The following is an excerpt from Art of the Chicken Coop by Chris Gleason (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2011). Whether you have an acre of land or an itty-bitty backyard, plenty of money to spend or hardly any, Art of the Chicken Coop will show you how to construct the perfect coop for your flock and space. This practical, playful and inspirational handbook includes hundreds of step-by-step photos to guide you in building seven beautiful coops, each of which can be adapted to the style of your choice — even made to match or complement the exterior of your home. Author Chris Gleason gives priority to building with salvaged materials, and also includes instructions for making a chicken run and a chicken tractor. This excerpt is from Chapter 10, “Coop #7: How the Chicken Crossed the Road.”
The inspiration behind this coop was functionality — what kinds of features could be added to make the most practical, easy-to-use coop possible? I worked with a great client to brainstorm on this theme, and we came up with a couple of priorities:
Adding wheels to one end of the coop worked out as a way of providing mobility. One or two people can easily wheel it around, and this type of structure fits into the category of “chicken rickshaws,” which are a nifty coop subgenre I’ve heard about but never seen. Figuring out how best to install and support the wheels took some head-scratching, but I came up with a simple solution that works great.
To simplify the cleanup process, we came up with a couple of ideas. I put a large set of doors on the end walls of the coop to provide great access to the coop’s spacious interior, and this paved the way for what I think is a pretty novel concept: the poop tray. My client mentioned this to me, and it made a lot of sense. If we situated the roosts directly above a pair of removable trays, the trays would collect the majority of the chicken droppings, which could then be disposed of quite easily and with minimal fuss. We reasoned that the trays could slide in a set of tracks so they wouldn’t get moved around, and the roosts could simply be moved out for hosing off. We also hoped to prompt the birds to use the roosts by modifying the tops of the nest boxes — they’re popular places to perch most of the time, but the angled design here prevents this.
(Item: material, dimensions, quantity)
Long side floor framing: 2-by-4, 7 feet, 2
Short side floor framing: 2-by-4, 41 inches, 2
Side wall panels: 3/8-inch plywood, 7 feet by 2 1/2 feet, 2
End wall panels: 3/8-inch plywood, 3 1/2 feet by 4 feet, 2
Interior corner bracing: 2-by-4, 28 inches, 4
Front legs: 2-by-4, 51 inches, 2
Rear legs: 2-by-4, 45 inches, 2
Wheels: bicycle rims with wheels, 16 inches, 2
Axles: 1/2-inch bolts with lock nuts, 7 inches, 2
Window trim: scrap cedar 1-by-2, 14 inches, 8
Platform (floor): 1/2-inch plywood, 7 feet by 4 feet, 1
Rafters/roof cleats: 2-by-4, 7 feet, 3
Roof panels: 3/4-inch plywood, 35 inches by 30 inches, 6
End panel flap doors: 3/4-inch plywood, 14 inches by 20 inches, 2
Main side doors: 3/4-inch plywood, 26 inches by 22 1/2 inches, 2
Tracks for poop tray: 2-by-4, 82 inches, 2
Poop trays: 3/8-inch plywood, 40 inches by 18 inches, 2
Wheel supports: 2-by-4, 1 foot, 2
Handles: 2-by-2, 40 inches, 2
Roll roofing: 48 square feet
Felt paper: 48 square feet
Miscellaneous strips for trim: 3/4-inch pine or similar, 15 feet total
Nest box sides: 3/4-inch plywood, 15 inches by 12 inches, 5
Nest box top: 3/4-inch plywood, 52 inches by 13 inches, 1
Roosting bars: 3/4-inch pine, 78 inches by 1 inch, 2
Roost supports: 2-by-4, 16 inches, 3
End panel window covers: 3/4-inch plywood, 11 inches by 11 inches, 2
Galvanized angle brackets
As you follow the instructions and their corresponding photos, you should also refer to this letter-coded diagram of the coop.
1. Construct the bottom frame. I began this coop by constructing a frame from 2-by-4s (A, B). To join the parts, I used galvanized angle brackets. I like Rigid-Tie Angle by Simpson in particular because it features a flange that allows screw installation on the inside frame face, which adds quite a bit of stiffness.
2. Attach the side walls. I built the sides of the coop (C) out of 3/8-inch plywood ripped down to 2 1/2 feet wide. With the frame sitting directly on the floor, it is a straightforward matter to screw the sides (C) to the frame. I suggest spacing the screws about 1 foot apart.
3. Prepare to add the end walls. Without the end wall panels (D) in place to support the sides (C), the whole structure isn’t particularly strong, and the walls (C) may lean in a bit. This is not a cause for concern — adding the end walls (D) will firm things right up.
4. Lay out the end walls. The end walls (D) are 3/8-inch plywood. I laid out a roofline as follows. The height of the panel is 3 1/2 feet and the start of the pitch is at 2 1/2 feet, meaning the taper rises 1 foot over a 2-foot-wide span, sometimes described as a 6:12 pitch. I used a framing square to lay out a nice wide door (30 inches by 27 inches) to make clean-out a snap, and I added a small 11-inch-by-11-inch window below the gable for some extra ventilation.
5. Cut out the end wall doors and windows. When cutting out the doors, it’s important to start and stop the cuts cleanly in the corners so the “waste” pieces can be reused as doors. I used a circular saw for this operation, but a jigsaw would work well, too. The windows aren’t critical — they are such small pieces that it’s easy to find scraps to fit.
6. Attach the end walls to the coop. Screw the end walls (D) through the base frame (A, B) and reinforce the corner where the wall panels converge by adding interior corner bracing (E). I used 2-by-4s with screws and glue, and I made sure to cut the 2-by-4 shy of the top of the walls so that I would have space to tuck a 2-by-4 cleat (L) in there — more on this later.
7. Attach the legs. With the shell of the coop assembled, I turned my attention to making and adding the legs (F, G) that hold the coop up off of the ground. These are just 2-by-4s, mitered at the top to match the roof angle (26 1/2 degrees) so the roof sheathing can overhang a few inches. I started with legs all the same length, but you can use lengths marked on the materials list to avoid cutting in the next step.
8. Locate the wheels. Because I planned to put a set of wheels (H) on the far end of the coop, I had to shorten the legs on that end (G) and drill a hole for the axles (I). If you used 45-inch legs for the back, you won’t need to cut. To lay this out, I lined up the wheel (H) with the bottom of the rear legs (G) and marked for the axle (I). The leg could then be cut a few inches up from the bottom.
9. Drill the axle holes. I had planned on using a 1/2-inch-diameter axle, so I drilled a 9/16-inch hole to allow just a little bit of wiggle room.
10. Review your progress. This photo shows how the legs are different lengths. Before installing the wheels, the whole thing actually sloped downhill a little bit.
11. Mount the axle and wheels. My first inclination was to use an axle that ran from one side of the coop to the other, but the axle sagged more than I was comfortable with. Still, it was a start, and it got the coop leveled out so I could continue working while I brainstormed a solution. However, you may wish to install the 1/2-inch-diameter bolts (I) now.
12. Cut out the nest box access. The long, back side of the coop is reserved for nest box access. Cut out a large 4-foot-by-1-foot rectangle — you will be using it as a door, so cut carefully.
13. Hinge the nest box access door. After I installed three hinges, the door worked out great. It allowed for access to all of the nest boxes at once, and putting the hinges at the bottom meant that a person wouldn’t need to use one hand to keep it open.
14. Cut out the side door. Across from the nest box area, I cut out a large 44-inch-by-24-inch opening for day-in-and-day-out access.
15. Trim the end wall windows. To trim out the small window on the end walls (D), I used 3/4-inch-thick scraps of cedar (J). I assembled the trim as a unit before mounting to make sure the miters were all tight. When the glue dried, I attached the frames to the outside of the openings and secured them with screws from inside the coop. The opening of the frame is about 1 inch smaller than the window — this hides the plywood edge and creates a more finished look.
16. Install the bottom. I used 1/2-inch-thick plywood for the bottom (K). The only trick was that I had to notch the corners with a jigsaw so the bottom could fit properly around the corner supports (E). This only took a few minutes and made for a nice result.
17. Trim the end panel doorways. Trim out the door openings. Set the trim (V) in about 1/2 inch to conceal the edge of the plywood.
18. Build the nest boxes. This coop was built for about 15 chickens, so four nest boxes was about right. A good rule of thumb is to provide one nest box for every four birds. It was easier and faster to build one large unit and just add a few dividers (W) than to build separate boxes. Cut a wedge off of each divider (W) so the top edge slopes from 15 inches in the back to 12 inches in the front. I put a small lip — the exact height is not critical — at the bottom of the boxes to keep the bedding material from spilling out.
19. Place the nest boxes. The nest boxes fit perfectly into place and they should work out great. They’re not fastened so they can be removed for cleaning, but hopefully the sloped roof design will prevent perching and the subsequent droppings. This will make for less maintenance down the road.
20. Install the roof cleats. As I mentioned earlier, I added a 2-by-4 cleat (L) at the top of both side walls (C). This provides a place to secure the lower edge of the roof panels (M). I also installed a 2-by-4 (L) at the peak of the roof as a way to support the top edge of the roof panels. Angle the 2-by-4s so the roof panels (M) will be flat.
21. Attach the roof panels. The total length of this coop was 96 inches (84 inches for the coop, 6 inches of overhang on each end), so I couldn’t use just one piece of plywood as roof sheathing. This wasn’t a problem — I just cut separate panels (M) and installed them side by side to the underlying 2-by-4s (L).
22. Staple on the felt paper. As insurance against future leaks, I added a layer of felt paper (U) to the roof and secured it with staples. My trick is to put on pieces of paper slightly larger than the roof and then trim them to size with a utility knife. This is easier than cutting the felt paper exactly to size and then trying to install it precisely — it can be difficult to align if you’re working alone. However, if you’re going to use adhesive in Step 32 (as I do), you should wait to trim the felt paper until then.
23. Attach the end panel doors. The doors (N) on the end of the coop have hinges at the bottom. It is faster and easier to install one large door than two smaller ones, and it saves a couple of bucks by requiring half as many hinges. Use the wood you cut out in Step 5 if it looks OK. Install a latch on the top of the doors.
24. Trim out the end panel doors. I trimmed out the edges of the doors (N), but I had to miter the bottom edges of the vertical trim (V) so the door could swing down all the way. A blunt 90-degree cut would’ve gotten in the way.
25. Install wire on the windows. I stapled chicken wire on the inside of the small ventilation windows. This will keep chickens in and predators out, and the extra airflow will be a real plus.
26. Install main side doors. The main side doors (O) were hinged at the sides, and I ran a strip of wood (V) up the center to flange over the gap between the two doors. A small brass handle is a nice touch here.
27. Create the poop tray tracks. I’ve never seen a poop tray built into any other coop, but it’s a really practical idea that saves time during clean-out. The roosts are above a pair of removable trays, so the droppings are consolidated in one place. The trays slide in a simple set of L-shaped tracks (P) made on the table saw. Two cuts on adjacent faces of a 2-by-4 removed the waste material, and I was done in just a few minutes. Note that this operation will require you to change the blade height and fence position between cuts. The exact location and size of the cutout isn’t critical.
28. Install the tracks. Install the tracks (P) parallel to each other about 18 1/2 inches to 19 inches apart, using a series of countersunk screws.
29. Create the poop trays. The trays (Q) themselves are 18 inches wide by 40 inches long. I considered putting a handle on the end, but I figured a simple hole would function just as well. I used a 1-1/4-inch-diameter spade (or paddle) bit to make the holes.
30. Make the roosts. The roosts (Y, Z) are lightweight and removable, and they fit neatly atop the trays. You could build them in two sections, but I didn’t see a downside to building a single long one. Screw the long dowels (Y) into the roost supports (Z).
31. Install wheel supports and permanent axles. As I worked out a good way to support the wheel, I considered welding up something akin to a bicycle fork, following the logic that the wheel needed to be supported on both sides. I then realized that adding a 2-by-4 (R) would do the trick just fine, and 7-inch-long bolts with lock nuts (I) held everything in place quite well.
32. Apply roofing adhesive. When it came time to install the roofing, I cut back the felt paper (U) a few inches along the edges because I wanted to put in a layer of adhesive to secure the roll roofing to the sheathing (most home improvement stores carry an inexpensive product for just this purpose).
33. Apply the roofing. Rolling out the roofing (T) by yourself is tricky, but if you keep it rolled up and then secure one end with staples, you should be able to manage it. When in doubt, get help.
34. Clamp the roof and let dry. The adhesive needed a couple of days to set up, so I clamped the edges down with a caul and a simple spring clamp. I secured the middle section of the roofing by nailing it directly to the sheathing at 1-foot intervals.
35. Trim up the roofing. As with the felt paper (U), it is much easier to roll out the roofing material (T) if you have some extra width — the excess can be trimmed off with a utility knife.
36. Cover the windows. To seal up the windows, I cut a pair of square panels (AA) out of 3/4-inch plywood and attached them to the frames (J) with hinges. A little decoration never hurts, either — I used a scrap of wood and a chicken stamp I had.
37. Examine the window covering. The hinges on the left side of the window cover (AA) look neat and clean.
38. Shape the handles. As I wound up the process, I turned my attention to designing a set of handles that would enable the coop to be moved around easily. I used a pair of 40-inch-long 2-by-2s and rounded over their edges with a router to make them easy on the hands.
39. Attach the handles. The handles (S) are easily attached to the coop by drilling a pair of 1-3/4-inch holes in the bottom corners of the end wall (D). The handles are then inserted and screwed into the floor of the coop with a couple of long, 2-inch screws.
40. Examine the handles. The limiting factor seemed to be the distance between the handles — if they were closer together, one person would have an even easier time maneuvering it, but that wasn’t really much of an option because the door takes up most of the real estate in that area. Even so, it worked quite well.
Reprinted with permission from Art of the Chicken Coop, published by Fox Chapel Publishing, 2011.
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