There are 5 basic needs when considering how to build a chicken coop. If you miss any of these basic needs and they are not comfortable in every season of the year, you will have some very pouty chickens on your hands.
In Canada we have at least 5 months of cold weather, it gets cold and snowy and the wind-chill is miserable. I find this is the biggest struggle for most – keeping healthy chickens in winter. There are so many things to consider when building a chicken coop and these 5 basic needs relate to all season care.
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Essential Needs to Consider when Building a Chicken Coop
- Chickens need to stay out of the wind and drafts in winter in order to maintain their body temperature
- They need a wide perch so they can cover their feet with their body at night when roosting to keep their feet warm and prevent frostbitten toes.
- They need lots of ventilation – No drafts, but ventilation near the roofline of the coop to let ammonia fumes out.
- If you have delicate breeds a heat lamp or electric hen may be necessary – I have Ameraucana and Barred Rocks and they had no heat at all and it got down to -25 Celsius for weeks at a time. They were fine.
- If your chickens do not have a covered run in winter, they need free access in the coop to water, food and nest boxes. Mine will go outside with a dusting of snow, but any more and they refuse to leave the coop unless there is dirt showing on the ground.
These are the basic needs to consider when you are thinking about how to build a chicken coop, depending on where you live, you can adjust these as needed. For instance, my chickens food and water is moved out in the pen for summer months when they free range the acreage.
How To Build a Chicken Coop
I love nothing more than re using what I already have and to re-purpose old things and make them new again with a fresh coat of paint and a good clean. The perfect specimen was this old frame of a shed. It was on the farm when we got it and it is about 100 feet from our house. I put a roof on it and the calves used it as their first outdoor pen. Then I decided it would be a good idea to get chickens and the idea bloomed into a wonderful chicken coop.
When I thought about how to build a chicken coop I wanted to use some items that we already had. Also keeping it on the affordable end of the budget we came up with a design that would be efficient and easy to maintain. Since I have other animals and many other commitments daily I am all about easy and efficient as I am sure most of you are too.
So we already had the shed, well we had three sides that were double walled – and a roof. Now I will disclose that I am no carpenter but I can plan and figure things out pretty well. Most times I do things twice. Unintentionally. We framed out the last wall, and made plywood doors and added 2 windows. We picked up free wood pallets for the floor and screwed plywood down on top to finish off the floor.
I then coated the whole interior with paint and as I installed the other things they got painted as well. I have read that mites tend to hide in the tiny wood cracks and walls of the coops. Painting will help minimize the ability of the mites to infest the coop as well as it makes cleaning of the coop so much easier.
I then built a “poop shelf” along the back wall to catch the poo while they roost for the night. I put a ramp down to the floor so the chickens don’t have to fly / jump up to roost. This seems to minimize total coop clean outs as you only need to clean off the poop shelf once a week in the winter and a lot less in summer. Also depending on how many birds you keep. I have 12.
I built 2 perches using 2×4’s – one of them about 15 inches above the poop shelf and the other about 16-18 inches above and to the side. They need to be far enough apart so the chickens on the upper roost cannot easily reach down and peck the chickens below them. (I separated and raised them further after this picture as the chicks grew) Trust me, there is always one poor chicken that always gets picked on, if you do not have one at the moment, you will later. The pecking order seems to change every 6 months in my flock over the last few years as the chickens mature.
I then built a roll away nest box and installed that through the wall to the outside 6 months later when my hens were ready to lay. But you can install this at any convenient time. This way we have direct access outside the coop and we do not have to go in the coop and search and collect eggs. They are all in one place and access is easy for every member of the family. This is also a good idea if you have a rooster that is not the friendliest.
I picked up a roll of 12’X12’ Linoleum flooring at the closest Home Depot. They have a bin of random patterns for around $40. I put this on the main floor and also used it for the bottom of the poop shelf. It makes it so much easier to scrape and clean.
Now the MOST important part of keeping a healthy chicken coop is the ventilation. There needs to be a place for the ammonia fumes to escape but not be a wind tunnel. I had the underside of the eve of the shed open along the whole length of the shed. It faced north and I thought that would be fine. When I built the chicken coop in May and when our first blowing snow hit in October I had to quickly make modifications due to the snow and wind blowing all the snow in and on the chickens. I added wood on a 45 degree angle outside to cut the wind and snow but still left the ends open. I then also made a bit of a roof over the perches so when the air came in the coop it went over the roosts to the far side of the coop – with no snow.
I highly suggest when you get your first snowstorm and blowing snow – go stand in your coop for 15-20 minutes with the door shut. I picked up a downy chicken feather and stuck it in the wall right at the perch and watched it. I felt the air in every place, and made adjustments as needed to make sure the perches had no direct drafts on them.
No coop will be built perfect for your climate and it depends on where you put it for wind direction, sun exposure etc. When you build it, you will need to monitor your chickens closely for the first year and adjust it for your climate and location to keep your hens happy and healthy.4