Is a backyard chicken coop right for you?

Craving a daily supply of fresh eggs, perhaps you’ve decided to join the urban homesteading movement and get yourself a flock of chickens for the backyard. You’ll start indoors with chicks in a box and a heat lamp, but before long they’re going to need a permanent home with a place to sleep, lay eggs, roam and be protected from the elements and predators. Here are examples of the many ways to build or buy a chicken coop for your yard and what features to include.

A good backyard chicken coop provides a henhouse for egg laying, perches for roosting and sleeping, and a fenced-in run for pecking, roaming and doing what chickens do. You can keep it basic — with walls, windows, a door and a roof — or create a mini architectural masterpiece.

If you’re a confident DIYer with basic carpentry skills, you can build one, or you can leave it up to a carpenter or builder who specializes in animal enclosures. Unless you live in an area zoned for agriculture, check with your local zoning office to find out about ordinances for keeping chickens, which can restrict the number of birds and location of the coop.

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Suggested Features

The American Veterinary Medical Association says a coop needs the following items to meet chickens’ basic needs:

  • Appropriate floor space. Many experts say coops should provide at least 2 to 3 square feet of space per chicken inside the henhouse, and 4 square feet per chicken in the adjacent run.
  • Proper ventilation
  • Good quality litter. Wood shavings are excellent, straw should be checked for mold or contamination before using and hay is not recommended due to harmful mold spores and dust.
  • Nest boxes should be in the lowest, darkest part of the henhouse.
  • Perches and roosting bars where chickens sleep should be adequately high and spaced apart.

Tip: Coops should be located where hens get plenty of sunlight, which promotes egg laying, but also access to shade during the hottest months. The henhouse should be elevated 1 to 3 feet off the ground. This provides ventilation, protection against predators and additional space to peck and roam.

Purchase Design Plans or a Kit

If you’re comfortable using power tools but don’t have the necessary design skills, you can purchase plans for a coop and build it yourself. Some companies also sell the materials, with the exception of tools. Keep in mind shipping costs when ordering a coop kit — the weight of the lumber can drive up the cost. Many companies offer the option of building the coop for you.

Modified plans. Designer Elle Woeller, owner of Summerland Homes & Gardens in Boston, had a chicken coop built when she transformed her once-empty yard into gardens and raised beds. She found coop plans online but decided against ordering the kit because “to ship cost half the cost of the coop,” so she modified the plans and found someone to make it.

She and her husband painted the coop and designed the attached run near the garden. The one thing she would do differently next time is to make the door they use to access the run full-size, thus making the coop taller. The coop is big enough for eight chickens and has a back window for cross-ventilation.

Have a Pro Build It

If you don’t want the hassle of constructing your own chicken coop, some design-build firms can do it. Consider hiring a pro that specializes in structures that house chickens. Many coop companies have multiple designs to choose from, and they can usually be customized.

Tailored to the site. IB Crazy Coops in Southern California offers several dozen designs that can be customized. The company built a modern-style coop to match the landscape design and style of the customer’s house in Newport Beach, California. Measuring 11½ feet long by 42 inches wide and 6 feet tall, it was built with construction-grade materials, and the wood was milled and planed on site.

The coop features a door that folds down to double as a portal between the coop and the run, and half-inch aviary wire was used to protect from predators.

Tip: Whether using a pro or building it yourself, be sure pressure-treated wood is used only for the framing that touches the ground, and rot-resistant wood such as cedar or redwood for the rest of the coop.

Repurpose a Building or Use Reclaimed Materials

Reclaimed wood and supplies from other projects can find new life as a chicken coop, and sometimes unused or underused structures outdoors can be transformed into homes for hens.

From shed to coop. Designer Jen Dalley repurposed an existing backyard shed in Ely, Nevada, into a coop for three hens. Cedar boards placed diagonally were inspired by the existing structural cross-bracing.

Perches for the hens were made from branches of a bush that was removed from the run area.

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Galvanized metal water and food containers hang from cables on a ceiling beam. The single nest box is 2 feet long by 1 foot deep, which Dalley says is plenty of space for all the chickens.

Dalley collects eggs from the nesting box through a hatch door that she can open from outside the henhouse.

Coop on a court. In Hillsborough, California, homeowner Michelle Pettigrew bought an off-the-shelf coop that ended up being too small for her five chickens, so she relocated the coop to an unused ball court and built an enclosure around it to serve as a chicken run.

Each hen has a personalized nesting box. The canvas sail provides sun protection.

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  • Aosom sells small, medium and large chicken coops at a wide range of prices, including some portable styles with wheels.
  • My Pet Chicken sells an extensive selection of coop kits, supplies, chicks and fertile hatching eggs. Kit options include those with all supplies; prebuilt in panels that just have to be assembled; or fully assembled.
  • The Garden Coop sells coop and run designs and optional hardware kits that don’t include lumber and other materials.
  • Dare 2 Dream Farms in Lompoc, California, builds a variety of coops to order and offers delivery and installation to residents in Southern and Central California and the Bay Area. They also sell coop-ready chickens and chicks of various breeds.
  • Modern Farmer has online instructions for building a coop.
  • The website BackYard Chickens has users’ examples of a variety of coops, and some include instructions.

Tour coops for ideas. You can get inspiration from other chicken keepers on residential tours of coops. Most are self-guided, and many include a bike ride. There are tours in Silicon Valley; Raleigh, N.C.; Austin, Texas; Davis, California; and Alameda, California.