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Build a Basic Chicken Coop

Raising backyard chickens keeps you in supply of fresh eggs—and in the good company of feathered friends.

Building a chicken coop can be a fun and rewarding project for the whole family. From sketching the plans to hammering in nails to hearing the first scratch and peck of happy hens—there is a lot to discover along the way!

A basic chicken coop is comprised of nest boxes, roosts, an access door, a ventilation system, and an enclosed run.

When planning to build a coop, the first order of business is to decide on the size. It is important to provide at least 2 square feet of floor space per chicken, and one square-foot nest box for every three hens. (For larger breeds like Jersey Giant and Brahma, allow an additional square foot of floor space per bird.)

Chicken Coop Basics

  • Sketch out your coop on paper, with measurements. (Include the door and floor in the plan.) 
  • Plan to site the coop on higher ground to protect against flooding or other water drainage issues.
  • Mark the ground where the coop will be erected, taking into consideration sun and wind exposure. (Southern exposure ensures greater warmth and sunlight.) 
  • Bring your plans to a local lumberyard. Ask for help to determine how much stock and what tools and/or equipment you will need.
  • Determine the type of floor you want. Dirt, wood, or poured concrete are all options.
  • Frame the coop with 2x4s and use sheets of plywood for the walls.
  • Include a door—it can be as simple as a piece of plywood on a frame of 1x2s, with hinges and a latch. (It should be big enough for you to enter and exit easily.)
  • Use a sheet of plywood covered with shingles or a piece of sheet metal for the roof.
  • Provide good ventilation with openings near the ceiling for air circulation. (Ammonia build-up from urine and excrement can be toxic to the birds.)
  • Install dowels across the upper part of the coop so chickens can roost (sleep) up off the floor.
  • Provide a run—a fenced in open area where the birds can move around. (A 5x20-foot run will accommodate six to eight hens, though more room is always better if you have it.)
  • Protect against predators by burying a layer of chicken wire 6 inches deep under the coop and run.

Notes on Nest Boxes

  • Nest boxes should be big enough for hens to stand in comfortably. Usually 12x12x12 inches is adequate, but bigger is better
  • Raising nest boxes up off the ground helps with air circulation.
  • Downward sloping nest box tops prevent chickens from roosting on top of their boxes, which can result in a messy coop. 
  • Wood shavings (usually pine) or straw can be used for nesting material.
  • A “lip” at the front of nest boxes keeps bedding material and/or eggs from falling out.
  • A “roost bar” or step at the front of the box gives hens a place to jump and land before entering the box.

Inside the Coop

  • Install one waterer for every three to four chickens to keep the water supply clean.
  • Use a feed trough long enough to enable all of the chickens to feed at once (or get two smaller toughs). 
  • Cover the floor in a 6-inch layer of wood shavings or straw.

Tip: Bringing electricity into the coop allows you to use a low-watt bulb to artificially prolong the days during winter months, which keeps egg production constant.

You can get as creative as you like with your chicken coop, but if you want to keep it simple, follow these guidelines . . . before long, you’ll have your first pail full of fresh eggs!