Hello all! Here’s our coop, with plans, such as they were, and the story of it.
Much researching and brainstorming occurred before we broke ground. The first consideration, and frankly the hardest decision of all, was where to situate the thing on our property. We have a lot-and-a-half in a suburban area, and I’m a pretty avid gardener so I tend to want to use every inch of sunlit earth to grow food.
Ultimately we decided on an area that is at the south edge of our backyard. Our southern property border sports a tall hedge of arbor vitae – maybe 15′ – which makes this the coolest area of the yard because of the shade it creates. From fall equinox to spring equinox, it’s pretty much completely in shade. That means it’s not a great spot for gardening in the Pacific Northwest given that it’s cooler and shadier than everything else, and we already have enough cool and shade going on all the time! Our dog has let us know without a doubt that this is the coolest spot in the summer (he would lay there on hot days every day last summer), and since our winters are so mild, we figured it’s okay to have the chooks in a spot that’s a bit cooler in winter. Better to have relief in summer from heat, especially given that our backyard flock of layers will likely always consist of large, cold-tolerant breeds.
The next thing to decide was how many birds we need, and then how large should the coop and run be, to accommodate our proposed flock. I decided that 5-6 birds would be our maximum, and then started drawing plans. All the while I was also researching: how much space needed per bird, how much ventilation, etc. From past experience I knew that our climate doesn’t necessitate an insulated, fully sealed-off coop nor added heat in the winters; our biggest issues are mud and of course predators.
The way this all came together was really about the acquisition of materials. A good friend donated a significant pile of dimensional lumber to the cause, and that kicked it off. Up until that point I really didn’t know what I was going to be able to scrounge. Once we had the wood, I knew I had enough to base my design heavily off the renowned Wichita Cabin Coop and the Garden Coop (I had purchased the Garden Coop plans some months earlier, and had been studying them before drawing).
So those are my rough drawings. We ended up changing some things, as you can see if you compare the drawings to the photo of the 98% finished coop above and/or at the end of this post.
On the advice of my friend who donated the wood, we used concrete pier blocks to set the 6 4×4 posts onto, rather than setting them in poured concrete, or setting them onto a concrete block ‘foundation’ as others have done. We ended up with this kind, which cost about $7 each:
I think it’s very likely that these pier blocks are designed for some other application, and that there’s a different kind of pier block out there that we should have used instead, but whatever. The pier blocks allowed for elevation flexibility: it’s nice to have them all level with each other, but it’s really not necessary, assuming your posts have extra height. A couple of our 4×4 posts were barely the height we needed, so the pier blocks also gave us the ability to use those short posts where we would’ve had to buy longer ones in order to set them down in concrete.
The beginning: pier blocks are set into holes, we start erecting the posts.
The hardest part was getting each post into the exact right position, and square with the others. I am absolutely sure that there exists an easier way than what we did, which amounted to a lot of trial and error and minute wigglings until we were satisfied. At this stage, DH and I realized we didn’t really know how to do framing, so I called my dad. That was a good move. He showed up the very next day with a variety of tools and fasteners we didn’t even know we needed, and his lifetime of experience in building stuff, which we definitely DID know we needed!
Dad immediately established a protocol for attaching the 2x4s to the 4x4s, which would persist throughout the entire build process. He used two or four 3″ screws per attachment point, pre-drilled the holes, and set the screws in diagonally. I never would have thought of that!
The 2x4s that touch the ground are all pressure treated, as are all the 4×4 posts. By the way, nearly all the fasteners came from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. Lately they’ve had a ton of boxes of screws for dirt cheap.
Framing started at the bottom and went up.
The 4×4 posts are just tacked into the pier blocks; the frame will hold them together.
The coop floor is in place in these pics; it’s just a single piece of 3/4″ plywood with notches cut out for the posts at the corners. It sits on 2x4s that go all around the sides, and there’s one right through the middle as well.
The pic above gives you a pretty good idea of the overall structure of the framing. The footprint dimensions remain the same as in the drawing: 12′ overall length, 5′ depth, and the coop is 4′ x 5′. The coop is 30″ off the ground. A 2×4 rail continues around the entire run at that elevation; this is where we’ll transition from hardware cloth (on the bottom, and buried) to 2×4 welded wire for the upper part.
This is the point at which we abandoned the drawing and went into improv mode.
This is also about when the chicks arrived. I had pre-ordered them from Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply a couple weeks prior. We set up a brooder box in the house and also sprung for a Brinsea EcoGlow 20, which has been fabulous. For me, the peace of mind surrounding fire risk alone was worth the cost of it.
Back to the coop. We had exactly 7 2x6s that we’d planned to use for the rafters. We decided that a) 2×6 is overkill for this and b) we needed some 2×2 sticks anyway. So Dad used his table saw to rip the 2x6s, then we notched the ends, and here you can see he’s just putting the last one up into place. Then we did arithmetic to figure out exact placement, and screwed them down.
Then we started with the hardware cloth. We used 1″ fence staples to tack it in, then put 1 5/8″ screws with big fender washers at about 12-16″ spacing all around to really secure it. The hardware cloth is on the outside so it can make a continuous path down into the earth around the entire perimeter of the structure.
We also cut a piece of linoleum for the coop floor, and started our first attempt at nest boxes. I don’t particularly like the look of nest boxes that stick out of the side of the coop, so ours will be inside. The lino came with the house – we found it in the attic. It’s the same as what’s on our kitchen floor, leftover from a kitchen floor re-do that must have happened at some point before we bought the house. We decided not to tack or glue it down at all, in case we ever need to replace it. Here you can see both the linoleum and the nest boxes:
This is 48″ 1/2″ x 1/2″ hardware cloth. We bought two 25′ rolls of it and used all but maybe 2′. That was the single biggest expense. As you can see, we not only dug down, but also out, and I cut patches to cover the corners and then sewed them together with wire.
That was a lot of work. So worth it.
Next we installed the roof. My mom & stepdad had two 12′ pieces of really nice corrugated metal roofing left over from an outbuilding project they’d recently completed on their farm. After truly excessive deliberation on the best way to cut these pieces, DH ended up cutting them with a circular saw using a metal blade, which got obliterated in the process. I don’t have any pics of the roofing installation, but it was pretty straightforward. We bought one piece of clear PVC roofing, because a) the metal wasn’t quite enough to cover the entire thing and b) I wanted to include at least one piece of clear so the girls would have a bit of light in the coop.
Once the roof was done, we put up the 2×4 welded wire around the upper part of the run. That went on the inside, rather than outside, because it looks better and was easier, and we used mostly just the fence staples here. Once we had all the wire in place we started bringing the chicks outside during nice days.
The next pic below is from later in the process but it’s the clearest one I have showing how the roof is built. You can sort of see in this pic how the depth of the ridges is different between the two types of roofing. I wasn’t wild about that, so I compensated by setting the plastic a full two ridges under the metal. The 2x2s that go lengthwise are from the ripped 2x6s. The roof panels are attached to those 2x2s with the usual screws with neoprene washers. Pre-drilling holes through the metal roofing was hard because we only had wood drill bits, which are probably really dull now.
If you look closely you can see a lot of inconsistencies in lining things up here. As a dear friend who is a cabinet-maker said, “We ain’t buildin’ a pie-anna!”
Dad scored a great window for free because it was accidentally made to the wrong size. So we decided to incorporate that into the coop. We stained it with two coats of a Sikkens deck stain that Dad donated. Really pretty stuff.
The window is what ended up finalizing the arrangement of the various components of the coop. We knew we needed a pop door, a big clean-out door, an egg door, and a roost. Up until this point I wasn’t sure if the clean-out door(s) would be on the near wall, or on the end. We put the window on the near wall and that meant the clean-out doors had to be on the end, which meant the roost would go along the far wall. We put the siding up for the two “plain” walls, after cutting a hole for the pop door - just single sheets of plywood, as insulation isn't needed here in the balmy Pacific NW. We weren’t completely sure about the pop door, so we didn’t attach that piece of siding until later.
Oh here, let me step back and give you a pic of the whole thing at this stage:
Starting to look like a real chicken coop!
I started to work on the clean-out doors. Another great Dad-score which he found at the H4H Re-store were these wonderful hinges. They have ball bearings inside! He got them for $1 per pair and we used a total of 10 of them (5 pairs). Apparently ball bearing hinges cost at least $8 a piece if you buy them new.
See how wobbly the plywood is? That piece at the top is just to hold the doors closed overnight until I could come back and refine them. Turns out, building doors is hard. Really hard. Especially if you’ve never done it before! At this point Dad had needed to take his table saw back to his house, so we cut the plywood for these with a circular saw. It is very much worth the extra effort to affix a guide board to get your cuts straight. Even after doing so, we still had to do some sanding with the belt sander to get the doors to fit properly. The opening was a parallelogram, unfortunately, so getting the doors to fit was largely a matter of trial and error with the sander. Another process for which surely there is an easier way. But hey! you do things the hard way in order to figure out what the easy way is, right? And the reason that opening was not square, I believe, is because the pier block under that nearest post settled a tiny bit. That could have been avoided with more careful digging/setting/pounding at the outset. Or by filling the holes with gravel under the pier blocks?
I attached 1x4s all around the insides of the clean-out doors. I also put 1×2 “slam strips” at the bottom, sides, and a short piece at the top. This helped a lot with the warping. This pic shows the doors closed, from the inside. The slam strip along the floor also helps curve the linoleum up which I hope will help keep bedding from spilling out when these doors are opened.
While I was working on that, DH installed more hardware cloth:
He added another 2×2 directly above the highest 2×4, so he’d have something to attach hardware cloth to. I suppose we could have used 2×4 mesh up there, but we both liked the look of the hardware cloth better, and it’s somewhat easier to work with in small, tight spaces.
We’d been discussing the man-door into the run for a while at this point. The Garden Coop plans are pretty clear about the benefits of having that door open inward. But we decided we wanted it to open outward, AND for it to be a Dutch door. When I was a kid we’d always throw scraps over the fence to the chicken yard, but with a roof over the yard that can’t happen. The Dutch door allows for easy scrap-throwing without a bunch of birds scrambling around your feet trying to get out.
Dad and I took a road trip over to a magical place called Building Material Resources, which is a big place selling mostly reclaimed/recycled building materials. We scored some very pretty CVG fir for the door, as well as various bits and bobs to use as door fasteners and locks.
I sent some version of this to Dad so he could make the door at his house where he has all his shop tools:
Note that in my drawing above, the horizontal boards (rails) of the door span the width, rather than having the vertical boards (stiles) span the entire height. Dad and I discussed door construction over the phone, both of us wandering around our respective houses, looking at all doors, and noted that in every case, the verticals span the height. We decided that there must be a reason for that, probably having to do with expansion/contraction of wood, and he then constructed this door in keeping with that method.
He brought the door over, without the diagonal piece in place. We installed that during the installation of the door, which also involved some light sanding. Dad used a router on the 2×4 to the right of the door to create a stop. Another cool thing I’d never have thought to do.
After that, we installed the window and built the egg door. I don’t have any pics of that, but I will say that after building those clean-out doors, the egg door was much easier, because we followed the same process but used a couple of shims this time. Plus it's a smaller door.
We put a gutter on the back side. It’s PVC that Dad got for nothing at the Re-Store and cut in half with table saw. Works great!
I built a roost. The 2x4s are removable. It’s attached only to the 4×4 posts, not the floor, for easier clean-out underneath. You can see my pencil marks on the wall where I was working out the angle and the location of the roost bar 2x4s. This was definitely something I designed as I built it. Most of the angle cuts are pretty imprecise. I kind of eyeballed them. The only ones that really matter are where the horizontal support 2x4s meet the bottom of the angled rails.
The last thing was the pop door. DH spearheaded this one with the concept of the metal bar running through as a lock mechanism. Here it is from inside, in the closed position:
And here you can see it through the egg door. Note that the metal bar goes through a hole drilled right through the 4×4 post:
To open it, you slide the metal bar back out toward you, then lift the door by pulling the cable down, attach the cable end to a screw eye to hold it up, and then slide the metal bar back through.Here it is open, with the bar back in position:
The girls kept trying to jump up to the windowsill, so we gave them a thing to stand on there (this is likely temporary).
And there you have it!
We stained the doors with the same stain as the window, and I planted a few plants around it. DH added a 2×4 across the clean-out doors as a barricade/lock – this fits very tightly into the brackets you see on either side. I can’t get it out without hitting it pretty hard to knock it, but still I want to add one more lock or latch or something, just in case some Herculean raccoon is actually able to push it up and out of those brackets.
I kind of wish we'd created a little more roof overhang on all sides - it's only about 7" off the front and maybe 9" off the sides. We would have had to purchase more roofing panels in order to do that, though. I figure if we ever get tired of getting dripped on, or if the coop/run seems too wet, we can re-do the roof. So far, it's been very dry in the coop through a couple of solid downpours.
The egg door has a padlock on one side, and will probably get another latch on the other side.
We didn’t finish the next boxes yet – I figure we have until August to worry about that. Our original thinking was that the nest box assembly would be removable by simply sliding it out. I guess we were thinking about easy replacement of the linoleum. But now that we’ve installed the window and completed the rest of the in-coop accoutrements, the original assembly won’t fit in there anymore. We’ll probably go with something simpler, but it’ll be more of a chore to remove. I think that’s okay.
I am really glad I had the forethought to consider placement of the coop based on the view from both the patio door and the kitchen window:
Patio door view, with construction debris
View from kitchen window, with kitchen debris
It’s nice to be able to see the whole thing pretty clearly from either vantage point. Here it is from the garden:
I hope this has been useful info for you! Total cost, not including whatever my dad spent at the Re-Store on hardware and whatever else, was about $250.00. Most of that was for the hardware cloth and wire mesh. Materials purchased new included 2 sheets of plywood, a couple of P/T 2x4s, all the 1×4 and 1×2, the brackets for the 2×4 bar across the clean-out doors, about half the fasteners, and the wire. Everything else was purchased used or for cheap at H4H, or we got it for free.
Jackie and Pinky pose for you in the window seat:
Materials list (to the best of my memory):
About 15 regular 2x4s, 8 to 12′ length
About 5 or 6 P/T 2×4’s, 6-8′ length
6 4×4 P/T posts, 7’+ length
6 pier blocks
The window (dimensions maybe 38″ x 24 1/2″)
3 sheets (4’x8′) plywood, 1/2″ to 3/4″ (we used thicker for the floor and walls w/o doors, and thinner for the doors)
7 2x6s @ 6′, ripped into 2x4s and 2x2s
A bit of extra 2×2, maybe another 12′
6 1x4s, 10′
4 1×2’s, 10′
50′ 1/2″ 1/2″ hardware cloth
25′ 2×4 welded wire mesh
2 panels corrugated metal roofing, 12’3″ x 36″ (so 34″ net coverage)
1 panel 8′ clear PVC corrugated roofing, 26″ width
2 barrel locks, so far, will end up with 4
1 hasp with padlock
about 12′ of 1/16″ steel cable (for the pop door and for the padlock key), and cable clamp end things
about 4 screw eyes
4′ x 5′ of roofing underlayment (went under the linoleum on the coop floor)
4′ x 5′ piece of linoleum
A variety of deck screws, mostly 3″ and 1 5/8″
roofing screws with the neoprene washers
Compound miter saw
Orbital Sander (before we got the belt sander working)
Cordless drill motor and another corded one; nice to have both so you don’t have to swap bits out constantly when pre-drilling
Router (not critical but kind of cool)
Angle grinder (to remove the ends of screws that went all the way through)
Tape measures, digging tools, level, square, and various other basic construction trappings