Complete newbie, total chicken idiot, needs help!

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by joeschmeau, Dec 20, 2010.

  1. joeschmeau

    joeschmeau New Egg

    Dec 20, 2010
    Hey everyone,

    My wife, kids, and I are moving to an old farmhouse on 4+ acres in just a couple of weeks. One of the first things we want to do is get ready for chickens in the spring. But we are complete chicken newbies. I've been talking to friends, reading books, and browsing this site, but I'm still a little confused about what I'll need to build for the hens.

    Let me start off by saying that we live in Oregon and temperatures are generally pretty mild. My overall goal is to start with about 8 hens, but plan for about 16. We'll want to give the hens about 1/2 acre of their own during the day (fenced), and have them come into a coop at night.

    Our friends built this thing,, which they use to keep their nine hens in at night. During the day they have a timer-operated door that opens to let the chickens out to roam in a fenced-in area of about 1/4 of an acre. This is where the confusion begins for me. These friends of mine say they have no problem keeping their nine hens in this small coop at night, but the hen house only measures about 3' x 5'. From what everyone around here says, the hens need 4 square feet each (minimum, I know), so this thing should really only hold about 3-4 birds.

    So what the heck do I need to build? I want a fixed structure that won't cost a fortune, with room for up to 16 birds. I've seen some of the building projects on this site, and there are a million variations. Isn't there some sort of simple structure that will meet their basic requirements? Nothing I've seen here looks that easy to build. I've done a lot of DIY in the past, but I'm not a home builder. Also, I have a random concrete pad on the property that is about 8' x 8'. Can I make use of this in some way?

    Thanks for your help!
  2. Winggedheart

    Winggedheart Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 18, 2010
    I don't know much about building---my dad build all of our coops---but I know for sure that long as you're only housing the hens at night in that size of coop--it wouldn't be such a big deal. But if you're planning for sixteen birds, and perhaps a line of nesting boxes in the coop, then it would need to be bigger.
    When building a chicken coop, a lot of things depend on your situation...budget, birds, weather, etc. But generally, chicken coops don't need to be anything super fancy. You'll need to be able to seal it off from predators during the night, though, that's a must. You wouldn't really need a time-operated door, unless you plan on keeping your coop very far from your house, and may not be home much...I'm a believer in that being a bit of a luxury, lol.

    I don't have any pictures of our two coops; and I'm not sure the size. But our smaller coop fits about thirty birds on the two-bared roost, and it has size nesting boxes---three attached to the wall on each left and right side. The backwall has the roosts attached, and the front is covered with rabbit wire, and has a full-sized door that I prop open every morning.
    It has a tin roof, and the wood is something like a sturdy plywood.
  3. spartacus_63

    spartacus_63 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 21, 2009
    Central Iowa
    There is no RIGHT answer. To many variables. My best advice is to read chickens 101 on this sight, and Chickens for Dumbies. Then check out the Coop section on this sight and look for things that interest you.

    I will say that chickens are addictive! Spend your money wisely. I read on here about folks making second and third coops because they didn't make the original big enough to contain their addiction [​IMG]

    Good luck & enjoy.
  4. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Quote:Here's the thing. If you want to know "how much space will it require to store sixteen 1x1x1' boxes", the answer is a single, simple number. (16 cubic feet, which if you want them in a single layer will take up 4x4' but could be less if you stack 'em).

    However with chickens it is not simply a matter of packing items into space. Behavior is a BIG BIG issue. And depends on lots and lots of things, luck featuring prominently among 'em.

    People on this site tend to quote 3-4 sq ft apiece (indoor) as a good number because it is a reasonable ballpark for avoiding high chances of the worst cannibalism problems in many temperate-zone climates. However, that is not to say that you can't sometimes get away with less (especially if you live somewhere the weather is ALWAYS beautiful and can guarantee your chickens will seldom if ever want to spend most of the day indoors), and it is CERTAINLY not to say that more space isn't better. Honestly, I've kept chickens at 4 sq ft apiece (indoors, plus ample run) and at everything up to 15+ sq ft per chicken (ditto) -- and I'm talking in the warm part of the year, here, not wintertime -- and they really do behave differently with the larger amount of space available to them. In particular, with the way our winters are here, my sussexes do not usually choose to spend much time outdoors in winter (despite a large, fully roofed and very well windblocked run) and I would NEVER want to give them less than their 15 sq ft apiece indoors for that reason.

    Not only does everyone's weather and coop differ, but different chickens/flocks have different personalities... and, really big thing, different people have different priorities and tastes.

    You just have to consult your conscience and decide where you want to be among the various tradeoffs. It's really a personal decision.

    And seriously, I would recommend just building as big a structure as you can manage to build. You will not regret it.

    I want a fixed structure that won't cost a fortune, with room for up to 16 birds. I've seen some of the building projects on this site, and there are a million variations. Isn't there some sort of simple structure that will meet their basic requirements? Nothing I've seen here looks that easy to build. I've done a lot of DIY in the past, but I'm not a home builder.

    Get a book from the bookstore or library on "how to build a shed" (like a backyard store-your-lawnmower type shed). There are some with EXCELLENT step by step instructions and photos. Build that, then add more ventilation, a roost and a popdoor, and hey it's a chicken coop [​IMG] Really, basic shed construction is EASY, and as I say, if you are feeling insecure, just get a good book to 'hold your hand' so to speak [​IMG]

    Also, I have a random concrete pad on the property that is about 8' x 8'. Can I make use of this in some way?

    Oh yes indeedy!! As long as it's in good structural shape and happens to be located where you'd like the coop to be (beware of drainage problems though), it would be the PERFECT foundation for a shed/coop!! You really ought to make your coop the same size as the pad. If you try to go smaller, you will require extra work/supplies to try to seal the sills so that water does not creep under the walls into the coop, and that does not always work well. Truly I would recommend just building to the size of the pad. The sills of the walls will be right at the edge of the pad, and the siding will overhang ever so slightly.

    A concrete pad is by far the best insurance you can possibly have against rodents tunnelling in and ground moisture rising and (usually) against flooding; as long as you have reasonable depth of bedding over it, it has absolutely no downside whatsoever [​IMG]

    Good luck, have fun,

  5. joeschmeau

    joeschmeau New Egg

    Dec 20, 2010
    Thanks for the advice, everyone. I hadn't thought of just looking for shed plans and then adapting that to be a coop. That's a great idea! So because of what I've read about the practice of chicken keeping being completely addictive, I guess I had better just plan to build myself a chicken Taj Mahal and be done with it.
  6. bawkbawkbawk

    bawkbawkbawk Chillin' With My Peeps

    Fairly new to chickens here, too. From the reading I've done of books and here on BYC, I've learned that nearly everyone, regardless of the size of their initial coop, says they wish they had "built it twice as big".

    For my own purposes, I'm very grateful that we built a coop that can be accessed by a human-sized door. Much, much easier for cleaning, and believe me, you'll be doing a lot of cleaning!

    My coop is 10' x 6' (with an attached pen of 10' x 24') and has never housed more than four happy chickens - I'm hoping to increase that number this spring to six. I have a suspicion that an uncrowded coop may help prevent some of the behavior issues - aggressiveness, pecking, etc - that I've read about.
  7. gsim

    gsim Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 18, 2009
    East Tennessee
    Quote:If the concrete pad is in the right place, then by all means, use it. Be sure to use pressure treated 2x4's for the base plate on all walls that will touch the cement. 8 x 8 is just big enough for 16 hens. Be sure to build it tall enough to walk into. Make two pop doors, guillotine style. See my BYC page for a pic of the guillotine type pop doors I built. Mine are not automatic, but could easily be converted. You will only need 3 to 4 nests, tops. They should be minimum 12 x 12 x 3 deep. They should be around 12" to 24" off of the floor. I would do 24" due to the ability to use that space beneath them for storage. Make your roosts 12" from the wall, and be sure to put a 24" deep poop board under the roosts. It should be something easy to scrape like formica if you can find an old kitchen counter top, or linoleum over OSB, or sheet metal. Be sure it is 24" deep so that they do not poop on the floor while roosting overnight. Over 90% of all poop in a coop is overnight poop, so a properly done poop board is very essential to a clean coop and to being easy to keep clean. Do be sure to have a lot of permanent ventilation. I have 6 sq ft ft 24 hens. That is permanent ventilation. That does not count pop doors, entrance door, and the 4 windows I have. I use all of that in warmer weather, and my coop never stinks. I set my roosts at 48" ht and the poop boards beneath them at 24" ht. That way the chooks can hop up first to the poop board, then to the roost. And the roost is still far enough from the rafters (42") to discourage roosting up there. I would do a gble roof to keep heat away from both them and you. Be certain to put a minimum 12 x 12 vent in each gable. Also do full length soffit vents front and back to lengthen life of shingles and cool and ventilate coop. I would also do a turbine vent in the center of the roof at it's peak, or just behind the peak/ridge. Ventilation and dryness are two extremely important features. Heating the coop should not even be considered in Oregon in all but the freakiest conditions, like below zero for extended periods. If you are going to free-range them, expect losses and put a great many things around everywhere for them to run under, in case of an airborne predator. Expect them to poop on your walks and porches too. It all goes with the territory. Expect some flock losses, especially free-ranging.

    If you do a pen, do one using 6 ft tall 2x2, 2x3,k or 2x4 welded wire. Dig a shallow trench and pour cement to anchor the base of the fence after you stretch it into place. I have had mine for 18 months and no dig-ins or climb-ins yet. Electrify your run too. Do a minimum of 4 courses hot wire. Use springs to tension the hot wires so they are not droopy. See My BYC page. Any other questions, just ask. OH, I allowed 80 sq ft/chicken for my run. Around 1900 sq ft. I wish I had made it bigger. The more room they have, the happier, healthier, and less likely to squabble they will be. Look at it as a long-term investment. do not do a chicken tractor unless you want to be messing around with that thing every 3 dys or so , and only if you have really level ground too. And only if you are willing to lock down their coop every night because tractors can be breached by digging since they are portable.

    Last edited: Dec 20, 2010
  8. I have WHAT in my yard?

    I have WHAT in my yard? Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 24, 2008
    Eggberg, PA
    DH built a shed that looks sore bought. He originally intended for the shed to be half coop and half storage! [​IMG] Yeah, we originally intended to have four or five hens!! [​IMG] [​IMG] (We have 23!!!)

    Your 8x8 platform is a great base to build on! Having plenty of nesting boxes, roosts and more space to get around during the day seems more important to the behavior of the flock than how big the coop itself is. A 1/4 acre fenced play area sounds wonderful!!

    We've added, changed, built brooder boxes, and bachelor pads......Give them good roosts with multiple layers so they can establish their hierarchy and they should be cool.

    Try to put in space for storing things like food, egg baskets and other tools. We have a loft shelf that we need to keep the chooks from going up into but it stores feed etc.

    We hang our feeder and waterer. That we learned after way too many issues with them flipping stuff over.

    Look around on coop designs! Have some fun. If it is ugly I promise the chickens will not laugh! [​IMG]
  9. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I can't see anything I disagree with in what anyone else said. I'll include a write-up I did on space that might help you understand a bit better where some people can get by with a lot less space than the rule of thumb used on here. We use several rules of thumb on here. They are intended to keep people out of trouble most of the time in tremendously different situations. They don't always work. In some cases, they cause people to do a little more than they absolutely have to and in other cases, they may not go quite far enough. We all need starting points, though. Some other rules of thumb you will see on here is one nest box for every four hens and a minimum of 8" of roost space for each chicken. These don't mean you can't get by with less but I am not aware of any problem caused by giving more.

    If it is in the right place, that 8' x 8' concrete pad is an excellent asset. And i suggest you look at the bottom of Pat's post and follow those links. I think they should be required reading for anyone building a coop, especially the one on ventilation.

    Good luck. Hope you join us on this adventure.

    As long as you have enough height for the roosts to be noticeably higher than the nest boxes, height does not matter to chickens. They are basically ground dwelling birds, so the ground area is all that really matters space wise. I said it does not matter to the chickens. It does matter to me if I have to work in there. It matters quite a bit.

    If the nest boxes are high enough off the ground that the chickens can easily get under them, then nest boxes do not take away from the space available. The tops of the nesting boxes does not add to the living space either although they may occasionally be up there. Ground level is what counts.

    Some of the things that make up the space requirement are, in my opinion:

    1. Personal space for the birds. They have different personalities and different individual requirements. Some are very possessive of personal space and some can share.

    2. Access to feeder and waterer. The general recommendation is that they all be able to eat at one time, but access to the waterer is also important. Part of this is that they seem to like to all eat at once but not necessarily drink at the same time. Part of it is that a dominant bird may keep others from eating or drinking, especially with limited access.

    3. Being able to put the feeder and waterer where they will not poop in it when they roost.

    4. Roost space. They not only need to have enough room to roost, they need to have enough room for them to sort out who gets to sleep next to whom and who gets the prime spots. They also need enough room to get on the roosts and get off them. When they get on, they may jump from some midway support or fly directly to the roost, but either way, they like to spread their wings. And some chickens seem to enjoy blocking the entry points if there are limits. And when they get off, mine tend to want to fly down, not jump to a halfway point. They need room to fly down without bumping into feeders, waterers, nesting boxes, or a wall.

    5. Poop load. The larger area they have the less often you have to actively manage the poop. They poop a lot while on the roost so you may have to give that area special consideration, but mucking out the entire coop can be backbreaking work plus you have to have some place to put all that bedding and poop. In my opinion, totally cleaning out the coop is something that needs to happen as seldom as possible.

    6. How often are they able to get out of the coop. The more they are confined to the coop, the larger the personal space needs to be. The normal recommendation on this forum is 4 square feet per full sized chicken with a minimum of 10 square feet of run per bird. This additional requirement outside is sometimes not mentioned. How often they are allowed out of the coop may depend on a lot more than just weather. Your work schedule, when you are able to turn them loose, what time of day you open the pop door to let them out or lock them up at night, all this and more enters into the equation. The 4 square feet recommendation assumes they will spend extended time in the coop and not be able to get in the run. What that extended time can safely be depends on a lot of different factor so there is no one correct length of time for everyone.

    7. Do you feed and water in the coop or outside. The more they are outside, the less pressure on the size of the coop.

    8. The size of the chicken. Bantams require less room than full sized chickens. This has to be tempered by breed and the individual personalities. Some bantams can be more protective of personal space than others, but this is also true of full sized breeds.

    9. The breed of the chicken. Some handle confinement better than others.

    10. The number of chickens. The greater the number of chickens, the more personal space they can have if the square foot per chicken stays constant. Let me explain. Assume each chicken occupies 1 square foot of space. If you have two chickens and 4 square feet per chicken, the two chickens occupy 2 square feet, which leaves 6 square feet for them to explore. If you have ten chickens with 4 square feet per chicken, each chicken has 30 unoccupied square feet to explore. A greater number also can give more space to position the feeders and waterers properly in relation to the roosts and provide access. I’m not encouraging you to crowd your birds if you have a large number of them. I’m trying to say you are more likely to get in trouble with 4 square feet per chicken if you have very few chickens.

    11. What is your flock make-up. A flock with more than one rooster may be more peaceful if it has more space. I don't want to start the argument about number or roosters here as I know more than one rooster can often peacefully coexist with a flock, but I firmly believe more space helps.

    12. What is the maximum number of chickens you will have. Consider hatching chicks or bringing in replacements. Look down the road a bit.

    I'm sure I am missing several components, but the point I'm trying to make is that we all have different conditions. There is no magic number that suits us all. The 4 square feet in a coop with 10 square feet in the run is a good rule of thumb for a minimum that most of the time will keep us out of trouble, but not always. I do believe that more is better both in the coop and in the run.
  10. SunnyCalifornia

    SunnyCalifornia Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 8, 2010
    Escondido CA
    I'm a newbie too, and I built my coop out of a (free) large wooden shipping crate 5-1/2' cubed. It has a solid 2" wood floor, and we added a ceiling, about 3' off the ground, and made a pitched roof, so the girls have an upstairs, and a downstairs. The upstairs is where they go at night to roost, and their nest boxes are up there. The downstairs has mesh windows, so when they wake up before I do, they can get some fresh air and cluck at me. We used a ramp system so they could get up and down easily. The uppermost ramp is on hinges, and actually locks to the ceiling, so that we can lock the girls upstairs if we choose. All around the outside, we have doors that lift up, to give us access to the upstairs nests. We added a closet pole roost downstairs by a window, as well as one upstairs. My girls sleep together on the upstairs pole. Nobody sleeps in the next boxes.

    It was pretty easy to build, and has worked great. I would mention one thing though- make sure you have outside access to the nest boxes. You don't want to have to climb into the coop each time to get your eggs. Chicken poo is hard to scrape out of your boots. [​IMG]


    At this point I have 3 hens in there, but I'm hoping to integrate 3 more soon. You may want to think about having a secondary coop for younger chickens. I didn't plan ahead for that (that is where the chicken addiction comes in), and so I have too many indoor chickens right now, until they are large enough to run with the big girls. My backyard will be under construction again soon with a second, and maybe third coop!

    Have fun!

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