This is a pen I built for our Muscovy ducks (above), but I would use the same for chickens or any fowl, really. It's about as basic as you can get. It's not suitable for severely cold climates perhaps and is not predator-proof, but since I have neither of those problems it serves just fine. It's built from old pallets, old fence rails, a few other pieces of scrap wood, and held together with salvaged nails. The only materials I purchased for this, aside from the water container "pond," were some chicken wire for the fencing, some zip-ties, and some braided nylon netting to keep the mature ducks from flying out (this could be optional if you have birds less inclined to fly, like heavy chickens, or other types of ducks or geese).
But the especially great thing about this coop is that I gathered the materials and built the whole thing in one workday (with one helper), and brought the ducklings home to it the same evening. (The paint job and caulking on the roof were done a few weeks later, and the flight netting on top and the nests I added at my leisure as the ducklings matured). It's not fancy or elegant, but it was easy to make, almost free, and perfectly serviceable. If you need a cheapo coop fast (and predators aren't an issue), something like this could fit the bill. If not, perhaps you at least might get some ideas from the design.
It is bedded with a light layer of naturally microbially active leaf litter (also free!)--enough to manage the poop, but a light enough layer that the run portion dries out quickly after a rain or when the ducks splash water onto it. I add to it occasionally, fluff or stir it with a rake from time to time, or remove particularly soiled portions as necessary to use on the compost pile or for mulching beds, but there is no stench--only a faint, ducky aroma when you stick your nose right in it.
Because of it's proximity to the trees you see in the back, it gets some shade during part of the day. especially in summer, which is nice for the ducks. The opening of the "duckhouse" faces away from the prevailing weather, although everything else is otherwise quite open to the elements.
Currently it is home to our three handsome "breeder" Muscovies, as you can see in the pictures: our drakelet "Drako" and the ducklets "Cinderella" (aka "Cindy") and "Spot." But it has already housed as many as nine adolescent ducks at once and in the future will hopefully be home to one or two large families of ducklings at a time, as Cindy and Spot hatch successive clutches of ducklings for us to be raised for the table.
Note: the large, distracting, greyish bucket-like thing behind the pen is a commercial-scale "Protapod" for culturing soldier grubs, which we feed to both the ducks and our chickens. The stick-like thing leaning against the front of the duckhouse is a small rake I keep handy for stirring up or cleaning out the litter.
Now for the Tour:
Below is an inside view of the "duck house." Note the perch for them to roost on (which they don't use for some reason, at least not to date, but it would be perfect for a few chickens), as well as the simply designed nest areas. The latter are simply tacked onto the horizontals of the pallets with several small nails each and not anchored at all on the bottoms. I've seen many over-designed nest boxes, some admittedly very functional and impressive, but all that ground-nesting birds like ducks or chickens really want or need is a nice private place on the ground where they can lay (and set) in peace. The ducklets have already shaped their own nests inside out of the dirt and leaves, as you can just barely see in the nest on the right (the nest on the left is better shaped and already has an egg in it, but you can't see it in this picture).
Below, a couple of views of the outside of the duckhouse from the other sides. The plywood (scrap pieces I didn't even have to cut) was to give a little protection from driving rain if the ducklings wanted it (mostly, it turns out, they didn't), and to make the nesting ducks feel more secure (which it does). Please pardon all the slovenly duck-related junk on the back side.
Below, a top view of the roof made of old fence rails. Although I could have trimmed the ends, I deliberately left them uneven to proudly emphasize the hodge-podge, recycled nature of the project! Note also the white caulking, added later to stop a few small leaks where the old, warped rails didn't sit together quite perfectly (not that the ducks minded much--it had more to do with keeping the litter inside drier, and hence more sanitary).
Below is a detail of one of the fence posts. These were some split pieces of the same old fence rails I used for the roof of the duckhouse, that I had lying around from another project. I just cut them to height, pounded them into the ground, and stapled or zip-tied the 4-foot-wide, 1-inch-mesh chicken wire to them. The top netting, a 2 inch square mesh multi-purpose piece of braided nylon netting I bought on Ebay for about $30 (including shipping), was stretched taut (easier said than done) and secured to the top of the fencing with small zip-ties.
The gate design is one element I am particularly fond of. Below you can see the gate in it's "half-open" position, to step through (top), with only the upper fastening undone; and in its fully open position, rolled up (bottom), which is how it stays during the time when the ducks roam freely to forage and cavort. Note: I did the daily water change right after I took these pictures (ew, funky). You may also notice that the fencing on the right side of the gate is only 3 feet high--this is because I ran out of four-foot fencing for this one small section at the very end (but no worries)!
Below, close-ups of the simple gate fastenings, top and bottom, respectively, made of pieces of wire that hook over screws to secure. In Australia, I understand they call this a "Queensland Gate." It doesn't get much more basic (or easy to make) than this.
As for possible future improvements, I am considering adding a separate run onto the pen sometime soon to allow for more flexibility--for example, so that I can have separate but adjacent runs for ducks with young ducklings, or to isolate or confine ducks, separate from the main flock, for some other reason. In retrospect, it would have been nice (although more expensive) to make the run a little taller so that it would be easier for a human to move around inside--although so far it hasn't been a deal-breaker (or a back-breaker), because for one I don't actually have reason to crawl in there very often.
Thanks for checking out my duck coop! And good luck with all your own fowl-keeping endeavors!
"Sky the Chicken Man"