Many first-time backyard chicken keepers intend to build their own coop, but the first and most frustrating question usually is: what does a chicken coop need? Information paralysis usually ensues, but in reality, your chickens really don’t need much to thrive. Most people go overboard, give up, or give in to temptation entirely and buy one of those outrageously expensive designer chicken coops. I’d like to offer my personal design as an easy free chicken coop plan alternative.
The Back Story Behind My Free Chicken Coop Plan
Before I began blogging about chickens, I built and sold simple 3’x7′ backyard chicken coops to folks all over New England and New York. My design slowly evolved into a well-rehearsed pattern, becoming a balancing act between form, function and economy. While keeping the balance, I was unwilling to bend on a few points.
- It had to be predator proof;
- Provide ample protection from the elements;
- Withstand a 250 lb. guy walking on the roof;
- Fit in an 8′ pickup truck bed;
- Have durable roofing that must survive at least an hour long 75mph wind (for delivery);
- Be built with the least amount of wasted scrap material and time;
- Have no exposed fasteners for chickens or humans to catch themselves on, and
- Be easy to clean.
It’s a demanding list if you think about it, but my free chicken coop plan incorporates all that along with provisions for ventilation, removable perch space, accommodations for a 12” deep bedding pack, nesting space and a way to add electricity without the customer having to modify the coop themselves. This coop works as a full-time coop for up to 6 birds, at most 12 with a daily run or free range. The rule of thumb is 1 nest box per 8 to 10 hens, so the 2 nests I included were enough for the maximum of 12. Most of my customers keep their feed and water outside the coop since they usually include a run or let the chickens free range during the day.
I sold these coops under the name The Red Coop Company, so don’t be confused by these old free chicken coop plan instructions, and disregard the old chicken door method as well as the roof measurements.
Building the Base
In the interest of longevity, I use 2×6 pressure treated timbers as main runners to build the base of the coop. To start, cut two 2×6 runners 7′ long. I cut a bevel on both ends of the runners to make my life easier when moving it into its final destination since a 90 degree cut digs in every time I try to move it around. If you’re building your coop in place, you can skip that step. I highly suggest setting piers with patio block for the runners to sit on to keep the wood from being directly exposed to the ground, especially if you opt to use regular pine instead of pressure treated.
Next, cut five 2×3 pine studs 32 7/8” long for floor joists. Spaced equally, five joists will give you 21” on center which is more than enough for me to walk on while building. If you want to upgrade these to 2×4’s or use pressure treated 2×4’s, it will add to the longevity of the frame, but also add to the weight which may be an issue if you plan to move it later. To assemble the base, use 3” deck screws or 3” ribbed air nails. Consider pre-drilling for your screws since the 2×3’s may split on the ends.
Finally, cut a mid-grade 1/2” sheet of plywood to 3′ by 7′ to serve as your floor. Be selective when buying this sheet of plywood and find a sheet with minimal imperfections. When you’re thinking about how to clean a chicken coop, you’ll be thankful for a solid floor with no missing chunks. Now is a good time to consider painting the floor or adding linoleum if that’s your preference. I don’t suggest using a pressure treated sheet for the floor unless you intend to cover it with something like linoleum. You don’t want to overly expose your backyard chickens to pressure treating chemicals.
Once you’ve cut your floor as square as possible, screw it to your base frame using 1 1/4” decking screws. Start by screwing an edge along one base runner, then square the rest of the frame to the sheet of plywood. If there is plywood overhanging the frame when you’re done screwing it down completely, use a router or saw to remove the excess since it will cause you issues later.
Building The Frame
Next, follow the cut sheet and pre-cut your studs, rafters and front support. I use a pneumatic finish nailer to toe-nail these boards in place, but you can do the same with regular finish nails or screws. The whole frame will be very unstable until you add your siding, so be patient. When toe-nailing these boards in do not install them as if you were building a house wall, but instead, have the long surface facing out. Installing your studs in this fashion gives you a wider surface to screw your siding to and reduces the nooks and crannies you need to clean out later.
Note that the back studs, back rafter plate and rafters are 2×3’s, but the front studs are 2×4’s and the front rafter support is 2×6. This is an important design issue since the front of the coop is a wide-open 7′ span and it requires proper support. The front 2×4 studs also give me the needed mounting surface for the hinges I use to support the front doors, which is critical. I use the 3” ribbed air nails to secure the rafters to both front and rear plates, but you can use a 3” deck screw. Just like the base, I suggest pre-drilling your screws to minimize splitting of your rafters. When attaching the rafters to the back wall top plate, use a scrap of 1/2” plywood to space your rafters 1/2” higher on the back plate. Having your rafters sit 1/2” higher than the back plate allows your roof to sit flush.
I use 3/8” texture one-eleven (or T111) which is effectively plywood with a clapboard appearance. This makes cutting and attaching my siding an easy affair, but note that up to this point the frame is unstable and not square, so be sure to cut your siding as square and accurately as possible since you will be relying on it to square up the frame. There is a 1/2” overlap with most T111 which gives it a more seamless look, so mind which side has the overlap or underlay side. From the edge of the frame to the center of the middle stud is 42”, which is the length you should cut the panel that will underlay, but be sure to add 1/2” to the overlapping panel since its edge will be 1/2” past center to close the overlap. Both these back panels will be 37” tall, and be sure your grooves are running vertical, not horizontal when you go to cut them. I suggest squaring to the rear rafter plate first, then squaring along one end to bring the wobbly framework into square with the siding. An alternative to cutting your rear side panels to length would be to mount them as 4′ wide sheets and then cut off the excess with a saw or router and bit, however, you will be slightly more challenged with properly squaring the frame. I fasten the panels with a pneumatic crown staple, but a short deck screw will work fine, if not better.
The sides are slightly more complex, but not hard if you take your time. I cut them from 1 sheet of T111 by first cutting my sheet to a 36” width, having the underlay edge on the waste piece. This new clean edge will be the edge that faces the door. Using the smooth back of the sheet, measure 47 1/8” (or 47.125”) toward the center of the sheet from the end of the sheet. Using a square, then measure in 1 1/2” at the end of each line you just made (toward the center of the sheet) and make a line. This line is the top of the 2×6 at the front of the coop. On the overlap side, measure 37” from the end of the sheet and use a straight edge to connect that point to the end of the 1 1/2” line you just made. Now you have your pattern drawn out and you can cut them out as carefully and straight as you can. Align your new side sheets first with the 2×6 and the front 2×4 stud when fastening, then bring the frame into alignment by continuing to align the sheet to the bottom and back wall. Again, I attach these panels with pneumatic staples, but short deck screws will work just fine.
These doors are simple but effective. Make four 42” long 2×3 studs with 45-degree ends, four 46 1/2” 2×3 studs with 45-degree ends and two studs 37 1/4” with 90-degree ends. Assemble them as pictured by toe-nailing them together with finish nails or pre-drill and screw together with long deck screws. Cut two T111 panels to 42” by 46 1/2” with the panel lines following the 46 1/2” edge.
The easiest way to make the windows is with a router and panel bit. A panel bit is a cutter that you can plunge (drill) into a sheet of wood and then cut an opening with the side of the bit. Panel bits allow you to cut a window opening that is flush to the studs in the wall and make your life easier, but you can alternatively drill the four corners and then cut the opening out with a saw, which I’ve done before, but the end result looks cleaner with a router and panel bit.
Temporarily attach the door panels with a screw in each corner and use your panel bit to open the hole for your window. Remove your panel and cover the window area with 1/2” hardware wire. Do not use chicken wire because wire is to keep chickens in, not chicken predators out. Staple the hardware wire in place and put the door panel back on the frame. Screw the panel in place with short deck screws. Hang your new doors, install bolt latches inside the frame to secure the door you don’t plan on opening often, and then add an exterior latch to close the other door. Do this before you add a roof.
Cut a 1/2” plywood sheet to 89 1/2” by 44”. Temporarily screw 2×6 scraps to the underside of the roof and rest them against the doors you just installed. Center your roof and screw it down using 1” to 1 1/2” deck screws, securing it well to the rafters. Trim the back and side edges with 1/2” drywall cap, secured with staples.
This size roof should use 1 regular bundle of typical 3 tab shingles if you use a guard course on the bottom but none on the sides. I preferred to use a pneumatic stapler with T50 3/4” staples to secure shingles because a regular roofing nail will protrude and leave a sharp point for either you or your birds to injure yourselves on. Shingle the roof like any other roof, cut the excess off the top edge of the roof and cap it with a 6” wide drip edge.
I found that the metal corner edging used for drop ceilings makes a perfect trim for these coops. Home improvement stores sell it in 10-foot lengths, so cut them to size with tin snips and attach them to the coop with liquid nails, finish nails or crown staples. Pop 2 holes near the windows on the sides of the coops and install a round soffit vent on either side so you have a spot to pass an electrical cord through. Take the scrap 1′ by 7′ plywood piece from cutting the floor and use it as a kick board to keep shavings in the coop.
The Finished Chicken Coop (Fan Submitted – 10/16)
I make two plywood plates to cradle a 2×3 perch and attach them to the side panels. I usually attach nesting boxes to the door that swings out without unlatching the inner locks. If you want a small chicken door, install a 12” steel service door like the ones sold at home improvement stores meant to install in sheet rock for a plumbing access door. Consider adding smaller 6” doors for your chicken nesting boxes. For the winter months, either staple painter’s plastic drop cloth over your windows or cut 2 panels of thin Plexiglass and secure them with turnbuckles for the winter.
Have fun with this free chicken coop plan and happy building.