New DIY chicken coop

I’m building out a new chicken coop in the shed on the property we bought a couple of months ago.

It’s the second chance I’ve had to install laying hens in a small out-building. So I have a pretty firm grasp of the physical challenges and requirements of the job. In addition to seeing how that plays out in my own daily routine with the birds (as they cycle through the seasons), I’ve also worked at a bunch of other farms where I’ve seen a lot of other setups. Now I’m in the processing of distilling down the best of what I’ve seen with the given space and materials I have on hand.

Initial framing

Everything, as you can see, fits in the footprint of a 4'x8' plywood cap for winter insulation.

I’ve gotten to really enjoy this kind of light improvisational interior framing. I’m not the best at it, but neither am I the worst.

Moisture appears to be entering the shed at the base of the walls. I discovered there’s not actually any outer sheating or wrapping, just this particle board on a 2x4 frame with vinyl exterior outside. Not ideal, but not ready to re-cover the shed just yet either.

Re-using doors

Complex pieces like doors I tend to re-use and just frame around to fit.

I had both of those doors built already — the one on the left for my old coop, and one on the right (with the choroplast sheeting) from a winter shelter I built around our door at the old house.

I like the option of having two different doors for convenience. It also means I can throw a divider in if I need to and have two smaller pens in a pinch.

Nesting box

I know that one guy’s “how to farm” post said just to buy nesting boxes, but that seems unnecessary to me. Plus I’ve never seen any for sale — and this cost me zero dollars. My experience has been that nesting boxes don’t need to fit more than really two birds at a time, and this size for 6 hens seems to work fine. (And more than six hens is just not useful for me — I have huge egg surplus as is.)

It’s my preference to be able to pull the eggs without entering the coop, but in winter, I will probably wrap the outer wall up so that won’t be possible. But to improve on my old system, the nest is now right next to the door, so I don’t really need to step inside anyway — which has the advantage of letting me wear street shoes when I collect the eggs (e.g. not tracking bird shit and wood chips into the house).

Wood Feeder

I’ve been using in the past a metal round hanging feeder for hens, which actually works great and has enough capacity to keep them going on at least a week of food without having to refill. But it takes up a significant amount of floor space.

So instead I did an experiment of building a gravity-fed wooden feeder (something I’ve seen succeed at another farm), such that I can fill it from the outside, and it can fit under the nesting box (without them being able — hopefully — to crap in it from above). In other words, stacked functions.

Ceiling-hung waterer

Another “innovation” that I cribbed from another farm I worked at is having elements hang from the ceiling by a chain. I had been using arms sticking out of the wall in the past, but there’s always a risk the birds will roost on the support, and crap into the food or water. Hanging directly from the ceiling like this serves a double purpose: you avoid the “crap-in-water” problem, and you can always hitch the hanging element up higher temporarily if you need to work in the space. Plus I got to buy a fun hook and a chain, which I liked. Yes, I am a hardware weirdo.

Split roosts

I used to have this egalitarian ideal about chickens. That if I gave them enough space, they would all roost together on the same perch. I’ve literally never seen this happen. In a group of six, at least one will always go roost somewhere else (like in the nesting box, which can be ‘crappy’ because they poop while they sleep and sully it). So, I’m accommodating instead from jump for the hierarchies/differences in bird groups and let them have a couple places to pick from at different heights. I’ve learned that stacking roost above roost doesn’t work great, because nobody really wants to sleep directly underneath a group of chickens who are going to poop on them all night long. Yes, you can offset them, but I don’t really have space to play with that here, and this works for me.

Putting it all together

Here’s a shot with all of the components together — er, mostly together. Still missing chicken-wire in upper panels. And after taking this, I ended up moving the waterer to be more centered between the two perches.

As I mentioned at top, I built with the intention of being able to split this space into two pens. I’ve been raising broilers and turkeys the past couple years (not sure if I will get to it in time this year), but I wanted to have a built in temporary place where I could stick the young birds without needing all the ramshackle crap temporary pens I’ve dealt with prior to this.

My theory is that during summer months, when the hens can go outside, they won’t suffer by having half the floor space normally available to them, and a group of about 20 chicks could go on the left half until they’re big enough to need other accommodations. That will likely take some proving, but I’m confident it can all function smoothly, with maybe one other larger temporary pen for the broilers when they are of age (I tend to slaughter small, between 8–10 weeks as ‘cornish hens’). But anyway, that’s another reason why I split the roost in two and crammed all the hen equipment into one side with it’s own door access.

Pop hole

In cutting a pop hole for the hens to go outside, that’s when I discovered how poorly constructed the shed was, and why moisture is coming in.

I like how from outside now, it kind of looks like the shed is a little face, the two windows eyes and the pop hole a little funny mouth. “Whimsical.”

I framed out around the opening I cut in order to strengthen it, trimmed and framed the off-cut and stuck a hinge on there, with some flaps to cover the gaps to prevent wind and rain from entering:

Again, I made the hole something which can be manipulated without having to enter the coop at all from the doorway. I am so smart.

Next steps

I haven’t had time to do the outdoor run, but I’m hoping to do something which will be kind of “three season” so they can be outside as much as possible. I may cover it to some extent from the snow — we’ll see.

Will post my results as a response here when I have the chance to finish.

All in all, I’m really pleased. I feel like it’s not often enough in life that I can really directly draw from past experience and build something almost perfectly the way I know it needs to be.

The other beauty part, is that for this specific project, literally ALL the materials and components come from other projects I’ve done in the past. I only spent about $20 for a couple hinges and the plywood to make the feeder with. Yay me.