As backyard chicken keepers, we all daydream of our ideal chicken setup. An acreage with plenty of space for the flock to free-range (and it is predator-free). A variety of chicken breeds so the egg basket will display a natural rainbow of colors. And for the comfort of the flock, a palatial chicken coop with ample room for roosting bars and nesting boxes with easy access to the eggs. Plus, it is well-ventilated with self-opening windows for fresh air and adequate ventilation, and maybe even an automatic door.
But reality hits and the daydream begins to shatter. I do not have my dream acreage nor large chicken coop, but instead, a medium-sized coop that fits easily in the urban backyard and keeps our hens warm in the colder months of our harsh winters.
And to take reality one step further, money was (and still is) an issue. our DIY chicken coop was not ordered from an upscale website, nor selected from a glossy magazine. It is a modest structure that was built from mainly recycled, reclaimed, upcycled materials.
My reality met my wallet: What I could afford was an upcycled DIY chicken coop.
Most Important Considerations for a DIY Chicken Coop
- Money – this is the biggest issue for most chicken keepers. Dreams often outspend our reality.
- Space – this is very important for final coop and chicken run size. If you live on a postage stamp lot, a large, spacious coop may not fit. Healthy chickens need interior space but they also need a run so they can peck the ground and get some sun.
- Usage – could the coop ever be reused for another purpose? A question to ask yourself is, “Is there a possibility that you won’t always keep backyard chickens”? This question could eliminate many commercially produced coops as some models are not built high enough for a person to walk into if you have visions of someday turning the coop into a garden shed for example. Another possibility, would this coop withstand the rigors of other animals? Ask yourself, could this coop adequately house goats?
- Integrity of materials – some manufacturers use materials such as plastic for the outside panels of a coop. While that would be adequate for chickens, would it be able to keep out determined predators such as fox, coyote, or raccoons? Building your own coop, you can select materials that will create a safe place for your feathered friends.
- Availability – your dream coop may no longer be available or perhaps it is now on back order. How long are you willing to wait?
- Size of flock – ultimately, the size of your flock should determine the size of your coop. You can build (or add on to an existing coop) to adequately house your flock.
- Aesthetics – can you find a commercially constructed coop that fits your aesthetics? It is often easier to build or modify a structure, such as an old shed, to suite your own personal tastes.
Before you set to build a chicken house from upcycled materials, investigate where you can acquire inexpensive building materials first. For our chicken coop, we made use of at least three of options listed below.
Where to get Upcycled Building Materials
- Thrift stores -It’s a great resource for non-traditional building materials. Think glass jars to be turned into light fixtures.
- Garage sales – often times, if a homeowner finishes a project and has leftover materials, those same items are usually very inexpensive or even sometimes free for the taking.
- FreeCycle – online site with community sites across the country. People offer up items for free so they are diverted from the landfill.
- Craigslist – online site with community sites across the country. While most items are not free, they are often much less than at a retail store.
- Facebook Groups and Facebook Marketplace -many communities have Facebook groups that can be a great source for free materials to use for your own chicken coop.
- Habitat for Humanity – non-profit home improvement stores that sell inexpensive, gently used materials to the public.
- Friends/Family/Neighbors – always a good resource for some items. Often times, they will gladly give you the extra items leftover from a project.
- Landfill – your county landfill may have a ‘second chance’ store on the property where they divert gently used materials for sale to the public rather than burying them in the landfill itself.
Our DIY Chicken Coop
Money was the biggest issue when it came time for a backyard chicken coop. Given the size we wanted, a commercially produced new coop would have cost upwards of $1000. However, our reality did not even let that be an option. Fortunately, seeking out free or inexpensive materials is fairly easy in our community.
The first step was checking out FreeCycle. As the name implies, items listed on the site are free. We were fortunate in finding a listing for an ‘animal shed’. We said we would take it sight unseen. When we arrived, it was a dilapidated wooden outbuilding that had housed sheep back in the 60’s. Granted, we made a couple of trips to the landfill as the roof was rotten as were many of the exterior boards. But with some hard work, we were left with enough scrap wood that we could upcycle into a completed chicken coop.
Next, the top layer of roofing for the coop came from some friends who had just shingled their house. As luck would have it, there were just enough extra shingles for us to finish off the top of the coop.
With the exterior complete, we then visited a local eco-thrift store. We sorted through various materials and ultimately selected a shower rod which would become a roosting bar, a shower door handle which would become the front door handle, laminate peel-n-stick flooring to cover the floor of the coop for easy cleaning, carabiner clips for the door latches, and then some egg-n-dart trim for a nice finishing touch below the lid of exterior access to the nest boxes.
In the end, we spent about $100 dollars to construct a 6′ x 8′ chicken coop (with extra space for storage), and an attached 8′ x 10′ chicken run which is plenty of room for our number of chickens. Most of the money went towards the chicken wire and hardware cloth for the chicken run and the 2″ x 4″s used to finish framing the coop as well as the entire run. Chicken wire and hardware cloth can be purchased at your local hardware store.
It is possible to have a well-built coop without breaking the bank.
Chicken Coop Essentials
If you need a little more inspiration or detailed plans for building a DIY chicken coop, we’ve round up a variety of chicken coop designs, plus a free chicken coop plan. Use them as a guide to build your “new” chicken coop, just remember that not everything on the materials list need needs to be new. Use what you have to create a custom chicken coop.
While there are all kinds of shapes and sizes of hen houses, they all have some important things in common. These are the things that will give you healthy, happy chickens and lots of delicious eggs.
- Ventilation – This is important in the summer months and the winter months. Even if you live in an extremely cold climate, the coop needs ventilation to keep the moisture from building up in the coop. Do not draft-proof the entire structure.
- Fresh Water – Chickens needs fresh water daily. In extreme heat, they might need fresh water several times a day. It’s not necessary to keep the water inside the coop but it does need to be in the run.
- Roosting Bar – Chickens roost at night, they feel safe when they’re sleeping the ground. So give them a safe space by giving them a roosting bar.
- Nesting Boxes – Chickens need a cozy place to lay their eggs. You don’t need a box per hen, one box for every 3-4 hens is plenty. Some people even add curtains for an extra cozy chicken coop.
- Ample Space – As a general rule of thumb, chickens need 3-4 square feet of floor space per bird in the coop area. This is assuming that they will have access to the outside during the day. If the hens do not just free range and you build a chicken run, they need at minimum 8 square feet per bird.