Messy roommates can be such a pain—especially when they leave wet droppings around to track onto your beautiful eggs. Let me explain: You see, my chickens and ducks had long cohabitated in a revamped dog run, not the best of living arrangements. For years, I dreamed of my handy husband and I building the chicken contingent its own dream coop, but every year, other do-it-yourself projects prevailed. It never happened.
So last spring, with six new Barred Rock pullets growing at light speed in our mudroom, I scrapped our DIY plans and searched online. I soon found a selection of handsome, sturdy-looking coops built by a local craftsman in Orting, Wash. That afternoon, we went coop shopping; the next day, a large cedar coop arrived via pickup truck, and our girls finally had a new home.
Sure, if you build a coop yourself, you can tailor your laying flock’s home to its needs and yours. You can also construct it to fit your budget and style, whether functional or fancy.
“Building your own coop is usually cheaper, too,” says Jonathan Moyle, Ph.D., a lifelong chicken-raiser and poultry specialist at the University of Maryland Extension.
But here’s the hitch: Constructing an abode for your biddies takes know-how, tools and time.
“If you don’t have these, then it makes sense to buy one,” Moyle says. “And there are a lot of nice coops out there.”
Indeed, with the variety of chicken dwellings on the market, you stand a good chance of finding one that fits your situation, budget and style.
Jenni Rich of Graham, Wash., opted to purchase a plastic coop because of time constraints.
“I wanted to build,” she says. “But my husband travels a lot, we’d already purchased 10 chicks and it was a rainy, yucky spring. We didn’t know how long building would take us and didn’t want our chickens sitting in the garage longer than they had to.”
Suzanne Stuck of Sandusky, Ohio, bought two wooden coops for her first flock of nine. The reason?
“My husband and I are not handy at all,” she says. “I knew if I wanted chickens, we’d have to buy the coop ready-made.”
Ready to shop? We’ve rounded up some retailers with nice selections to get you started.
- Alpine Structures: www.alpinestructures.net
- AmishCoops.com: www.amishcoops.com
- Carolina Coops: www.carolinacoops.com
- CC ONLY: www.cconly.com
- The Chicken Coop Co.: www.chickencoopcompany.com
- Chicken Saloon: www.chickensaloon.com
- Circo Innovations: www.circoinnovations.com
- Easy-Garden: www.easy-garden.com
- Eggstreme Coops: www.eggstremecoops.com
- EZ Fit Sheds: www.ezfitsheds.com
- Lancaster Chicken Coops: www.lancasterchickencoops.com
- My Pet Chicken: www.mypetchicken.com
- Omlet: www.omlet.us
- Quail Manufacturing: www.eggcartn.com
- Snap Lock Chicken Coops: www.snaplockchickencoops.com
- Tractor Supply Co.: www.tractorsupply.com
- Urban Coop Co.: www.urbancoopcompany.com
Moyle advises prospective raisers to check their local zoning and homeowners’ association rules before shopping for a coop (or chickens, for that matter). Some ordinances or HOAs require setbacks from property lines, while some ban chickens. Next, think about the features your birds need in their new home.
“A coop can be anything, as long as it provides for the needs of your flock,” Moyle says.
Chickens are vulnerable to a dismaying number of predators, so coop construction that’s predator-proof should be a top concern.
“I’m on a research farm, and a fox just ran by,” Moyle says. “You have to make sure your birds are protected.”
Predator risk varies depending on where you live. “If you’re next to a woodlot, you’ll need a higher level of protection than in a subdivision,” he says.
My wooded rural area is raccoon central, so I looked for a sturdy wood coop with no openings where these clever animals could reach through. Because we once had raccoons break through flimsy chicken wire, I also wanted ventilation windows and a covered outer pen made of strong steel hardware cloth. A securely latching pop hole and pen doors ranked high on my list of priorities, too.
Even living in town, Stuck worries about raccoons, among other predators.
“I was happy that our coops’ wood wasn’t flimsy, and they had heavy-duty locks and latches on the doors,” she says.
The structure must also protect your flock from inclement weather while providing enough ventilation to avoid a buildup of moisture, ammonia and heat. Moyle notes that although chickens are fairly hardy, they need shelter from wind, rain, snow and hot sun. Again, the degree of weatherproofing required depends on where you live. For example, Rich and I reside in the rainy Puget Sound region, so we need structures with slanted roofs and overhangs. Stuck knew she needed a strong, snug setup to weather heavy snows and cold. We all looked for adequate ventilation and a means to control it, such as adjustable vents or screened windows that easily open and close.
Determining what size coop to buy can be tricky. Consider the size of your flock and your breeds (such as bantam versus standard), plus whether the residence includes a run or access to another roaming area. If your biddies spend most of their days free-ranging, then a smaller home is probably OK. If your birds have to stay cooped up for long periods, then they’ll appreciate more space.
Bantams require at least 1 square foot per bird, while standard layers need at least 3 square feet per bird inside the coop. (For more about spacing, see the Flock Talk column on page 4—Ed.) Sellers usually list a suggested occupant range for specific coop models, such as three to six birds; however, aim for a coop that’s too big. Chickens don’t like to be overcrowded any more than we do.
Hens crave safe, secretive places to lay their eggs, and your flock’s home should supply at least one nest box for every four birds. Moyle explains that for most standard layers, 12 by 12 inches will do, but bigger breeds should have a 14-by-14-inch box. Chickens also require enough elevated perch space so everybody can sleep in peace.
“Eight to 10 inches per bird is recommended, depending on their size,” he says, “but I like to provide more space for them to spread out during hot weather.”
Additionally, perches should be made from a material that doesn’t conduct heat or cold. “Wood is a good choice,” he says.
Also when evaluating a coop, consider where you’ll provide your clucky companions with food and water. “I encourage people to put food and water inside the coop,” Moyle says.
Disease transmission is a concern, so it’s healthier for your chickens if wild birds don’t eat and drink from their dishes.
Chicken Keeper Needs
We chicken keepers have needs and wants, too. When coop shopping, consider the following.
Cost & Durability
Coop models exist in a mind-boggling array of materials, styles, sizes and prices.
However, “If it’s too cheap, it’s probably that way for a reason,” Moyle says. “I’ve seen some of the kit coops that use smaller dimensional lumber to make them easy to ship, and the durability isn’t there. It’s better to pay more and have something do the job you need it to do.”
If you’re new to keeping chickens, though, you might want to start small and less spendy. Stuck purchased a well-made and sturdy prefab one for less than $400.
“Because I’d never had chickens before, I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in one of the huge, beautiful, expensive Amish coops they sell around here,” Stuck said.
Ease of Cleaning
A clean coop makes for a healthier flock, pristine eggs and fewer rodent problems, so consider coops that are as convenient to clean as possible. The coops that Rich and Stuck bought have easy-access doors or hatches to various compartments and slide-out trays that make cleaning roost areas and nest boxes easy.
Though my girls’ residence lacks trays, the roost and nest box areas have doors that swing down and—after we added cut-to-fit vinyl flooring—sweeping them out became a lot easier. Unlike that old dog run, the covered pen also has ample headroom. In other words, no clobbering my skull when I clean to the coop.
You can find stationary coops as well as mobile ones. Each has its pros and cons. (See www.hobbyfarms.com/mobile-coops-vs-stationary-coops-which-is-best). My husband and I wanted our hens’ home to be heavy-duty enough to withstand wind and predators while also offering us the possibility of relocating it periodically. We chose a coop that offered the best on both counts.
Setup Time & Difficulty
Purchasing a kit coop means some assembly is required, so check online reviews to see whether buyers encountered difficulties. Happily, Rich and Stuck found their respective models easy to set up.
“I actually put mine together by myself,” Rich says. “It just snapped together, only needed a few tools, and the directions were nice and straightforward.”
For Sale: Used Coop
Searching online classified sites you’ll probably find a lot of coops, many of them used. Beware, however, because you could bring home more than a bargain abode. While some good used coops are available for good prices, ask the seller about his or her flock’s size and disease history before buying.
“If the flock is large or there has been a problem [with infectious disease], I wouldn’t buy it,” says poultry specialist Jonathan Moyle, Ph.D.
If you buy used, thoroughly clean and disinfect the structure before bringing it home.
“Clean first, then disinfect,” Moyle says. “Disinfectants don’t work on dirty surfaces.”
For more biosecurity tips, go to https://extension.umd.edu/poultry/small-flock-production/biosecurity-protects-your-birds.
To Mod a Coop
No coop is perfect. Rich wishes the roost area trays in hers had stronger sides, as they tend to collapse under the birds’ weight. Stuck notes that the short height of her coops’ attached runs made cleaning difficult. When my own flock’s home leaked after the first big rain, I wished we’d gotten the optional roof gutters.
The good news is that you can always modify a coop—a little or a lot. In our case, plastic sheeting solved the leak issues until we could put up gutters. Stuck painted her coops to extend their life and match her home, and then had a handy friend add a tall, 130-square-foot covered run. Rich and her husband mounted their coop on a frame of pressure-treated wood, making it more wind-resistant and splashproof, plus more accessible for cleaning. They also constructed a spacious pen around it, burying the wire to stymie predators.
So far, both women are pleased with their coops, as I am with mine, but more importantly, our chickens seem happy, too.
“Our birds do fine,” Rich says. “They go in at night, out in the morning, and use the nest boxes and roosts. It would have been nice to build something fancy, but for now, this is totally fine and functional. For a first-time coop, I think it’s fabulous.”
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Chickens magazine.