Lessons learned - do's and don'ts!?


Dec 15, 2020
Howdy. I am starting to design what I call "the perfect coop" for a small backyard flock of 5-8 hens with an integrated coop and run. I'd love to hear your "lessons learned" from your builds.
  • What worked?
  • What didn't?
  • What would you do differently?
  • What customizations have you made that make it awesome?
  • How have you modified it to work in different climates?
  • Any other advice you would give?
Look forward to learning from the masters here! Thanks so much!

Where in the world are you located? It helps us to help you if you include location in your profile.
Recommendations will be different for folks living in Texas vs Alaska for example.

A walk in coop works better for me.
No struggling to reach that far corner, no birds laying eggs or hiding under the coop, no standing in the weather to tend them.

Ventilation, ventilation, ventilation. Put in more than called for and include baffles or a way to close them as needed to keep wind driven rain or snow out.

Build bigger than the 4sq feet per bird minimum recommendation. The birds won't complain about a bigger space but will definitely let you know if it is to small.

Natural light is pretty darn nice to have. Windows on the south really help brighten things up in winter.

Insulation is a great place for rodents and bugs. Skip the insulation and inner sheeting. Birds wear a down coat and don't need it.

I could go on and on lol.
X2 everything @21hens-incharge wrote. I also use poop boards with lips all the way around and covered with a thin layer of Sweet PDZ in my walk in coop. It's a game changer.
No odor.
Easy to examine poop for early health issue signs or for the presence of visible worms or excess intestinal shed.
Making the run with a solid roof and predator proof construction enables the pop door to be left open 24/7 which greatly expands the functional space for the birds and allows more flexibility for the keeper.
Over hang, roof over hang. At least a foot if not two past the wire walls to keep the blowing rain out and keep the floor dry.
1/2 inch hardware cloth everywhere not only for predictors but RATs.
Secondary water and feeders to keep the pecking order from guarding and controlling . A wind block down low on one wall that gets sun. It will be their safe space and dust bath because it gets no blowing rain or north wind.
Coop/roost box 36" high off ground for easy raking or egg collection because Ms. fluffybutt doesn't like the nest box this week .
Just a few to think about.
Everything @21hens-incharge said x2. @HeatherKellyB is right, chicken math is real. Plan for more, then as 21 said, ventilate for a few more than that. Its easier if you use broad, covered eave vents. Literally open eaves with hardware cloth affixed underneath via screws and washers and a ridge vent - 2x4 rafters on edge provide .3 sq ft of breathable space per linear foot of length. Broad overhangs also shelter windows from blown rain, and provide additional shade for cooling. Additionally, eave vents - unless you build a monitor roof with very high roosting bars - provide no danger of drafts on birds in sub freezing weather.

Chicken wire keeps birds in, it keeps nothing out. As @David61 says, hardware cloth (secured via screws and washers).

If you are making a raised hen house, consider the height of your wheelbarrow when setting the floor, and how you will open one wall - to make cleaning easier, since you can't walk in. If you are setting the house on the ground, drainage, drainage, drainage, DRAINAGE!

What are your avian predators? Do you need a covered run or no? What are your ground based predators? Will hardware cloth do the deed, or do you need hardware cloth and something more substantial for the run? Did I mention DRAINAGE for the run?? What's the climate? Should you have a way to hang a tarp/sun sail/etc off one side to provide additional shade?

Roofing materials... What's the budget? How are your skills and tools? How often do you want to maintain it? What loads (SNOW???) do they need to support?

and finally, building in multiples of common dimensions helps reduce cuts, which makes building go faster, and reduces waste.
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Have a look at the coop articles for many great designs from people here, lots of inspiration.

Personally I made a raised coop so that it increased the run space underneath and resolved some of the access issues by making access doors both sides of the coop.

Not sure how experienced builder you are - I'm not, so even though I watched many youtube videos on roofing I didn't see a single one that said to check the outward opening door clears the rafter overhang (I know it's obvious to those that have built before! :D). In theory I only had to alter two near the door but I couldn't have lived with that so had to cut 24 rafters to match :)


Also agree about building bigger than you need - for us chicken math kicked in before having any chickens at all - built for 12, planned on 6, came home with 10.
Here's my thread on renovating my coop: https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/renovating-the-little-monitor-roof-coop.1382615/

I'll quote my analysis of things done right and wrong since you may not want to read the step-by-step progress.

Things we did right:

I would heartily recommend a monitor roof for anyone in a hot climate. With the pop door open 24/7 except in dire emergencies and the coop located in deep shade it was never any warmer inside than the ambient air temperature outside and, as previously noted, no rain ever penetrated beyond the roof overhangs.

Nor was it hard to build for a competent handyman.

The structure is entirely sound, due to DH's family habit of over-engineering everything -- though it can be moved by 4 men with the carrying 2x4's in place (we knew we'd be moving to the country eventually). The skids need to be replaced, but that can be accomplished by putting it on blocks during the process.

It *is* portable, though not so light as to be moved without serious effort.

The nest boxes were a good size even for the Brahmas.

The roost was well-placed, above the nest boxes but below the open section of the roof.

The hardware cloth defeated the efforts of a predator -- unable to tear the wire loose it attempted to rip through and failed (we added a second layer over the entire area that was damaged).

It was not difficult to clean out since the large door allowed me to reach all portions of the coop with the manure fork even though I am too short to quite reach the far wall. When the residents retired the man helping me relocate them to the freezer was easily able to reach in and get hold of them without a rodeo. (I would not make a non-walk-in coop any deeper).

The far half of the run was roofed, so that I could keep the food and water out of the coop. The chickens were able to bask in the morning sun and had to get out of the coop for exercise in all weathers. (In a sunnier location the entire run should be roofed.

We had a perch in the run, which was regularly used.

Things we did wrong:

That OSB wall. Never again.

Not using treated lumber for the ground-contact areas. DH was concerned about the effects of the preservatives used on the chickens' health. Better information about the modern wood treatments that replaced CCA wood has assured us that we can use it next time.

Too many nestboxes. The renovation will reduce them to two. We will replace the rightmost box with an additional vent window because in our new situation we will not be able to create a hardened run with 24/7 access right away. This vent will be under a roof overhang and have a cover that can be lowered during hurricanes and in our rare, truly cold weather.

4-foot run height. All future runs will be walk-in.

Use of inexpensive roofing materials. All future coop roofs will either be metal or will be constructed exactly as if they were on our own house. There's no savings in having to replace stuff.

Fit of pop door tracks too tight. DH's over-engineering strikes again. He had forgotten the warping effect of exposure to sun and moisture. (Funny thing, our oldest son is converting his carport to a bedroom and made the same error when cutting his floor joists -- making precise cuts then having to hammer them into place or trim them).

Roofed section of the run not slanted. Rain puddled on top, accelerating the deterioration of the inexpensive roofing materials.

The coop perch was only held by gravity and not otherwise secured because I thought that would make it easier to clean. The big Brahmas, particularly the rooster, periodically knocked it down. I liked the natural branch and the ability to remove it for cleaning but I have to figure out a means of securing it until I want it loose.

The next coop will be very much larger, walk-in, and probably an open-air design.
- Use hardware cloth for the run AND over the windows.
- Adequate ventilation.
- A coop tall enough to stand upright in.
- A coop large enough that I'd feel comfortable locking them all in the coop if necessary, or from another standpoint, a large enough coop that I can have more birds if I wanted.
- Poop boards. They were the greatest change I ever made. Well, second to building a coop where I won't crack my skull off the rafters and break my back every time I have to go in.
- nest boxes that are elevated OFF the ground. Too much poop got in the ground level nest box, and just random foot traffic causing eggs to get stepped on an even crushed.
Everything already mentioned, plus these:

1) Air gun nailer makes life SOOO much easier.
2) Decking screws are great to keep things held together longer.
3) Buy a little digital temperature gauge that has a HUMIDITY gauge also. Heat and cold are not the enemy for chickens, it's humidity. Whatever the humidity is outside should be close to what it is inside the coop too, which is accomplished by good ventilation.

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