Advice for chicken coop construction
January 7, 2013 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me, a complete carpentry novice, build a heated chicken coop?

I am fortunate enough to live in a city where backyard chickens are legal (Guelph, ON) and in a neighbourhood where they're actually surprisingly common. I would like to get in on the delicious, happy-hen-produced egg experience.

I have done a fair bit of research already, so I know about the amount of space they need and tractors vs. stationary coops and all that. I would ideally like to build my own stationary coop and run for 4 - 6 hens, but it gets a bit complicated when I consider:

- the coop should maybe be heated since it can get quite cold at night time in the winter. However, not all the coops in my neighbourhood seem to be heated, so maybe the birds just huddle together to keep warm?

- I do not have an outdoor electrical outlet in my back yard

- I have virtually no experience building things. My dad is a competent handyman/carpenter but he lives nearly 2 hours away. As a result of watching him while growing up, I have a basic knowledge of how most tools work, but no real experience with them.

- There are like 100 000 plans for chicken coops online and I don't know where to start or how to find a simple one that fits what I need. I don't mind paying for plans, of course.

So, is this impossible? Can you direct me to some simple plans or offer some advice re: heating the coop safely?
posted by torisaur to Pets & Animals (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
If you are planning on heating the coop, I would suggest turning it on only on the coldest days of the year (-20 C and worse). Chickens who live in heated coops tend not to completely "feather out" and won't have built the down coat they need to survive the winter outside of the coop. Even when you do heat the coop you should keep the temperature to just above freezing at the highest.

The best thing to do is build the coop to be as weather tight as possible and add insulation. Caulk all cracks if you can and put down a generous layer of straw on the floor.

What you'll really want is a heated waterer. It's far more dangerous for the chickens not to have access to liquids.
posted by Alison at 7:12 AM on January 7, 2013

I live in the southern US, am also planning to build a backyard coop soon. Have you connected with your local backyard chicken groups? Here's one Facebook group. If you don't have any carpentry skills at all you might want to take a basic class, maybe an evening continuing education class at a local high school. There may be some links here. As far as heat goes consider low-tech/low-budget solar if you can place the coop where it will get the most southern exposure. You could do some passive simple heat like letting water jugs sit in the sun all day. I used to live in rural western NY which has a climate more similar to you. I had chickens living on my enclosed but unheated front porch, they survived.
posted by mareli at 7:16 AM on January 7, 2013

I can't advise you on building the coop itself, but I can weigh in on the heat aspect. My housemates and I kept between 2 and a dozen chickens for the past few years, including two winters. We're in upstate NY, and it gets pretty cold. Chickens can do fine even in pretty cold weather, but from what I read and heard from experienced chickeneers is that it's helpful to provide a little extra heat, and it's important to provide a source of liquid water. If their water freezes, it's bad news bears.

We provided our darlings with a single halogen lightbulb hanging in the approx 4'x10' coop, plus a water-heater stand that we got at Agway. The water dispenser can thingus went on top of the heater, which went on top of a box, which was on the floor of the coop, which was raised off the ground by a couple inches. (Keeping it off the ground is an important step in keeping the water warm and clean.) They seemed fine with this arrangement. The halogen light provided heat, but also tricks the chickens into thinking it's daylight out for longer, which is good in moderate amounts but perhaps cruel if left on all night.

If we had been unable to get electricity to the coop, our back-up plan was to religiously refresh the water every morning and just let them be a little cold. Chickens are good, I'm told, at producing body heat. They lived like this before we got the halogen bulb in there--perhaps into the first November? So, below freezing some nights--and it seemed normal to them. Perhaps different breeds handle the cold differently; I'd ask your neighbors. I'd also check into the legality of getting electricity out to the coop; either providing it or not providing it might be illegal.
posted by daveliepmann at 7:17 AM on January 7, 2013

Have you joined The consensus there, and in the books I've read, seems to be that chickens do not need supplemental heat; what they need is good ventilation. It's the moisture from their droppings that causes problems in the cold weather. Many people feel that more problems are caused by heat lamps via coop fires than are solved. I have had an unheated coop for three years and it gets down to -10F here and they've been perfectly fine. I built the Garden Coop, which has a ventilated ceiling that's still protected from the elements. I really like it. But if you have a look around on backyardchickens, you can see lots and lots of photos of different coop plans. You do definitely need a heated waterer though.
posted by HotToddy at 7:27 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I built a coop last summer. What I did was get some 16 ft 2x4s that were used for the edges of the of the coop and made the coop 6 feet long and used the remaining 10 feet, uncut, as the attached run. If you do this, us pressure treated 2x4's. Use PT for the floor too.

You have to bury the fencing around the run a foot or so.

I have the coop elevated about 2 ft; this way the chickens have some extra room to run around and some shade in the summer as well. I used 4x4 PT on concrete blocks.

One thing I wish I had done is built a flat (but angled) roof. Peaked ones look nice but are a PITA. Also I extended the roof joists out to the edge of the roof, rather than stopping at the edge of the house, for the look of it, but now I keep hitting my head on them... So take your cranial health in to consideration.

If you are not building the sort of coop that you can walk in to you should consider putting the door in the middle of the wall, rather then to one side or the other as I did, so you can reach all the corners without crawling in.

I am told that chickens are fine till around -20 deg f. especially when out of the wind. But as others say, you need to keep the water liquid. If you use an open container for the water, the chickens tend to splash around a bit and can wet their wattles, which can then get frostbitten. It was suggested you float something in the water to keep the splashing down. I have a waterer that just has a narrow rim for the water which seems to work for that.

Having a light bulb in apperently helps keep up egg production through the winter. This makes me wonder, however, if the chickens have a limited egg supply or a limited laying span...

If you put any insulation in, you have to cover it or the little @#$% will eat it.

I put cheap lino stick-on tiles on the floor and one rank high on the walls. Keeps stuff from sticking. You have to nail the wall ones on though, they dont stay.

That is all the tips I can think of. Feel free to mail me. And have fun.
posted by d4nj450n at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend searching "chicken coop" on Pinterest. Every iteration of coop is pictured and there are links to just about every article out there. Also, I recommend the Chicken Chick. She lives somewhere cold and has lots of answers.

Good luck with your flock!
posted by Sophie1 at 1:46 PM on January 7, 2013

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