Designing a coop was something we started researching before we ever got our chickens. We needed something small to fit the space we had and also something that optimized the space for the chickens seeing as we didn’t have a ton of room. We have a nicely landscaped back yard and the perfect area underneath a pine tree in the corner of the yard. We picked this space because it was out of the way and the tree provided extra shade and cover for the coop. Matt did a lot of research on coops, finding several plans online. He took ideas for a few and used them to design our own. We made a couple modifications like where the door placement was and the height of the coop.
Coop Basics: I’ll first tell you about some of the basics we did to the coop and the outside area surrounding it.
As a base layer around the coop and to keep predators out, we dug down a little ways and laid cinder block around the whole bottom rectangle and then used finish block on the top to cover up the holes in the cinder block. The only real predators we have to worry about here in the city are raccoons and owls. We have a couple eagles in the neighborhood and so far they have shown no interest in the chickens. If we were in the country, fox and coyotes would be a legitimate concern. In order to keep them safe from them at night, we would have dug down a couple of feet and laid 1/2″ hardware cloth down and across the floor of the run making sure to leave no gaps. Fox, especially, are excellent at digging but cannot get through hardware cloth. We will hopefully be sharing that whole process soon once we find some land to buy.
We wanted the run to be as big as possible for when they can’t be released into the yard so we elevated the coop and left the bottom open for a longer run. We also wanted to be able to pick the coop up in case we wanted to take it with us when we eventually move out to the country. In order to make this easier, we made the bottom 2×6 rails an extra couple feet long on each end, as you can see in the photo above. This would allow at least 4 people on each end to pick the coop up and hopefully be able to move it with ease. Just in case we needed to lighten it up some, we also designed it so that the roof can be taken off by removing 8 bolts. The entire roof structure extends over the coop and run so it weighs several hundred pounds.
The structure of the coop and run is framed with 2×4’s. The coop itself is sheeted with left over 6″ fence pickets for siding. We overlapped each picket approximately 1/2″ and then installed 2×4’s on the ends to close up any remaining gaps. Tongue and groove siding or just solid siding panels would have been much easier and worked just fine, but we already had these laying around and we really liked the look of them.
For the run, we stapled 1/2″ hardware cloth over all of the walls and then covered the seems with fence picket to give it a cleaner look and make it even more secure. We also covered all of the window openings, door and air vents with the hardware cloth. Some people use chicken wire to cover their runs with. While this is perfectly acceptable if all you are looking to do is keep the chickens in, it will not keep predators out. Chicken wire is far too thin and the holes are too large. Animals, such as raccoons, can stick their hands through chicken wire and kill a chicken that way. Predators, such as fox, coyotes, bobcats or even dogs can and will tear through chicken wire in order to get to your chickens. If the wire is going to be used as a means to keep predators out as well, then hardware cloth is the only way to go.
Handles: We needed to make sure that critters couldn’t easily get into the coop through the run door or coop door. Raccoons have fingers and even thumbs so they are fully capable of opening all sorts of things including doors. Matt decided that this type of mechanism would be best because it is a little tougher to open and we could use a carabiner to double secure it. This has worked great with no problems!
Coop Entrance: Here you can see the chicken door for them to get in and out of the coop along with a detachable ladder Matt built. The hole has a sliding door with a pulley system hooked up that we can open and close from the outside for extra protection. The sliding door was designed so that the bottom of it is recessed into the frame in order to not make it possible for an animal to get a paw underneath it and pry it open. We used to open and close this every day, but as the chickens got older and our schedules were not always the same in the morning we started to just leave this little door open. The run is very secure and we have never had any sign of digging around the coop. I think the constant presence of your dogs keeps most predators away. The chickens also don’t appreciate being locked up in the coop for an extended period of time. As soon as they are awake, they want to wander out and start terrorizing the bug population immediately. This has worked well for us and them as the chickens don’t enjoy an audience when they lay in the morning before being let out. If we ever were to see a sign of predator digging then we would definitely start to close this up at night!
The Run: On the outside of the coop, below the coop door, you can see a couple sets of hinges. These are attached to two sections of the siding which can then be folded out of the way, exposing the chicken litter trays. Laying on the bottom of the coop are two deep trays that the pine shavings and chicken poop lay in. The trays are also lined with linoleum so they can be rinsed clean. When it is time to clean out the coop, all we have to do is remove the ladder, open the clean out and remove the two trays. We then dump the trays in our compost bin. This makes the cleaning process extremely easy! I will share our cleaning process fully the next time we do it!
In the bottom of the run we just left it raw dirt and then covered it with natural dye-free wood chips. This has been very easy to keep clean. A couple times a year when we clean the coop we rake the mulch around and it all slowly decomposes over time. This attracts insects for the chickens to eat and adds nutrients to the ground. Also, over time, we will be able to remove some of the soil that is created from this process and use it to fertilized the garden. When we get new mulch in the spring, we sprinkle a new thin layer to keep the process going.
The chickens food is located inside the coop. We used a 5 gallon bucket and cut holes in it and then attach PVC pipe to the outside to make it spill resistant. There is almost no waste with this system and the food stays dry and clean. When they were little we also had water in there. Now that we are leaving the door open (and because we wanted to save room in the coop) we only have water hanging in the run. This also helps keep moisture down inside the coop which is very important, especially in the winter. We took a 5 gallon bucket and installed 3 horizontal chicken nipple drinkers on it. Having a 5 gallon bucket for water makes caring for them easy. We dump, rinse, and refill about every two weeks. It is hung by paracord from the roof and then we placed another shorter one going horizontal to keep the bucket from twisting and turning on the chickens. In the winter we have a thermostatic heater in the bucket which keeps it from freezing. We chose to go with a horizontal water nipple instead of the more common vertical ones as they are less prone to freezing up when its cold. The chickens instantly figured out how to use these horizontal nipples and they are completely leak free! The horizontal nipples we used can be seen here.
Or if you’d prefer to just buy a bucket with the nipple drinkers already installed, I would recommend this one:
Coop: There are three windows that were put in, all of which open for extra ventilation on hot summer days. Hardware cloth was used on the inside as a screen to keep predators out. You can also see small holes all along the top of the coop for ventilation. These are also backed with hardware cloth and not placed directly where the chickens roost at night so that in the winter they do not feel the draft. Matt built a door to access the food, roost, and boxes easily. We use this also to stir the pine shavings every week as well as do a head count at night. The boxes were built as an extension to not take up any room inside the coop. The top of the boxes have a lid that lifts open to easily pick up eggs.
The door to the coop has the same lock as the one for the run. To the right of the handle you can see paracord that goes into the coop with a washer tied to the end and hooked on a nail. This is to open and close the chicken door that leads to the run.
Inside the coop: Here you can see the food bucket hanging, their roosts to the right and the nesting boxes to the left. We use pine shavings from our local feed store for the bottom of the coop. Underneath the shavings are the two litter trays that we talked about earlier. Inbetween deep cleanings we use a bucket to scoop the large poop out and throw it in our compost bin. If we were to redesign the coop, we would have put in a droppings tray to catch everything while they are on roost as this is the primary place they poop while in the coop. The rest of the shavings we stir around well and add a top layer of new shavings every week or as needed. We get very few insects and almost no smell with this method. We keep a small gardening shovel and hand rake in the coop to easily clean and stir it.
The roosts are above the chicken door. We chose to use 2×3’s to make them in order to give the chickens a wider platform to stand on. This is important because it allows them to stand up there flat footed, as apposed to with their toes curled over the edge like on a round roost. Being flat footed on the roost causes the entire foot to be covered up with feathers when they hunch down to sleep limiting the chance of frost bit on their feet. You will also notice the ventilation holes are not located near the roosts so that there is no draft in the winter while they are sleeping. Pictured above the chicken door, you can see the pulley system for the door that can be opened and closed from the outside of the coop.
Chickens don’t all lay at the same time so it is not necessary to have one box per chicken, typically you want one box per 3-4 chickens. We had room and would like to expand our chicken flock so did three in ours. A lot of times they end up all laying in the same box. Our whole coop and run could easily handle ten chickens. The middle dividers in the box are removable for deep cleaning. We also keep pine shavings in the nesting box to keep it cushioned for the eggs. I try to throw fresh or dried herbs in the boxes to help keep it clean and pest free.
We decided not to heat our coop because it is unnecessary and actually better for the chickens not to, as long as you have cold hardy breeds. If you heat the coop, during the winter, the chickens will get used to being in the warmth and not develop adequate insulation to withstand the cold. They will be much less likely to venture out when its cold. If you were to ever lose power, the temperature would drop in the coop and then the chickens would likely not be able to survive. Because our chickens do not have a heated coop, they have adjusted to the cold winters here and still wander around the yard when it’s cold and snowing. Heat lamps also are a huge fire danger and not worth the risk. Because of this, we do keep a temperature gauge in the coop that we can read from inside the house. This helps us know if we need to close up more windows and be aware of what the temp is. The most important thing for chickens to be comfortable in very cold temperatures is adequate ventilation in order to keep humidity levels low without making the roost area drafty. Drafts and humidity are a chickens worst nightmare in the cold.
Some people choose to keep a light in the coop during the winter in order to keep the chickens laying rather than them stopping for a break because of less daylight. I can see how this would be beneficial, especially if you are trying to make money off of their eggs. We are not at this time, so decided not to put a light in the coop. It is actually unnatural for them to keep laying during the winter so I decided to do what I thought was best for my girls.
Our chickens seem to be pretty happy with the setup they have. They are let out every morning to free range in our fenced in yard. Once it’s dark outside, we collect eggs and close up their door. Every chicken is usually roosting once the sun goes down making this a very easy process! Every once in a while, we have one chicken that will decide she wants to roost in a random place outside. When this happens, we will just put a stick in her way or move whatever it is she has decided to roost on. She gives up pretty easily and will happily go back to the coop.
They are pretty safe here in the city and I don’t feel it right to leave them cooped up in this small of space 24/7. While I love my chickens, they are still animals and if one were to be taken by a predator, such is life. I’d rather them have a happy life free ranging then be stuck in a small coop.