There is a saying about learning to cook that goes something like “you don’t learn how to cook in culinary school. You learn to cook by getting in a kitchen.” I think there is a similar proverb waiting to be coined which would explain how you learn to build a chicken coop: By setting out to build it. I’m now convinced that the lack of free chicken coop plans on the internet isn’t an accident. There are lots of pictures and success stories and for a small fortune, you can even have a pre-fab kit delivered to your house with precisely the correct number of screws, bolts, mesh, etc. that you need to get a little house built. Mark and I decided to keep our small fortune for ourselves and set out to design our own coop. Our total cost for materials was $210.
I had every intention of providing free plans here, with all the materials listed in order and the steps after neatly arranged so that any interested party could benefit from our experience and experiment. As you’ll see, it didn’t exactly turn out that way. But that’s not a bad thing! What we learned in the process was more valuable that any easy-won (or purchased) success.
1. Unless you are an architect, it would be impossible to either draw or read plans to that level of detail.
2. Plywood sheets come in a standard size of four feet x eight feet or 48″ x 96.” Not knowing this, I planned out the whole coop on a 51″ platform. I have no idea why. I did at some point have some logic behind this decision, but have since forgotten it. I didn’t know any better.
3. A neighbor or friend who has power tools and knows way more than you do about construction is an indispensable key to success.
4. Lots of materials can be scavenged and salvaged. We only paid for about half of the materials used.
5. Its really fun to build something! And hugely satisfying.
So, here’s an illustrated guide to follow. Feel free to leave questions in the comments below as I’ll offer whatever I can to get you going, even if its just a little encouragement around hour 6 or 7 of buildout.
We started with a collaborative, rough sketch where we drew out the basic plan. You’ll need:
One square foot of indoor space per chicken
Space for a roost
Space for egg boxes
Space for food and water
A basic security system to keep predators out
Some fenced in outdoor space for the chickens to get out of the coop each day.
You’ll also want your coop to be off the ground so that you can rake the poop out from under and add it to your compost, as it is known as “gardener’s gold.” With this rudimentary sketch, we made a shopping list and headed to our home improvement store to buy the wood that we hadn’t already scavenged.
The home improvement store cut our plywood sheets into smaller rectangles and 2 x 4s for free, but we were on our own for the 4 x 4 posts and angle cuts.
When you make your rough sketch, try to base the proportions on 4′ so as to avoid having to buy too much material.
We then framed out the floor and added some cross braces, that were not in the original plan. Here is the floor bracing and the completed floor:
Notice in the top picture that there are little “L” shaped pieces of 2 x 4 that now wrap the 4 x 4 vertical post? Not in the original plan, but essential for holding up the mesh floor. That mesh floor will be under the roost, as chickens do a lot of poo-ing in their sleep. This allows for airflow and for the poo to fall through to the ground where we can rake it away.
Next we traced out the angled walls. You can see our neighbor, Ricardo, peering over the top of the wall.
We added a window in one wall to let in some light and help to ventilate the inside of the coop.
On the opposing wall is the front door.
Next, we decided to make the whole back wall hinge open to allow for egg collection, cleaning and keeping up with the food and the water. In the original plan, we thought we’d make the roof hinged part-way up, but discovered that shingles aren’t all that flexible.
We also learned that hinges aren’t that easy to install and ended up creating some empty space for them to open into. The little wooden blocks are there because our screws were too long and stuck out.
Into this space, we installed the laying boxes and a roost:
We added the back wall and the roof, and part one of construction was complete! The roof was the most difficult piece to figure out because of my 51″ plan. Since the plywood is only 48″ wide, we would have needed 2 sheets, but thanks to the super-math of the dude at the home improvement store, we managed to use only one sheet for the roof and added two more braces to the roof to support three smaller pieces of plywood.
Stay tuned for Part 2!