So here it is! My awesome husband and "guest star blogger" wrote some instructions on how we built the coop. Hope this is helpful to anyone interested in building a chicken coop.
I was asked by the Hesitant Artist to give a little more background on the construction of our chicken coop and run. I was assured that I would not just be a “guest blogger,” but that I would be a “guest star blogger,” and so I agreed.
At the onset, I have to say that we did a lot of studying, in books and online, for inspiration and know-how before we started building our coop. It would not be possible for us to list all of our sources here, but I am constantly amazed at how much information is out there.
Step 1 The Foundation
Because of the slope of our backyard, we thought it would be easier to create a level place for our coop. That required building a roughly 3 foot high retaining wall in the back. We built the wall and placed a drainage pipe behind it to help drain when it rained. We back-filled with drainage rock to get a level spot large enough for the coop we planned.
Step 2 The Frame
The dimensions of the base of our coop/run are about 6 x 12 feet. We laid a base with 1x4 treated lumber. Generally, I do not like working with treated lumber and was concerned about using it around animals, but we wanted to lay a small base with it as that wood would be on the ground (gravel) (otherwise, I was concerned the wood would rot). We wrapped this base with chicken wire, connecting it to the treated wood with staples. Chicken wire comes in rolls that are a couple dozen feet long but only about 3 feet wide, so we laid it lengthwise down the coop, needing two long pieces. Because there was no wood piece in the middle, this left a space between the two wire pieces. To ensure that a predator could not get through, we connected the wire pieces together with plastic cable ties.
Next we build the frame. We built the four walls, the front wall being about 7 ft. 10 in and the back wall being about 7 feet. Our goal, as you can see from the picture, was to have a run of about 6 x 12 feet, with a raised coop covering half of that. So when we built the frames we designed the front, left, and back with the coop in mind. That is, we left a large hole in the frame where the coop would go, with no vertical studs. To help protect the wood from the elements, we painted all of the wood as we went along with white paint. We built the frame with deck screws, which are made out of a type of plastic and so do not rust.
We planned to cover the outside of the coop with hardware cloth. We chose hardware cloth because we read that chicken wire actually had holes too big and predators might be able to get through it. Hardware cloth is not the easiest thing to cut (we used handheld tin snips), so to save on cutting we spaced the studs out based on how wide our hardware cloth was (about 30 inches). The studs are spaced so that we had enough of the hardware cloth on each side to fully attach it to the studs. We covered as much of the frame as we could with hardware cloth before raising the walls. To attach the hardware cloth, we used an electric stapler, stapling every few inches. We were concerned, however, that a predator could pull these staples out (and we read in several places, that was a problem). Several books and websites recommend threading a nail or screw through a large washer so that you have the strength of the screw and are covering a large area of the hardware cloth, making it more difficult to break. We liked that idea, but had some difficulty finding a large enough washer that had a small enough center hole to be attached using our deck screws. Eventually, the Hesitant Artist came up with the idea of using two washers--a small one and large one back to back--which worked perfectly.
After we had as much hardware cloth on as we could get (leaving a space for the coop and the door), we raised the walls and screwed them together. It took a lot of family help to keep the walls up so that we could connect them and they would not fall down. We then screwed the base of each wall into the treated lumber base we had placed on the ground. For good measure, I hammered some metal tent poles around the front of the coop and used cable ties to connect the base to the poles, just to keep it in place on our gravel bed.
Step 3 The Coop
At that point, we really wanted to get the roof on. We had a plan to use some kind of corrugated roofing material. A tin roof was tempting, but we wanted to avoid looking too ‘barn-like’ and were afraid that the chickens would not like the sound when it rained. We eventually settled on a corrugated asphalt roof that is relatively inexpensive. We followed the instructions that came with the roofing material as far as how far apart the joists should be. We did not originally have enough incline in the roof according to the instructions, and so we installed a few 2 x 4 x 12 pieces of lumber on the top of the front wall in order to raise it higher. We installed the joists with metal brackets on the front and back. Essentially, they were c-shaped brackets that we screwed the middle of on to the top of the front wall and back wall, then inserted the joists into the bracket, and attached it from each side. Again, we painted as we went along. This created the seven joists you see protruding from the top, (fairly) eventual spaced. To give us more surface to attach the roofing panels, we took furring strips (small, ½ x 1 strips of wood) and installed them across the joists about a foot apart.
This type of asphalt roofing comes with its own special nails. To begin roofing, we tossed a panel up there and I got up on my ladder. At that point, I saw my first major mistake--the panel was not long enough. I guess I really should have paid more attention in geometry in school. I had intended for the panel to come up to the edge of the joists you see, and go all the way to the back, protruding the roof out in front of the coop about a foot and in the back a few inches. But the joists were far too long compared to the roofing material. We could have attached two roofing panels in each spot, overlapping them and covering the entire area, but that would have added a lot of time and expense. Ultimately, we decided that leaving the joists exposed in the front had a nice look to it, and so we left it, using the roofing materials to just cover up the actual frame of the coop/run.
Installing the roofing was not as easy as the manufacturer instructions indicated. Of course, that might be because I don’t like heights. We nailed the roofing material into the furring strips and joists, where possible. We also bought a can of what is essentially tar spray, meant to fix leaks, and used it on some of the holes we were afraid would leak. Getting the roof up was a major ordeal and accomplishment.
At that point, we had what was really beginning to look like a coop, but the hardest part was yet to come--building the interior of the coop. We planned out where we want our doors and other access points. Looking at the front of the picture, there is a small door on the left side designed to get eggs out of. On the right side of the coop (inside the run), there are two doors--a larger door for cleaning on the right side and on the left side is the “pop” door for the chickens to get out of the coop and play in the run.
The back of the coop has a window and the front has a window and a full-length door near the floor.
We framed out each of the doors and windows by installing vertical studs where we wanted those to be and then putting in horizontal pieces for the tops and bottoms. Because the coop walls are not necessary to the structure as a whole (the large frame done at the beginning was enough to keep this thing standing), we put other vertical studs where we thought they would be useful. The Hesitant Artist had ordered a special waterer that had a frame for a large bucket, so we installed studs in the back wall that would hold that frame. We also knew that we had an automatic pop door opener that we wanted to install, so I put more studs over the “pop” door to hold its weight. We filled in with other studs to support the walls. We put hardware cloth over the holes that were only going to be windows the same way we put it on the frame.
With our doors and windows framed out, we put up the wall material on the inside of the coop. These walls are built out of 1/4 inch hardboard material that we cut to size (and cut any doors/windows out of) and attached to the studs with a nail gun using finishing nails. Again, we painted as we went. Although it was unnecessary, it was quicker to cut these paneling with a table saw or a circular saw. Some of the windows and doors were cut out using a dremel tool.
We cut sheet insulation to fit in between all of the wall studs. After filling it in, we cut fiber cement panel siding to put on the outside of the coop. This was difficult to cut and required the circular saw with a cement cutting blade. It also required a lot of ventilation and mask/eye wear. We cut it to size and cut the windows/doors out by plunging the circular saw into the necessary holes. Like the frame, it took a lot of people to hold the fairly heavy cement panels up to be screwed into the frame. There are four main pieces--on the front, back, and each side. But the boards are only about 4 feet high, we we had to cut additional triangle-shaped pieces to put at the top of each side.
Each step of this project seemed harder than the last. After the interior and exterior walls were up, we needed to put the doors in. There was a lot of trial and error work here. We frame out the doors just as we did the walls, but a little smaller than the holes that were there. Luckily, we had the parts of the interior wall and exterior wall remaining that had been cut out, and so we sanded or cut those down just a bit to fit on the door. Just like the main walls, we nailed the interior wall to the door frame, put in insulation, and then screwed in the cement board outer wall.
To door on the left side and the door on the right side are fairly small and open to the left or right, just like your front door. These were fairly easy to install. We put trim (1 x 4) around the door openings and around the edge of the doors themselves, aligned them to be straight up and down, and installed hinges on the outside. We finished them with some hinges and locks that (hopefully) only a human can open. They swing out just fine.
The long door that runs the length of the coop in the front was much more difficult. This door is designed to be able to pull the floor of the coop out (more on that later). So it needed to run the length of the coop. We built it the same way as the other doors and installed the trim and hinges. Unfortunately, it is a little tight and difficult to open and close. We may need to work on it later to make it easier to use.
We knew that cleaning the floor of the coop would be the hardest part of maintaining it. I wanted the floor to slide out at the bottom, out of the door in the front, so that we could wash it off. The floor is two panels, each covered on the top with the cheapest laminate we could find (so that it could be sprayed down with a water hose). the panels are built the same way, but instead of 2 x 4s, we used 1 x 2s to make them lighter. They are nailed together, with some ¼ inch hardwood paneling on top, then covered with laminate. We let one of the pieces of hardwood stick out from the frame about an inch so that it would overlap the other floor panel. Essentially, we designed these panels to be drawers like in your cabinet. To do that, we just created what are essentially drawer runners out of 2x4 lumber, screwing a piece on each side of the coop such that there was a lip of the piece protruding out to act as a runner, and placing another piece of 2x4 in the middle to hold the floor up. The floor panels slide in and out just fine, but are a little heavier than we anticipated. That’s part of the problem in building any kind of animal shelter--we wanted to make it big enough to keep the stress level of our chickens down, but the larger it got the more difficult it was to make it easy to take care of.
Step 4 Finishing Touches
To be honest, there was a lot of trial and error and many many trips to the hardware store while we were building the coop. A lot of things you don’t think about, but need. The major finishing of the coop included putting locking mechanisms on all of the doors, which were mostly bolt locks designed for gates.
We also put a lot of trim wood up, including around all of the edges and around all of the doors/windows. We wanted it to look as finished and professional as possible and the trim really changed the look.
Inside the run, we put hardware cloth in the ceiling, again to keep predators out. We filled the coop with sand (a lot of it) for the chickens to enjoy and take dirt baths in. We scoop it out to clean and we plan on having to put at least some sand in every year. We also added the door to the coop, which was framed just like the rest of the frame, but we used 1x1 lumber with hardware cloth on it.
Inside the coop, we installed the waterer that we ordered online with the directions it had. We also used a 1x1 strip to use as a roost, and installed it between two studs in the walls.
We did a simple ramp down from the pop door, nailing and gluing parts of the furring strips every few inches to help the chickens balance and get down.
Unfortunately, we’re not done. We have a few more things to do before winter comes. We need to install our automatic pop door opener. The plan is to build a door out of laminated hardwood about ½ in thick, and install two pieces of wood vertically on either side of the hole for the pop door. The two vertical pieces will have a corner cut out of each (the length of the piece) so that they will essentially act as drawer slides. We’ll install the opener and connect it to a timer.
We also need to insulate the floor by installing insulation and putting ¼ in hardwood on the back. We will build some forms to go in the windows to block them out, but we’ll also drill some large holes in the top to install vents so that the chickens have fresh air in the coop in the winter.
And I’m sure we’ll think of even more things to do.
For pictures of progress along the way click: retaining wall 1, retaining wall 2, frame, roof, interior walls, exterior walls,