One cheap way to build your own chicken coop, is to look for a used garden shed that you can take home for next to nothing. This is one of our DIY projects that we were able to complete in a weekend. We were given an old wood frame shed for free, which we turned into an insulated chicken house that will last us for decades. We determined that it was large enough to accommodate our flock. The minimum square foot recommendation for a chicken coop is 3 to 5 square feet per chicken if they have access to outdoor space, 5 to 10 square feet per chicken for those entirely caged.
Moving A Storage Shed
The challenge of this project was to move the shed without destroying it. Luckily, we were able to pick the storage shed up off the cinder blocks with a skid loader, which allowed us to drive it from our neighbors yard to our yard.
What Not To Do
Do not waste your money on a cheap chicken coop! I understand that the cute little backyard chicken coops online are relatively inexpensive, and usually run about $200 and take a few hours to assemble. Here are the main reasons why:
- The coops are not big enough unless chickens are free-range.
- They offer very little protection from predators.
- They will not work for backyard chickens in winter months in cold climate with temperatures below freezing.
- They will rot away in a couple of years in areas with snow.
We purchased a used small chicken coop kit when we first got our first baby chicks, as they were rapidly outgrowing the brooder box. We set it up and attached a chain-link dog kennel for a larger chicken run. This worked for the summer, however as winter approached we attached plywood OSB to the outside to help keep them warm. By spring the coop was starting to fall apart, and we knew that we had to build something better.
Amish Chicken Coops
Another option is to purchase a high-quality chicken coop built by Amish craftsmen. Amish chicken coops are more expensive, however they will last for decades (unlike the cheap chicken coop kits sold by farm supply stores). They usually have many options, or can build custom chicken coops to protect your backyard flock from extreme temperatures and predators. They will often work with you to determine your specific needs, and usually offer a variety of styles and paint colors and trim options, allowing you to have the perfect coop delivered to your own backyard. If you are not a DIY’er, purchasing a hen house from skilled craftsmen is a good choice because they use high quality materials, and use coop designs for easy cleaning which promotes a sanitary environment, allowing healthy chickens to produce healthy eggs.
All About the Location
Before we could move our newly acquired old shed, we had to decide on the right place to set it. We decided to set the chicken coop is on an old concrete slab, which once served as an outbuilding concrete floor that had been removed by the previous homeowners. It is a nice level spot, which also protects the chickens from predators that can dig under the coop or run. The location is close enough to the house to make refilling the chickens food and water convenient, but far enough away that we won’t smell it in the house with the windows open.
The first step was to relocate the shed, then we stripped it down to the studs. The plywood walls were starting to rot, but the framing and trusses weren’t bad. We framed out some large windows for fresh air, re-built the door, and replaced the rotting floor. (We don’t recommend a dirt floor, as predator could dig under the walls to enter the coop.) We re-used old windows that we removed from the old mudroom, which saved us a few hundred dollars. We framed out a small door to install an automatic chicken door.
Building the Walls
Once the framing was complete, we sided the coop with 1/2″ plywood. We also applied 2″ wooden slats to cover the seams, giving the chicken coop a board and batten look (you could cut down the boards from old pallets for some of this). We caulked the seams, and painted the exterior of the coop. We attached chicken wire (or hardware cloth) to the exterior of the windows, to protect the chickens from predators like opossums and raccoons that could rip through the screens.
Once the chicken coop was water-tight, we were able to insulate. We used R13, as it was significantly cheaper than R19 (which is required by building code regulations in homes), but still offered thermal value. We insulated the ceiling and side walls, and lined the inside walls with OSB. We kept the insulation just above the flat ceiling in the coop, to allow for ventilation in the attic space. (The air vent is important to prevent condensation and mold from growing in the building.) Adding the insulation allows us to delay heating the chicken coop.
Building Nesting Boxes
Next, we built nesting boxes and roosting bar. We used leftover OSB to build the boxes, and 2x4s for them to roost on at night. We chose to use 2×4 because they are cheap, and prevent frost bite on the toes of the chicken. They sit on the wide side of the board, so that their toes are more extended, allowing their bellies to keep their feet warm. A small diameter roosting bar forces their toes to curl around the bar, positioning their toes to the underside of the bar, away from their body heat.
Installing The Automatic Chicken Door
Then we installed the automatic chicken door (Amazon Affiliate Link). This is by far one of my favorite tools we’ve purchased. We have had issues with predators getting our roosting chickens at sunset, before I had a chance to lock them up. The problem is that when predators find easy prey, they will return! In our location, it gets dark around 4:45 pm in the winter, making it very difficult to get home in time from work to secure them from potential threats. The automatic door closes at sunset, protecting the chickens from when the majority of predators start looking for food. We also made a solid wood door that can be latched, which can lock them in the coop if needed or can serve as added insulation on extremely cold nights. (Or if the automatic door fails.)
Adding Electricity to the Coop
Lastly, we added electricity to our new coop. This is for a smart light to keep the automatic door open for an additional 15 minutes, letting the free-range chickens to have some additional time to get back to the coop. We also have an electric oil radiator heater in the coop. I know there is a lot of controversy around heating a chicken coop, but here are the reasons we decided to heat our coop:
- The first year we had chickens, they ended up with frost bite on their combs.
- Electric oil heaters are the safest version of heat source available for chickens. It has a sensor that shuts the unit off if tipped over, and isn’t too hot to the touch. Do not use a heat lamp or heat bulb in a coop!
- We keep the water dish inside the coop in the winter, which prevents it from freezing and allows the chickens access to fresh water all day.
- With the coop insulated, the heater is inexpensive to run. In fact, we don’t even notice it on our electric bill.
I hope you find this article helpful in your journey of raising chickens. Investing in a good chicken coop will result in happy chickens, and great egg production. It may take a lot of prep work, but will be low maintenance and reliable in the long run.