Our Cheap, Blueprint-less DIY Chicken Coop

(This article first appeared as a guest post on my college friend Ashley's blog, Brooding On.)

In June, we got ten Buff Orpingtons (yes, ten-- I have six children who insist on eating three times a day, plus snacks, and so we go through eggs at an alarming rate).   At first, I thought we would build our own chicken coop.  

Then once I realized the sheer madness of what I had planned, I texted my husband Doug and told him I was a crazy woman and we should totally sell the chickens.  He texted back that he knew I could do it, and the rest is history.

Like I said, we have six children, and I stay home.  So buying the $1000+ deluxe coops with trendy colors and Ikea-like assembly instructions was an option far beyond our means.

Thankfully, a friend was in process of completely redoing his pool deck.  He let us pick through his used cast-offs.  That and a Facebook shout-out for plywood gave us all the wood we've used.

So the project of the blueprint-less chicken coop began.

The tools we had available were:
  • Table saw (borrowed from a friend)
  • Miter saw (borrowed from Doug's uncle)
  • Hammer & nails
  • Drill for installing hinges & attaching the coop ramp

I took notes from various coops I found online, and drew out probably 10 different potential plans that I liked.  Here were the main things I took into consideration as we drew up our plans:
  • Direction of the sun-- this is particularly important here in TX, but I think it would be a factor anywhere.  I wanted the chickens to have plenty of shade throughout the day.  I also put their one full-length screen window on the North side so they would have plenty of light, but so that it would be indirect light.
  • Security-- Obviously I want the chickens to be well-protected.
  • Ease of design/building-- Aside from painting stretcher-bars in college, Doug & I had never built anything before.  Literally, nothing.  So keeping things fairly easy, construction-wise was a priority.
  • Good ventilation-- my plan included two windows + vented eaves
  • A place to roost, a place to lay eggs, a place to eat-- meeting basic needs of the chickens.
Here's what we did:

We used our old ping pong table as the floor/foundation for our coop, attaching 4x4s as the supports underneath.  We actually had two ping pong tables, and one of them was moving toward ruin, so we opted to salvage the usable parts and make the coop floor.  This picture doesn't show it, but we actually used 3/4 of the table, if you can imagine that... we cut the second half along the center white line and connected it to the side of this half:

Next, we framed the four walls.  I measured the edges of the table/foundation, remembering to subtract the width of any connected walls:

After we put the framing up on the floor, I cut plywood to fit each wall, leaving the windows and doors open, so that chickens wouldn't roost in (and poop in) the framing/walls.

For unusual DIY features like the egg box and coop ramp, I researched before building. I looked at a lot of pictures of other people's coops, took notes of what I liked, general dimensions (our egg boxes are something like 11x11 or 12x12-- just big enough to lay in, but small enough to feel cozy), etc., and then looked at the wood we had available, and built it with those things in mind.

Instead of chicken wire, we used 1/2 inch hardware cloth.  It is more expensive, but with hawks and raccoons and even bobcats having stolen friends' chickens within a few miles of us, we decided that for our coop and adjacent chicken run, we would spend the extra money to actually protect them.  

For rain to stay off our chickens, I made a simple slanted roof.  To make the riser from the higher side (48 inches) to the lower side (36 inches) of the coop, I used a 2x4 to support a coop-length 2x4 on each of the two (now slanted) walls that would support the roof.  Because I'd read about the way that ammonia can gather in a coop and how important it is to have good ventilation, I opted to leave the eaves open, rather than siding them, and staple-gunned hardware cloth over it.

(I figure, as time goes alone, if I notice that this makes for a wet/snowy interior in certain months, I can always use plastic tarping to cover one or both sides, but it would be much more difficult to retro-install adequate ventilation.)

After getting the bones in place, I began using reclaimed 1x4 pieces to make siding for our coop.  I chose to use the thinner 1x4 pieces so that the exterior would be uniform and less heavy.  We also had 2x4 and 2x6 pieces in our wood pile, but the 1x4s (and occasional 1x2) turned out to be just right for siding.  I also used 1x4s for the roof base, since I'd run out of plywood.

The miter saw was invaluable at this point, so I could make sure the edges lined up nicely:

Here's what the inside of the coop looks like, from the northern door opening:

You can see that we have a 2' x 4' window that makes up almost half of the northern wall.  I opted to do that for airflow and so that they would get plenty of light in the coop, without it ever being direct light.

Also visible in the above picture are the roosts (there's a total of 10+ feet of roost space available for the girls), eggbox, and the 1' x 1' door that will lead to the coop ramp into the chicken run out the western side.

You can also barely see (but it may be more visible in the larger picture if you pull it up) the rebar (at ceiling level) I will use to hang my watering buckets from.  We opted to make our own watering buckets with poultry nipples so that the girls can't kick up grass, feed, and chicken poo into their water.

Here's the nearly-finished version of our blueprint-less chicken coop.  You can also see the 1x1 window I put above the chicken roosts to pull airflow closer to the birds without actually being across them (they do well with ventilation but not breezes).

We installed doors this last week, but I don't have pictures of that.  We just cut plywood to the appropriate sizes, used 1x1s to act as door stops (so the doors will open outward but not be able to be pushed into the coop) and installed them with basic T-hinges we found at Home Depot.

In all of this, I guess it's obvious, but I just let logic and the materials we had on hand guide my plans.  I did measure as we went along, but only for the coop to match up with itself, not to meet any particular plan.  It makes it slightly more necessary to do math and cut wood for the space, rather than according to a nice & neat blueprint, but it also allows you to use up what you have and not buy expensive wood.

This made it so that we could use the materials we had, and meet the goals we had, for as cheap as possible.  When we looked at what we would have spent just on materials, had we not used them reclaimed from our friend, we would have easily spent $800 or more just for wood & plywood.

In total, we spent $20 on wood (one friend had extra-good plywood & 2x4s available that they'd purchased to build a bunk bed but never gotten around to building; all the rest of our wood was free), used partially-rusty-but-straight nails we salvaged from our workshop and about $50 on hinges and such , and then we've spent about $100 on enough hardware cloth to do not only what was pictured above but also to do an attached 15' x 8' x 3' tall chicken run so that they will always have one safe, enclosed space to roam, in addition to occasional free ranging through our fenced yard.

By reclaiming wood from friends and using what we had on hand, the entire DIY coop for 10 chickens (and attached run) will, in the end, cost less than $200, but I think it is comparable in space and quality to coops I've seen selling for anywhere from $1500+.  We like the reclaimed, older look of it, as if it's been around for a long time, and I think the chickens will love the safety, easy living, and ventilation of it.

The blueprint-less chicken coop suits our needs and our budget, which was the initial goal.

I hope this walk-through proves useful for other adventurous souls out there who are ready to do their own DIY chicken coop. 


Elspeth said...

Maybe when we no longer live in HOA land.

We've talked about it, though.

Kudos to you, Doug and the kids. Great job!

Catie said...

You got rid of your Princess Bride quote! :(

This is really, really cool! Hubby and I are going to buy a home in the country in the next year or so and we'd like chickens--this post is very inspiring! Nice job!! :)

Jess Connell said...

Wow, Catie, you win the Eagle-Eye Award. :) I moved the quote to my resources page, where I'll continue sharing my favorite book & homeschooling materials recommendations.

Chickens really are fun. The other day I spent about 2 hours in silence just watching them peck around and play in their yard. Very relaxing and fulfilling. I like that they're a *pet* that also makes good use of our scraps AND will, in turn, provide us with eggs. Win-win.

Catie said...

Well, The Princess Bride is my fave movie ever and Hubby and I quote it all. the. time. Kinda dorky, I know.

It's always nice to find another Princess Bride kindred spirit. ;) Have you read the book? It's SO good!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jess,

I'm just curious...
How did you have time for such a project? Did you and Doug work out a system? Did you build by the light of the moon? I am dying to know!

Great job, by the way. I've never built anything either but I'm pretty sure my first attempt at something wouldn't be so useful and fabulous looking.

Oh, the things I'll have "one day." So far, the list includes: a writing/art studio - for art that I currently only do in my mind, a garden, a chicken coop, maybe even a beehive! I dream big. :)

Amber L.

Jess Connell said...

Haha!! "By the light of the moon". Truth be told, Amber, I did work at night some but I mostly just "made it work". We did a little on weekends and then I tried to get in an hour or more during the days during nap times and such. My schedule is more easily massaged now, allowing for a little bit extra than I used to be able to get down, now that I have a few older children who can entertain themselves and also be responsible for coming to get me if the baby cries.

:) thanks for the compliments - we're pleased with how it turned out.

Jess Connell said...

Catie, forgot to answer your question. No I haven't read the book. I'd like to at some point.