Our family (2 parents + 2 teenagers) are new chicken owners. After much research and debate, we built an insulated chicken coop, complete with a sky light, and a detachable galvanized steel run, and a roll-away nesting box for our 4 new Leghorns. The bulk of the construction took 3 weeks, taxing our skills as a family of robotics team and engineers. (Don't ask how much it cost, because we don't want to know the "damage").
The chicken coop is measured 4' x 4' x 6' high with 1.5" thick insulated walls and double pane windows on each wall, a skylight, and asphalt shingle roof over the coop. All front panels of the coop can be opened for cleaning. The bottom of the coop is lined with 1/2" hardwire cloth even on the ground surface.
The detachable chicken run is measured 4' x 6' x 6' high, made with 3/4" dia. galvanized steel tubing (from Home Depot). It has a clear roof and covered with 1/2" hardwire cloth on all sides including the bottom. The run was built concurrently with the coop, so we could move the chickens back and forth during the construction, depending on which part of the coop we were working on. Both the coop and the run sat on eight 12" x 12" concrete pavers as the foundation. It took awhile to level each paver on top of a 3" stone bedding to perfection before moving the structures in place. Both roofs pitch from front to back (4:1).
The side of the coop has at least one 10"x10" operable window and one vent. By putting in more windows and vents, we have the options of opening and closing them as necessary depending on the weather. It would be much harder to add an opening later to control the inside humidity and add natural light in the dead of the winter.
Every front panel of the coop from top to bottom can be opened individually for easy maintenance and cleaning.Two removable plastic bottom trays were made with no front panels. This is for easy weekly dumping and cleaning of the pine shaving bedding. The plastic was made with FRP Wall Board which is usually used for bathroom paneling, but it worked extremely well for the coop as well.
Double pane windows made with laxen plastic, water-proof chalking filled all edges. The degree of the window opening can be adjusted by using a small chain with hooks. On rainy days, the windows are lowered to shield the rain, but remain open for ventilation. Each wall also has vents in case of severe weather when the windows have to be closed. 1/2 hardwire cloth were added later at each window and vent.
The side and back view of the coop. An opening is reserved for a future insulated nesting box. Since our chickens were still young, we didn't want them to go to the nesting box to hang out.
The skylight was salvaged from a washing machine door, while the roof panel was gutted from an old bathroom, which already has a coat of waterproof shellac paint. Noticed the 3-D printed roosting bar supports, it enable the roosting bar to be added anywhere along the wall studs, or change out to a bigger bar later with zip-ties.
The chicken run has a full length door that is 2' wide x 6' high. The frame was made with welded 3/4" galvanized steel tubing, then applied a self-etching galvanized steel primer and a coat of matching paint. The sides and bottom were all enclosed with hand-tied 1/2" hardware cloth. The bottom perimeter of the cage has two to three stacks of landscape lawn edging zip tied to the frame to reduce shaving spilling out, to keep the snow and rain out, and keep the food dry. A latch with a rope so that the door can be opened from either outside or inside of the run.
Clear corrugated polycarbonate roofing panels were used to cover the run to provide sunlight while shield the run from fallen leaves, rain and snow. The clear roof was tugged under the shingle roof. Since our coop is under trees, in the summer it stays cool; in the winter when the leaves fall out, the clear roof helps to get more sunlight. A run with a clear roof and a neutral green tone also made the whole 4'W x10'L x 6'H structure looked a lot smaller to our neighbors. It kind of just blends in with the background.
A look of the interior structure of the coop. The outside frame was made with 2x4, and the interior framing was using 2x2 to reduce weight, so we could move it around to work on it.
The concept designs were done in CAD using Solid Work. There were also detailed hand sketches and build of materials of a PVC coop, a steel coop, and a wooden coop design. We went through many designs in details to weight the pros and cons of each type of construction materials and designs. In the end, we just wing it and built a hybrid using wood, galvanized steel and PVC that suit our needs.
Each wall was filled with rigid foam insulation boards between the 2x2 supports. One layer was a 1.5" thick (R6) foam board, and cover with anther layer of recycled siding insulation board. The insulation was sandwiched with a 1/4" plywood on each side. Each interior and exterior wall was painted with primer and exterior latex paint.
The interior walls were painted with a warm tone of "happy color" (aka "psychedelic coral") for easy wipe down. Waterproof caulking filled all seams of the walls and window sills.A plastic removable poop tray (using the same FRP Wall Board under the roosting bar for easy daily cleaning. A swing was added under the skylight for those adventurous chickens to look out of the skylight (but later removed) while a solar light provides some comfort lighting at night. The light shuts off automatically after a few hours.
A roosting bar and a ladder leading to the coop door. The chickens can go in and out, up and down throughout the day as they please. They usually go into the coop and settle down on the roosting bar each evening by themselves.
Daughter working on cutting off the protruding nails from the roof and finishing up the trims. It took all hands on deck to cut and weld the galvanized steel tubes. The trims of the coop were made with wood shims, painted separately; a cheap way to add some colors to the coop.
The boys putting on the 1/2" hardware cloth around and under the coop and run. It was a time consuming process, but well worth the trouble.
The bottom of the coop and the run cage were lined with 1/2" hardware cloth. Top soil and pine shaving were added to pad the bottom for those tender chicken feet. This was to prevent the predators (and the chickens) from digging under. We did find evidence of holes dug around the outer perimeters of the run, but the hardware cloth on the bottom deterred the attempts.
A PVC chicken feeder and a water feeder were added for those days when we are away. Usually, fresh feed is provided daily.
A dust bath box (with holes drilled on the bottom for drainage) was placed under the coop. The dust bath was made with equal parts of clean river sand and top soil plus some food grade diatomaceous earth (DE). We don't have any ash handy, but the chickens learned to enjoy it anyway.
Cleaning and Maintenance:
After much research, we adopted a combination of different cleaning methods for our coop. The poop trays are cleaned daily to add to the compost. The pine shaving inside the coop is dump directly to the run area below every week by a simple tipping of the sliding draws. The deep litter method is used inside the run area, which has been working out really well due to well ventilation and having a dirt bottom. By adding new pine shaving from the coop to the run weekly, plus a quick rake & mix daily, the whole setup has been odor free and insects free. Also, the dirt bottom gives the chickens plenty of fun to scratch around. The key to a low maintenance deep litter method is good ventilation and a well-drain soil or pervious bottom. Therefore, we only use the deep litter method in the run area, and not inside the coop.
At one point, we thought about using sand as bedding materials, but after much "scientific" research on the pros and cons (typical of us engineers), we opted for an open soil bottom with easily composed and absorbent pine shaving.
The next phase of the project is to build an insulated nesting box, an automated coop door, a temperature/humidity/light sensor, and a sensor for egg harvesting. Future excess eggs will be donated to our local food pantry after greeting all of our anxiously waiting neighbors. But for now, I think we will take a break and enjoy the chicken TV for awhile.
Update: September 30, 2014 - Roll-Away Nest Box
After 14 weeks with our chicks, it's time to add the nest box. The original design was a nest box about 13" deep. However, after much research, we decided to build a roll-out nest box in case of an egg eater or lazy egg collectors/owners. So here is our external roll-out nest box. The design concept is based on Opa's "New Rollout Nest Design", with modifications to fit our needs and our coop.
This oversize insulated nest box is 30" wide x 24" long; with 18" high at the coop end and 13" high at the door end. It consists of two nesting boxes with an internal dimensions of 13" wide x 12" deep x 13" high for each box. Each exterior wall was insulated with 1" insulation foam sandwiched between the 1/4" ply.
Since there is a tree nearby, collecting eggs will have to be done from one end of the door. How to get to the eggs from the side, properly cushion the egg rolling and prevent frozen eggs, were our design challenges. After much trial and errors with different materials, a deceleration and egg collection net was designed to be mounted on the insulated door panel for easy egg collection, so we don't need to stand directly under the tree facing the nest box door.
The door opening is controlled by two chains and a lock mounted on the side. The net was made of a 1/2" plastic wire mesh and zip ties, shaped to size and fit in place via many trial and error. When the door is closed, the lower edge of the net will overlap the top of the turf by 4" so the eggs can roll right into the net, which also acts as a cushion.
The chains can be unhooked to swing the door 180 degree for removing the ramps for cleaning. There is a strip of rubber inner tubes mounted along the center baffle to shield the 4" vertical clearance above the ramps so the chickens can't see behind them.
A top view of the internal setup of the nest box. 12" in front (to the left of the center baffle) for the chickens, and 11" behind (to the right of the center baffle) for egg rolling and egg catchment. The extra long distance for egg rolling is to prevent the chickens from reaching under the baffle to eat the eggs. Since the chicken neck can extend as long as 6", a distance longer than 6" was provided.
The slope that requires for egg rolling on different mat materials and different directions of egg laying turned out to be another "guessercise". Based on trial and error, we estimated that it needs about 16% slope to initiate a rolling egg on the synthetic turf. So we built two removable ramps that are 3.2" high in the front x 13" wide x 19" long to provide a 16% slope for egg rolling, and 4" of flat area for deceleration. The ramps are top with a 12" wide removable synthetic golf turf. If more or less slope is needed, the adjustment can be made to the ramps without heavy modification to the coop. The top surface of the ramp is hard plastic for easy cleaning.
A view of the nest box entrance from inside the coop. This opening was covered with a wire mesh for the first 3 months of the coop's existence to avoid the chickens getting too comfortable to sleep in it. Once the mesh was removed, a piece of 2x4 set the entry way to 9" high x 13" wide. Pluggable vent holes are provided for each stall even though the walls are insulated.
The inside of the nest box is painted a darker "privacy" color (aka chicken poop color). When the nest box door is closed, the box is darken. Here the chickens are first introduced to the nest box at 14 weeks old. We hope that they have 2 months to explore and get acquainted with the nest box to lay eggs.
A coop door has been added. The door is great for isolating the chickens in the run area while we clean the coop. It also helps to keep the coop warm in those severe weather conditions.
It took some thoughts to figure out how to raise and lower the door with the rope come out from the side of the coop, needing two bends. Here we used two pieces of cutting board material, drill a hole on each to fit a small tubing in between through the thickness of the wall. The plastic material is slippery enough that pulley was not needed, and we could pull the rope in any direction at any angle.
Inside view of the block
Outside view of the block
The "no-pulley" system
The coop door (inside view).
Notice the roosting bar has been upgraded to 3" diameter for their larger feet and also to get ready for winter so the girls can cover their toes at night.
Update: December 5, 2014 - Winterizing the Coop
It has been a month since we winterized our coop using clear corrugated polycarbonate roofing panels and tons of zip ties.
While doing my research to find ways to shield the rain, snow and wind during the winter by covering the run, three different materials were considered: heavy-duty clear tarp with grommets, twinwall polycarbonate greenhouse panels, and clear corrugated polycarbonate roofing panels. Each material has its pros and cons. The tarp obviously is the cheapest and most popular option, but I have concern with mildew after a season or two and if it would be flopping in strong wind. I would also have to add more grommets and sew the seams after cutting the panels to size. Frankly, I am not good with the sewing-machine, so this option was abandoned. The twinwall greenhouse panel was the best material for keeping warm, provide visual clarity, but it was also the most expensive even when ordering the 2' wide easy-ship sizes. On top of that, since the flutes are designed to run vertically to drain out the moisture and dust, these panels would need those expensive specialty tapes to seal the top and the bottom or to combine the 2' wide panels into the desire width. In the end, I went for the clear corrugated polycarbonate roofing panels, the same one we used on the run roof. This material is strong, durable, easy to maintain, will not deform like PVC under impact, and it is available locally. Come spring, I will just cut the zip ties and stack them up in the shed.
Here is the coop run covered with corrugated polycarbonate panels. I can still see the girls clearly and vice versa.
The front of the run and the side of the run take the blunt of the north/northwest wind in the winter. By shielding these two sides leaving just the top 6" for venting, it should help to reduce wet floor and cold wind.
The back side is near a fence facing east, so the run was shielded only for the lower 3 feet, the top 2 feet is open for venting. Since most of the run is shield from the wind, the coop door will be left opened 24/7 for more ventilation inside the coop. The girls are used to go in and out as they please morning and night.
The girls love to hang out under the coop napping, so the sides under the coop are also shielded to keep them warm and keep out the snow during the winter. However, the panel that is under the nesting box and the one near the fence are opened on the top 4" for ventilation.
Inside the 4' x 4' x 4' insulated coop, the windows near the 3" diameter roosting bar can be lowered or closed at night. Other windows are opened 24/7 depending on the weather. The coop is air out daily if weather permits. The solar light on the top will shut off automatically after bed time. I added a puck light taped to the side in case of needing some light to check on the girls at night.
At 21 week, we got our first egg! The roll-away nest box worked well. We put some pine shavings and a fake egg in there for the girls to check it out for a few weeks. After they start laying, the pine shavings were removed so the eggs can roll back more easily. So far, at 24th weeks, three of our girls are laying regularly, two of them will use the nest box, one prefers the insulated coop floor.
A group shot at 23 weeks. Each Leghorns was named after the color of their leg zip tie: "Orange", "Yellow", "Blue", and "Green".
Annual Coop Cleaning (updated 8/9/2015):
Deep clean this coop is quite easy. Remove the insulated coop floor trays.
Remove the poop trays, coop trays, nest box ramps and mat, insulated water bucket, and hose down everything,
Move and mix the deep litter (DLM) pine shavings from under the coop, then hose down the coop and let dry. Also hose down the perimeter of the run, and mix up the DLM bedding. After the coop is dry, put everything back. Takes about 2 hours to deep clean this coop.
Insulated Water Feeder (updated 1/23/2016):
Back in October 2014, I was struggling with ideas to keep the water feeder from freezing. We have no electricity in the coop, so I built an insulated water feeder (see this post). Long story short, the insulated bucket could not keep the water nipples from being frozen solid when the temperature dipped down below the teens, so I had to add a heating element in the water bucket and pull an extension cord to the coop during those winter months. This set up has successfully survived blizzard 2015, and is now being tested during blizzard 2016.
The materials and construction are basically a 2 gal. bucket inside a 5 gal bucket surround by foam insulation. For a faster result, just use an insulated water cooler.
- 5 gal. bucket with lid
- 2 gal bucket with lid
- Horizontal Poultry Nipples
- 1" thick insulation board
- Spray foam insulation for big gap filler
- Lexel synthetic rubber caulk
- 3/8" polyethylene tubing
- 2" PVC pipe section (6" long),
- 2" PVC Cap
- 2" PVC adapter
1. Cut two layers of 1" rigid insulation board to shape to line the bottom of the 5 gal bucket.
2. Remove the small bucket handle, put the smaller bucket inside the larger one.
3. Shim the sides using vertical strips of rigid foam board then fill the gap with spray insulation foam designed for big gaps.
4. While the spray foam is curing overnight, cut two more layers of rigid insulation foam, shape to fit the bucket caps as the top insulation cover.
5. Drill a 2" hole though both bucket caps and the top foam layers.
6. Sleeve through and assemble the PVC parts through the hole in the caps to be used as a water filling port.
7. Drill two (or how many you need) 11/32" holes about 1" above the bottom of the inner bucket. Insert a 3" segment of the 11/32" rigid polyethylene tubing, then seal the seams with specialty silicon. Note that it is very difficult to bond to the polyethylene buckets and tube, so you may need to trial and error other types of caulking material.
8. Trim off the excess tubing, insert the horizontal chicken nipples to the outside end of the tubing.
9. Wait for the caulk to fully cure before adding water to the bucket. It may take up to 2 weeks for curing depending on the temperature.
10. To prevent the chickens from roosting on top of the bucket, I use some thin corrugated plastic board so the chickens can stand on it.
11. The insulated water bucket alone can withstand temperature down to 20 F. For condition colder than that, a submerging a 50-watt aquarium heater would be needed to keep the water warm enough to prevent the horizontal nipples from frozen solid. To avoid melting the plastic bucket, the aquarium heater element was wrapped in an aluminum mesh made of leftover gutter screen and some zip ties, then I zip-tied the entire module to a piece of granite to weigh it down. Where the aquarium heater was plugged into the 100-ft long heavy duty extension cord, I wrapped the connection with plenty of electrical tape to prevent moisture leaking into the plugs, then stuff the connection into an upside down plastic container to protect it from the weather. Finally, hang the plastic container underneath the overhang of the run to secure the wires.
Here is a the aquarium heater setup.
On those days that are impossible to get to the coop, at least the chickens have some warm water inside their run to keep them hydrated.