We wanted a couple of small chicken coops that were portable and could house a few bantam chickens, but we had neither the time to construct them from scratch nor the desire to buy a pricey coop purpose-built for chickens. That was when my husband and I hit on the idea of converting a doghouse into a chicken house.
At a local farm store, we found an attractive 43-inch by 28-inch doghouse that required some assembly, readily lending it to being remodeled as we put it together. It came with a front and back (both with built-in legs), two sides, three-floor panels, a roof, and hardware to put it all together. For the remodeling job, we used salvaged plywood and hardware, along with some additional purchased hardware. The total cost was well under $200 and is an ideal way to make several small chicken coops.
The first thing we did was replace the original slat floor with 1/2-inch plywood, using the original floor as a pattern to cut the plywood. The solid floor holds a deep layer of bedding to reduce draftiness, and also better protects the bantams from night-time prowlers. Besides, we had other plans for the original floor. We wanted to add a sidecar for nest boxes, and the lumber from the original floor gave us just enough material to match the rest of the coop.
Small Chicken Coops: Building a Coop From a Doghouse Step by Step
The original floor came in three glue-and-screwed sections. After removing the screws, we used a wide, sharp wood chisel to carefully separate the glued-on braces from the floorboards. For once, the usual non-stick Chinese glue turned out to be an advantage because it popped loose fairly easily. The released boards required only light sanding.
With the sides and floor put together, we next added the sidecar, a feature we had admired in other small chicken coops. We began by turning the coop on its side, with the side facing upward on which we would attach the sidecar, so we could mark and cut the nest openings. Now here’s where we made a slight miscalculation: We allowed for three nest openings in order to divide the sidecar into three nest boxes; two nests would have been better.
The three boxes we made are big enough for small bantams, but we didn’t take into consideration that our bantams, being Silkies, like to cuddle together even when laying eggs, and each of the three chicken nesting boxes is big enough for only one hen. As a result, the Silkies rarely lay their eggs in a nest but instead conspire to lay in a corner of the coop next to the nests.
For openings into the nest boxes, we used a compass to mark circular holes 6-1/8 inches in diameter. To reinforce the wall between the nest openings, we took two braces from the original floor and glued and screwed them vertically on the inside, next to where the nest holes would be cut.
After the glue on the braces dried we drilled a pilot hole near the marked circle for each nest hole, then used a jigsaw to cut the holes, using a fine blade and working carefully to minimize splintering. Then we sanded the cut edges smooth.
Because the lumber from the original doghouse floor would not provide sufficient structural strength, we made the sidecar floor and sides from salvaged pieces of 3/4-inch plywood. We then used the original floor pieces to veneer the outside so it would match the rest of the coop.
The bottom of the sidecar is 8-inches wide and long enough to span the end of the coop between the legs, with an allowance for adding the veneer siding. The ends are 8-inches wide by 9-inches high in front and 11-inches high in back. This difference in height from front to back provides a gentle slope for the hinged roof. The divider between nests is 8-inches wide by 9-inches high, not quite reaching all the way to the sidecar roof to leave a gap for air circulation.
Nest boxes are necessary for small chicken coops, too, and our nest box pieces were assembled using a square, carpenter glue, and finishing nails. After the glue dried, we stained the inside of the box in an attempt to match the rest of the coop. Although the stain appeared to match based on the paint store’s color chart, it turned out to be several shades darker than we would have liked.
For the back of the sidecar, and to cover the sides, we used some of the original floor boards, placing them starting at the top and leaving a little overhanging at the bottom for a drip edge to keep rainwater from seeping into the nests. The sidecar is mounted to one end of the coop with two L-brackets on top and two bent T-braces at the bottom. Around the top of the nests we applied foam rubber weather strip.
The nest roof is constructed of 3/4-inch plywood, cut to slightly overhang the nests at the sides and front. We applied a piece of weather stripping to the back of the roof before mounting it with two hinges. We didn’t have any green roofing material to match the original doghouse roof, so we used some brown shingles we had on hand.
Ventilation is particularly important in small chicken coops, so to ventilate the coop we placed a 1/2-inch bumper at each front corner, which prevents the roof from coming all the way down at the front and along both sides. This gap provides a healthful air exchange while preventing either drafty conditions or wet conditions from driving rain, and it’s not wide enough to admit snakes and other predators.
The original doghouse opening seemed too big and drafty for our little Silkies, and lacked a sill to retain the bedding, so we used the remaining floorboards to make the doorway smaller. With careful measuring and cutting, we had exactly enough floorboard lumber to complete the job. The finished opening is not exactly centered but is a little wider at the right to accommodate a feeder and drinker hung against the inside wall. Mounting the feeder and drinker on one side left just enough space between the doorway and the sidecar for a perch.
For a pop hole door, we made a plywood ramp that hinges at the bottom and latches at the top for night time security. To keep out raccoons and other clever chicken predators, the latched door is secured with a spring clip, which is hanging from a chain so it won’t get lost during the day. The nest box roof and coop roof are similarly latched and secured. For additional security, we fastened a Niteguard light next to the doorway.
A finishing touch includes handles fastened to each end of the coop for convenience in moving it. We noticed that they like to rest in the shade underneath the coop, so when we next moved the coop we set it up on concrete blocks to give them a little more room underneath. These handles are great for small chicken coops and make it easier to move from place to place.
Just when we thought our coop conversion was finished, we had to make two more adjustments. One was to replace the folding support hinges that hold the roof open while we take care of the feed, water, and bedding. The original flimsy support hinges soon bent and ceased to function properly.
Another unanticipated adjustment was to re-roof the coop. The original roof lacked a drip edge, causing rainwater to run around the edge of the roof and into the coop. A couple of salvaged pieces of metal roofing solved that problem.
Now our Silkies enjoy a snug, safe chicken house from which to venture forth to forage in our garden.
Do you have any stories about building your own small chicken coops? Share your stories with us!
Originally published in the August/September 2012 issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.
Gail Damerow has raised chickens for more than 40 years and shares her poultry-keeping expertise through her books: The Chicken Encyclopedia, The Chicken Health Handbook, Your Chickens, Barnyard in Your Backyard, The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals, Fences for Pasture & Garden, and the completely updated and revised classic Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, 3rd edition.