General Coop Planning Questions


In the Brooder
5 Years
Sep 13, 2014
Edinboro, PA
Hi all,

This is my first post here, so forgive me if I'm asking questions that are the same questions you get ALL the time! :) I've been wishing for chickens for about 5 years and I'm finally moving to a house in the country where I'm going to have space to have some! YAY! I'm planning now to build my coop in the spring.

I live in northwestern Pennsylvania (zone 5A if that helps) so keeping things warm in the winter is a concern. I'm planning to keep 6 chickens to start -- thinking 3 buff orpingtons and 3 barred rock. I chose those 2 breeds based on size (for winter), egg production, and friendliness. I'd like to build my coop and run large enough to have the option to add more hens later -- maybe as many as 12 or 15.

I'm wondering what dimensions you all would recommend for the coop and for the run?

I've really enjoyed browsing all the coops on this site and I've found a lot of inspiration there! I'm thinking I'd like to build something with a full-size man door so I can walk INTO it. I'm thinking a metal single-slope roof and external nest boxes. I'd like to do the deep-litter method I've been reading about on this site (I'm hoping that will help with heat in the winter). I want to spend as frugally as possible -- I don't care if it's super pretty and decorative in the yard (though I admire those of you with super pretty coops!) but I want it to be functional, reasonably easy to keep clean, and most of all enough space for healthy birds!! I probably won't be able to allow the chickens to free-range much at all (neighbors have 2 black labs that they let run loose, and I don't trust them), so I need to make sure everything is roomy enough!

Also wondering -- as cold as it gets here, should I insulate the walls?
I've built and used a few coops in my day, and I'm getting ready to build another before winter sets in. There are a lot of message threads here about what works well, here are my main concerns with my new coop:
1. Not insulated (even though your area might be a bit colder, even in Canada insulation is not needed)
2. Well ventilated, but vents I can mostly close if needed to keep out precipitation (blizzards).
3. No floor, right on the ground. Important for deep litter. Wire on the floor (under the bedding) or outside on the ground will discourage digging predators
4. Predators are a big worry, so everything is covered with welded wire or hardware cloth.
5. Metal roof with substantial slope for snow removal
6. Cinder blocks 1 layer high (wood exposed to the ground and deep litter rots quickly, even pressure treated).
7. Make it as large as possible - forget the 4 sq ft per bird rule, if you give them twice that you can go twice as long between cleanings, 4 times, goes 4 times longer, etc. And of course you will get more chickens than you plan now.
8. I use inside nest boxes, on the ground, with either sand or feed bags on top as a sort of "poop board" to facilitate cleaning. Roosts are above the nest boxes.
9. If at all possible, run electrical service to the coop for winter, heated water bowls and supplemental lighting, but not for added heat.
10. Consider the prevailing winds and shelter from them when picking a site.
11. Consider where you will be hauling water and food from.
I am a first time chickener :) as well and I have 3 Black Australorps, 2 Buff Orpingtons, and a Golden Comet (sex link) arriving around halloween. From what I have been told, a coop needs about 4 sq. ft. per bird roughly. So our coop is going to be a 7.5'x4' design so they have about 30 sq. feet and it will leave me enough room to add a hen if I want. They will have an 8x7 outdoor area and will free range in the evenings until dusk. With a big outdoor run, I have heard you only need 2-3 sq ft in the coop per bird.
I would just plan on 4-5 sq ft per bird. They prob will be nice and comfortable with the room! :)
I am just starting the coop...making out of pallets.
Never be afraid to ask a question, even if you think it is silly or has been asked a hundred times. Don’t hurt your chickens because you are too embarrassed to ask a question. This forum would die a pretty quick death if people only asked questions that had never been asked before. Besides, those are usually fairly easy to answer. We’ve had practice.

You will find we have a lot of different opinions. That’s partly because so many different things work that there is no one right answer for each and every one of us. We keep chickens for so many different reasons in various weather, flock configurations, urban versus rural, and use so many different management techniques that there cannot be one right answer for everybody. While some people can get downright testy if you don’t agree that their way is the absolute best for everyone in the whole wide world, you task on here is to decide what suggestions and advice actually applies to your unique situation. A lot of that is really just personal preference. Separating that out can be a challenge sometimes.

I suggest you read these. The lady that wrote them was in Ontario in a swamp so she should have some credibility.

Pat’s Big Ol' Ventilation Page

Pat’s Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs):

Pat’s Cold Coop (winter design) page:

Then follow the link in my signature below to read about space requirements. Since you plan to integrate later, I’d go bigger than the standard 4 square feet in the cop and 10 square feet in the run per chicken guidelines. Exactly how much bigger depends some on how much room you have available to use. Since you will probably be integrating new chickens in the good weather months, space in the run will be very helpful. It’s also cheaper to build than a coop.

I find the larger I make it the fewer behavioral problems I have to deal with, the more flexibility I have to deal with things as they arrive, and the less hard I have to work. It’s not a case of if you go smaller than this you are guaranteed to have problems and if you build it to this magic number you will never have problems. It’s a sliding scale that depends so much on all the things that make your situation unique.

Most building materials come in 4’ or 8’ dimensions. If you are buying new you can usually build something with less cutting and waste if you plan around those dimensions. For example, an 8x8 will probably use the same material as a 7x7, though that may depend on your foundation and roof. Six feet is not a bad width either. You should have an overhang on your roof so you can have vents under those overhangs. Standard lumber comes in 8’ lengths for your less expensive materials. The wider space you have to span the stronger and more expensive the lumber becomes so you can support snow load. And it is a lot easier to work in a 6’ wide coop as compared to a 4’ wide coop.

Don’t worry about keeping them warm. That’s really not a problem, especially with the breeds you have chosen. Heat is much more dangerous than cold to chickens. As long as you keep direct breezes off of them and give some ventilation they should be able to handle your coldest temperatures. Just provide ventilation over their heads when they are on the roost and you should be fine in winter.

I agree a walk-in coop on the ground is probably best for what you describe. Put the human door where your prevalent wind does not blow rain into it and slope your roof or use gutters so the rainwater does not drip down on you when you are going in and out.

The main thing in having healthy chickens is to keep their living quarters as dry as reasonable. A wet coop or run is unhealthy. Don’t put your coop or run where water drains to or stands or build up the ground so it will drain. If you need to, use berms or swales to keep rainwater runoff from going in. Read that Muddy Run article. That is really important.

If you are looking to simplify and cut costs, don’t build external nesting boxes. Unless they are built right, external nesting boxes can be a weak point for predator attack or can let weather (wind or rain) inside. External nest boxes tend to get colder and freeze eggs faster in winter too. Personally I like going inside to collect eggs (one of those personal preferences). I’ve found a possum, snakes, and a dead hen inside that I would have missed if I had collected eggs form outside. Well, I’d have missed some of those snakes. Some were actually in the nest. I’d have noticed those especially if I’d reached without looking. But if you want to collect the eggs from outside, build your nests in the coop on the wall and put a door so you can reach inside.

I’d plan on four nests if you think you’ll want as many as 15 hens. You don’t necessarily have to build them all when you build the coop but plan for them. Leave space. Also, add the roosts now or plan for them. Adequate roost space helps to keep a happy flock, especially during integration.

That’s enough for now. Welcome to the adventure. I think you will enjoy it.

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