Building Chicken Coops For Dummies
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Believe it or not, it’s becoming increasingly popular to raise chickens—and if you’re already an owner, you can list the reasons why. You get farm-fresh, organic eggs, your kids are provided an effective and fun way to learn the basics of responsibility—and you’re living a more self-sufficient life. There’s one fairly big catch in this scenario, though: those chickens need somewhere to live—and that’s where Building Chicken Coops for Dummies® comes in.
“Chicken owners are a particularly self-reliant and improvisational bunch,” says Todd Brock, coauthor along with Dave Zook and Rob Ludlow of Building Chicken Coops for Dummies® (Wiley Publishing, Inc., August 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-59896-2, $19.99). “It’s about making do and adapting. The whole endeavor is meant to make you just a little more self-sufficient…so why spend gobs of cash to do it in the first place?”
Brock makes a good point. While it’s possible to buy pre-built shelters for your birds, they usually don’t come as nearly as cheaply as the homemade variety. And don’t worry if you’re not a master carpenter—Building Chicken Coops for Dummies® includes carpentry instructions as well as five chicken coop building plans.
Beofre you get started, read these 10 things that previous coop-builders would have done differently so that you don’t repeat their mistakes:
Make it bigger. It almost never hurts to build your coop larger than you think it needs to be. If you find you want to increase the size of your flock, it’s a matter of bringing some new birds home. If you never get past the starter-flock stage, at least the birds you do have will be able to spread out and live a comfy, spoiled life.
Make the coop taller. “Taller” is different than “bigger.” A “bigger” coop implies more square footage — more floor space for chickens. A “taller” coop, on the other hand, simply means more headroom for you. One of the most common coop-building regrets is creating a structure that doesn’t accommodate the caretaker. Your hens will call a 5-foot-tall ceiling “vaulted”; you’ll use more colorful adjectives the first time you whack your noggin on it. And kick yourself with every subsequent bump for not just going up a foot or two.
Consider the location more carefully. The perfect spot in the yard for your new coop can be a tricky call. You want it a little ways away from the house — but not too far. You’ll be making that trek often. At all hours. And in all kinds of weather conditions. The point is to make sure that walk is one you won’t mind (too much) making a few times a day. Sadly, a lot of flocks end up being neglected because an eager new caretaker puts his sparkly new coop waaaay out in the back corner of the yard and then can’t find the time to go perform his daily duties.
Also, check the spot you’re considering at different times during the day. What’s the sun exposure like? The way the sun breaks over a nearby treeline has determined which direction many a coop has faced. And many more owners wish they would have bothered to check this out before building a coop with all its windows facing north.
Don’t cheap out on materials. You’ve heard the saying, “You get what you pay for, ” though—and it’s true. Pay for materials that will last a long time right up front, and you’ll never have to worry about them again. Try to save a buck by using particle board, nails that rust, and thin chicken wire, and you’re practically guaranteed to end up replacing some or all of them. And maybe your chickens, too.
Use screws rather than nails. This tip may stir up some grumblings from die-hard DIYers who swear by nails for their high speed and low cost. But if you make a mistake during the build and need to reposition or completely relocate a board you’ve already fastened in place, would you rather wrestle with the claw end of a hammer, trying to get enough leverage to pry the board up without destroying it in the process so you can reuse it, or switch your drill to the “reverse” setting and back out that baby in a matter of seconds? Thought so. It’ll also be easier to build onto or change the coop in the future.
Elevate the coop off the ground. Building a coop that sits on the ground is easy, but adding steps or a ramp will more than pay off. Building your coop so that it sits on concrete footers and posts or even on concrete blocks can keep a great deal of excess wetness—and subsequent wood rot—well away from your henhouse. Also, consider your maintenance. Do you really want a coop that you have to stoop or squat to reach into? Putting the coop on a more comfortable level makes cleaning a little less backbreaking, egg-collecting a little quicker, and scooping up chickens a little easier.
Make the doors wider. Picture yourself going into your coop. Now picture yourself trying to squeeze through that doorway while carrying a flapping bird. Make the doorway wider than you think it needs to be. You’ll be going in and out with tools, supplies, pails of water, bags of feed, and even the occasional wriggling chicken. Build a doorway that will accommodate those tasks.
Consider how to clean the coop. There’s no way to sugar-coat it: Chicken coops get filthy. And Nnwhere in the coop does a little pre-planning pay off more than around the roost, where your birds will perch and sleep for the night. The area directly underneath the roost becomes one big “drop zone,” where the lion’s share of your chickens’ waste will pile up. So it’s not a good spot for the flock’s open nest boxes. Or their feed and water. Or your access door.
Make the nest box easily accessible. Having to scoop chickens out of the way or hurry one out of a nest box just to get at the day’s eggs is messy and unpleasant (and a good way to break a few eggs in the process). Consider your coop design carefully to ensure that you’ll have easy access to your nest boxes later on. Many caretakers build their nest boxes so that they stick out of an exterior wall of the coop and feature a latching lid on top.
Paint the coop before assembly. It’s a fact—you don’t want to paint in a hurry because your chicks are waiting in a box, and you definitely don’t want to remove your hens from the coop so you can spend a weekend painting it. A lot of coop-builders have had great success with executing the cut list, building each piece of the coop and then painting the pieces before final assembly. This way, you assemble painted pieces to construct the coop, can move the birds in immediately upon completion, and can do any touch-up work at your leisure without disturbing your hens.
Reinforce the run underground. If a predator who has a taste for chicken can’t get through the wire or over the top of the fencing, he’ll often start burrowing under the run. One morning, you might wake up to an empty run, with only a few fluttering feathers to serve as a reminder that you could have just extended the wire mesh, burying it a foot or two underground, and prevented a subterranean snack attack.
“If you keep these basics in mind when building your coop, you’ll ensure that your chickens—and you!—are completely satisfied with their new home for years to come,” Brock concludes.