How not to build a chicken coop

Well we finally finished our new chicken coop.  I must say that I am underwhelmed with the results.  I am relieved to be done with the project, but it didn’t exactly work out the way I hoped.  If I were to do this project over again, there are several things I would do differently.  The first would be to start by running the instructions through a sanity check before buying any materials.  But first, let’s start at the beginning.

Two flocks

We had two flocks of chickens, with two different nighttime shelters, who shared the same yard.  We had two flocks only because they refused for the longest time to integrate with each other.  The first flock consisted of one rooster and two hens.  The second flock consisted of six pullets who turned out to be one rooster and 5 hens.  When we tried to integrate them, they just couldn’t be bothered.  There was plenty of space for everyone (almost a quarter acre fenced in), so they just gave each other a wide berth.  We tried integrating them when the chicks were about 10 weeks old, I think.  They will be 28 weeks old tomorrow, and only within the last month have the two flocks started spending time as one big flock.  It made logistics difficult.

Old sleeping arrangements

The older birds spent their nights inside of our garage, in what looks like it used to be a stall for a small horse or a goat maybe.  It was completely open to the rest of the garage, and there is a window with no covering of any kind.  The garage itself isn’t exactly predator proof, with holes in the walls and huge gaps between floors and doors.  The only reason we didn’t lose any birds at night is because everyone seemed to agree that we would all pretend it was safe enough and offered protection.  Sometimes the rooster (Crow-nos) would get tired of waiting for me to come open the pop door in the morning and would fly right out the open window to enjoy the day.  His hens never tried that.

chicken coop build
I blocked up the pop door so they won’t try to go back in here at night.
See all the lack of fencing? They liked to perch on the tops of the walls.

The younger birds spent their nights in the dog crate that they grew up in.  There was enough floor space for them all to fit, but just barely.  We slid a board through the wires of the cage to give them a roost, which helped a little.  During the day, they never spent much time in there.  At night, when I went out to close them up, they all sat atop the cage, on the section of corrugated roofing that I had covered it with, weighted down with a couple of bricks.  I had surrounded the cage with a long bit of fabric to make it sort of den-like and create shade in the summer.  Overall, the arrangement was terrible.  It did keep them alive and safe, but they deserve so much better.

I took it apart so you can see the various pieces.  Actually, I took it apart to move it, then decided to take a photo and didn't want to put it all back together again.
I took it apart so you can see the various pieces. Actually, I took it apart to move it, then decided to take a photo and didn’t want to put it all back together again.

Enter the hoop coop design

Finally we saved up enough money to build them a better coop.  As I was surfing the web looking for inexpensive designs, I came across plans for a hoop coop.  We could build an 8’x10′ coop for them for under $300.  Yes!  Experts recommend ten square feet minimum floor space per bird for confined chickens, which ours may be during the winter.  We haven’t decided yet.  We have nine chickens, but Crow-nos is going in the stew pot before winter, which will leave us with eight.

Irksome materials list

The plans I found provided a shopping list conveniently at the beginning, and I skimmed through the instructions to make sure I understood how to put it together and know that I had the skills needed to do it myself.  I did not however, do a sanity check on them.  The very first step caused problems, when the author said to cut 8′ boards to 8’3″.  I have yet to learn how to cut a board to a longer length than it begins.  Fabric, either, for that matter.  I would LOVE to learn that skill, so if you know it, please do share it with the rest of us.  Right off the bat, that put us 3″ shorter than the design.  We managed to fudge our way through it.  Those three extra inches would have been very useful later, though.

Here is the overhang where that extra 1 1/2" on each end would have come in handy.
Here is the overhang where that extra 1 1/2″ on each end would have come in handy.

Cattle panels

The materials list called for cattle panels, which are 16 feet long.  Although we can fit a great many things into our Suburban, it would have been nice to know that we needed a 16′ board or two to provide rigidity for the panels to get them home, and to strap them to the roof of the truck so as not to distort them.  The distortion caused an asymmetrical result to the final coop.  Not a huge deal, and I was able to work around it, but it irks my perfectionism.

Cattle panels are made of thick wire, probably 1/4″, I’m guessing.  4 gauge, in proper wire terminology.  To connect the panels to our (3″-too-short) wooden frame, the instructions said to use fence staples.  Having never worked with these kinds of materials before (just lumber), I found some nice 3/4″ fence staples.  These did not work.  Not even close.  The panels just kept popping those staples out as fast as we could pound them in.  I gave up and went to our local Agway and got 1 1/2″ staples.  The difference is like the difference between a beagle and a mastiff.  The big staples got the job done.  Wham, bam, nice and quick.  I did end up using the little staples for the chicken wire that we stretched over the cattle panel frame, so I am glad I got them.  I just wish I had known that I would need both.

fence staples
3/4″ staple and 1 1/2″ staple

Door problems

Once I secured the cattle panels to the frame, it was time to build the door.  The instructions were very loosey-goosey here, but that is really to be expected.  You are supposed to build the door to fit around the leftover cattle panels that create the front of the coop.  However, because we distorted our panels, they did not create a symmetrical dome like they were supposed to.  Instead, it was rather lopsided.  A lopsided door would not do at all, so I built the frame lopsided to match the panel shape and kept the door opening nice and square.  One side of the frame sticks up a couple inches farther than the other side.  It does the job, though, of supporting the door, so I can’t complain too much.

The other problem with the door frame is that the instructions said to build the entire door frame with one 8′ board.  One board was supposed to create both sides and the top of the frame.  I quit trying to wrap my brain around that and just went and bought two more boards to finish the job.

Predator wrap

One risk to birds is that of predators digging under the coop to get in.  The instructions addressed this by saying to take another roll of hardware cloth (which wasn’t in the supply list), bending it into an L shape lengthwise, and attaching this around the perimeter.  I only just barely managed to get the single roll of hardware cloth that was in the supply list to cover the door, and only by piecing leftover parts together.  I figured that if the garage was safe, then we wouldn’t need a perimeter guard right now.

Final cover

The coop is made up of three layers – cattle panels for structure, chicken wire for security, and a tarp for waterproofing.  The structure was made of 16′ cattle panels bent onto an 8’x10′ frame, so the materials list called for a tarp that is 12’x16′.  That does make sense to me.  I got a heavy duty tarp since I don’t want the tarp to disintegrate halfway through the winter.  My husband helped me spread it over the coop and we discovered that it didn’t take into account the height of the lumber frame.  Layering the (not-exactly-smooth-lying) chicken wire over the cattle panels also created some extra height.  There is a small gap all around the bottom of the coop.  It did, however, extend far enough down the back wall that we did not need the 8’x10′ second tarp that it called for and that was too small anyway.

Here you can see how the tarp doesn't quite reach the ground, and the crazy door frame.
Here you can see how the tarp doesn’t quite reach the ground anywhere, and the crazy door frame.

Future builds

If I were to ever build this again (which I haven’t ruled out completely), I would buy all the lumber as 10-foot boards instead of mostly 8-footers.  Then I can cut them down to 8’3″ and have the panels all fit instead of hanging slightly off the ends.  I would also keep my cattle panels flat when I brought them home, preferably having them delivered instead of picking them up in the Suburban.  I also now know that there are different sizes of fence staples, and that one should wear gloves when working with them.

Overall, I am glad we made this coop. I hope that it serves the chickens well, at least until we can build a coop of lumber.  I don’t know how many winters this will last, but it would make a great summer shelter during the day.

Your turn

Do you have chickens?  What kind of coop do you have for them?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *