Raising chickens is a great practice, one that can improve your garden, grant you fresh eggs, and provide you with years of entertainment, just to name a few benefits. One thing any chicken owner needs to consider, though, is how they’ll house their birds. Luckily, coops can be constructed in cost-effective ways, and you can often repurpose an existing structure. With a few modifications, we turned an old children's play set into the ideal “chick inn” for our birds.
We purchased our chicks in April, and by Memorial Day weekend, they were large enough to live outdoors. To accommodate our new flock, we used 50 panels of privacy fence to enclose the roofed portion of an out-of-use play set — the kind you might find in the backyard of just about every home. By autumn, we’d added sheets of foam insulation within each wall and beneath the floor. We wanted our coop to be well insulated, because although chickens are cold-hardy, they’re still susceptible to frostbite in their combs, wattles, and feet.
As the days got shorter, we ran an outdoor extension cord to the coop to provide an outlet for a heated water setup and an indoor light. (Chickens lay best with 14 to 16 hours of light per day.) We used a full-spectrum LED daylight bulb, because they last a long time and draw few watts, and we put the light on a timer so we wouldn't have to manually turn it on and off every day. We didn’t want to dedicate the space to a chicken-specific heated watering system, so we use a heated dog bowl instead.
We wrapped 4-foot-wide chicken wire around the outdoor area, attached it to the wooden bars already in place on the play set, and tacked it down along the bottom to keep out predators. This way, the chickens have an outdoor area in which to enjoy a breeze throughout the day. We’re planning to expand the outdoor area for the chickens so it continues out over the crossbeam. We’ll add a retractable canvas over the top to provide extra shade, and, since the play area includes a plastic ship wheel and telescope, we plan to paint the Jolly Roger on the canopy “sail.” We’ve considered removing the rubber swings from the chains and replacing them with flat boards, which would give the chickens an additional place to roost, plus a bit of entertainment, if we can convince the chickens to sit on them.
Our chickens eagerly roost on a ladder that we removed from the play set and leaned against a wall inside the coop. Most of their poop falls to the floor throughout the night, keeping things sanitary and the waste away from their beaks. We're able to clean the coop easily, scraping it out with a flat-nosed shovel and then sweeping the floor with a broom. At the entryway, we have a 1x8 board on the ground to suppress grass, and it acts as a great dustpan upon which to sweep the droppings and carry them to our garden.
To make things easier when cleaning the coop, and to buy time while hanging squash, pumpkins, kale, and corn ears in the enclosed run, we added a sliding door between the interior and exterior portions of the coop. We’ll eventually paint the door to look like an old barn door, or replace it with a miniature barn door made from distressed privacy fence.
Teaching chickens where you want them to lay their eggs is as simple as creating a private, off-the-ground space where they can nest comfortably. We built a small nest box with a lid extending from what used to be the window to the play area, and then filled the box with lining from food boxes we occasionally have delivered to our house. We encouraged our chickens to use the nesting box by placing a few golf balls inside, and they began laying eggs in the box shortly thereafter.
It took a bit of creativity and a few easily sourced materials, but we were able to give an old, out-of-use item a second life, and our chickens a comfortable space to call home.