Easy Backyard Chicken Coops

Construct this easy DIY coop, and keep your own chickens for delicious, nutritious eggs.
By Troy Griepentrog
September/October 2007
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A slightly remodeled plastic doghouse and a wire pen make a perfect home for two to four hens.
NATE SKOW


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There are dozens of reasons to keep a few hens in your backyard, including pest control and sheer entertainment. Fresh eggs may be the most popular reason, and eggs from hens allowed to do what comes naturally — roam and peck at grasses, weed seeds and bugs — not only taste better, they’re better for you than eggs from cage-raised hens. Free-range eggs are higher in vitamin E and beta carotene, and lower in cholesterol. (Look for the exciting results of recent research in the October/November 2007 issue of Mother Earth News).

Break with Tradition

Keeping chickens should be fun and require little management. You don’t need to spend lots of money and time to get set up. You can let them out to range, and they will instinctively return to their roosts at dusk. Just be sure to keep them penned up for a few days before you let them range for the first time; it takes them awhile to learn where ‘home’ is.

If you’re thinking of a walk-in shed with a small outside run of barren earth, it’s time to change your thinking. There’s a better way to keep your hens. Instead of a traditional chicken shed, use a small moveable pen that allows chickens to eat bugs (ticks, grasshoppers, worms, fleas, etc.), grass (yes, chickens do eat grass and plants) and weed seeds. Let your chickens graze in the yard and move the pen every day or two. This creates a synergistic relationship — both the chickens and the lawn benefit.

Predator Protection

Whatever coop style you choose, be sure it’s secure. Even in an urban environment, predators can be a serious problem. Dogs, cats and wild animals and raptors will help themselves to a free chicken dinner if you don't stop them. To get to your birds, predators will fly into, dig under or gnaw into any coop they can.

So you must plan to provide protection against predators. Chicken wire keeps your chickens in the coop, but it may not be strong enough to keep dogs or coyotes out. Heavier gauge mesh or woven wire are options to consider. Electric poultry netting (light and easily moved) is also a popular option to keep predators out and chickens in. A small doghouse inside a portable wire pen makes a great fortress for two to four hens. Click here for details on this low-cost option.

Most dogs can be trained not to bother chickens, and a dog’s presence will deter many chicken predators, too.

Protection from Weather

Keeping your birds dry is one of the main purposes of the coop. But don’t try to make the coop airtight to conserve heat. Stale, humid air is much worse for chickens than cold fresh air. Healthy, well-fed birds can tolerate cold conditions if they’re dry and out of the wind.

Be creative — your chickens don’t need a huge space to roost at night. Chain-link dog kennels can easily be converted to a small, easy to move coop. Greenhouses make a great home for chickens during winter months. Build some chicken ‘cabinets’ in the garage and use a pet door to let them outside. The space within the garage could be on the floor or elevated to take up less floor space (chickens will use a ramp to get in). But you’ll probably want the chickens’ area to be enclosed by more than just chicken wire — they tend to stir up a great deal of dust.

You can find detailed instructions for building a portable chicken mini-coop here and recommendations on selecting breeds here.

Looking for more detailed information? Mother Earth News offers two books about chicken coops. Click here.

Do you have more creative tips for others who want to raise chickens in the backyard? Post comments below.


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vanessa_8
4/7/2010 1:12:42 PM
I used a trampoline someone gave me for a chicken coop. I attached an old 4 by 3 (large dog house)building on one corner and wrapped the frame with fencing that was also given to me.Just leave the black cover on it. you will have to put some kind of support in the middle of the trampoline for water run off . It works great ,my husband doesnt like it,but it works great

Lucinda Hough
5/26/2009 2:48:50 PM
This year I raised meat chicks and they grew out of the box I had them in so fast! I went to the grocery store and asked for a box that watermelons come in. They were happy to give it to me, and it works awesome for my growing chicks! It is the perfect height and width and they have plenty of room to move around now.

Aggie Janicot
5/23/2009 12:16:59 PM
I have a chicken tractor based off the traditional "chicken ark" design. I really love it. I made mine from scratch for about 175.00 of new lumber, but it could have been done a lot cheaper with recycled wood. I suggest doing a search on 'chicken tractors". You'll find lots of wonderful pictures and ideas!

pat_27
3/4/2009 6:13:17 PM
Sorry i guess its just Green Chicken Coop. I googled it.

pat_27
3/4/2009 6:11:21 PM
Check out Green Chicken Coops they where really nice and gave me tons of advice. I choose them because they where made in america my wife chose them because she thought they where pretty. Isn't that how things go? How old will my chickens get before they start "slowing down" i had almost everyone of them laying an egg almost every day this winter in northern michigan.

Terry_3
12/19/2008 11:02:17 AM
doe 53, If you are worried about giving them a break here is an idea. Cattle panels are about sixteen feel long. You can bend them to form a big U and anchor each side with tent pegs. Then you can streatch plastic over the panels. The angle is great enough to keep snow from sticking and you can make you chicken escape as big as you like.

Terry_3
12/19/2008 10:56:59 AM
I live in MO and even though it is not as cold as your area I decided to raise chickens. I had some old cinder blocks I stacked four high and made a door. Then I put my pick up truck camper shell on the blocks with some non fiber glass insulation between. I can open the coop on three sides. I do feed on one window, water on another and gather the eggs on the third. I put a light in there to extend the day light hours and keep it warmer - 40 wt is enough. I keep eight happy chickens in there and let them out daily. They have lots of light which chickens love and are warm enough to keep water from freezing down to 20 degrees and lower. My coop cost me nothing and they roost on a 2X4 across the middle. It will work for you I am sure. Terry

Prairie Girl
11/16/2008 11:30:02 AM
About twenty years ago I raised my own eggs with three Rhode Island reds and three barred rock. I enjoyed them very much and loved the brown eggs. They became other little personalities besides the dogs and cats running around the yard. I never named them and couldn't tell them apart other than breed, but I still found it very difficult to 'do the deed' when they began to slow down on laying. Just for that reason I don't think I will have chickens again. I finally had to give them to an old farmer who was less sentimental than me.

garden goddess
11/12/2008 7:29:33 PM
If you have a working green house, please do yourself a favor and dont put any chickens in it, they will eat your green plants and if you think the plants are high enough, they are not, the chickens jump and fly to get what they want, unless you clip their wings. I love my chickens but do try to keep them away from my cherished plants.

doe53
7/10/2008 9:16:39 AM
Does anyone have experience with just a few chickens kept in the northeast in the winter. I am in mountains, very cold and deep snow here in mid winter. How do i protect them from cold, how do i let them out for a break when snow is 3 feet deep or more?

Jeannie Marcom
9/30/2007 12:00:00 AM
ck out

paula denton
9/19/2007 12:00:00 AM
I am at the moment in the process of turning an old greenhouse into a chicken run. Most of the glass was broken so it has been a simpled task of replacing it with chicken wire all around the sides. The remaining glass has been used as a roof to help keep of some of our wonderful weather. Compared to brought runs this will give the hens far more room :-)

Daniel Lovejoy
9/7/2007 12:00:00 AM
I read this magazine as a kid, and moved around a bit, and forgot about it. I just read this months issue. I like the way it has changed and matured over the years.

TROY GRIEPENTROG_2
9/6/2007 12:00:00 AM
ATait: You can get instructions for building the small coop for 2 hens at:http://www.motherearthnews.com/DIY/2007-04-01/Portable-Chicken-Mini-coop-Plan.aspxAgolobic: I'd recommend keeping chickens in a greenhouse during the winter only. Keep them confined to one area of the greenhouse if you have plants growing (unless they're meant to be chicken feed). ghart: I'd like to hear other people's thoughts on chicken breeds for hotter climates, but breeds like Leghorns, Andalusians or White-faced Black Spanish would probably do well.OBoudreau: Great points to consider. Thank you. The dust comes not only from the sand, but as feathers grow, they produce dust, too.CBennett: Thanks for your comments, too.

Odette Boudreau
9/6/2007 12:00:00 AM
Don't forget about the droppings which will be absolutely everywhere, including doorsteps, especially with free-range chickens. They also love to scratch in flower beds and shrubs, can actually kill ornamentals if the chickens get to them early in the spring. There are feathers, droppings and dust (from sand in feathers) everywhere so think twice before sacrificing a garage or greenhouse. Chickens need a minimum amount of floor space in the coop or they will peck each other. But chickens are worth the trouble if you have the room for them.

Carl Bennett_2
9/5/2007 12:00:00 AM
If you're thinking about keeping chickens, don't. Just get on and do it. If you move let them run around the garden they won't wreck the place, you don't end-up with big patches of bare earth and they are fun to watch and obviously happy. But don't feed them from the table in your garden unless you want them bothering you every time you sit down outside! That really is the only drawback I've found, with four Buff Orpingtons.

ginger hart
9/5/2007 12:00:00 AM
Which chickens survive and thrive best in very hot climates, 125 degrees + in the summer months? Do they need to be kept cool? Not sure and only checking as we maybe moving into an environment where we can have our own chickens. Any suggestions or information is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Alexander Tait
9/5/2007 12:00:00 AM
Want details of small coop for 2 hens

ANN GOLOBIC
9/4/2007 12:00:00 AM
Is is feasible/useful/practical to keep a chicken in a green house?








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