For the past few years, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that, when I bought a house, the first thing I’d do would be to get chickens. True to my word, I closed on my house in February of this year, and come March, I was the proud owner of 12 adorable baby chicks. However, buying chickens is the easy part—building them a coop proved to be much more of a challenge, taking way more time (and money) than I ever anticipated.
On one hand, building a home for your chickens really isn’t that hard—they don’t need a ton of space, and there are lots of DIY tutorials on how you can build one from scratch or upcycle a shed and other existing structure into a coop. That said, there are a lot of little things to think about as you go, including where your coop will be placed, how big it needs to be, how you’ll keep predators out, and so on. I learned a lot of this on the fly, so I’m passing on my top tips in hope that you’ll be a little more informed as you jump into chicken ownership.
It’s easy to get fixated on how you want your chicken coop to look—because aesthetics—but first and foremost, the structure needs to be functional and secure for your babies. These are four of the most important things to think about before you start building.
First things first, you have to decide where to place your chicken coop. It’s not rocket science, but there are some factors you’ll want to take into account when selecting a location. Your coop should be placed on level ground with good drainage—aka a place where water won’t puddle during rainstorms—and you’ll typically want it fairly close to your house so you can keep an eye on your flock. (This also saves you from having to trek too far in the winter to tend to your birds.)
Indoor and Outdoor Space
The ideal size of a chicken coop will depend on how many birds you have, so yes, you’ll need to know how many chickens you’re getting in advance. A widely accepted rule of thumb is that you want at least 3 square feet of space inside your coop for every chicken, as well as 10 inches of perching space per bird. You’ll also need one nesting box for every four or five chickens—don’t worry too much about these, though, as they can easily be created using recycled material like milk crates.
And that’s just the indoor space! There’s also the matter of creating an appropriately sized run—an enclosed outdoor area—for your feathered friends. Most people recommend a minimum of 10 square feet per chicken, but a larger space will make for happier chickens. If you’re planning to let your chickens free range, like I do, you can get away with a smaller run or no run at all. (I like having one just so I can keep them contained when needed, like when we’re mowing the lawn.)
Any chicken owner will warn you about “chicken math,” a very real and unexpected phenomenon that comes along with owning these adorable birds. In short, chickens tend to multiply—as soon as you have a few, you’re going to want more. You’ll see a cool breed that you simply have to have, or one of your hens will get broody, so you get her a few eggs to sit on. Before you know it, your flock has doubled in size. If I could go back and do it all again, I would definitely opt for a larger coop, because I’m pretty much maxed out on the number of chickens I can comfortably house…but I want more!
Another major consideration when building a coop is how you’re going to keep predators out. No matter where you live, there will be animals who want to hurt your chickens, whether it’s raccoons, snakes, foxes, or just neighborhood dogs. Proper predator-proofing is essential to keeping your flock safe and avoiding heartbreak.
For this reason, your run should have a roof to keep out birds of prey, and you’ll want to bury an “apron” of wire around the coop to prevent animals from digging in. It’s also important to secure your coop with two-step locks—raccoons are smart little buggers and can typically figure out simple latches. Hardware cloth is recommended for the sides of your run (I made the mistake of using chicken wire, which is too weak to deter most predators), and any windows or vents should have screens.
I could go on for days about all the little things I learned while building our chicken coop, but those are the biggest things to consider as you plan your new friends’ home.
Chicken coops come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles, and whether you’re a whiz with power tools or have never held a hammer before, there’s something out there that will suit your needs.
My Farmhouse-Style Coop
I’m definitely biased, but this chicken coop is pretty great. If you haven’t guessed, it’s the one that I built for my own little flock. You can get the plans for just $18 on Etsy (there are actually two sizes to choose from), and they’re extremely thorough and easy to follow, even for beginners. You’ll need a basic set of power tools to build it, and I love that it can be customized to suit your style.
A Teeny, Elevated Coop
If you’re planning on having only a few chickens, this style of compact, elevated coop is a great choice. It will keep your birds safely off the ground at night, and they can usually be moved around your yard as needed.
Coop on Wheels!
When planning my coop, I actually toyed with the idea of mounting it on wheels like this one. The benefits of having a portable coop are that you can move it as the seasons change and give your chickens fresh grass to scratch and eat.
A Modern Luxury Coop
If you’re feeling really fancy, this coop is essentially a miniature house for your chickens, complete with pristine landscaping. I took a peek at some of the other photos on this Instagram account, and they actually tiled the interior to make it easier to clean—smart!
A Pretty Pastel Coop
How precious is the color scheme of this little coop? The cheery pink shutters and doors are a sweet touch to an otherwise simple build, and I love the sliding door and big glass windows, too. Plus, it’s small enough that it would be fairly easy (and affordable) to create.
A Rustic Barnwood Building
I love that this coop isn’t perfectly finished—that’s what makes it so charming! It has a rustic, homey vibe that’s dressed up with simple accents like a light fixture and hanging plant.
This chicken coop does double duty as a raised bed where you can grow all sorts of vegetables and herbs. The best part? It’s a premade design that you can buy from Williams Sonoma—it even comes with white-glove delivery, so they’ll assemble it for you.
A Spacious Coop with a Dual-Section Interior
This design is sooo smart, and I’m honestly jealous I didn’t think of it. The coop has a spacious, full-height interior that’s sectioned off into two areas: one for the chickens, and one for storing food and other supplies. It’s got to be incredibly handy to have everything you need right inside the coop!
A One-of-a-Kind Tardis Coop
The sky’s the limit when it comes to building a coop, and here’s proof that you can truly get as creative as you want. This couple built their coop to resemble the Tardis time machine from Doctor Who! They even have a blog post detailing how they did it, in case you’re interested.
An Adorable A-Frame
For those with a small flock, something like this A-frame coop would work perfectly. It’s quick, easy, and inexpensive to build, and if you look closely, you’ll see there’s a handle on one side that lets you lift the roof up for easy cleaning.
Do you have an idea for a chicken coop design? Let us know in the comments!