Questions on new coop build/laying nest


In the Brooder
8 Years
Dec 30, 2011
West Central Illinois
Building a large size coop this spring and have a few questions. First off I live in central Illinois and winters can be harsh, is it a given that I insulate the walls? ( I probably will anyways). Also we will have approx 15-20 hens with one rooster, Do you recommend making wood boxes or buying plastic laying nest or is metal better? For that many hens how many nesting boxes would you put up? Thanks for your answers and any additional info/tips on building a coop would be appreciated.

Happy New Year!
Insulating the walls is not a given. It is not really necessary. You can if you want to, but cover the insulation so they won't eat it. To me, the important things are to make sure you have plenty of ventilation but block breezes blowing directly on them while they are sleeping. I do that by having the vents under the overhangs but well above the roosts. This is a real good article about ventilation. Actually all these articles are good.

Pat’s Big Ol' Ventilation Page

Cold Coop (winter design) page:

Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs):

can look at the "sticky" at the top of the Design, Construction, & Maintenance for some real good information too.

You can do anything you want with nest boxes. I tend to stay away from metal, since metal is such a good conductor and I feel it is a bit risky in the cold, or if it is in direct sunlight in the summer for that matter. These threads shows some of the things we have done.

Nesting Boxes

Opa’s Rollaway Nest Box

The rule of thumb is one nest box for four hens. That is a generalization. For 20 hens I'd go somewhere around 4 to 6. It is not a real hard science.

I know that is a lot of homework, but you asked. A few general comments. We all have different conditions and goals. What works for me might not work for you. When you see any recommendations, mine or someone elses, try to understand how that might fit in your circumstances before you blindly accept it or think it is required.

Building materials normally come in 4' or 8' dimensions. If you use building dimensions with that in mind, you can be more efficient in your building. For example, you can probably build an 8' x 12' coop with less cutting and less waste of materials and for about the same price as a 7' x 11'.

I'd consider going rectangular rather than square after you get to a certain size. With smaller ones it does not matter that much. The wider you build it, the heavier the lumber has to be to span that width. I don't know what snow load and such you have to build for or how you plan to build your roof, but if you get too wide a space to span, you might have to go with really large, heavy, and expensive lumber. I find the extra wall space comes in handy too.

Try to build in flexibility. You are dealing with living animals. Things are not going to go exactly as you plan.

Lastly, I believe in providing more space rather than less. Don't try to come up with the minimum space you can probably get them to fit but instead decide how many you want, then provide plenty of space. You are more likely to have behavior problems and I find I have to do more work if they are crowded. There is a rule of thumb on this site that calls for 4 square feet per chicken in the coop along with 10 square feet per chicken in the run, but this is just a general rule of thumb intended to keep most people out of trouble regardless of conditions. There are circumstances and ways to manage them that you can get by with half that coop space, and there are conditions and ways of managing them where you can still get in trouble with that amout of space. I'll include a write-up I did a while back that kind of explains my thoughts on space. It might help you decide what would be best fior you.

Good luck!!

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.

13. Do you want a broody to raise chicks with the flock? A broody needs sufficient room to work with or you risk problems from other chickens.

14. The more space you have, the easier it is to integrate chickens.

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.
i have six permanent wood nests mounted and a few temporary in odd places. some people have made great nests out of plastic. i have seen some nice plastic ones though on supply sites. some can be closed at night. it would be so easy to clean and disinfect them. prices are fairly low too. but we are so cheap.

we have 30 layers curently.
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Ridgerunner about said it all. No way is insulation a given. We're far colder than Illinois and don't insulate. Personally, I have a struggle wrapping my mind around insulating while at the same time providing the total ventilation that we do. Wide open eaves, lower and upper. Humidity and gasses are your enemy. To adequately vent, how does one keep "heat" in? That's my conundrum.

In one pen, I have 18 layers. They've never, ever used more than 3 boxes. I've started offering them 5 boxes, then 4 boxes, but it does no good. I can use the boxes elsewhere. I allow each flock to determine how many they'll actually use. It varies. Have no idea why, but for sure, they love to build clutches of eggs and love to follow the lead of the superior hens in their pecking order.
I am new to chickens but did a lot of research while building my coop. The best plan I discovered is to just pick something and make it revisable because your hens are going to tell you what they like and you'll end up changing it (sometimes more than once). I used dresser drawers for my boxes (6 drawer dresser with 20x22" drawers). I started with 4 inside and put a divider diagonally in one to see if they liked the smaller triangles better. I then removed one to put in a side door and move the feeder since they were only roosting on it anyway. They still only laid in one section of the one box (9 hens). I moved the boxes to the outside to give me more room to hang roosts and only put up two of them. I now have 15 hens and they still rarely use the second box. I didn't insulate because it was cheaper, less work, and I agreed with someone's post about keeping them warm inside is mean when they go outside in the cold all day (I free range mine all day).
Alot of great info, I appreciate it and will take everything into consideration. Winter is just starting so I have a few months to plan at least. Will probably start out with 4 laying nest made of wood and if that doesnt work I can always tear that down and buy plastic or metal boxes. The coop building will be two rooms, one for supplies, food, tools, fridge, etc and the other will be the nesting/roosting area all together about a 25' X 20' building at this time. Thanks again for the great info and i'm sure i'll have more questions at a later time.

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