Coops move from country to city, Plus a DIY coop
From the rise of farmer’s markets to the development of green housing, it seems as though everyone has jumped on the sustainable-living train. But what if you want to take it a step further and start raising your own chickens? The trend is gaining popularity nationwide and has created a marketplace for books such as “Reinventing the Chicken Coop.” In the new tome, California-based designers Kevin McElroy and Matthew Wolpe show us that raising chickens is doable and beneficial — even in an urban setting.
“We like to joke that we’re bringing the chicken coop from the backyard to the front yard,” says McElroy.
The book includes 14 stylish coop designs and building plans ranging from the most straightforward (the “A-Frame” coop, a modern triangular-shaped coop) to the most intricate (the “Coopsicle,” a tree house-inspired version).
“We wanted the coops to be equal parts furniture, sculpture [and] chicken coop,” says McElroy. “It’s got to be functional, but it can also be beautiful and interesting.”
But fear not, beginners. The guide caters to all demographics, from expert carpenters to those who have never set foot in a hardware store.
“Building something with your own hands is something that our society has gotten away from a little bit,” says McElroy. “With this book, we’re hoping that people will pick up a new tool, learn it and use it.”
“The chickens have to have a safe place to sleep, a place to live in, a space from predators. It has to be easy to clean for the humans, but beyond that you can expand it and do whatever you want,” says McElroy.
Benefits to keeping a coop
“The obvious benefits would be fresh eggs and chickens. But it’s great for raising kids. You can give them some of the responsibility of taking care of a coop,” says McElroy. “And from a building perspective, learning how to use tools can be very empowering.”
Materials (including platform)
One 4-foot rot-resistant 4×4
Six 8-foot 2×4s
Two 4 × 8-foot sheets ½” plywood
Two 10-foot 2×4s
Three 8-foot 2×2s
Sixty 2½” deck screws
Seventy-five 1¼” deck screws
Twenty-five 2″ roofing screws with neoprene washers
Four square feet ½” galvanized hardware cloth, 18-gauge
Four 2½” hinges with screws
Finish materials (as desired; see step 8)
One 5 × 10-foot sheet mild steel, 16-gauge
One 6-foot-long 8″ × 8″ piece V-ridge cap flashing
Two door handles with screws
Two locking door latches with screws
Additional materials for optional insulation:
One 4 × 8-foot sheet and one 4 × 4-foot sheet ½” plywood
Twenty-four linear feet fiberglass blanket insulation for 2×4 walls
Fifty 1¼” wood screws
Building the Platform
Both the A-Frame and the Standard Coops start with this platform. To make it, we cut up a 4×4 redwood post into 12″ sections to use as legs. If you like, you can cut longer legs to raise the coop higher and give the hens a dry space underneath for hanging out.
1. Cut the platform parts.
From the rot-resistant 4×4, cut four legs to length at 12″. To cut a 4×4 with a circular saw, mark cutting lines across all four faces of the workpiece, and set the saw to the maximum depth of cut. Make one cut across one face of the piece, then flip it over and make a second cut from the opposite face. Alternatively, you can use a miter saw with a cutting depth of at least 3½”.
Cut two common 2×4s to length at 48″; these are the end joists. Cut four 2×4s at 45″; these are the common joists. Finally, cut the ½” plywood floor deck to size at 48″ × 48″.
2. Assemble the platform.
Position the two end joists over the ends of two common joists, with all pieces on-edge, to form a 48″ square frame. Fasten through the end joists and the commons into the posts with pairs of 2½” screws. You may find this easier to do with the frame upside down on your work table. The tops of the legs should be flush with the top edges of the joists. Install the remaining two common joists in the same way, spacing them at about 16″ on center between the outer common joists.
Lay the plywood deck panel over the top of the assembled frame and align the outside edges of the deck and framing; this ensures the frame is square. Fasten the plywood to the interior common joists with 1¼” screws. Don’t screw along the perimeter of the deck yet — you will do this when you install the walls.
3. Insulate the floor (optional).
Cut a piece of ½” plywood to size at 48″ × 48″ to cover the underside of the floor frame. Flip the coop platform upside down. Notch the corners of the plywood to fit around the 4×4 legs. Wearing a respirator and gloves, cut three pieces of fiberglass insulation to length at about 46″, using a utility knife and a scrap of wood or a level as a guide. Lay the insulation into the joist cavities; it should fit snugly without being compressed. Cover the framing with the plywood and fasten it with 1¼” screws. Fasten all the way around the perimeter and add a few screws in the middle of the plywood, along the centers of the joists.
Building the A-Frame Coop
A-frames are among the most time-honored and ubiquitous coop designs in existence, and for good reason. They make economical use of materials, they’re space-efficient, and they’re good for keeping in heat. Initially, we voted against doing an A-frame because there are so many good examples out there, but after building most of the other coops, we felt something was missing. We decided that having a collection of DIY chicken coops without an A-frame was like having your whole body pierced but not your ears.
While keeping the construction as simple as possible, we wanted our coop to model the clean lines of the Nordic A-frame style, which has characteristically steeper angles than other versions. Sheet metal roofing helps to preserve this aesthetic. If it’s easier for you to use standard roofing (such as cedar or asphalt shingles or corrugated metal roofing), you can substitute that for the sheet metal. Each side of the coop is the same for ease of construction, and cross-ventilation is provided by meshed “windows” in the gable ends.
1. Frame the side walls.
The sloping sides of the A-frame house comprise both the roof frame and side walls. They are made with 2×4 rafters that meet at the peak of the structure and 2×4 horizontal supports — called purlins — installed between the rafters. Cut two sets of 2×4 rafters as shown in the Rafter diagram, using 10-foot 2×4s. Note that the top end of each rafter is angled at 27 degrees and the bottom end is angled at 63 degrees. Mark these cuts using a sliding T-bevel (see page 30), and make the cuts with a circular saw.
Test-fit the first two rafters on the coop platform, and make any necessary adjustments to the cuts for a good fit at the peak and the platform deck. Then, use the rafters as templates to mark two more matching rafters, and make the cuts. Install the rafters as shown by screwing the pairs together at the peak with two 2½” screws and to the platform with three screws at each joint.
Cut six 2×4 purlins to length at 45″. Install the two lower purlins on each side between the rafters, as shown in Purlin placement. Position the purlins so they are flush with and perpendicular to the outside edges of the rafters. Fasten the purlins to the rafters with 2½” screws. Install the top purlin on each side so its top face is 7″ from the peak of the roof.
2. Frame the door openings.
Cut three pieces of 2×2 for each of the two door frames, as shown in the Door frame diagram. The top (horizontal) header piece has its ends angled at 63 degrees and installs level with the platform deck. Fasten the door frame pieces together and to the rafters and platform with 2½” screws.
3. Insulate the side walls (optional).
If you’d like to insulate one or both of the sloping side walls, cover the interior wall(s) with ½” plywood fastened to the framing with 1¼” screws, then cut and install insulation to fit snugly into the cavities between the purlins and rafters. The plywood is necessary for cleanliness and to prevent the chickens from picking at the insulation. Make sure the edges of the plywood do not extend beyond the outside faces of the rafters.
4. Install the siding and ventilation windows.
Cut a piece of ½” plywood to 48″ × 32″. Position the panel against one of the vertical ends of the coop frame so the bottom and side edges of the panel are flush with the bottom and sides of the platform, and clamp the panel in place. Use a pencil to trace the outline of the coop frame onto the back side of the plywood. Also trace inside the door frame.
Unclamp the plywood and cut along the lines with a circular saw. If you cut out the door opening carefully by plunge-cutting with a circular saw (see page 34) and finish the corners with a handsaw, you can use the cutout piece later for creating the door. Position the siding over the end wall again so all edges are flush and fasten it to the coop framing with 1¼” screws. Repeat the same process to install siding on the other end wall.
Create the frames for the ventilation windows using scrap pieces of plywood. Use the same process of tracing along the coop frame to mark and cut two triangles to cover the end walls between the top of the plywood siding and the roof peak. Make a triangular cutout in the center of each piece that follows the lower edges of the rafters and has a 2¼”-wide strip along the bottom of the triangle, as shown.
Cut triangles of hardware cloth slightly smaller than the outer edge of each plywood window frame. Sandwich the mesh and frames over the rafters and fasten them with 1¼” screws.
5. Build and hang the doors.
For each door, cut four pieces of 2×2 to create a frame that’s ½” narrower and shorter than the door opening on the coop. Join the pieces with 2½” screws. Use the leftover door piece or cut a new piece of plywood to match the outside dimensions of the frame and attach the plywood with 1¼” screws. Hang each door to the coop with two 2½” hinges so the door is centered within the opening.
6. Create the nesting box.
Cut a piece of ½” plywood for the nesting box panel, as shown in the Nesting box cutting diagram, using a circular saw or jigsaw. Also cut four small blocks from the plywood, two at 1½” × 3½” and two at 1½” × 5″. Install the panel and blocks, using 1¼” screws, as shown.
7. Add the roosting bar.
On the inside of the coop, opposite the nesting box, cut and notch a 2×2 roosting bar cleat to fit between the rafter and the door frame, as shown (see page 32 for help with cutting notches). Install the cleat to the framing with 2½” screws. Cut and install a matching cleat on the opposite end wall, then cut a 2×2 roosting bar so it fits nicely into the notches of the cleats.
8. Install the roofing.
If desired, paint or finish the exterior of the coop with the finish of your choice before installing the roofing.
We cut our sheet metal roof into shingles, but it’s also possible to install the roofing as two whole pieces with a ridge cap. For the shingle method, start with a 5 × 10-foot piece of steel and cut it in half with a circular saw and an abrasive metal-cutoff blade. Out of each of the two halves, cut the following pieces:
One at 60″ × 23″
One at 60″ × 17½”
One at 60″ × 19½”
Each half of the original full sheet will yield the three different dimensioned pieces with no waste.
To install the shingles, start at the bottom of the coop with the 23″ piece. Line it up with the top of the first purlin from the bottom and clamp it in place. Place the 17½” piece so that its top edge is aligned with the top of the second purlin, then drill pilot holes and fasten through both sheets and into the rafters and first purlin with three 2″ roofing screws. Position the third shingle and screw along the second purlin and the rafters.
Repeat the process to install the shingles on the other sloped side of the coop. Cut a piece of ridge cap flashing to length at 60″ and fit it over the shingles at the roof peak. Fasten the cap with roofing screws driven into the top purlin and the rafters.
Install handles and latches to the doors to complete the coop.