Raising chickens is becoming extremely popular as more and more people in urban and suburban environments are discovering the benefits these birds offer -- namely a great source of fresh, inexpensive eggs. Additionally, by raising your own chickens and producing your own eggs, you can vouch for their integrity in terms of the level of hormones and other chemicals that may be hiding in the food you don't produce yourself.
With that in mind, building a chicken coop is an important first step in raising chickens. While there are an endless variety of chicken coop designs to choose from, they all are built with several key elements in mind.
Check Local Ordinances
The first thing you need to do before building a chicken coop is to check your local city ordinances to learn about any restrictions or building requirements. While many cities have relaxed restrictions concerning raising chickens, many local governments allow it but also have rules and regulations that need to be followed. Call your local planning and zoning office for this information.
Determine the Size of Your Coop
Once you get the go-ahead from your local authorities, ask yourself how many chickens you'll be raising. Typically, there need to be at least 4 square feet inside the coop for each individual chicken, and an additional 10 square feet outdoors for each bird.
Because many modern chicken coops, your own will likely be included, are popping up in urban environments, space is at a premium. Just as you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch, you shouldn’t count them before you can guarantee you have enough real estate to accommodate them.
Note: Remember, you can always build upward, so providing inside space is less of an issue than outside space.
Choose Your Building Materials
Coops can be built from a wide variety of materials including wood, reclaimed lumber, fiberglass, metal, etc. Basically, anything that can be crafted into a suitable shape for the chickens to live in will work for a project like this. Keep in mind that the coop will need regular cleaning, so choose a material that isn’t hard to keep clean.
The most common choice for materials is a combination of lumber for the coop's skeleton and plywood for the floors, walls, and sheathing roofs.
Designing Your Chicken Coop
In its most basic definition, a chicken coop is a solid structure (i.e., four walls and a roof) that provides a space for the chickens to safely sleep at night and roam around during the day. It has a door to allow the chicken's entry and exit and plenty of ventilation.
However, beyond that, the sky is the limit. Creativity and your level of finesse with woodworking and carpentry are the only true limiters here.
If you’re not feeling confident or inspired yet, pre-made plans and diagrams do exist online that are easy for a beginner to comprehend.
If you are new to woodworking or have never built a chicken coop before, don’t go crazy. Especially since this coop will be home for a living, breathing animal, the function has to somewhat trump form. As much as creative design choices make projects more fun, in this case, there is a high-risk factor if your ideas don’t pan out or compromise the utility of the coop.
Add A Perch
Chickens are birds, and as such like to perch off the ground. This fact actually lends itself well to an urban environment where space is a luxury because you can always build up for more room, even when floor space is limited. Make sure you include a way for the chickens to walk up into the roosting perch and that it's secure enough to keep predators out.
Build or Install the Lay Box
Your chicken coop design should include a space where your chickens can successfully lay their eggs that is separate from where they roost. A lay box can be as simple as a wood box lined with straw, or as fancy as you can dream up. The box should be large enough for the chicken to rest comfortably inside and contain a low enough lip for the chicken to step over.
Line the Coop Floor
The floor of the coop is something that will need to be clean of chicken droppings on a regular basis. With that in mind, the floor can be lined with pine wood chips, straw, or even pine needles that are removed once a week. An alternative is to lay down removable boards that catch droppings and can be cleaned easily.
Due to the frequent cleaning demands, some urban chicken farmers opt for slotted wood, open mesh, or raised floors so that the droppings can fall beneath the floor to a subfloor that can quickly be swapped out.
WARNING: Do not let the convenience of this lure you in, as coop floors should be solid. Open or raised floors, even ones made of materials as sturdy as slotted wood, provide an opening for predators like raccoons to invade your coop and have at your chickens.
Step 8 - Make Any Outdoor Space a Safe Space
Chickens love to scratch around in the dirt, uncover bugs in the ground, and relax out in fresh air and therefore need adequate space to remain happy. Generally, this space should be enclosed to keep out unwanted predators.
Remember, you can always incorporate the space underneath the main chicken coop to give your chickens the extra space they need. Wire mesh is a typical material used to enclose such a space and should be buried a little underground to keep dogs from digging under it and getting inside.
Step 9 - Weatherproof Your Coop
When your structure is finally built and your chickens finally in place, it's important to think ahead. Things may seem fine in the present, but you need to make sure your coop is prepared for all future seasons and will keep the chickens out of hazardous weather conditions.
Chickens can die of frostbite or heat stroke, so it's important to consider your climate and make the appropriate adjustments to compensate for harsh weather conditions. You can add insulation to the coop to help keep the chickens warm, or a space heater for particularly brutal winters. To keep the chickens cool during hot summer months, make sure there is adequate airflow and plenty of shade.
If you wish to install something like a fan to aid in cooling and ventilation, make sure the blades are sufficiently shielded so none of your chickens injure themselves by getting too close. Additionally, be aware of your fan's placement. It may blow cool air, but depending on where it is, it may also be blowing dirt, straw, and even droppings around.