators are.
It is devastating (especially if you have young kids) to wake up in the morning to find a bunch of feathers and no chickens.
It does not take long to become attached to these lovely creatures, to know them all by name and to mourn their loss for years after.
And feel a considerable dose of guilt- as you did not protect those animals in your care because your predator- proofing was not good enough.
Use the highest quality wire. Cheap chicken wire and even locks can easily be unravelled by clever, hungry predators. Make sure the wire is low enough that they cannot dig underneath.
The second big mistake is building the chicken coop too small. Let's face it, building a chicken coop is quite a project. You want to think about it carefully and plan ahead.
Most likely you will adore having chickens and will expand your family of chooks. Who knows, if you have a rooster nearby, they may even have chicks of their own and your family might double very quickly.
Of course it will depend on your available space, but never build for the bare minimum of space. Build for more chickens than you think you will own.
And even if you do not end up with more, the existing chickens will enjoy the extra space and be healthier as a result.
Make sure you have a roost for every bird to sleep comfortably. You do not need a nest for every bird. They like sharing their nest. Generally you only need one nest for every 3-4 birds.
Plan easy access for regular cleaning. You will need a good size doorway for you to enter and exit for cleaning purposes. Plus some lockable hatches to clean the nests out easily.
Plan your system of feeding and watering. Especially water- how will you ensure the water does not run dry during the day when you are off working elsewhere?
This a great video with a clever but simple water feeding system for the chickens.
Do not forget about ventilation. Poor ventilation is another common mistake.
Good ventilation helps keep bad smells away and toxicity away. A nice breeze will help the birds stay cool in the summer. Poor ventilation can lead to heat stress or stroke, and to the build-up of toxic fumes.
Plan good ventilation points and make sure they are predator proof.
Plan what finish the chicken coop will have. Wood looks lovely but it does requires, waterproofing, staining and re-painting. Other materials like plastic and fiberglass may be more expensive up front but they last longer.
Some families build a second smaller coop as an emergency back up. This can house sick or injured birds temporarily while they recover.
It can also house young chicks who are not quite ready to be in the cage with the bigger birds.
If you introduce new chickens from time to time, it is wise to put them in the smaller coop first for a week or two as a quarantine to make sure they do not carry any diseases that may infect your healthy birds.
Other times occasionally, you may have a very aggressive bird who decides to pick on a smaller one for some reason. By having a smaller separate coop, you can separate them for a week or two temporarily and often the issue will resolve.
What Is The Cost to Build a Chicken Coop Vs Buy One From The Shop?
Of course like any house, there are a ton of variables.
The shop bought chicken coops tend to range from $200-$1000 on average.
Yes, you can find the cheaper coops and more expensive coops than this, but this is the average prices for most models out there. (I have seen them as high as $5000!)
Many people who have bought them from a shop find that they still need to be assembled, that they still need to go and buy extra parts and many of them are not well thought out.
Generally the predator protections are not great and they still need extra reinforcing. Some of the cheaper ones come without nests or roosts which then need to be bought. Most of them need all accessories bought ( so the actual cost of finished shop bought product is actually a lot higher in most cases than you initially think!).
When you build your own hen house most people can build a good size chicken coop for around $150-$400 including all accessories.(depends on size of the coop and the materials you use).
Building a chicken coop from scratch is certainly a great challenge and a fun project but it is not rocket science.
Most people love having a decent project to work on and save a ton of money on buying a pre-built chicken coop that you have to assemble and adapt anyway.
As with any project, you should have a good plan thats shows you step by step how to build a chicken coop that you and your family will be proud of for years to come.
Trust me, you won’t need an engineering degree or fancy power tools to get this built. There are many "free" plans out there on the internet, but really? Most of us know that "free" often ends up being more expensive in the long run as it was not done properly in the first place.
Be self sufficient and get back to basics. Enjoy your chickens and provide them a good home and a happy life 🙂
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